Workers at Hussmann (a subsidiary of Panasonic) in Western Sydney are still out on strike after ten days on the picket line, fighting for a pay increase to cover cost of living increases.
Mick, a delegate with the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), who has worked at the company for 28 years, told Solidarity, “Our dispute is over a pay rise, [management] have offered 2 per cent and have not budged. We need 3 per cent to keep up with what’s going on around the country. We stand united to get the 3 per cent. And that’s why we stand out here today.”
The workers at Hussmann supply refrigeration systems and spare parts for major supermarket outlets like Coles and Woolworths.
Apart from social distancing measures, throughout the pandemic, work has not changed much at Hussmann. A demand by the workers to have shifts reduced to six hours throughout COVID-19 was not accepted, and shifts were kept at eight hours to maintain peak operating capacity.
Despite work continuing through the pandemic and the company still making money, the multinational is using COVID-19 as an excuse to reject the modest demands of workers.
“They have used the coronavirus against us, in these talks,” said Mick, “our business hasn’t changed, we have not stopped.”
This dispute goes further than just an increase in pay, however. Workers have to put up with high-handed treatment and covert bullying from management. Over the years things have changed dramatically at Hussmann.“We used to be like a family but now we feel like a number. And our voice doesn’t seem to get heard,” says Mick.
The warehouse used to directly manufacture refrigerators, now they operate more like an import shop that also deals in spare parts. Many workers have been sacked and management are now less willing to negotiate and listen to the workforce. “Back in the day”, says Mick, “we used to have a lot of BBQs, a lot of interaction with the office. We had a good relationship with all the managers. The dynamics have changed dramatically, we don’t deal much with management any more.”
This dispute is not just about money, but, according to Mick, it’s also about, “a change in how we’re treated. Sometimes we feel like factory scum, really.” However, despite this treatment, Mick says that, “the guys feel more determined now. It’s lifted their spirits that we got people to help us. It’s all about the future. Our younger people have got to go through this. We want to try and make it easier for them. We’re doing it for all of us, not just for us here.”
Bosses everywhere want to take advantage of the pandemic to force workers to accept lay-offs and pay cuts. Hussmann workers are bucking the trend by fighting back and should be an inspiration to others. They deserve support from workers everywhere.
By Niko Kricket and Tooba Anwar