Thursday 20 July 2017

Weekly Update No. 21/2017


From AWU Acting Victorian Secretary Liam O’Brien


Dear Member


Last Friday in Sale, union members, their families and their friends gathered to tell the world they will not lie down while the heart is torn out of their community by the manoeuvrings of giant multi-national Esso.


It was a bleak day but the message rang clear. If it is legal to make people redundant and then offer them their jobs back at a 30% pay cut, then the law should change. This is exactly what happened to onshore and offshore maintenance workers who lost their jobs when UGL-Kaefer lost the Esso contract, and MTCT Services, a wholly-owned subsidiary of UGL, took over.


The new contractor is asking people to work under an EA signed by a small and unrelated number of people in Western Australia.  Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told the crowd that Labor was working towards closing the legal loophole that allows such a thing to happen.


“My principal interest is to help restore the fair go at work,” Bill said.


You can click here to read one of the stories about the rally.


Becoming a familiar story


The situation in which these workers find themselves echoes that of the Esso offshore catering workers who last year lost their jobs with Sodexo when ESS took over the contract. The new contractor declined to hire any of the 110 Sodexo workers  made redundant, and sought a completely new group of workers earning something like $45,000 a year less than their predecessors.


It was the same story as the CUB55, a group of maintenance workers for the brewer who were sacked when a new contractor was introduced, and then offered their jobs back at a 65% reduction in pay and conditions. They were ultimately victorious in regaining their previous positions with “fair and decent union terms and conditions”, but only after a 180-day dispute.


A fight for all workers


Our members at Fletcher Insulation drew a line in the sand when their highly-profitable employer decided to slice and dice longstanding conditions, with a pay freeze for good measure. As most of you would know only too well, they spent 97 days on strike, never wavering in their belief that a fair go is the right of all.


All these cases, and many more like them, are about far more than the workers immediately affected by them. They are indicative of how far some employers will go to simply pay workers less than their fair share so that they can make even greater profits than they currently enjoy.


Show your support


It is time we all sent a message to Canberra, to employers, to whoever we can reach, that Australian workers will not stand by while their way of life is eroded.  You can show your support in many different ways.


AWU, ETU and AMWU members are maintaining a vigil outside the Esso Longford Gas Plant, as they have for about four weeks now. They will be there for as long as it takes for fair play to prevail. If you are down that way, I know they would greatly appreciate a visit.


Keep an eye on our Facebook page and ‘like’ and share posts about this situation. Talk to people about what is happening, and remind them that while none of this may be their problem today, it could be tomorrow.    




All our GrainCorp members should have received their protected action ballots by now, and hopefully returned them. If you haven’t received your ballot yet, get onto your Organiser straight away. We are hearing stories about long delays in mail reaching regional areas.


Last week the AWU made application to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to extend the ballot period to take into account those postal delays. We are yet to get a decision, so in the meantime, make sure you act quickly. Vote YES to every question and get that ballot back to the AEC as soon as you can.


Negotiations are continuing with GrainCorp, with talks as recently as Monday this week. Today the dispute is back before the FWC.


Burning problem


If you were anywhere around the northern suburbs or city last week chances are you would have been practically knocked over the by the stench and smoke from the fire at  SKM Industries recycling plant at Coolaroo.


There are a number of AWU members working there, and fortunately there were no injuries among them as a result of the fire. However, it is well and truly time for a proper inquiry into this site and for moves to ensure the health and safety of the workforce.


Last Thursday’s fire was the third there this year. In February it was gutted by fire, and there was another blaze last month. This time around, ash was reported falling from Pascoe Vale, to Flemington, Docklands and the CDB. The smoke could be seen as far afield as Frankston. Workers were sent home and residents nearby the fire were urged to leave their homes because of the very poor air quality.


Unacceptable risk to workers’ health


State Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio has announced an audit of recycling facilities across the state, as a result of this fire. She has also announced an interim waste management policy that will force facilities to better store materials to minimise health and environmental risks.


The AWU has already advised the minister that we want to be part of all initiatives taken in respect of recycling sites. The health and safety of our members at work is at stake here. We will have a place at the table to represent their interests.


After the February fire, Organiser Dave Swan and AWU Victorian Safety Director Percy Pillai conducted safety audits at the company’s Laverton and Geelong sites. There are AWU  members at all three facilities. 


“When we ensure the health and safety of workers we also ensure the safety of the community. We will collaborate with all efforts for a safer future for recycling,” Dave said. 


Boral negotiations starting


Negotiations have started in earnest this week towards a new EA for our Boral Asphalt members around the state. The negotiating team has been working for a number of weeks on the log of claims which was presented to the employer yesterday.


These are boom times for asphalting with the surge of infrastructure projects for Victoria announced in recent times. There is a $1.8 billion plan to eliminate suburban bottlenecks, involving improvements to 700 km of road from Werribee to Footscray, among others.


Farm Safety Week


This has been National Farm Safety Week, and a chance to reflect on the realities of the appalling safety record in that sector. Even though agricultural workers make up only 2.3 per cent of the Australian workforce, they account for 23% of fatalities at work.


Between 2005 and 2015, an average of 41 workers employed in the industry died each year, and the number of serious injury claims was similarly disproportionate. Quadbikes accounted for the highest number of deaths and injuries overall.


When it comes to quadbikes, do not use one if it is not equipped with crush protection. You must wear an appropriate helmet at all times when you are riding it, and you should be comprehensively instructed in its safe use before you start.


It doesn’t matter what sort of job you have, or what people have done for generations before you got there, health and safety at work must be your top priority. Never forget, your employer has a legal obligation to provide a safe and healthy workplace. If that is not happening, talk to your HSR, ring your Organiser or get onto our AWU Victorian Safety Unit.


Whatever you do, never forget there is no greater workplace right than finishing your shift in the same good health as you started.


Keep in touch


It is always good to hear from members, to share your ideas and opinions. You can write to me at and tell me what’s on your mind. I will do my best to answer every email as soon as possible after I receive it.


Please make sure we have all your correct contact details, including mobile numbers and email addresses. You can make changes by clicking here or you can ring our Membership Department on 03 8327 0888 or 1300 362 298 (from anywhere in the state for the price of a local call).


If you look around and see co-workers who should be AWU members but are not, talk to them about joining. Don’t forget, the more members at any workplace, the greater our ability to represent them. New members can join by clicking here, or you can arrange for one of our Growth Team to visit by ringing Lead Organiser Shannon Threlfall-Clarke on 0458 555 041.


Please do follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Keep an eye on the AWU Victorian Womens’ Network Facebook page too.


Until next week, keep safe and remember, we are always Stronger Together.  






Authorised by AWU Acting Victorian Secretary Liam O’Brien 685 Spencer St West Melbourne 3003