Thursday 25 May 2017
Weekly Update No. 13/2017
From AWU Victorian Secretary Ben Davis
Our members at Fletcher Insulation returned to work this morning after 97 days on strike. It was a gruelling and challenging time for the 89 members who stood together, and stayed strong throughout. Ultimately, they won, not everything, but it is a major victory.
Fletcher wanted, but did not get a pay freeze, unlimited use of casuals, working hours increased from the glass industry standard of 35 normal hours a week to 38 normal hours, and a cap on payouts in the event of redundancy which would have meant only the first 13 years of service would be compensated. None of these things are in the new EA.
Among the improvements in the agreement members voted to accept are pay increases of 2% a year, no cap on redundancy packages, hours not increased to 38 normal hours, and restrictions on the use of casuals, including casual conversion after three months.
This morning, AWU Officials formed a guard of honour in the carpark at Fletcher Insulation as the group returned to work. It was a heartfelt expression of respect for members who have demonstrated so ably the power of the courage of your convictions.
Our members are loyal, extremely productive and long-standing employees and the business itself is highly profitable. Fletcher’s extreme stand quite simply was pulling the rug out from under their workers’ feet. There were principles at stake and this group believed they were worth defending.
I don’t think Fletcher ever dreamed that the workforce would stick to their guns, but that’s what they did. It wasn’t easy. It was downright uncomfortable. It was a very long time without a pay packet.
Fletcher turned the heat up with an application to the Fair Work Commission to terminate the existing agreement, which if successful, would have pushed our members onto the award approximately halving their pay. Still, the group did not waiver.
Over and above all else, our Fletcher members demonstrated the importance of sticking together, speaking with one voice and maintaining a well-considered stand. They humble us all.
Throughout the dispute there was a 24-hour vigil at the gates of the Dandenong factory. It was an immaculately kept, well-run protest that again demonstrated the discipline of this group. I want to thank those of you who made the effort to get out there and spend a little time with them. I know that your presence was greatly appreciated.
I also want to thank those who made donations to help them through this extraordinarily difficult time. Collections in workplaces around the state, donations online and the dollars kicked in by those who visited, the cakes, the coffee and all the rest, ultimately contributed to this victory. If there is any money out there that has been collected for Fletcher workers, please get it to us as soon as possible. It is urgently needed, as this group has certainly taken a financial hit.
Every single person involved in this dispute is to be commended for their clarity and their commitment, but none more so than AWU Delegate Ranga Liyanaarchchi whose leadership and organisational skills were exceptional. AWU Organiser Colin Heath should also be recognised for his commitment throughout.
We are seeing more and more employers taking an extreme line in EA negotiations. EastLink maintenance contractor Broadspectrum is just one more example.
Broadspectrum originally offered maintenance workers an agreement with a 25% wage reduction, entitlements stripped bare and unilateral control over roster changes. Our members notified protected industrial action to start on Friday morning in the form of bans on collecting rubbish, on paperwork and on any involvement in a scheduled maintenance shutdown of the tunnel on Saturday night.
On Thursday night Broadspectrum told our members they would not be paid for any of the work they did while bans were in place. On Friday morning, our members rejected a new offer of a wage freeze in a rolled over agreement, but with total control over roster changes remaining with the employer. They went ahead with their protected industrial action and did not work while the bans were in place.
Handing Broadspectrum total control over rosters and roster changes is something our shift worker members are not prepared to accept. They want consultation and agreement reached on changes before they are made.
On Saturday morning they rejected another revised offer of a three year agreement, again with no pay increases, but with current rosters locked in for two years and a $3000 bonus at the end of the agreement.
Our members protected action continued over the weekend. Each shift gathered outside their depot which is where they were on Saturday night when maintenance contractors reported for duty on the tunnel shutdown. A great many of those contractors decided not to work on that shutdown, out of respect for the Broadspectrum workers and their fight for a fair go.
Our members returned to work on Monday morning empowered by their stand and ready to continue negotiations in good faith.
Support for Forest Firefighters
It was the Labor State Conference last weekend and an opportunity to get important support for our campaign for the recognition of DELWP and Parks Victoria Forest Firefighters as emergency service workers.
As I have explained here before, they fulfil all criteria for this classification, and yet recognition has not been forthcoming. It is a huge disappointment that Premier Daniel Andrews and Deputy Premier James Merlino have not lived up to their promises to do so.
Our courageous Forest Firefighters do not have the dignity of being appropriately recognised for the contribution they make to this state, and nor do they have access to the Emergency Services Super (ESS) that is designed to cover people working under the extreme circumstances they so often encounter. As an example, death and disability payouts under ESS are much higher than those for which our members are eligible under their current super arrangements.
The support for recognition and for a complete transparent review of Forest Firefighter numbers on the ground before next fire season was certainly there at the conference,. I don’t think there was any great need to convince anyone of the importance of both measures. It is simply common sense.
No argument on steel
The AWU’s State of Steel campaign had early success with the Andrews Government committing to maximise the use of locally-produced steel in infrastructure programs, including grade separations and the West Gate Tunnel.
On Saturday, Labor State Conference supported a motion I put up for local steel content targets to be included in contracts and for those targets to be closely enforced with heavy penalties if they are not met.
Imposing meaningful penalties is a vital part of the process if we are to see our local steel industry secured. Action needs to be taken and it needs to be taken now, before the announcements start rolling from the Federal Government’s $75 billion infrastructure spend.
Exposure to chemicals
I am very concerned that the majority of members and former members employed by DELWP and its predecessor departments as sprayers, have not answered the call to register for health checks. These health checks are one of the recommendations to come out of the Former Lands Department Inquiry into Chemical Exposure.
Last year DELWP notified 3000 sprayers and former sprayers who worked for the Victorian Government between 1965 and 1995 of the screening, and asked them to register. Only 260 people have registered so far, and that is disappointing in the extreme.
I continue to push the State Government for a comprehensive inquiry into all chemicals used by sprayers, across departments and the state. I believe it is a necessary move if we are to truly safeguard public sector workers. The more information that is gathered, the better our ability to protect the health and safety of our members.
So please, if you received a notice, or if you did not receive a notice but should have, ring 1800 987 767 to register now.
Juries are a vital part of our system of justice. They are made up of citizens randomly selected from the electoral role, called to do their duty, as one of our members was recently.
It so happens that this member shares a view that I hold, that we should perform this service when called upon. In fact, unless you have a lawful excuse, you are indeed required to perform this duty. He notified his employer of the dates he was required. The rapid response from the HR department was in the form of a note he was to submit to request being excused.
He was not happy about this, and made that feeling known, leading to the withdrawal of all pressure on him to not do his duty. He will now report as asked and may or may not be selected to serve on a jury.
If you are called you should report as requested, unless there is a legitimate and pressing reason why you cannot. Your employer must release you and pay you, if applicable. Don’t forget to check your legal entitlements in any applicable award or enterprise agreement that applies.
Keep in touch
There are many challenges facing unions and their members, and it has never been more important for the lines of communication to be open. I value each and every email I receive and answer every one as soon as possible. You can write to me at email@example.com with any of your concerns, ideas or opinions.
I would ask that you make sure that we have your current contact details. You can make any necessary changes either by phoning 03 8327 0888 or by clicking here.
If you are working alongside people who are not AWU members but should be, please talk to them about joining. The greater the membership at any site, the greater our ability to represent members. You can also contact our Growth Team Lead Organiser Shannon Threlfall-Clarke on 0458 555 041 and she can arrange for someone to visit your place and sign up new members.
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and don’t forget our AWU Victorian Women’s Network Facebook and Fairness for Forest Firefighter pages. These are all important ways in which you can stay up to date with matters that impact your working life.
Until next week, please stay safe, and remember we are always Stronger Together.
Authorised by AWU Victorian Secretary Ben Davis 685 Spencer St West Melbourne 3003