Thursday 16 March 2017

Weekly Update No. 07/2017


From AWU Victorian Secretary Ben Davis


Dear Member

Yesterday I gave evidence before the Senate Inquiry into Corporate Avoidance of the Fair Work Act. The purpose of the exercise is to shine a light on practices that are not in line with the letter or the spirit of the Fair Work Act. Unfortunately I had plenty to talk about.

The treatment last year of our offshore catering members employed by Sodexo was a pretty good starting point. They were unceremoniously told that ESS, the new contractor appointed by Esso, would not employ them. They were replaced by workers flown in from interstate to work under a non-union Enterprise Agreement (EA) signed by six workers believed to be in WA, rather than by the group that would eventually work under it.

The non-union EA included a 28% pay cut, diminished conditions, increased workload and a four-week roster cycle rather than the one-week on/one week off system under which the job had been done until then.

Told they were not wanted

Our members were told there would be no jobs for them, that their experience and skill was not needed. If they wanted to work for ESS it would not be in Bass Strait, and would be only after they relocated to WA at their own expense. Even then, there would be no guarantee of employment.

Huge corporate interests are throwing everything they can at getting around the system. They want workers to go backwards and the Federal Government has thus far been unwilling to do anything about it.

Esso’s attempt to circumvent the Fair Work Commission at every turn by indulging in high price court action in the process of negotiating new EAs for AWU members offshore, at Barry Beach, and Longford and Long Island Point, was another matter I raised. Esso made application, since abandoned, to terminate agreements and force workers back onto the award. 

The race to the bottom is on. Employers, with the active support of the Turnbull Government, are giving it all they’ve got, and damn the repercussions for the community. This makes recent comments from Treasurer Scott Morrison all the more bizarre.

Low wages are a threat says Morrison

Morrison outdid himself this week when he said that low wage growth was the “biggest challenge” facing the economy. This is stunning from a man whose government has relentlessly pursued workers and slammed the unions that represent them as thugs.

“The biggest challenge we have is to ensure what Australians are earning every week is increasing,” Morrison said. “We’ve had flat wage prices; our wage price index has been flat for some period of time now.”

As journalists were quick to point out, his statements came after the Federal Government embraced the decision to reduce penalty rates for some of our most vulnerable workers. Evidently he saw no irony in the matter.

“It is in no-one’s interests to have people struggle to make ends meet or pay the rent or mortgage,” Morrison said. 

Funny if it wasn’t so serious

There can be no doubt that Australian workers are paying the price for financial mismanagement and lack of vision and perspective in our Federal Government.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics business indicators for the December quarter showed a 20.1% leap in profits, while wages fell 0.5%. It is no mistake that in mining and construction, where the profits growth was strongest, there were some of the biggest drops in wages.

In manufacturing, the estimated trend for gross operating profits went up by 5.6% during the quarter, while the trend estimate for wages and salaries fell 1.3%.

Click here to look at those figures.

Fletcher Insulation

Our members at Fletcher Insulation at Dandenong are on day 28 of their indefinite stoppage. They are taking this protected industrial action because their employer has offered them an EA with no wage increases for four years, coupled with other measures such as demanning, increased working hours, unlimited use of casuals for overtime and a drastic reduction in redundancy provisions.

It is an extreme log of claims from Fletcher, which this group could not accept. These are workers who have been loyal to the employer, many of them since the days when it was ACI, but none of that seems to count as far as the company is concerned. The plant is profitable and highly productive, with record productivity levels acknowledged just weeks ago.  

Since the stoppage began, there has been a 24-hour vigil at the gate of the worksite. I know that some of you have taken the time to stop at 127 Frankston-Dandenong Rd to show your support. Others have been following the dispute through our AWU Victorian Facebook page.

Swim instructors

It was good to catch up with some new union members on Monday, when the Swim Instructors Association (SIA) held an open day for teachers, support staff, friends and families.

The SIA was formed under the auspices of the AWU Victorian Branch last year when teachers with Paul Sadler Swimland came to us with concerns about underpayment.

This is a huge swimming school which it is estimated delivers about 30,000 lessons a week from sites across the country. Parents pay between $20 and $25 for a half-hour lesson, which involves groups of four, but some instructors were paid less than $10 for each lesson. 

So far, a total of $1 million in backpay has gone to about 650 instructors, with another $1-2 million identified in underpayments which are now the subject of conciliation before the Fair Work Commission. You can click here to go to the SIA Facebook page.

G Wagons

The fight for safe working conditions for our DELWP Forest Firefighter members is one we take very seriously indeed. Right now we are in the process of negotiating for an independent engineering report on the suitability of the Mercedes G Wagon.

An independent, professional review of the G Wagon’s capability is a great step forward. Only weeks ago the department was hoping our members would stick their heads in the sand and just take the manufacturer’s word for its safety in the field.

The professional, objective analysis which will now be commissioned is a direct result of Forest Firefighters standing up and saying ‘enough’s enough’. They are to be congratulated for their commitment to safety at work.

Chemical Inquiry health screening

The Former Lands Department Chemical Inquiry reported to the State Government in November 2015 but did not deliver the answers for which we hoped.

The Inquiry was restricted to the Ballarat region and the chemicals 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. It is the AWU’s view that there should be an investigation of the complete range of chemicals used by successive departments since 1965, in all parts of the state.  

Last year, Premier Daniel Andrews committed to recommendations to updating the 1980s Worker Health Study for sprayers and comparing it with the Victorian Cancer registry; checking former sprayers for a history of chloracne, soft tissue sarcoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma; and a review of current practices. I am still pushing for further action.

I want to urge all former sprayers employed by the State Government between 1965 and 1995 to organise their free health screening if they have not done so already. You can do this by ringing 1800 987 767. It is imperative that as much information as possible is gathered.

New ACTU Secretary

Congratulations to new ACTU Secretary Sally McManus, who yesterday became the first woman to hold this role. She is taking over after more than 20 years in the union movement, the last two spent running campaigns for the ACTU.

Sally is known to many as one of the main drivers of the successful campaign for pay equity for social and community sector workers. Click here to read more about that momentous win.

She’s promised to fight penalty rate cuts and work to maintain the living standards of Australian workers. “We are living through a time when corporations and the very rich have become far too powerful and this has happened so quickly that our laws and rights that keep things in balance have not kept up,” Sally said.

AWU Training

I want to emphasise to all our HSRs and Delegates the importance of keeping up to date with training. AWU training allows elected workplace representatives to understand their rights and obligations, and best fulfil their roles.

By law, HSRs have a right to an initial five-day training course, followed by annual one-day refreshers. If there is a difference of opinion, the choice of training provider has to be the subject of negotiation between the HSR and the employer. It is unsurprising that there are employers who are keen to see HSRs not undergo union training.

The AWU Victorian Training Unit delivers excellent training and all courses for HSRs are WorkSafe-approved. If you encounter any difficulty in attending AWU training you should speak to your Organiser or ring the AWU Training Unit on 03 8327 0888.

You can click here to see the training dates scheduled for the rest of this year.

Keep in touch

Every week I look forward to reading emails from members. I value your opinions and ideas as together we navigate these challenging times. Send your thoughts to me at I will answer every email.

Make sure we have your latest contact details. If you haven’t kept us up to date, go to our website and make the changes there.  Alternatively you can ring 03 8327 0888 to give us your new info, 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. And don’t forget the AWU Victorian Women’s Network Facebook.

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


Authorised by AWU Vic Sec Ben Davis 685 Spencer St West Melbourne 3003