‘Words are cheap’: Workers fight wage cuts

NATIONAL: Cleanaway waste disposal workers, members of the Transport Workers Union, held another one-day strike in parts of Sydney and for the first time in Victoria on 17 May for a decent pay rise in their EBA.

The strike affected the City of Sydney and Victorian local government areas of Greater Geelong, Golden Plains, Hobsons Bay, Moonee Valley and the Surf Coast.

There have been a series of 24-hour strikes at Cleanaway depots in NSW/ACT, Queensland and WA, as Cleanaway attempts to roll out a national EBA which reduces overtime entitlements and extends rostered-on hours.

The TWU says that Cleanaway’s changes to the EBA will result in workers being forced to work weekends for less take-home pay.

This is a dispute in which the officials are continuing with piecemeal strike action since January. Changing to an escalation of strikes over more days could be the circuit breaker for Cleanaway workers to wash their hands of a rotten company offer.

NSW: Health Services Union members held stop-work meetings in late April and May in public hospitals across NSW to endorse escalating actions for a pay rise from the new Minns Labor Government, which promised a decent pay rise to health workers.

HSU members at Tweed, Lismore and Coffs Harbour hospitals walked off the job on 3 May to send a message to the government. Over a month after Minns’ election, health workers’ message to the Labor Premier was, “Words are cheap—we need real action now!”

On 31 May the union’s “Big Wednesday” of action saw one-hour stopwork meetings involving hundreds of workers at Westmead Hospital, as well as pathology workers across the state.

Minns and his Treasurer, Daniel Mookhey, have kept the Liberals’ 3 per cent wage cap and assured employers that their “target” is for no more than “3 to 3.5 per cent” pay rises per year, well below the current inflation rate of 7 per cent.

On 18 May, paramedics and patient transport officers, also members of the HSU, took the unprecedented step of banning transports from hospital to home or to aged care facilities for 24 hours to further pressure the Labor government.

The union made exemptions for “end-of-life” patients and people on dialysis.

The Minns government introduced legislation to insert Sydney Water into the state’s constitution ahead of any offer of wages to NSW state workers.

As HSU Secretary, Gerard Hayes, said, “If the Premier’s view is that it’s more important to prioritise legislation to prevent privatisation of a facility that is not going to be privatised, then I think he’s missing the boat.”

The HSU is running a tightly controlled industrial strategy with limited regional, limited hours of stoppages, so there is space for rank-and-file activists to call for an escalation of strike action and pressure their officials in order to win a decent pay rise.

MELBOURNE: Darebin Council workers, members of the Australian Services Union, started an industrial campaign in early May for a pay rise.

More than 400 ASU members are turning up to work but refusing to “work as instructed”, including collection of waste, and cleaning streets and parks, ignoring management threats to lock them out.

Their last pay rise was in July 2021. The union has been in negotiations with management since June 2022.

The council has a wages cap, set by the Victorian State Government, of 3.5 per cent, which the Greens and Labor-dominated council abides by. The cap is 3 per cent with a lump sum of 0.5 per cent being “available”.

The ASU is asking for a pay rise below inflation—3 per cent in the first year, 3.5 per cent in the second and 3.2 in the third year—but management is still digging in their heels on the 3 per cent wage cap.

ASU members at eight Whitehorse Manningham council libraries went on strike on 12 May and set up picket lines in their first stop work in decades. The librarians oppose the council’s enterprise agreement total pay offer of just 2.4 per cent over two years, in effect a big pay cut.

NEWCASTLE: More than 170 maintenance workers, members of the AMWU and ETU, at the Tomago Aluminium smelter held a four-hour strike on 10 May for a decent pay rise.

The two unions have been negotiating since February with Tomago Aluminium, the largest aluminium smelter in the country, for a new EBA.

The plant is part owned by Rio Tinto and has been running 24 hours-a-day since 1983. So maintenance work is essential.

In mid-April, workers rejected a “final” company offer of 11 per cent over two years and voted unanimously for strike action.

The strikers also want improved conditions, on par with production workers at the plant.

PERTH: Hundreds of firefighters, members of the United Professional Firefighters Union of Western Australian, marched on state parliament on 24 May over what they regard as a “contemptuous” pay offer by the Labor government.

In their first industrial action in 12 years, workers voted to reject the government initial opening offer of only 3 per cent annual increases over two years after the government had strung out negotiations for six months.

Soon after that vote, firefighters shut down the state’s firefighter training academy on 15 May.

The union pay claim is for 5 per cent annual increases over two years. The government rejected other claims including annual leave entitlements in line with the state public service, overtime payments, a rise in employer super contributions and an increase in the number of firefighters per head of population.

WA’s ratio is the country’s lowest per head, leading to a shortfall of 700 firefighters.

Labor is fixated on having a state budget surplus of $4.2 billion for 2022-23, up from $1.6 billion in the previous year.

SHEPPARTON, VIC: The fight by Visy cannery workers, members of the AMWU, has taken a turn for the worse with the company hiring scabs to replace strikers.

Danny Miller, AMWU regional organiser, said, “They’re basically saying we’re going to replace the whole workforce, which commenced on Monday [8 May].”

Industrial action had been going for more than 19 weeks involving 35 workers, who are only working two shifts per week out of five, meaning a vast reduction in their take-home pay.

The AMWU has a fighting fund and some unions in Melbourne are doing regular workplace collections. But what the Visy workers really need is solidarity strike action in support.

Donate to the strike fund:

Name: AMWU Disaster Appeal Account
BSB: 082-057
Account No: 188989948
Reference: VISY SHEPP

By Tom Orsag


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