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THE AUSTRALIAN

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ISSUE 3 2012

WORKER HORROR STORY THE T HE LIB LIBERALS BERALS IN POWER

FLAMING HELL FIREFIGHTERS UNDER ATTACK

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CONTENTS

FEATURES 08 WE’RE MAKING AUSTRALIA

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From construction, mining and manufacturing to cooking and cleaning – and just about everything between – AWU members have been hard at work making Australia great.

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A LIBERAL DOSE OF HORROR With rumours that a federal election may be called as early as March, there are fears that what’s happening under Liberal state governments may be repeated nationwide if a Coalition government led by Tony Abbott is elected. So what would that mean for Australia?

20 IN GOOD HANDS Once known as “The Workers’ Paradise” Queensland has had more than its share of conservative governments attacking all that workers fought for. But the AWU has always been there, leading the battle for workplace justice and members can rest assured that the Union’s Queensland Branch is in good hands.

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IN THE FIRING LINE

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ACP CUSTOM MEDIA EDITOR Kyle Rankin ART DIRECTOR Wayne Allen SUB-EDITORS Sandy McPhie, Graham Lauren PRODUCTION SERVICES Peter Woodward PREPRESS SUPERVISOR Klaus Müller PUBLISHER, ACP CUSTOM MEDIA & BOOKS Sally Wright PUBLISHING MANAGER Nicola O’Hanlon

State budget cuts and changes to workers’ compensation are threatening the lives of AWU members, as well as residents and properties around national parks and forests. It’s a red alert for firefighters.

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AWU EDITOR Paul Howes, AWU National Secretary AWU EXECUTIVE OFFICER Henry Armstrong AWU NATIONAL COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR Stewart Prins AWU NATIONAL COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER Davor Schwarz Address: Level 10, 377-383 Sussex Street, Sydney NSW 2000 Email: members@nat.awu.net.au Website: www.awu.net.au Telephone: (02) 8005 3333 Facsimile: (02) 8005 3300

HELMETS TO HARD HATS Finding work after leaving the armed forces can be difficult. But in the US some young military veterans, who are staunch unionists, are now rebuilding their lives while rebuilding a site of tragedy in New York.

REGULARS 04 National Opinion 07 Mail Call 32 Frontline News 44 Meet the Delegates/Officials 50 Bindi & Ringer PRIVACY NOTICE This issue of The Australian Worker may contain offers, competitions, or surveys which require you to provide information about yourself if you choose to enter or take part in them (Reader Offer). If you provide information about yourself to ACP Magazines Ltd (ACP), part of the Bauer Media Group, ACP will use this information to provide you with the products or services you have requested, and may supply your information to contractors that help ACP to do this. ACP will also use your information to inform you of other ACP publications, products, services and events. ACP may also give your information to organisations that are providing special prizes or offers and that are clearly associated with the Reader Offer. Unless you tell us not to, we may give your information to other organisations that may use it to inform you about other products, services or events or to give to other organisations that may use it for this purpose. If you would like to gain access to the information ACP holds about you, please contact ACP’s Privacy Officer at ACP Magazines Ltd, 54-58 Park Street, Sydney, NSW, 2000. Cover photo: Getty Images

ACP MAGAZINES – PART OF THE BAUER MEDIA GROUP CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, ACP MAGAZINES Matthew Stanton PUBLISHING DIRECTOR Gerry Reynolds Published for The Australian Workers’ Union (ABN 28 853 022 982) by ACP Magazines Ltd (ACN 18 053 273 546), part of the Bauer Media Group, 54-58 Park St, Sydney NSW 2000. © 2012. All rights reserved. Printed by PMP, Clayton, Vic 3168 and cover printed by Webstar, Silverwater, NSW 2128. Distributed by Network Services, 54 Park Street, Sydney, NSW 2000. Articles published in The Australian Worker express the opinion of the authors and not necessarily ACP Magazines Ltd. While all efforts have been made to ensure prices and details are correct at time of printing, these are subject to change. ISSN 1324-4094

www.awu.net.au THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER

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NATIONAL OPINION

BI LL LU DW IG

Bill Ludwig National President Queensland Branch Secretary

“... just the stroke of a pen removed job protections”

The election of the Newman Government in Queensland earlier this year has, yet again, heralded a renewed push on the part of conservative forces to destroy job security and employment terms and conditions for workers. You would be forgiven for thinking that we saw the end of these attacks when the broader labour movement mounted one of the most successful and concerted political campaigns to get rid of WorkChoices. Sadly, the nightmare of WorkChoices-style attacks is now being played out across the eastern seaboard of Australia, with very stark and savage attacks by the Ballieu, O’Farrell and Newman state governments which are spearheading the charge. In both Queensland and New South Wales,

the state governments are working hard to strip away workers’ compensation protections for injured workers. Most recently, the Newman Government legislated to unilaterally take away job security and no contracting-out clauses in all public sector awards and enterprise bargaining agreements. No consultation. No debate. Just the stroke of a pen to remove these protections so that the job of gutting 14,000 public sector jobs is made easier. In response to this, the AWU has done two things: firstly, mounting a Supreme Court challenge on the validity of those laws and, secondly, successfully petitioning the federal Labor government to change the Fair Work Act to ensure that transfer of business laws apply to public sector workers whose jobs are contracted out to the private sector. And you can safely bet that if Tony Abbott gets half a chance at running this country, what we see playing out at a state level right now will be played out federally. Worryingly, Abbott is already talking about the commonwealth public sector being 20,000 jobs over the mark. All of this highlights urgently the importance of AWU members right throughout the country remaining vigilant, united and strong in the face of these attacks, because in spite of what they may say publicly, conservative politicians repeatedly demonstrate in the most brutal way that they will never have the interests of workers at heart. It is a lamentable fact, but it is entirely true. Just ask any of the 14,000 Queensland public servants who are currently in Newman’s gunsights. ONCE BITTEN TWICE SHY: Campbell Newman met his match when a four-legged friend appeared to convey a pretty clear message!

Cesar Melhem Victorian Branch Secretary

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Russ Collison Greater NSW Branch Secretary

Stephen Price West Australian Branch Secretary

Wayne Hanson South Australian Branch Secretary

Photography: Faifax Photos/Getty

WORKCHOICES MEANS NO CHOICES


PAU L HOW ES

A YEAR OF CHALLENGE This year will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the most challenging years our Union has faced. In 2012 we have seen jobs lost across many of the industries we work in. The combination of the high Australian dollar and depressed global markets have put enormous pressure on trade-exposed industries, particularly in the manufacturing sector. At the same, the political clouds are darkening, with conservative state governments attacking jobs and services, and the federal coalition preparing for another assault on workers’ rights. But I’m constantly inspired by the resilience and determination of AWU members. When times get tough, the Australian Workers’ Union stands strong. That’s why this year has been a watershed for our Union in many ways. We led the way in arguing for government action to save Australia’s manufacturing sector, by playing a key role in the Prime Minister’s Taskforce on Manufacturing – which developed 41 detailed recommendations for saving the manufacturing sector and giving it a foundation for future growth. The Manufacturing Taskforce also delivered vital short-term wins in the form of tougher anti-dumping measures and improved local content regulations for major projects. We led the way in securing our aluminium refining capacity. Our efforts succeeded in achieving a Federal Government rescue package for the Point Henry refinery, while a new power deal secured the future of Bell Bay. We saw a classic example of resilience and determination at BlueScope just a few weeks ago, where members finalised a new enterprise agreement after a long, intense period of negotiating. AWU members at BlueScope held firm under enormous pressure, and won a fair deal that protected their pay and entitlements.

Paul Howes National Secretary

ALUMINIUM AID: The Union’s efforts succeeded in achieving a rescue package securing the future of Point Henry.

The AWU has also led a passionate community campaign in Tasmania in support of a balance between conservation and mining, so that we can protect our environment and protect jobs. The Our Tarkine, Our Future campaign included a huge public rally in Burnie, and culminated with a delegation of mine workers going to meet Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke in Canberra. Thanks to our efforts, new job-generating projects are likely to go ahead, and local workers are more likely to have a decent future. The world is changing around us, and that’s why strong unions are more important than ever.We must work even harder to build unity in our Union, to support and encourage each other, and to demand a fair go for all Australian workers. On behalf of all the officials of our Union, I thank you for your support during 2012, and I wish you and your family all the very best for the New Year.

“... we must work even harder to support and encourage each other and to demand a fair go for all Australian workers.” POST YOUR LETTERS TO: The Editor, The Australian Worker, Level 10, 377-383 Sussex Street, Sydney NSW 2000

Ian Wakefield Tasmanian Branch Secretary

Wayne Phillips Port Kembla Branch Secretary

Richard Downie Newcastle Branch Secretary

Norman McBride Tobacco Branch Secretary

OR EMAIL THEM TO: members@nat.awu.net.au

www.awu.net.au THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER

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LETTERS

MAILCALL

YOUR NEWS AND VIEWS Gas is a hot issue.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION! Once upon a time people stood on soap-boxes at street corners and in parks to argue for a better deal for workers. Listeners would often stand out in the wind and rain to show their support – until the police or paid thugs came along to break it all up. These days, the arguments are just as passionate, but you don’t need a soap-box and a booming voice to have your say. And you’re less likely to get arrested! The new world of social

media is a great way for all of us to express our views and opinions and to participate in the national conversation. The AWU is expanding its social media activities, and developing new ways for members to get involved in the big issues. We’re on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and we’re building an exciting new web site. Getting on social media is not just being heard, it’s also about showing your support for other AWU members.

GET CONNECTED Are you on Facebook? Make sure you ‘like’ the AWU Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/AustralianWorkersUnion Are you on Twitter? Make sure you follow @AWUnion Prefer to use email? Email your letters to: members@nat.awu.net.au Still using snail mail? Then send in your letters to: The Australian Workers’ Union, Level 10, 377-383 Sussex Street, Sydney NSW 2000. By submitting your letter for publication you agree that we may edit the letter for legal, space or other reasonable reasons, and may, after publication in the magazine, republish it on the internet or in other media. Views expressed on the ‘Mail Call’ page are not necessarily those of the AWU.

Here are some of the comments that Australian workers have been making on social media through the AWU’s Facebook page and on Twitter. “I’ve just done the maths. It’s now more expensive to run my car on LPG. Strangely enough it’s sucked out of the ground & processed less than 50k from where I live. Where does petrol come from???” Stuart Hampton on AWU’s proposal for a National Gas Reservation Policy “Can the refinery use its current workforce to rebuild? They could be retrained or use current skills and work in with a specialist contractor employed for the oil to gas refit. The refinery would benefit greatly, having lower energy costs, and reducing the costs and sourcing of workers to fill vacancies for the refit and gaining the knowledge for future maintenance. The sticking point is a low cost domestic price on gas for Australian manufacturers. If there are royalty free licenses for foreign owned gas producers, why isn’t there cheap gas available for local producers and manufacturing, especially in a flat market?” Daniel Foster on Pacific Aluminium’s decision to review its refinery operations at Gove in the Northern Territory “Yes, sensible environmental safeguards can be applied, best way is to sit down and discuss all the issues such as new opportunities for the region and workers.” George Naumovski on the AWU’s Our Tarkine, Our Future campaign “EBA finally done & dusted so glad to have had such great support from Sam Wood and the members #relieved.” David Walker on EBA negotiations “Well done on attacking the Govt’s 2 tier workers’ compensation system.” Will Dargan on the NSW Government’s cut to compo “Fantastc rally! A huge crowd and a great response. Drove up from Hobart and just home now.” Glenys Lindner on AWU’s Our Tarkine, Our Future campaign rally in Burnie during November www.awu.net.au THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER

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INDUSTRIAL REPORT

WE’RE MAKING

AUSTRALIA

THE AWU AT WORK The Australian Workers’ Union has a broad sscope ope aacross ross many industries industries.

From construction, mining and manufacturing to cooking and cleaning, and just about everything in between, AWU members have been hard at work making Australia great. Cate Carrigan looks who is doing what and where. 8

THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER www.awu.net.au


BUILDING BRIDGES: The Sydney Harbour Bridge was a massive project and an engineering marvel of its time. The Union played an integral part in bringing it to reality.

T

he construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Snowy Mountains Scheme used cu!ing-edge technology to create visionary infrastructure that transformed the way city residents lived; and diverted water for the great food bowl of the Murray-Darling Basin. AWU members played an integral part in both projects and, despite huge pressures on manufacturing, they are still working in innovative industries producing quality goods that keep Australians fed, housed and moving. Figures from the Australian Industry Group show the manufacturing sector contracted for the eighth consecutive month in March 2012. However, there were bright spots, with transport and equipment, construction materials and machinery recording signiÞcant growth through demand from the mining industry. Working towards that success are AWU members like Bob Parkinson, a delegate at the thriving Arrium factory at Waratah in the New South Wales city of Newcastle, which is producing quality

train wheels for rail wagons used in the multi-billion-dollar mining sector. Tough competition from cheaper Chinese imports has taken a major chunk out of the business in recent years, but Bob says the company’s quality product is holding its own and winning back big miners such as Rio Tinto, Fortescue Metals and BHP Billiton. “The Chinese and Indian imports were a lot cheaper, but they only last a few years. We make a quality wheel that lasts and our customers are now coming back,” says Bob. Then there’s Glen Ward, an AWU delegate working on what’s set to become one of Sydney’s landmark developments, the Barangaroo project at Darling Harbour East in Sydney. “It will be a magniÞcent development, with the rebuilding of an inlet that was there when Europeans Þrst arrived, extensive parkland and the preservation of important Aboriginal heritage,” says Glen. “There’s a lot of union history tied up in this place. It’s great that we are transforming it into parkland rather than

l pers ” throwing it to the hands of the developers.” AWU National Secretary Paul Howes says AWU members are the true heroes of the Australian economy, forging our future with their hard work and ingenuity. “Everywhere you go in Australia, you will see or use something that was made by AWU hands,” Paul says. “However you get to work, wherever you do your shopping, wherever you live, the product of an AWU member is never far away.” Paul points out that AWU members are also a driving technological innovation across the manufacturing sector. “We don’t just make things, we make things be!er,” Paul says. “As our jobs become more technical and more highly skilled, our members are Þnding smarter ways of doing things. It’s because our members have always taken pride in their work and pride in their contribution to the community. “And it’s why I’m proud to be National Secretary of this great union – the union that’s been making Australia for 126 years.”

Bob Parkinson at Arrium in Sydney; Glen Ward at the Barangaroo site; AWU National Secretary Paul Howes (centre) talks with members.

www.awu.net.au THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER

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INDUSTRIAL REPORT

“I feel proud when I see these trains out on the Victorian tracks. They are a great quality product…”

ABOVE: Tasmanian salmon farm industry workers. RIGHT: Victoria’s trains are right on track.

LANDING A BIG ONE: TASMANIAN AQUACULTURE Since its beginnings in the mid-1980s at Dover in southern Tasmania, the state’s salmon farming industry has ßourished. From the Þrst annual commercial harvest of 53 tonnes, the industry now produces almost 40,000 tonnes per annum and AWU members are in the thick of it. The industry has become a huge part of Tasmania’s rural economy, with the sector, which directly employs 1100 people, now the leading primary production in the state, ahead of the iconic dairy industry. Production increased by 13 per cent to $369.1 million in 2009–10, surpassing rock lobster as Australia’s highest earning Þsheries product. AWU Tasmania Branch Secretary Ian WakeÞeld says AWU members have been involved since the start, working in all parts of the chain, from the hatcheries to the farms and processing centres. “The industry has seen huge growth and is continuing to grow, with a recent expansion announced into Macquarie Harbour on the west coast near Strahan,” Ian says. “I think Tasmania’s leading the world in innovation in salmon farming and husbandry with continual improvements all the way along the chain. Be!er breeding and feeding systems and environmental control have led to improved growth rates and higher yields.” Between them, the four key players – Tassal, Huon Aquaculture, Petuna and Van

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Diemen Aquaculture – run the hatcheries, farms and processing centres, with distribution through seafood wholesalers, supermarkets and agents for the export market. Fish growing and processing operations are spread around the state, with key harvesting centres at Dover and Macquarie Harbour, packaging at Huonville, Margate, Devonport and Parrama!a Creek, and hatcheries at various locations including Judbury and Lonnavale. Ian is conÞdent about industry’s future, which holds its own despite the tough economic environment, with projections production will grow to 76,000 tonne in 2029-30, generating $960 million a year in sales and proving direct and indirect employment for 11,250 workers.

ON TRACK: VICTORIA’S RAIL TRIUMPH When you think of train spo!ers, you probably imagine someone with a camera and a notebook, but for Jeff Yates it’s about the sense of pride he gets in seeing a carriage he and his fellow workers have built at their Dandenong factory in Victoria. An AWU delegate at Bombardier Transportation’s factory in Melbourne’s south east, Jeff says things are looking really good, with VLocity carriages being built, the awarding of a contract to build the new generation trams for Melbourne and a contract to build trains for Adelaide and possibly Queensland. The Canadian-headquartered global transport company initially won a major

Victorian contract to maintain, repair and manage the entire V/Line classic ßeet of trains in 2010 and is continuing to impress with its quality product. Jeff says the Dandenong factory has a great workforce and while there are currently 87 workers (mainly AWU members) on the shopßoor, that is expected to treble in coming years. “It’s a great feeling to work for a company that’s expanding jobs,” he says. “It’s especially good to see a company like Bombardier basing itself in a region such as Dandenong where manufacturing really needs a boost. They use cu!ing edge technology in manufacturing these trams and trains, and pass these skills on to the men on the shop ßoor through good training programs. “ “I feel very proud when I see these trains out on the Victorian tracks. They are a great quality product that is well presented, well designed and so good mechanically that they last a long time before needing any replacement parts.” Jeff says Bombardier’s success is a lesson for Australian manufacturers: be innovative, train up the workforce and look to a!ract leading global companies that can create jobs and revitalise ßagging industries. “The workers respect working for Bombardier and it looks after its workers. That’s one of the hardest things to get through to management, to appreciate what workers do on the shop ßoor.” AWU Victorian Branch Secretary Cesar


It’s all sweet in Queensland’s sugar industry.

Melhem says a key to Bombardier’s success was a Union campaign to pressure the former Labor Government to buy locally made trains and trams. “There was a huge campaign run by the Union that resulted in the former government granting the contract to Bombardier,” Cesar says. “Part of Bombardier’s plan was to build a cluster of local suppliers to make parts for new trams and trains. So now they’ve got the economies of scale to start producing trams (300 in next 10 years) and trains and get orders from other states.”

A SPOONFUL OF SUGAR: QUEENSLAND’S SWEET SUCCESS In Queensland, where dropping sugar prices had canegrowers pulling out their crops just a few years ago, the mood has turned with increasing optimism and more hectares now being planted. Sugar reÞnery worker and AWU delegate Darren Routh says with rebounding prices for sugar, farmers are pu!ing in more cane and foreign companies are buying up land to plant the crop. “A lot of farmers stopped growing cane because the price dropped, but that’s changing. It’s deÞnitely be!er than it was 10 years ago and I’m feeling more conÞdent about the future of the sugar industry,” he says. Darren’s optimism is back up by the latest Þgures from Canegrowers Australia, which show a $100m growth in the value of the Australian sugar industry in four years. That’s a 20,000 hectares increase in land under cane. Darren, who works for Sugar Australia’s Racecourse ReÞnery at Mackay, which produces up to 420,000 tonnes per annum, says the plant takes raw sugar and turns it into white, brown, coffee and extra course white sugar for the export and domestic markets.

Facing stiff competition, BlueScope Steel in Port Kembla is using innovation to find new markets.

AWU Queensland Branch Assistant Secretary Ben Swan, says members like Darren work right throughout the sugar industry, from cultivation to reÞning, milling and exporting, with 1500 AWU members working in sugar manufacturing throughout the state. “Sugar is a very important area of membership for the AWU in Queensland,” Ben says. “Not only does it span a region from Rocky Point on the south coast right up to Cairns, but cane cu!ing was one of the Þrst three pillars of the AWU along with shearing and mining.”

WHEELS ON FIRE: NSW IS ROLLING Quality is proving a winner for a Newcastle company that makes train wheels, with Arrium’s Waratah factory slowly but surely regaining the orders of large mining companies that had been opting for cheaper Chinese alternatives. “We are proof of quality winning out over cheap imports,” says Bob Parkinson, an AWU delegate at the Waratah factory in Newcastle, which employs about 750 people and has been making train wheels under different company names for 95 years. AWU Newcastle Branch Secretary Richard Downie says cheaper imports had been taking their toll on the Arrium (formerly OneSteel) product. “For many years, over 90 per cent of train wheels on Australian tracks were made at this factory but then the Chinese imports started to bite into the market,” he says.

“Fortescue Metals and Rio Tinto were importing fully made wagons, but the wheels weren’t the standard of the ones made in Newcastle, lasting Þve years compared to Waratah’s seven plus. Now wagons are coming to Australia to be Þ!ed with Newcastle-made wheels or they come in with the Australian wheels on them.” Bob Parkinson says Arrium is working back towards the levels of output it reached before the global Þnancial crisis (GFC), with the company forecasting an output of 80,000 wheels for this year, and hoping to get back to the 110,000 per annum they were making just prior to the GFC. “We mainly supply the mining sector with wheels for railway wagon carts, but we also have sales for passenger trains and export to South Africa,” Bob says. “The company (which has employed 100 more workers to meet growing demand) is trying to increase the export and passenger train market and has made some good inroads over last 18 months. At one stage companies were bringing in entire trains from China, but then we began sending wheels to China to be Þ!ed to the carriages. Now the wheels are Þ!ed in Australia, which is great.”

ROOFS OVER OUR HEADS: THE BLUESCOPE STORY From gu!ering to housing frames, rooÞng, fencing, ßooring, garages, walkways and rainwater tanks, BlueScope Steel in the industrial zone of Port Kembla, south of Sydney, produces most things needed for

www.awu.net.au THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER

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INDUSTRIAL REPORT

“There’s a lot of union history tied up in this place. It’s great that we are transforming it into parkland”

Sydney’s Barangaroo site is an enormous project giving an historic area back to the public.

industrial and residential construction. While it’s facing stiff global competition, the Illawarra-based steelmaker is using innovation and market savvy to Þnd new markets and hold its regular customer base. AWU delegate at the Springhill Works, Ilija Sukoski, says BlueScope makes and distributes ßat steel products, steel building products and metalliccoated steel products, in addition to pre-engineered steel buildings. “The company’s key brands are Xlerplate steel, Colorbond steel, Lysaghts steel, providing a full ranging of construction products from insulated panels, to walling and cladding,” Ilija says. AWU Port Kembla Branch Secretary Wayne Phillips, advises BlueScope’s current market share in NZ and Australia is 70 to 80 per cent. While this is high, Wayne says it needs be up around 80 per cent for the company to be proÞtable. “The biggest issue BlueScope has is importation of inferior products and the dumping of steel from countries not abiding by World Trade obligations,” he says. BlueScope is looking at ways to expand its market share, Wayne says, and has entered into a joint venture with Japan’s Nippon Steel to sell coated steel products to South East Asia and North America. “As a result, there’s to be a $140 million investment into the BlueScope Springhill factory at Port Kembla, to enable the manufacture and production of new products.”

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For Wayne and Ilija the importance of the Australian manufacturing sector is a no-brainer. They both agree that manufacturing is the engine room and nucleus of innovation in Australia and the world.

A HARBOUR VISION: BARANGAROO It’s an iconic location. The old docklands located on the eastern edge of Sydney’s Darling Harbour, nestled in beside the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the site of the historic Hungry Mile where workers lined up – often unsuccessfully – for work during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Now, with the help of AWU workers, 22 hectares of disused container wharves are being transformed into a spectacular waterfront precinct, including a six-hectare headland park, waterfront walks, commercial office towers and apartments, to be serviced by new and extended transport systems. AWU delegate Glen Ward says the 20 members employed by Baulderstone on the Barangaroo Authority site are currently doing foundation working; building the site up 18 metres so pedestrians can walk off the top of the cliff into the park. “We are also recreating an inlet to the way it was in the 1880s, when Europeans arrived,” he says. “The idea is to dig out along the shoreline and incorporate it into the foreshore area. We’ve got our own quarry where we’ll be mining sandstone blocks for the pathways that

will reach down to the water’s edge all along the park. Fully established trees will be planted straight into the ground. This will be a landmark site for Sydney. The sandstone will be going down to the water and the step process is absolutely magniÞcent. It’s amazing what they are going to do here and a project that most of Sydney will be watching because it’s totally open to the public.” AWU Greater NSW Branch Secretary Russ Collison says Barangaroo is just one example of the important work being done by AWU members in building infrastructure around NSW, with up to 2000 workers involved in construction projects including road building, tunnels and bridge work at any given time. Russ says innovation is always a factor in the sector, with the machinery and equipment used for building tunnels today completely different to what was used 10 or 15 years ago, and a lifetime away from the days of the Snowy Mountains Scheme and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. “Even by today’s standards, you look at the bridge and wonder, how brave were those guys. The joining of those two arches was phenomenal and the AWU (through the old Ironworkers’ Union) was the major union involved,” Russ says. “The Snowy Mountains Scheme was also a major feat and another AWU project. It was built by union labour, was very multi-cultural (including Italians, Greeks and many others) and was a great success. “We’ve got a great history, it’s a great union and most of the projects we’ve been involved in have been unionised.”

TOP GEAR: CAR INDUSTRY HERE TO STAY While there’s been a lot of pessimism about the Australian car industry, AWU South Australian Branch Secretary Wayne


Rob Phillips, AWU delegate at Kwinana.

Hanson is not only conÞdent that it has a future, but is adamant it’s an essential part of Australia’s manufacturing sector. With AWU workers based in underpressure car components supply chain companies, Wayne says the challenge is for companies to restyle their thinking and ensure strategic planning is in keeping with 21st century manufacturing techniques. “For too long business has been happy to stay in the comfort zone of ‘70s and ‘80s techniques,” Wayne says. “But if those players haven’t got the strategic knowhow we ought to get rid of them and put in people with the guts to improve the way they manufacture. “Maybe there could be a moratorium on vehicle industry manufacturers to lay off with their downward pressure on prices until components industries can introduce modern manufacturing techniques.” Wayne points to the example of the Japanese company HeroTec, which has a factory based in the Adelaide suburb of Elizabeth. “This facility has cu"ing-edge techniques and we never hear a whimper out of them. They are just humming away, satisfying the needs of whatever it takes to make things that open and shut on a motor vehicle – doors, bonnets, boots for Holden. “They are a glowing example of the way that manufacturing should be headed. We must have a vehicle industry; we must make things. Just like Germany, which is doing very well in the high quality sector.”

FUELLING THE FUTURE: WA PETROCHEMICALS The largest oil reÞnery in Australia and the only one in Western Australia, BP’s Kwinana ReÞnery south of Perth produces 137,000 barrels of crude oil every day and employs just over 400 workers, including 162 AWU members. Turning imported crude oil into petrol and diesel, the plant

We must have a vehicle industry; we must make things.”

While there has been pessimism about the car industry, but the Union believes it has a future.

supplies most of the state’s fuel needs, including the huge WA mining industry. And that’s the way AWU’s Western Australian Branch Secretary Stephen Price would like it to stay; an important industry supplying valuable fuel and jobs for the mining industry and other customers across the vast state. But Stephen says that despite increasing output, there is a danger Australia’s reÞneries will close, with companies looking at the cheaper option of importing the reÞned product. “A lot of crude comes out of Singapore and some of the companies think they could be more proÞtable if they just dealt with imports,” he says. AWU delegate at Kwinana Rob Phillips who’s been at the reÞnery for 36 years, says while eastern seaboard reÞneries are facing closure, he’s quietly conÞdent about the future of the WA plant. “I believe WA is the safest state in terms

of continued reÞning, because we are the only one in this part of the country, a major supplier to the mining industry, and are close to the Stirling Naval Base (just west of Kwinana)” Rob says. “Kwinana is a great place to work and the AWU has given us a lot of help in obtaining our conditions, standards and pay rates.” Rob will be pushing his case along with other AWU officials and delegates at a Federal Parliamentary inquiry into the future of oil reÞning in Australia. “It’s important to have a reÞning sector in Australia for a number of reasons, including the country’s security and ability to set prices,” he says, adding that companies need to think beyond the bo"om line and take into account the social beneÞts and the importance of maintaining skills in Australia. “The technology associated with reÞning needs to be retained and developed.”

www.awu.net.au THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER

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POLITICAL IMPACT

With rumours that a Federal election is looming, there are fears that what’s happening under Liberal state governments may be repeated nationwide if a Coalition government, led by Tony Abbo!, is elected. An assault on the public service, massive reductions in infrastructural spending and a return to WorkChoices… The AWU believes it is important workers understand that a Coalition government is no friend to working people. It brings with it a threat to jobs, wages and working conditions. Donna Reeves reports.

A LIBERAL DOSE OF

QUEENSLAND In March this year, Campbell Newman and the Liberal National Party annihilated the Anna BlighQueensland Branch led Labor Party, Assistant Secretary winning 78 of the Ben Swan 89 available seats. Queensland workers have been reeling ever since, says AWU Queensland Branch Assistant Secretary Ben Swan. One of the Þrst things Newman did as premier was announce he was slashing public service worker jobs, despite having said he would do no such thing.

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“Things are nightmarish at the moment,” says Ben Swan. Initially Newman said 20,000 public service jobs would go, “but he massaged that down to 14,000 and was cynically sprouting off these cheesy lines that he’d listened to the concerns of people, and that job losses wouldn’t be as dramatic as what was originally intended,” Ben says. Another signiÞcant blow to the workers of Queensland was Newman’s decision to broaden the deÞnition of workers he could potentially sack. He did this by redeÞning the deÞnition of frontline worker to include only those who have contact with the public more than 75 per cent of the time as part of their role. “There are very critical services in the public sector – health, some of

the emergency services like Þre and ambulance – that should be deemed frontline, but under that deÞnition would not meet that description,” Ben says. “The effect is that there is no job security for these people.” As a consequence of his slash-andburn approach, the unemployment rate in Queensland has skyrocketed. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics September seasonally adjusted Þgures, unemployment in Queensland is at 6.3 per cent, up from 5.2 per cent in April. Ben says that as well as causing thousands of redundancies in order to shrink the public service, Newman plans to outsource huge chunks of public sector works, such as hospital linen services and catering, to the private sector. By doing


THE MAD MONK: Tony Abbott has plans that will strip away workers’ rights, wages and job security.

this, the government achieves a few objectives: “they remove employee numbers from their books by transferring them another company, they reward their mates with lucrative public sector contracts, and they also remove what they perceive to be the shackles of public service terms and conditions”. Workers forced into the private sector “freefall down to what are generally a lot less accommodating beneÞts and terms and conditions in the private sector,” says Ben. In response to this erosion of beneÞts if workers are “transferred” from the public sector to the private sector, the AWU met with Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, and has worked with him to get legislation introduced into Federal Parliament to remedy the situation.

VICTORIA AWU Victorian Branch Secretary Cesar Melhem says the past two years under the Baillieu Liberal government have been tough for the Branch and Victorian Branch Secretary Cesar Melhem the workers of Victoria. He says more than 4000 public service jobs have been lost throughout the state. One of Cesar’s major concerns is

that construction work on the Victorian desalination plant will Þnish at the end of this year, leaving about 4000 people without jobs and with no real hope of re-employment in the immediate future. The only public project currently of any real signiÞcance is the regional rail project, which will provide 90 kilometres of extra track, but Cesar says it will only employ 500 to 700 people. “There’s really nothing on the horizon for projects over $100 to 200 million, so it’s quite depressing in terms of infrastructure investment in Victoria,” he says. This lack of investment could have been avoided if Baillieu had had the foresight to apply for Federal government infrastructure funding, Cesar says. “We desperately need investment in infrastructure in Victoria, but the Baillieu Government has sat on its hands. “When Baillieu came to power, he basically put a freeze on all infrastructure spending while he did a so-called study and analysis of all jobs, so nothing happened for 18 months. This was despite the fact that he inherited a really good public service free of controversies, and everything was looking good. It’s not like he inherited a basket case. It was all going well. “By the time he woke up and decided he’d be!er start investing, a lot of Commonwealth funding set aside for infrastructure had been allocated to other states. The money’s dried up and we’re probably looking at two to three

years to turn it around. Meanwhile, a lot of construction companies are going to start shedding workers.” To make ma!ers worse, while failing to secure funding and jobs for Victoria, the government has been grandstanding about ge!ing tough with construction workers, which has meant introducing a state code that duplicates federal measures, says Cesar. “It would be nice to see them ge!ing down to the business of jobs rather than churning out spin to look tough.”

NEW SOUTH WALES Only two years after Barry O’Farrell and the Liberal Party took office in New South Wales, Greater NSW Branch Secretary Russ Collison says the Union is Greater NSW Branch Secretary Russ Collison facing some very signiÞcant issues. “We’re Þghting on a number of fronts because of the state government, with changes to workers’ compensation being one our major concerns,” Russ says. “The changes are just absolutely outrageous and while they will affect all our members they will have a hugely detrimental effect on National Parks and Forestry members.” Changes to the Workers Compensation Act include:

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POLITICAL IMPACT

• •

The removal of virtually any right to make a journey claim relating to an injury suffered whilst travelling to and from work. The removal of the ability to make permanent impairment claims unless the person has greater than 10 per cent permanent impairment. The removal of compensation for pain and suffering arising from an injury. Weekly payments are reduced after only 13 weeks and generally cease two

BE AFRAID! So, what can we expect under a Tony Abbottled Liberal National government? The AWU has plenty of experience when it comes to fighting for workers’ rights under conservative governments, so here’s what some AWU officials think will happen... PAUL HOWES, NATIONAL SECRETARY

“Tony Abbott and his colleagues have made a virtue out of their aggressive approach to cutting Federal government expenditure. They have an ideological hatred of government services. They believe that everything should be outsourced to the private sector and individuals should pay for the services they use.

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and a half years after the injury. There is no coverage for medical expenses incurred from 12 months after weekly payments have ceased. • There is no ability for workers to recover legal costs from successful workers’ compensation claims. This means many injured workers will not be able to afford to enforce their rights. Russ says that in order to get the workers’ compensation changes through, the O’Farrell Government

“This means the quality of public services will be eroded, and conditions in the public sector will become unworkable. “Tony Abbott and [Queensland premier] Campbell Newman share an equally cavalier and irresponsible approach to policy. If Newman and Abbott get to have their way, it will be open season on public services right across the whole country. “When services are run down, all of us pay the price. In the union movement, we have a responsibility to fight for our services and for our community. That’s why it’s so important for workers to be a part of their union and for unions to develop strong alliances with community groups. “You only need to think back to the Your Rights at Work campaign to see how people power can change the course of national politics.” CESAR MELHEM VICTORIAN BRANCH SECRETARY

“It has become abundantly clear that the Liberals think the problem with WorkChoices is its name. Tony Abbott clearly sees the issue as a marketing problem. Our members lived through WorkChoices once and they are of

did a “dirty stinking deal” with The Shooters and Fishers Party to allow shooting in national parks. “We don’t agree with the deal, but that being said, we have taken a very legitimate position and said that if the government decides that’s what it’s going to do, then there have to be some safeguards put in place,” he says. “National parks are very passive and recreational areas for everyone within the state to use, and just to have people thinking they can go in there and do any sort of shooting is a fatality waiting to happen.” Russ says the state government is also corporatising Forests NSW, which is a precursor to privatisation, and the Roads and Maritime Service Department may also shed 700 jobs.. “We’re concerned about that because I have yet to see anything that has been privatised that has been totally successful. I think what it means is the loss of jobs. “Barry O’Farrell said he was going to create 5000 jobs and I think at this stage he’s created 50,000 redundancies.”

one voice in opposing anything approaching it in the future. “Statements by Mr Abbott that he will reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) demonstrate the Coalition’s belief that worker bashing is popular with business. The ABCC is one of many bad and damaging aspects of the Coalition’s industrial relations regime; to even threaten to bring it back is simply telling workers that they would be kept in their place under an Abbott Government.” WAYNE HANSON, SOUTH AUSTRALIAN BRANCH SECRETARY

“I can’t ever recall Tony Abbott getting on the stump and being supportive of the working class for the whole time he’s been in politics. Indeed, he was the architect of some of the most treacherous workers’ legislation in the auspices of WorkChoices. “I don’t think that the workers have anything to look forward to as far as Tony Abbott is concerned and particularly if he ever becomes prime minister. “People need to understand that when you put these morons in it takes a lot of effort and


NEWCASTLE Newcastle Branch Secretary Richard Downie agrees with his Greater NSW Branch counterpart, saying the changes to Newcastle Branch worker’s Secretary Richard Downie compensation will hurt those that can least afford it. “This state government is Liberal and obviously they never have been and never will be a friend of the worker and the unions,” Richard says. “They have already slashed and burned workers’ compensation, so they’ve a!acked the injured and the vulnerable. It doesn’t get much worse than that.”

PORT KEMBLA After eight months, a bi!er and protracted campaign against BlueScope Steel has come to an end, says Port Kembla Branch Secretary Wayne Phillips.

a lot of persuasion to draw people back to the real world and, if anything, there is a huge void in Australia now that was caused by 12 years of John Howard. “There are people who have really been brainwashed by the conservative views that’s it’s better to be an enterprise employee than a member of a trade union.” STEPHEN PRICE, WEST AUSTRALIAN BRANCH SECRETARY

“The Fair Work legislation that we have at the moment allows us to assist members with their work-related issues, which ultimately has given workers a little bit more confidence knowing that they can be supported and represented. “Under a Coalition government you will see all these gains being removed and the government will run a very strong industrial-relations-changing mandate. They made some mistakes under WorkChoices, which allowed the unions to continue to operate and I think should they be elected, they will learn from those mistakes.”

Both the AWU and BlueScope have Þnally agreed on an enterprise agreement, but it hasn’t been easy. “It’s been a really hard one Port Kembla Branch this time because Secretary Wayne Phillips the company went on a full a!ack to try to eliminate a lot of our members’ conditions and rates,” Wayne says. “They were going after sick leave provisions and they wanted to change our security of employment, which is pre!y important for us.” Wayne says that because the steel industry is currently depressed, a lot of contractors are also suffering. “Illawarra is in a pre!y depressed state, so it’s been really tough. There are some good news stories, but generally it’s been pre!y hard.” On top of the ba!le with BlueScope, he says TAFE employees are extremely nervous about their jobs. “We are doing all we can to assist and we’re trying to anticipate what will happen, but the government sector certainly doesn’t need this crap on top of everything else.” Sadly, Wayne says, there aren’t a lot of new industries moving to the Illawarra district, although there is talk of a national biodiesel plant being built. “That’s a bit of a positive news, and there is a bit of roadwork’s going on, but it’s very sketchy and haphazard and there’s not a great deal of it,” he says. “It’s been a tough year, but our members are behind us and we’re doing what we can to support them. They’re still prepared to have a go and a Þght when it’s needed.”

SOUTH AUSTRALIA South Australia’s manufacturing sector, like the rest of the country, is doing it tough and the decrease in production has had a signiÞcant impact on Union membership, says AWU South Australian Branch Secretary Wayne Hanson. “This downward trend has drawn our a!ention to the fact that our traditional members, and the comfort zone that was associated with them, are rapidly

declining,” Wayne says. “If this trend continues we are going to reach a stage where the Union is where the workers are not, South Australia Branch and that is Secretary Wayne Hanson something that perturbs me a great deal.” He says the resources and mining industry provides a classic example of unions struggling to make headway into what are traditional union territories. “There is very li!le penetration as far as unions are concerned in these growing areas and we are confronted with the hostile a!itudes of mining companies that have been there since the 1920s and the day of the big disputes in Broken Hill,” Wayne says. Another issue that both frustrates and concerns him in South Australia is the lack of adventure and the lack of initiative by investors. For example, he says that the emerging Asian middle class – anticipated to increase six-fold over the coming decade to three billion people – provides ample opportunity for companies to supply white goods component parts. “Manufacturing industries can be a big part of the future but unless [investors] start being a bit more adventurous the chances of tapping into, and being a signiÞcant supplier to, the Asian markets are slipping us by,” Wayne says. Despite this, he is conÞdent that under the leadership of Labor Premier Jay Weatherill, South Australia can turn its declining manufacturing sector around. “Jay has got his Þnger on the pulse,” Wayne says. “I think that his preferred model is similar to the model that is currently successful in Germany, which has focussed on tapping into those niche markets where it continues to be a world leader in manufacturing. “If that’s the case I am conÞdent that in South Australia we can turn things around, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”

WESTERN AUSTRALIA Western Australia has long been known as the boom state, with its thriving

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Photography: Getty Images

POLITICAL IMPACT

mining and resource sector contributing to low levels of unemployment and higher than average wages, but a recent slowing down Western Australia Branch of the sector is Secretary Stephen Price starting to create some difficulties. “One of the big issues that’s happening here is the issuing of jobs to foreign workers, so it’s a lot more difficult than it should be for the locals to get employment on construction and mining projects,” says AWU WA Branch Secretary Stephen Price. Stephen says that foreign workers were encouraged to come to Western Australia to Þll an employment shortfall, but the slowdown – in part due to the strong Australian dollar and price ßuctuation in iron ore – has seen jobs become less available. “There may be a need for skilled migrants and the people that come are an additional resource, but they should not be a substitute labour resource or used as an excuse not to train our kids.” However, Stephen says this doesn’t mean the AWU is against immigration. “The AWU supports immigration absolutely,” he says. “There will always be a need for immigration and the people who come are an additional resource, but they should not be a substitute labour resource.” On top of this, the resources boom has created a two-speed economy, and the cost of living in Western Australia is high. An international study last year ranked Perth the 13th most expensive city

in the world, and Stephen says some members are struggling to keep up. “We have a lot of people who beneÞt from the resources boom, but unfortunately we also have a lot of people that don’t.”

TASMANIA AWU Tasmanian Branch Secretary Ian WakeÞeld says the Island State has suffered from major cutbacks to health, education and police over recent years. Tasmania Branch Secretary Ian Wakefield “Tasmania has suffered from the Global Financial Crisis, and it has not shared in the beneÞts of the resources boom,” Ian says. “As a result, the Labor state government has pushed through some tough and unpopular cost-cu#ing measures, with around 1000 jobs lost from the public sector in the past year. The health sector has been hit very hard, while the prospect of school closures remains on the agenda.” He says police officers have also been running a very determined campaign against cuts to resources and staff levels. At the same time, the Liberal opposition has been promising even more savage cuts to public service spending and jobs. “According to its alternative budget, the Liberal Party would cut an extra $480 million out of the public service, which would leave a massive hole in state government departments,” Ian says.

“An international study ranked Perth the 13th most expensive city in the world, and Stephen says more members are struggling…”

REMEMBER: HOWARD’S WORKCHOICES MEANT NO CHOICE Under WorkChoices, Australian workers faced losing numerous rights: • Protection from being sacked unfairly was stripped away from more than three million workers. •

Employers had the power to put workers onto AWA individual contracts that cut the award pay and conditions of employees.

The award safety net was effectively abolished and there were changes to minimum wages to drive down the pay of low-income workers.

Young workers, women and casuals were the most vulnerable to WorkChoices and ended up being its worst victims.

More than a million low-paid workers suffered real pay cuts of up to $90 a week from changes to minimum wages.

Thousands of workers were pushed onto AWA individual contracts and 70 per cent lost shift loadings, 68 per cent lost annual leave loadings, 65 per cent lost penalty rates, 49 per cent lost overtime loadings and 25 per cent no longer had public holidays.

Source: ACTU

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POSTCARD FROM QUEENSLAND

“I remember well the terrible days of Joh Bjelke-Petersen when we were almost a police state.”

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IN GOOD

HANDS Queensland was once known as the Workers’ Paradise. It is, afterall, the birthplace of the Australian Labor Party. However, the bad old days

Photography: David Hahn

of the 1970s Liberal-National government appear to be re-emerging with the Newman Government. But the AWU is ready to fight to protect workers’ rights and you can rest assured, the Union is in good hands, as Michael Blayney discovers.

T

welve storeys high in the AWU Queensland Branch head office, Branch Secretary and National President Bill Ludwig glances out the window, momentarily lost in thought. “When I was a kid going to school here, the own hall clock tower was the tallest building in Brisbane, but now you can’t see it, we’re all looking down on it,” he says. The skyline’s not the only thing changing up north. Brisbane is now considered a natural antidote to Sydney’s glamour and Melbourne’s gloom. In the early 1990s, southerners started calling the city BrisVegas, a tongue-in-cheek dig at a city perceived as a big, sleepy country town. Today, as Brisbane continues to develop and mature, the BrisVegas tag doesn’t seem so outlandish. “After we hosted Expo [world fair] in 1988, the whole city’s really gone ahead,” Bill says. “Before Expo came to town, you could’ve shot a cannon up the street on a weekend and you wouldn’t have hit anyone.” All this growth spells job creation, especially in the engineering and infrastructure sectors, according to Queensland Branch Assistant Secretary Ben Swan. “Cranes have been an ever-present feature of the city skyline for the past few decades,” he says. Ben takes us out on the road to see some

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POSTCARD FROM QUEENSLAND

LEFT: Jimmy Whiting RIGHT: Legacy Way Tunnel.

of the projects that are re-shaping Brisbane from the ground up. In fact, the first stop is underground in the Legacy Way Tunnel, part of a road construction project. Ben says work here commenced in April 2011 and is expected to continue until the end of 2014. “When complete, Legacy Way will feature two parallel tunnels connecting Toowong to the city, approximately 4.3km long and 12.4m in diameter, each containing two lanes for traffic,” Ben says. The site’s senior AWU delegate is the Cairns-born, Brisbane-raised Jimmy Whiting. His job here is to provide logistics, registering workers in and out of the tunnel and checking they’re sufficiently equipped to take on the job. At the coalface, the work is hot, dirty and dusty. Two tunnel boring machines (TBMs) blast their way through phyllite, a rock similar to black basalt. More than two million tonnes of spoil and rock will be removed during construction. Already ahead of schedule, the project has been progressing smoothly, especially when compared to the trouble-plagued Airport Link, a controversial Brisbane tollroad project that suffered lengthy delays, safety issues and cost overruns. The possible reason? Legacy Way places its faith in Fair Work Australia legislation while Airport Link was a WorkChoices failure.

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“There’s a chain of command locked into the EBA that is working well,” says Jimmy, emphasising that co-operation has been crucial to the tunnel’s success so far. “We don’t want to ambush management and when we do approach them with a problem, they have a real good go at fixing it. Productivity is the number one concern for them, but they look after us.”

AT THE DAIRY Our next destination is Parmalat Australia, a large dairy plant on the banks of the Brisbane River, pasteurising, homogenising, and ultimately packaging 4.2 million litres of milk per week. Craig Koski is one of five AWU on-site delegates here. Working the 3pm-to-11pm shift making custards, creams and yoghurts for the southeast Queensland region, Craig is a cook in a very big kitchen. In many ways, he’s an industrial chef, but prefers to go by the title of mixer. The 600 workers at the South Brisbane plant, most of them AWU members, enjoy a good relationship with Parmalat management. Family ties are strong with Craig’s father, uncle and cousins all having clocked on here in the past. The latest EBA was negotiated in good faith, although management unsuccessfully tried to strip back new-hire leave entitlements. Outside of work, Craig enjoys the great

outdoors. Fraser Island, a three-hour drive north of Brisbane, is a particular favourite where he enjoys camping with his wife and two girls, aged eight and 11. However, he does offer a warning for those heading in that direction. “Last time, we were camping on the foreshore and this dingo got into my sister-inlaw’s tent while we were asleep. We managed to scare it away, but they’re pretty cluey; they know how to unzip tents and they can even rip their way into a can of soft drink. The rangers told us that dingoes will break into your tent for something like a tube of toothpaste.”

BACK AT HQ Back at the Brisbane office, we take time to talk to Bill Ludwig and Ben Swan about why they do what they do and why they feel so passionately about the AWU and defending workers’ rights. Soon after Campbell Newman took office in 2012, the new Liberal National Party premier summoned five major players from the Queensland trade union movement to a meeting. The AWU’s National President Bill Ludwig and Queensland Branch Assistant Secretary Ben Swan were among the chosen few. Once seated, Newman leaned across the table and addressed Bill Ludwig. “He said to me, ‘Bill, what we want to do, we want to sort of go back to the future, back


“We lived and breathed politics at home. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

RIGHT: AWU Queensland Branch Assistant Secretary Ben Swan.

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POSTCARD FROM QUEENSLAND

to where we used to be,’” says Bill. “We were in negotiations, so I kept quiet, but I thought to myself, ‘Surely not back to a time when some involved in government ended up in jail.’” If anyone is qualified to put into context the first year of the Newman Government, it’s Bill. A Queensland man through-andthrough, he was born in Longreach and schooled in Brisbane, before returning west to earn his keep as a shearer. As an AWU member, organiser and district secretary, he survived almost 20 years of the corrupt Bjelke-Petersen regime from 1968 to 1987. “It’s their culture. They’re great haters and they’re all about privilege,” Bill says of the Liberal National Party. “I remember well the terrible days of Joh [Bjelke-Petersen] when we were almost a police state. They have this attitude, and it still runs through them today: we’re in charge, we are the government, we can do whatever we like.” The same fear that underpinned BjelkePetersen’s regime is beginning to affect the psyche of many Queensland workers in the key industries of health, education and transport. Bill is rightly concerned that the backward policies of the dark, dangerous days of Queensland state politics are being recycled. “This is anecdotal, but I was told that up north a group of health workers were informed by management that some of them were going to have to go. Well, this one bloke panicked a bit. He put his house on the market and it sold. Then they came back to him and told him his job was safe. That’s the sort of fear that’s running through the place. They won’t tell workers how many are going.” No one is spared this uncertainty with aged care facilities being closed or relocated across the state. As Bill points out, the people affected are being unnecessarily stressed in the twilight of their lives, often powerless against the government’s demands. “These people are in their nineties, and they don’t know what’s going on,” he says. It’s not all bad news. Bill can guarantee the AWU will be fighting every inch of the way to ensure that members’ entitlements are not affected and that outsourcing of jobs is limited under the Newman premiership. “When we meet with our members, the first thing on the list every time is job security. Over the years, we’ve traded off a bit to get job security as our number one priority and that means no outsourcing of jobs,” says Bill. “When Goss [Wayne, Labor premier 1989-1996] got in, we made the case that

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ABOVE LEFT: Legacy Way Tunnel ABOVE RIGHT: Parmalat RIGHT: Craig Koski.

those jobs were never costed, they were just given to Joh’s mates. We ran some business cases and we won all the work back. They never costed any of the outsourcing, and we proved that our permanent staff stacked up just as well financially.” Despite the Newman Government’s “back to the future” declaration, Bill remains as parochial as ever, especially when it comes to his state-of-origin Maroons. “Brisbane’s a great place to live as long as Queensland keep winning,” he says, smiling. “We’re pretty good at football, you know.”

UNION TO THE CORE For Ben Swan, it started back in 1989 when as a 14 year old, he landed a school holiday job at a local Brisbane dairy. While his mates were playing video games and crashing BMXs, the now AWU Queensland Branch Assistant Secretary signed up as an AWU member. “I guess it was a bit of old-school expectation: no ticket, no start,” Ben says,

a wry smile. “At the time my mother was an official with the Union, working with Bill [Ludwig], so we lived and breathed politics at home. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.” This early enthusiasm for the cause has remained, his strong sense of social justice and fair play shaped around the kitchen table. Ben says his grandmother also left a deep impression on him. “She was a single parent raising six kids, working as a teacher. After hours, she worked a second job as a cleaner. The reality of that situation had an impact on all the kids, particularly Mum who was the youngest.” Ben clearly has a deep affection for his mother. A legend of the labour movement, Dee Swan was elected as the AWU’s first female official in the Union’s history and the first female AWU delegate to National Conference. She is currently Deputy President of the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission and Fair Work Australia. “She became an AWU member in the


ABOVE: Bill and Ben LEFT: Parmalat BELOW: Ben with his mum Dee – an AWU icon RIGHT: Brisbane, old and new.

late 1970s when she was working as a tote operator out at Eagle Farm and Doomben race tracks. She was a pretty vocal delegate out there and ran a couple of cases in the commission which they won,” Ben says.

MATES AND MENTORS Ben himself has had spells as an associate in the Queensland and Australian Industrial Relations Commissions before returning home to the AWU in 1997. His colleague and greatest supporter, Bill Ludwig, was pleased to see him return to his roots. “He started up here with me, then he went off to Melbourne and Sydney,” Bill explains. “You can’t be having that. I had to go down there and put him in a bloody headlock to get him back up here. “It’s fantastic working with Bill. He’s been a good mentor and he’s a good mate,” says Ben, returning the favour. “He’s full of knowledge, full of good advice and full of a hell of a lot of good yarns. It’s a

pleasure being able to work with him.” In his role, Ben’s energy for the contest has seen him front-and-centre in the transfer of business debate affecting state public service workers. Ben and the AWU team are currently mounting a constitutional challenge to a Newman Government hell-bent on scrapping members’ entitlements. “It’s an equality issue for our members because if whole blocks of the public sector get outsourced to the private sector, what should follow are those same public sector terms and conditions. There could then be a freefall between public sector and private sector standards, which are clearly inferior,” he says. “We’ve already won round one against the local government with the Etheridge decision, which demonstrated that local governments are not constitutional corporations. They’re a distinct arm of the state government and deliberately so. That was important at that time because the ramifications of finding the other way would’ve

found us inevitably get sucked up into the WorkChoices system and that would’ve been catastrophic for our members.” Ben lives and breathes his job and is sometimes at a loss when the working day is over. In 2004, he used some time off productively by piecing together a 1.8 x 1.2 metre mosaic of the AWU logo, currently housed at the Queensland head office. “That was a labour of love, that one, and it took me about eight weeks, 10 hours a day. There’s nothing more cathartic or therapeutic than smashing up a few hundred tiles and putting them back together again. It was a small gesture on my part because the Union’s given me a hell of a lot, so I was happy to put a little bit back into the Union.” Ben takes a call from delegate. He says he has to attend the job site as a matter of urgency, so it’s time for us to take our leave. It’s been a great visit and we have a lasting impression that the Queensland Branch of the AWU is in very good hands.

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REPORT

IN THE

FIRING LINE

State budget cuts and changes to workers’ compensation are threatening the lives of AWU members, as well as residents and properties around national parks and forests. Tom Scahill investigates.

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REPORT

stymie the ability of many AWU members, tasked with Þghting the ßaming hell of an Australian bushÞre this summer. AWU National Secretary Paul Howes says AWU members on the front line of bushÞre protection are facing a long and dangerous summer. “BushÞres are a constant peril for millions of Australians, but it seems that some politicians have short memories when it comes to bushÞre protection,” Paul says.

“The Þre brigade even aimed a water canon at Parliament House as part of its deÞant stance.”

Residents watch as a large bushfire sweeps through Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.

I

t’s shaping up to be a horrendously hot summer across Australia, and with bushÞres already burning in October and November, it is a major concern for those living on the perimeter of a leafy stretch of crown (publicly owned) land such as a national park. Some estimates suggest about 23 per cent of Australia is deemed crown land, while the NSW Department of Primary Industries says public land represents approximately half of all land in Australia’s oldest state.

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THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER www.awu.net.au

The upshot is that large expanses of publicly owned land are at risk this summer, yet some state governments appear to have forgo!en the cruel lessons of the notorious Black Saturday bushÞres, which decimated chunks of regional Victoria less than three years ago. In February 2009, 173 people lost their lives to that remorseless inferno, and another 414 were injured. Yet some state governments are taking a casual approach to the lives and the homes of their constituents by a!empting to slip through compensation cuts that will

In NSW, for example, the O’Farrell Government has stripped away a series of public sector compensation beneÞts, yet exempted the professional ÞreÞghters from Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) and other emergency services personnel such as ambulance and police officers from the changes. Incredibly, the exemptions were not extended to the Þeld officers, employed by National Parks and Forests NSW, who regularly are the Þrst to discover bush Þres and ba!le the treacherous blazes. Moreover, treacherous ßames are only part of the risk, as Þeld offices can be often dropped from helicopters into hot spots, required to chop down burning trees and Þght Þres in extremely hazardous and remote locations on crown land. It’s clearly an occupation not for the fainthearted or those uncertain about their medical cover. “The AWU represents the overwhelming number of people in NSW called Þeld officers employed by National Parks and Forests NSW,” says Russ Collison, AWU Greater NSW Branch Secretary. “Part of the job description is to Þght Þres and plenty of people don’t realise this. While our people do a whole range of mixed tasks, in the summer season they could be Þghting Þres virtually all the time.” Soon after assuming power, the


O’Farrell Government decided to cut a number of beneÞts for people on workers’ compensation in NSW. “This included the journey provision, which cover accidents that occur when travelling to and from your place of employment,” says Russ, who is driven by the tragedy of the four AWU members employed by National Parks who were killed ba"ling a bushÞre on the NSW Central Coast in 2001. “The reason I raised this issue is because many of our people are going straight to a Þre from their homes. When the announcement to make changes to workers compensation was made by the O’Farrell Government, there was outrage from all sectors of the emergency services, including ambulance officers, Þremen and the police.” The Þre brigade even aimed a water canon at NSW Parliament House as part of its deÞant stance. As a consequence, the NSW government exempted the police, ambulance offices and FRNSW from the WorkCover reforms. “They remain under the old system of compensation,” Russ says. “When we heard about these exemptions, we were up in arms as we expected that as our members Þght Þres, they would be placed in the same category as other emergency services workers.” A fair assumption. The AWU took the anomaly to bureaucrats and the government in a civil way. “We have a highly justiÞable case and urged the government that they needed to address the issue.” The government claimed it required legal advice and the counsel of WorkCover, and continued to stonewall the AWU’s representations on behalf of its members. “This situation is unacceptable as our members stand shoulder to shoulder with other people Þghting Þres on the frontline, but they don’t have the same insurance coverage,” Russ says. “While the old system of workers’ compensation in NSW wasn’t the best, it was the best in this country. Now it is the worst and it is stunning how far it’s deteriorated.” The changes are extremely complex, but Þve of the more dramatic potential changes for AWU members are outlined in the box, right.

The AWU imposed bans on high-risk ÞreÞghting activities such as working in helicopters and felling burning trees, but Russ says the bans were discontinued when the NSW Industrial Relations Commission president, Justice Roger Boland, offered to hear the case. “We consulted our members, who agreed this was the best way forward and the case went to the commission on November 9, 2012,” says Russ. It should not be ignored that the ÞreÞghting deeds of AWU members have major ramiÞcations for the wider community. “Our members aren’t just pu"ing out Þres ra"ling up trees, they’re Þghting major Þres that can go into areas that jeopardise the community living near crown land,” Russ says. “Normally Þres start on crown land and move into those communities and there would not be a bushÞre in a national park or forest that our people aren’t involved in.” Paul Howes agrees, adding that he Þnds it hard to believe that people such as NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell can have such a cavalier approach to the safety of workers and local communities. “Mr O’Farrell’s own electorate of Ku-ring-gai is surrounded by forests and national parks, yet he is prepared to gamble with bushÞre safety just to save a few bucks. “I’ve got a simple message to the politicians and number crunchers who

want to play bushÞre roule"e: it’s just not worth it. The people who are pu"ing their lives on the line deserve be"er. They deserve respect, they deserve support, and they deserve protection.” In Victoria, the Ballieu Government is yet to focus the full force of its cost-cu"ing ßamethrower on forest Þre Þghters, who the AWU represents, but the damaging cuts have started. “The Victorian government announced cuts to whitecollar areas such as administrative support staff represented by the Community and Public Sector Union, but there are early signs now that these cuts might Þlter across to other departments such as the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE),” says Cesar Melhem, AWU Victorian Branch Secretary. The biggest challenge now facing the AWU in Victoria is trying to convince the state government to convert seasonal part-time ÞreÞghters into fulltime ÞreÞghters within the DSE. “The ratio has been steadily leaning to seasonal Þre Þghters rather than professional Þre Þghters,” says Cesar. The AWU represents about 1000 forest ÞreÞghters in Victoria, including 600 seasonal and about 320 permanent Þre ighters within the DSE and Parks Victoria. Cesar believes the only reason Victoria is not suffering from a huge frontline problem with regards to resources or threats to workers’ compensation

CHANGES TO NSW WORKERS’

COMPENSATION F

ive of the most dramatic changes that could apply to National Parks and Forestry members are: ◊ Removing virtually any right to make a journey claim relating to an injury suffered while travelling to and from work. ◊ Removing ability to make permanent impairment claims unless the person has greater than 10 per cent permanent impairment. ◊ Removal of compensation for pain and suffering arising from an injury.

◊ Reduction in weekly payments after 13 weeks; these payments will generally cease two and a half years after the injury. No coverage for medical expenses incurred from 12 months after weekly payments have ceased. ◊ No ability for workers to recover legal costs from successful workers’ compensation claims. So many injured workers will not be able to afford to enforce their rights. STOP PRESS: See update on page 34

www.awu.net.au THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER

29


REPORT

BRAVERY earing heat and perilous trouble best describes the outlook facing DSE Field Services officer Brian Earl and fellow officers Andrew Collard, Mike Lauder, Brian Lawry, Tim Winter, Graham Watt, Brad Sexton, Jarrod Smith, Ray Mackey and Jarrod Louge from the Toolangi depot, as they negotiated their fire units in Toyota slip-ons towards Murrindindi in Victoria. It was 3pm, Black Saturday was in full swing and Brian and his mates had been called to arms to push back the Murrindindi firestorm, and help people caught in the inferno’s potentially deadly clutches. “As we came into Murrindindi, there was a consistent stream of traffic heading the other way,” Brian recalls. “When we arrived at our point of contact, we weighed up what was happening with the fire, which had now circled in behind us.” A nightmare for most, but the cool headed AWU members despatched some of the officers to scout for an escape route.

S

Disconcertingly, the scouts discovered they were penned-in by fire and trees that had fallen across the road in the heavy winds. At this point, a decision was taken to seek refuge from the fire closer to the Murrindindi River. The officers headed for the river with an assortment of campers ranging in age from babies to adults in their forties. “There was a mix of males, females, young and old,” says Brian. It’s at this point, the field officer’s training proved critical. “We wet the area around us with water sucked up by the slip-on units and used a chainsaw to create a break around us,” says Earl. The team ushered the mothers with babies into the cabins of the slip-on units to help keep them calm. “We then covered the windows with blankets so they couldn’t see what was going on or hear over the pumps,” says Brian. “All they could hear was a rattling noise from the pumps inside the cabin, while the others were helping out, grabbing

eskies and tipping water on burning debris.” After about three harrowing hours, the flames passed and another DSE crew relieved the firefighters and the distressed campers. At no time during the ordeal did the DSE field officers, according to Brian, believe they were in a life-threatening jam. “That said it’s not an experience I’d like to take on tomorrow,” says Brian, who in February 2009 was a seasonal Project Fire Fighter. “We had a good crew with reasonable equipment and we were on the ball all the time. The thought of not getting out didn’t cross my mind. One of the ladies asked whether we’d get out. I responded something like, ‘Well I’m getting out, so you will be as well!’” For their bravery, the DSE team of Collard, Lauder, Lawry, Winter, Watt, Sexton, Smith, Earl, Mackey and Louge won a group citation for bravery from the Royal Humane Society of Australasia and individually collected the bronze bravery medal, complete with a signed letter from the Queen.

payments is because Black Saturday is still a painful and fresh memory. “Make no mistake the cuts will come if they can possibly get away with them,” he says. “We are keeping a close eye on the moves being made by the minister responsible for WorkCover, Gordon Rich-Phillips.” The Victorian Branch is vigilant about ÞreÞghter numbers, making sure they don’t drop below the threshhold. “The current numbers commi!ed to for the 2012-13 season look not as bad as they might be,” says Cesar, although there is a shortfall of about 100 core fulltime workers, an issue squarely in the sights of the AWU. “Our goal is to ensure the ratio of permanent to seasonal ÞreÞghters is maintained. But watch this space, if Ted Ballieu could possibly slip through permanent ÞreÞghter cuts, he would do it tomorrow.” Across the Nullarbor, AWU Western

Australian Branch Secretary Stephen Price says the Barne! Government is looking to cut Þve per cent from the budgets of every state government department including the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), which employs about 280 members of the AWU as forestry ÞreÞghters. “However, despite these cuts, there was some extra funding given back to the departments,” says Stephen. “But that gain will be eroded as the budget cuts continue over the next couple of years.” Stephen is also concerned that budget cuts will not only affect the ability of AWU members to tackle bush Þres, but they’ll also impact the wider community. “It’s all about the ability of the DEC to meet its ÞreÞghting obligations in protecting the community and the surrounding infrastructure,” he says. “If the department is underfunded then it won’t be able to protect those areas at risk of larger bushÞres. This may become

a serious issue in the next few years.” With this in mind, the AWU’s West Australian Branch has made a submission to the WA government’s Community Development and Justice Standing Commi!ee. The submission makes recommendations about the maintenance of a fully operational ßeet of ÞreÞghting vehicles and heavy machinery, a staff succession plan to minimise the loss of core Þre management skills, as well as a staffing recognition and reward framework. Recruitment and retention is another challenge for the AWU and DEC. “This is where the government needs to get serious about how it sources workers,” says Stephen. “DEC forestry workers are some of the lowest-paid government workers in WA because they aren’t actually recognised as ÞreÞghters, but rather as government conservation workers, even though the vast majority of the calls to duty are Þre related.”

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THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER www.awu.net.au

Photography: Wayne Hawkins, Fairfax Syndication

AWU MEMBERS RECOGNISED FOR BLACK SATURDAY

FLAMING HEROES: The DSE firefighters who won bravery awards for their work during the Black Saturday fires. Left to right: Jarrod Smith, Brad Sexton, Graham Watt, Tim Winter, Ray Mackey, Brian Lawry, Brian Earl, (absent were Jarrod Logue, Andrew Collard, Mick Lauder)


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FRONTLINE NEWS ► NATIONAL

NAT IONAL

NAT IONAL

LEADERSHIP COURSE GIVES DELEGATES AN EDGE OVER BOSSES A group of senior AWU delegates from around the country took part in an intensive week-long leadership course in October. Held in Avoca, on the NSW Central Coast, the National Delegate Leadership Program covered a wide range of topics – from occupational health and safety, to bargaining strategies, negotiation skills, and interpreting and applying agreements. The program, which was held for the first time in 2011, is the highest level of training available for AWU delegates, and is unlike any other provided across the trade union movement. It brings together senior delegates with expert presenters and trainers in their relevant fields. AWU National Secretary Paul Howes said the course was structured to cover a lot of territory in just a few days. “The guys were keen to discuss the issues they were facing in their own workplaces,

and to learn from each other’s experiences. “In turn, they’ll be able to help other delegates to take on the bosses, and to organise their workplaces,” he said. Participants in the course are able to apply for the Laurie Short Scholarship, which allows a delegate to attend a highlevel leadership course with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The scholarship was set up to help achieve the global solidarity vision of former Federated Ironworkers Association leader Laurie Short, who built strong relationships between Australian and American unions. Paul said the delegates also provided feedback on the structure and content of the program. “We have already begun preparations for the third course, which will be run in October 2013,” Paul said.

TACKLING ILLEGAL DUMPING The federal government has announced the establishment of a new Anti-Dumping Commission to crack down on the practice of illegal trade dumping. AWU National Secretary Paul Howes said the AWU had campaigned relentlessly for stronger measures against dumping. “Two years ago the AWU launched the Don’t Dump on Australia campaign at our National Conference to highlight the impact illegal trade practices were having on Australian jobs,” Paul said. “It’s taken a lot of hard work by AWU members to get this issue onto the national agenda. Free trade must also be fair trade, and overseas companies selling into the Australian market must play by the same set of rules as their domestic competitors. “The AWU has always maintained that a new agency was needed to handle complaints, and that tougher penalties should be put in place to deter and punish unscrupulous companies. “The federal government has delivered measures we’ve been calling for, and sent a strong message to companies that flout the law.” Paul said the federal government’s investment of $24.4 million into a stronger anti-dumping regime would bring long-term dividends to the Australian economy

“Sports like professional cycling are forever trying to catch up with the ingenuity of doping cheats, and it’s a similar situation in international trade,” he said. “If there’s an advantage to be had, someone will try to exploit it. “We’ve seen this across many of Australia’s key manufacturing industries – including aluminium, steel, glass and cement. Authorities need to be vigilant, and armed with the resources and investigative powers to make sure the cheats get caught.” AWU National Secretary Paul Howes.

NAT IONAL

QUAD BIKE SAFETY SUMMIT A national summit on quad bike safety was held in October, but action must be taken to make crush protection devices compulsory on new quad bikes to reduce the death rate from roll-overs. AWU National Secretary Paul Howes said 160 people have been killed in quad bike accidents since 2001. “The AWU has been arguing for improvements to quad bike safety,” he said. “The number of deaths and injuries from quad bikes has been unacceptable. “Quad bikes are unstable, and often driven over uneven terrain. But minor accidents shouldn’t result in serious injuries, let alone fatalities. Experience has shown that roll-cages are an effective solution, reducing the

32

risk of people being crushed. They are also cost-effective, especially when compared to the human and financial cost of looking after injured workers and bereaved families.” Paul said quad bikes were the single biggest cause of workplace fatalities on Australian farms. “There are around 22,000 quad bikes in Australia – so this is an issue that affects thousands of workers. No-one wants to them banned, we just want them to be safe.” Paul said the introduction of roll-cages on tractors led to major safety improvements in the 1980s. “We know the problems, and we know that there’s a solution. It’s time to take the next step and mandate safety equipment such as roll-cages on all new quad bikes.”

THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER www.awu.net.au

Quad bike safety is a priority concern.


FRONTLINE NEWS ► NATIONAL

NAT IONAL

SOMBRE TRIBUTE

Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the Peace Fountain memorial at the site of the World Trade Centre.

On her last day in New York City in September this year, Prime Minister Julia Gillard took time to pay tribute to AWU Industrial Officer Andrew Knox, who was tragically killed in the terroritst attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001. The PM said that it gave her time to reflect on those who perished and suffered and the catastrophic damage that was done. Ten Australians were killed in the terrorist attack and, with the tenth anniversary of the Bali bombing two weeks after, where 88 Australians died, the PM felt the overwhelming poignancy. “It’s been a reminder of the chilling images of that dreadful day of what we all felt as the news first came though,” the Prime Minister told News Limited of her first visit to memorial visit as Prime Minister. “The cascading water creates an environment in which you can contemplate what happened there.” The PM was in New York to pursue Australia’s UN Security Council bid which was successful.

New scheme helps new dads.

Turkish workers.

NAT IONAL

NAT IONAL

DAD AND PARTNER PAY New dads will be eligible for two weeks’ pay from the federal government – starting from January 1, 2013. Dad and Partner Pay is an extension of the Government’s Paid Parental Leave scheme. The scheme helps new dads to spend more time

with their family in the vital early months of a baby’s life. Payments are set at the national minimum wage, which is currently about $606 per week before tax. For more information about the scheme, go to www.australia.gov. au/dadandpartnerpay

AWU OFFERS SUPPORT FOR TURKISH DHL WORKERS The AWU has sent a message of solidarity to the motor vehicle workers’ union, TUMTIS, in Turkey, after global transport giant DHL sacked 20 union members. National Secretary Paul Howes said the union-busting tactics of DHL were deplorable.

In his letter to TUMTIS President Kenan Ozturk, Paul said the basic right to be represented by a union at work transcended national boundaries. “The global union movement has an obligation to ensure that DHL is held to account for its unacceptable behavior,” Paul said.

www.awu.net.au THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER

33


FRONTLINE NEWS ► NEW SOUTH WALES

National Parks and Wildlife and Forests NSW firefighters face compensation risks.

GREATER NEW SOU T H WALES

HEAT IS ON

The AWU has forced the NSW government to improve workers’ compensation beneifts for workers in National Parks and Forestry who fight fires. The NSW government agencies cried foul at the snap “bans” placed by the AWU and its members during the Commission hearing. Paul Noack, AWU lead official for the public sector, responded with evidence that showed the snap bans were five months in the making. A series of emails was tabled between the agencies

and the AWU in which the NSW government agencies were promising an answer to a legitimate AWU question of workers’ compensation coverage. “It’s a relatively simple question,” Paul said. “Are our members who fight fires in forests and national parks covered by the old workers’ compensation legislation, just like other fire fighters? The answer is either yes or no!” The matter was heard by NSW Industrial Relations Commission President Justice Boland, who found

that “employees should be regarded as firefighters while conducting firefighting duties”. AWU Greater NSW Branch Secretary Russ Collison said the Industrial Court delivered an important win for workers. “The court’s ruling is a positive outcome for the Union’s 400 field staff members in state forests and 700 field staff members in national parks,” Russ said. “But it is a sad reflection on the O’Farrell Government that employees had to take this issue all the way to the Industrial Court for common sense to prevail.” Russ said the NSW State

Government would now have to administer a complicated workers’ compensation scheme where workers would be covered by different schemes depending on what sort of work they were doing. “The Premier has been on an ideological crusade to undermine the rights of State Government workers, but this time workers have won out. “Workers deserve better treatment from the NSW State Government particularly given that these men and women put their lives on the line to protect local communities.”

GREATER NEW SOU T H WALES

CARVE IT UP, SELL IT OFF NSW Liberal-National government Minister Duncan Gay has announced that he will be introducing roadmaintenance contestability in the Sydney metropolitan area. The government has appointed well-known contracting firm Evans and Peck to help identify if any or all of Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) roads division can be contracted out. AWU Greater NSW Branch Secretary Russ Collison said, “The Union will be demonstrating every step of the way that RMS employees can construct and maintain roads at a comparable or better quality and price than any private business. “This is just a conservative agenda to sack as many public

34

servants as possible and give their work to the private sector. Safety standards, quality and employment protections are all lower in the private sector. This is a race to the bottom and everyone in NSW is a loser from this decision.” The government agenda is to look at every part of road and fleet services in the Sydney metropolitan area and decide in the next couple of months what can be contracted out. No part of the RMS is safe from scrutiny, whether it is bridge crews, including those on the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, road maintenance teams, construction crews, emergency response teams, or traffic signals. Russ said, “There is not enough time to make a valid comparison.

THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER www.awu.net.au

Maintenance of Sydney’s infrastructure could be up for grabs if the Liberal government has its way.

The Union will fight to ensure as many jobs as possible are saved from the government axe. “The government is not taking into account the fantastic response from RMS employees during the recent snap snow conditions in

the Blue Mountains or the massive accident on the M4 that was cleared by government workers. “Do we really want to expose road users to extensive delays due to an accident or bad weather conditions?”


FRONTLINE NEWS ► NEW SOUTH WALES

GREATER NEW SOU T H WALES

MINING AGREEMENT Cadia Valley Operations (CVO), owned by Newcrest, is one of Australia’s largest gold mining operations. CVO consists of the original open cut mine, Ridgeway Deeps underground and the Cadia East Project. The mines are located approximately 25km from the city of Orange in central western NSW. CVO directly employs approximately 540 employees covered by the enterprise agreement but also has thousands of contractors, particularly during its recent construction phase. Cadia East underground mine is being constructed at a cost of about $1.9 billion. Once the Cadia East Project is completed and in full operation, Cadia Valley mine operations expects to produce approximately 800,000 ounces of gold and 90,000 tonnes of copper. Under the Howard Government’s WorkChoices, the mine management exploited individual agreements with workers. The new FairWork Act introduced by the federal Labor government has allowed the AWU once again to be involved in the process of negotiating a better agreement for workers. Despite the pressures being placed upon employees and even prospective employees about their union beliefs, workers have been

The Cadia Valley mining operation in Orange, NSW.

joining the AWU in ever-increasing numbers. AWU Greater NSW Branch Organiser at Orange, Alan Haynes, believes compared with other equivalent mines, Cadia pays up to 20 per cent lower wages and lags behind operators like Barrick Gold, which offers incentives such as free health insurance for employees and their families. Alan said, “Some estimates show that up to $10 billion in revenues has been extracted from the dirt at Cadia but only a small fraction has been returned to workers. If we think about it, that’s over $7 million per employee and contractor in revenues generated for this multi-national company. Workers deserve their fair share.” When comparing union versus non-union workplaces, it is clearly demonstrated by independent studies that union sites are safer and pay higher wages to workers. AWU Greater NSW Branch Secretary Russ Collison said, “The first step is to gain acceptance and trust of the workforce to allow us to negotiate on behalf of the employees. We have achieved this. “We now need to build into the workplace that workers are valued and important. They have the right to stand up for their rights and make sure they work in a safe environment.”

FROM LEFT: Wayne Vandine, Joel Vakalahi, Tom Moa and Amrik Padda.

GREATER NEW SOU T H WALES

AUTO CHALLENGE Autocast & Forge, located at Seven Hills in the industrial heartland of Western Sydney, has been in operation through various different owners since 1854. Today, it produces brakes, rear axles, steering knuckles and drive-line applications to Australian car manufacturers and first-tier suppliers. In its glory days, it employed well over 450 employees but the high Australian dollar and falling car sales have put financial pressure on the operation of the company. In September, chief executive Carlos Broens of Broens Industries, which purchased the business a few years ago, placed the Seven Hills operation into voluntary administration. The administrator immediately made 29 employees redundant, but there was no money to pay their redundancies. After many years of loyal service and with some of them carrying workplace injuries, these workers were made redundant instantly without right of appeal or discussion. They did not know how they were going to feed their families or pay their mortgages. The AWU, through delegate Wayne Vandine, organiser Salim Barbar and Greater NSW Branch Assistant Secretary Stephen Bali undertook urgent negotiations with the potential new purchaser, Chassis Brakes International (CBI), to develop a rescue package for redundant workers. CBI agreed

Tom Moa (left) and Wayne Vandine.

to provide an ex-gratia payment and lend a portion of their General Employee Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme (GEERS) entitlements to redundant workers. Bill Shorten, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, immediately gave his support for the federal department to fast-track the payments of the redundancies once all the required paperwork was found in order. AWU Greater NSW Branch Secretary Russ Collison said, “People underestimate the value of this federal Labor government. Only under Labor are workers’ concerns addressed to ensure their entitlements are, firstly, paid out and, secondly, paid quickly. On behalf of AWU members, thanks, Bill, for lifting some of the burden off these workers.”

www.awu.net.au THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER

35


FRONTLINE NEWS ►NEWCASTLE/PORT KEMBLA

NEWCA ST LE

ONE DOOR CLOSES, OTHERS OPEN

PORT KEM BLA

AGREEMENT REACHED AT BLUESCOPE

WestTrac employs many workers in the Newcastle region.

All bar a dozen people have left what was for 42 years a great employer for the Newcastle and Hunter Valley areas. Hydro Aluminium, formerly Alcan, Capral and VAW, has given thousands of Novocastrians employment opportunities over the years and the AWU has been proud to be associated with its employees – the Union’s members. The closing of a longestablished company is not easy. From as far back as November 2011, workers have been leaving the company through retrenchment. As with many areas around the nation, the Hunter is experiencing problems. Unemployment is rising, but has not had any great impact on AWU membership (ex-Hydro). AWU Newcastle Branch Secretary Richard Downie said there has been tremendous growth at WesTrac, the company owned by Kerry Stokes, owner of television station Channel 7. WesTrac assembles Caterpillar equipment, mostly for the mining

36

and construction industries. Over the last three years, AWU officials have been plugging away recruiting and currently have over 353 members. As WesTrac’s membership grows, some great individuals have risen to the position of delegate with many being introduced to a union for the first time and appreciating what the AWU can and will do for them. Richard also said that the Newcastle Branch ran its annual two-day Delegates’ Conference in October with over 90 delegates in attendance. “Camraderie and friendship, with an agenda of interesting speakers was the formula. Delegates enjoyed the event and the pressure is on the Branch to make it even better in 2013,” he said. As this is the last issue of The Australian Worker for 2012, Richard and the staff and officials of the AWU Newcastle and the mid-North Coast Branch wish all AWU members and their families all the very best for the New Year.

THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER www.awu.net.au

Workers at BlueScope Steel Port Kembla have endorsed an agreement over pay and conditions, bringing a longrunning industrial dispute to an end. AWU Port Kembla Branch Secretary Wayne Phillips said members voted to endorse the deal after the company backed away from its attack on sick leave and other entitlements. “We’ve always said that our dispute was not about pay, it was about the maintenance of important and hard-won conditions,” he said. “This agreement maintains nearly everything that we have in our existing award, through what are tough times in the steel industry. “Under the circumstances, we think we’ve done pretty well to maintain what we’ve got and I want personally to congratulate

PORT KEM BLA

MAINTECK Illawarra-based engineering firm Mainteck is expanding on the back of new interstate contracts. AWU Port Kembla Branch Secretary Wayne Phillips said the firm currently employed 40-45 staff, but was expected to grow to about 150 in the coming months. “Mainteck has formed a consortium with three other companies to bid for major projects around the country,” Wayne said. “The consortium has successfully attracted work in Queensland, which will take

all members for their efforts in this campaign.” Key elements of the agreement include: ● Preservation of existing personal leave entitlements (statutory declarations for up to 10 single shifts per year). ● Extended and discretionary sick leave provisions. ● Security of employment including maintenance of redundancy provisions. ● Legal recognition of departmental agreements allowing for FWA determinations; and ● Maintenance of existing crib and rest breaks for 12-hour shift workers. While members have voted to support the deal, a continuing dispute about the timing of pay increases will go to arbitration. off in January and February.” Wayne said that Mainteck has also won a contract to dismantle the hot strip mill at BlueScope Western Port in Victoria. “These projects will see some of the Port Kembla workers applying their skills interstate, but they will also pull work into the workshop – securing local jobs,” Wayne said. Wayne said that Mainteck used to concentrate on work inside the steel mill, but now it’s looking to find new opportunities outside the steel industry. “Mainteck is an example of how the manufacturing sector in Port Kembla is diversifying.”


FRONTLINE NEWS ► VICTORIA

The Union’s long-running dispute with Esso and McDermott Australia has been settled.

AWU Victorian Branch Organiser Terry Lee.

V IC TOR I A

HELLO-GOODBYE

One of the AWU Victorian Branch’s longest-serving and most distinguished organisers, Terry Lee, has retired from the labour movement. Terry started out 24 years ago as the power industry convenor for the Gippsland Trades & Labour Council, and was the Federated Ironworkers’ senior delegate before going on to become an organiser in 1990. Those who have worked with him over the years, and those members for whom he has been an organiser will know Terry as a tireless and committed warrior for the rights of working people. In a career that has had many highlights, the 32 per cent increase he got in one hit for workers on the construction agreement for the rebuilding of the Longford gas plant will never be forgotten by any of those who benefited from it. The ground-breaking EA he negotiated with ExxonMobil for the KTT Project, with unequal pay and conditions, included a “new blood” clause for 25 per cent of those hired to not have any offshore experience. AWU Victorian Branch Secretary Cesar Melhem said, “Terry approached everything he did with the membership in mind. He fought for principle on behalf of the people he represented and delivered time and time again,” Cesar said. “He is someone who I would describe as fearless, and something of a hero to me.” In characteristic style, Terry didn’t want a lot of fuss when he left the AWU, but a dinner for close union friends and associates was organised, just the same.

V IC TOR I A

OFFSHORE DISPUTE SETTLED A long-running dispute between the AWU Victorian Branch and offshore giants Esso and McDermott Australia was settled in the Federal Court in October. The dispute started from alleged industrial action on the multibillion-dollar Kipper Tuna Turrum project in Bass Strait during March, July and September 2011. The employers chose to take Federal Court proceedings, claiming more than $10 million from the AWU, officials and members. The matter was settled without damages against the union or its members, and with a significant amount paid to riggers who were made redundant. AWU Victorian Branch Secretary Cesar Melhem said the settlement drew

a line under a dispute that descended into a “lawyer’s picnic”. “I am very glad the dispute is over, but the lesson must be that these matters should have been resolved in Fair Work Australia, which is the appropriate tribunal,” Cesar said. “The employers’ determination to keep the cases in the Federal Court meant matters were prolonged, and a lot of lawyers made a lot of money.” As part of the settlement, all matters by the employers against the AWU, and the AWU against the employers were dropped. “It was a very tense time for our members offshore, but to their credit they remained staunch in their belief that this was a dispute that we had to have,” Cesar said. “The high membership density offshore, and the strength those members displayed were integral to the battle being won.”

V IC TOR I A

IN WITH THE NEW AWU Victorian Branch Secretary Cesar Melhem presents Terry with AWU Life membership.

Jeff Sharp was an AWU offshore delegate for many years, and says it “seemed natural” that he should step up to take Terry Lee’s place when he left. He stepped into the role of Offshore and Regional Organiser in August and reports a smooth transition.

“We have been very lucky to have had Jeff waiting in the wings,” Cesar said. “Jeff is already proving himself as an able replacement, and comes with all the enthusiasm he has shown, and experience he has gathered from standing up for his fellow workers over the years.” www.awu.net.au THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER

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FRONTLINE NEWS ► VICTORIA

V IC TOR I A

VICTORIAN PRESIDENT RETIRES AWU Victorian Branch President Dick Gray has decided to call it quits on his working life, but it is not without regrets. “I’m sorry I won’t be around for the next fight,” Dick told the AWU Victorian Delegates’ and HSRs’ Conference last month. “I have loved every moment of my work and I will always miss it,” he said. He comes from a long line of union members, and his grandfather was killed in a picket line in the UK. Dick joined the union on his first day at work as an apprentice electrician, and within weeks had recruited 13 fellow apprentices to follow suit. “Early on, I was threatened with the sack for being part of the union, but it only made me more determined to fight for my rights and the rights of others,” he said. Dick has worked for the AWU Victorian Branch since 1998, and was elected unanimously as President in 2007. His commitment to the wellbeing of others has not stopped with his union responsibilities. Challenge, the charity for children with cancer,

V IC TOR I A

DELEGATE AND HSR CONFERENCE More than 400 delegates and health and safety representatives (HSRs) came together for their annual Victorian Branch conference at the start of October. At the end of the month, more than 1100 people were at Crown Casino for the 14th Annual AWU Victorian Branch Ball for Delegates and HSRs. Both events are firm fixtures on the AWU calendar in Victoria and reflect the very active relationship the branch has with its elected workplace representatives. AWU Victorian Branch Secretary Cesar Melhem said the lines of communication were always open with delegates and HSRs. “If we didn’t have these people we wouldn’t be the union that we are. They are the lifeblood of our organisation, and carry out their personal commitment to fairness and safety without any material return,” Cesar said. “It is important

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AWU Organiser Kahu Tapara (front left) and Site Delegate at the desal Tony Feeney.

V IC TOR I A

DESAL DONE has been a pet cause during his time at the AWU. He has raised $750,000 over the years, and says he will never stop being grateful for his own good health, and that of his family. AWU Victorian Branch Secretary Cesar Melhem described Dick as “one of a kind”. “He’s a big man with a big character, and even bigger heart. He will be missed, but I am sure he will still play a part in the AWU in some way into the future,” Cesar said. Dick intends to spend his retirement enjoying family life with his wife Kay and the Geelong Football Club which he loves so much.

The last of the AWU members to work on Victoria’s desalination plant are currently carrying out the rehabilitation of the building sites, after construction was completed earlier this year. About 50 members are removing fences, replanting vegetation and clearing rubbish in an area between Pakenham and Wonthaggi. This is down from a peak presence of around 700 AWU members in July last year. The project, which started in late-2009, employed Victorian Branch members on the pipeline,

the transfer station, tunnel and barge, among other areas. AWU Victorian Branch Organiser Kahu Tapara has been involved at the desal from start to finish. He says his job was made easier by the quality and work ethic of delegates and HSRs. “Our Site Delegate Tony Feeney and his assistant Joe Alaalatoa did a great job, and they had a very good team behind them,” Kahu said. “Our delegates were on the ball, and the HSRs were just fantastic.” As work tapered off at the desal, many AWU members moved on to other Victorian projects, while others opted for fly in/fly out jobs in Western Australia and Queensland.

Victorian Delegates and HSRs met for their annual converence.

that we come together as a group, whether at training, the conference, or the ball. Communication, and the opportunity to share experiences, exchange information and learn are pivotal to the effectiveness of our workplace reps.” The conference at Flemington Racecourse presented expert speakers, as well as panel

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discussions that gave participants the opportunity to ask questions, and voice opinions. Meanwhile, at the ball, many of the opinions were from MC Red Symons and comedian Dave Hughes. The room was peppered with dignitaries, including Workplace Relations and Employment Minister, Bill Shorten,

who is a former Victorian and National Secretary of the AWU, Victorian Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews, AWU National Secretary Paul Howes, and members of the National Executive. Cesar said, “The ball is one way in which we thank our Delegates and HSRs each year for their hard work representing our members.”


FRONTLINE NEWS ►VICTORIA

V IC TOR I A

OFFSHORE TRAGEDY STAYS ON THE RADAR

There are major safety concerns in the off-shore gas industry. RIGHT: AWU Victorian Branch Safety Officer Jim Ward.

Shockwaves went through the offshore working community when two men lost their lives on the Stena Clyde gas drilling rig off Warrnambool, heightening long-standing safety concerns in the sector. In the weeks since the August 27 deaths on the ageing rig, the AWU in Victoria, Western Australia and nationally, has been at the heart of moves to see legislation tightened for offshore workers to have the same rights as their onshore counterparts. The complex and uncertain nature of access to offshore sites was as an immediate issue for unions wanting to visit members on board the Stena Clyde at the time of the tragedy. The owner of the rig is Stena Drilling, the work being undertaken was commissioned by Origin Energy, and the workers doing it were employed by PTMS. It was a formula which proved conducive to delays in officials of the AWU and the MUA being permitted on to transport to the rig. The onshore right of entry for

a union to visit a workplace over a suspected safety breach does not exist offshore – it is not part of legislation covering offshore worksites. There is an offshore provision for an HSR to invite a “consultant” on board to help in safety matters. The offshore regulator – the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority – better known as NOPSEMA, has told the AWU Victorian Branch it does not know whether that would include a union, but suggested the matter could be tested. When NOPSEMA executives faced a Senate Estimates Committee hearing in October, the glaring gaps and lack of precision in the system were obvious. The precarious nature of access for union officials on safety business was spelt out. The only transport to offshore worksites is employercontrolled. In the case of the Stena Clyde deaths, the unions had to make an application to Fair Work Australia before they were allowed access more than a week after the incident.

AWU Victorian Branch Safety Officer Jim Ward visited the Stena Clyde when access was finally allowed and came away with the belief that the tragedy was avoidable. “This tragedy should not have happened. These lives should not have been lost. The incident was foreseeable and it was preventable – there is no doubt in my mind of that,” Jim said. “There is serious concern among our offshore members about the effectiveness or otherwise of NOPSEMA. This terrible event has intensified that concern.” Jim said a lot of the rigs in use today were designed and built 40 years ago, and were only ever intended to have a 30-year life cycle. “Some of the equipment being used today wasn’t designed to cope with the impurities now found in the hydrocarbons being extracted from the depleting oil fields,” he said. “As a result, wear and tear on this equipment is accelerating and the risk of equipment failure increases.”

AWU Victorian Branch Secretary Cesar Melhem said offshore workers appeared to have fallen victim to the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. “Offshore exploration is a bigmoney, high-risk pursuit where every avenue for improving and maintaining safety should be prioritised,” Cesar said. “It is time for serious reform of the safety regulator and of the legislation governing offshore safety. We cannot and will not accept anything less for our members.” In the weeks since the deaths, the AWU, MUA and the ACTU have taken their concerns about the appropriateness and effectiveness of the offshore safety regulator to the highest possible levels. They have also commissioned a report with recommendations for improving the regime, with the final goal of a Private Member’s Bill being introduced to bring about reform. “It is a shocking thing that two people simply going about their business, doing their jobs, were killed,” Cesar said.

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FRONTLINE NEWS ► SOUTH AUSTRALIA/TASMANIA

SOU T H AUST R ALI A

CONTRACTORS TO KEEP HARD-WON PAY RISES Contract workers at the Southern Middleback Ranges mine will get to keep hardwon pay rises, following swift action by the AWU. Workers with former mine contractor HWE were initially left out in the cold after the firm was replaced by Perth-based BGC. BGC then tried to apply a national mining agreement,

negotiated with a non-unionised workforce in Western Australia onto the Southern Middleback Ranges site, which would have led to a significant pay cut compared with the existing HWE agreement, and would have locked the AWU out of the work site. AWU Whyalla Organiser Scott Martin said the union made an application to block BGC’s national

agreement with Fair Work Australia. “It was totally inappropriate for the company to impose the national agreement on Whyalla workers without any form of consultation,” he said. “The national agreement would have applied pay rates that were $3 to $5 an hour less than the existing rates. “Furthermore, it would have overturned future pay rises that

workers had negotiated with the former contractor. After we contested the agreement, BGC agreed to honour the existing agreement between workers and HWE.” Scott said that the Union is a party to this agreement, and that it will be able to continue representing workers at Southern Middleback Ranges.

SOU T H AUST R ALI A

WORKERS STOOD DOWN BY AUTO PARTS MANUFACTURER Car parts manufacturer Autodom stood down around 400 workers across the country in November, including 160 at the aiAutomotive plant in Woodville. AWU South Australian Branch Secretary Wayne Hanson said the company had failed to meets its EBA and award obligations by

announcing the closure without consulting workers first. “The Union found out about the plans on a Wednesday night, and workers were told at 6am the following morning. “This lack of consultation was pretty shabby, to say the least,” said Wayne.

“Workers were devastated when they turned up to work, expecting to continue their normal activities, only to discover the company was standing them down, without pay, for an indefinite period.” Wayne said the closure of the plants would have a major impact on the automotive industry supply

chain: “The closure will have a serious impact on the automotive industry right across the country, but particularly here in South Australia.” He said the AWU would work with the state and federal governments to explore options securing the future of jobs at the plant.

TA SM A NI A Macquarie Harbour.

TASSIE NETS NEW AQUACULTURE JOBS Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has approved the expansion of marine farming in Macquarie Harbour, which is expected to create over 100 new permanent jobs. AWU Tasmanian Branch Secretary Ian Wakefield said Tasmania was an ideal place for the aquaculture industry. “As an island, we’re surrounded by water and have a long history in both fishing and marine science,” Ian said. “We also have a mature and professional aquaculture industry. It makes sense to build on these competitive advantages by expanding the size of marine farm lease areas, where appropriate.” Ian said the expansion follows a thorough assessment process to ensure the new fish farms do not harm the quality of the marine environment in Macquarie Harbour. “The decision by Minister Burke shows that you can strike a sensible balance between jobs and environmental protection,” Ian said. “Times have been tough on the West Coast, but hopefully this is a good sign and we will see more positive announcements about job-creating projects in the future,” he said.

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FRONTLINE NEWS ► TASMANIA

Two haul trucks on the road leading out of the mine pit at Savage River in Tasmania. RIGHT: AWU member Mal Jago is featured in the campaign. BELOW: AWU National Secretary Paul Howes addresses a community rally in Burnie, Tasmania.

TA SM A NI A

TASMANIAN MINING AD CAMPAIGN A television advertising campaign has helped raise the profile of the AWU’s Our Tarkine, Our Future campaign. AWU Tasmania Branch Secretary Ian Wakefield said the advertisements ran nationally on Sky News and across Tasmania on Southern Cross Television. “The Our Tarkine, Our Future advertisements were made inhouse, featuring real mine workers from Savage River and Rosebery,” Ian said. “The ads tell the story of Tasmania’s rich mining history, and they bust the myth that the Tarkine region is a pristine wilderness. “The Tarkine region contains areas of spectacular wilderness, but it also contains areas that are being mined right now and have been in the past. Families have been living and working in this part of Tasmania for

generations, and these people deserve a say in the future of their communities.” Ian said the advertising campaign had been timed to take advantage of football-final week celebrations. “The Tasmanian advertisements ran during the Brownlow Medal count and on Grand Final day to maximimise attention. We also ran some print advertisements in local papers, and even set up a card table at the Burnie Show. Ian said over 6500 signed the campaign petition, which was presented to Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke in November. You can see the advertisement featuring AWU members Mal Jogo, Frances Deed, Brad Walsh and Justin Grave on the Our Tarkine, Our Future campaign web site, at: www.ourtarkineourfuture.org.au

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FRONTLINE NEWS ► TASMANIA/WESTERN AUSTRALIA

TA SM A NI A

PASTORAL CAMPAIGN The pastoral industry has held a special place at the heart of the AWU ever since shearers united across the country over 125 years ago. This is why, when the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) announced its intention to reduce the wages and conditions of pastoral workers, the union knew it had a fight on its hands. Tasmanian pastoral workers have been ready to lead the charge in this fight and over recent months word has begun to spread across the state about the threat to workers’ conditions. On Sunday, October 21, over 100 pastoral workers met in Campbell Town to discuss

these issues and resolved to work together to not only resist these attacks but to improve the wages and conditions of pastoral workers. AWU Tasmanian Branch Secretary Ian Wakefield has commenced discussions with Workplace Standards Tasmania to ensure some of the key safety issues that have been raised by members are addressed. Over the coming months, further campaign activities will continue across the state as the Union continues to protect and improve the wages and conditions of pastoral workers. Many thanks must go to Don Hayes and National Organiser Liam O’Brien for their work on this campaign.

W EST ER N AUST R ALI A

AWU WORSLEY CAMPAIGN HITS NEW GEAR The 2012-2013, AWU WA Branch Organising Plan has seen the Branch focus on the BHP Worsley Alumina Refinery in south-west WA. AWU WA Branch Secretary Stephen Price said that the BHP Refinery was of strategic importance to the Australian aluminium and alumina industry and was putting pressure on the other alumina refineries in WA. “Around the Worsley Refinery, we have fully unionised alumina operations with excellent pay, conditions and provisions where members can have a say in the operations of the refineries,” Stephen said. “Compare this to BHP operations, where there are significant differences in the pay and conditions and BHP employees are paid lower for doing the same work. They also don’t enjoy the same respect and say in their employment terms in conditions.” In order to achieve better terms in conditions, the AWU has responded to members’ concerns about renewing its existing

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Changes ahead in Forestry Tasmania.

TA SM A NI A

JOBS MUST BE PROTECTED IN FORESTRY RESTRUCTURE The Tasmanian Government has announced another restructure of its forestry business, Forestry Tasmania. AWU Tasmanian Branch Secretary Ian Wakefield said that the union would fight to protect the jobs of Forestry Tasmania field workers through the transition to the new arrangements. “Protecting the jobs of forestry workers must be the number one priority of the latest restructure of Forestry Tasmania,” Ian said.

“Forestry Tasmania employees have been through a very difficult period with all the uncertainty surrounding the Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement and the review of Forestry Tasmania operations. Ian said that Forestry Tasmania workers deserve to know exactly what the proposed changes will mean for them. “Most importantly, they need to know that their jobs are secure,” he said.

Branch Secretary Stephen Price.

expired agreement. Strategically, to the industry and the workers’ at Worsley, it is important that the union can improve and lock in their pay and conditions to protect them from future pressures on the industry. Additional resources from the Branch and the Union’s National Office have been redirected to focus on the refinery and support the needs of the members. Stephen said it was great to see delegates and members stand up and get behind the campaign. If you would like more information please email awuworsleystrongertogether@ awuwa.asn.au or contact local Organiser Gary Harrower on 0419 907 032. Say turned for more updates in this area in 2013...

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W EST ER N AUST R ALI A

MEEKATHARRA SHIRE WORKERS STRONGER TOGETHER When workers at Meekatharra Shire had questions about their pay, rights and safety in the workplace – the AWU was not far away to lend a hand. After discussions about the entitlements under the Local Government Award and district allowances in WA, it appears to be a strong case to assist these workers. Now all proud members of the AWU, with elected delegates and an AWU Flag hanging proudly in the Meekatharra Shire Depot workshop, will move to start their first EBA in the new year, which will help these workers achieve not only the pay and conditions they deserve, but also put in practice better provisions

and clauses to assist with the management of health and safety issues on the job. “Our WA local government workers have a real tough job out in regional WA,” said AWU Western Australian Branch Secretary Stephen Price. “They are often working in extremely harsh conditions doing everything that the Shire and Town needs for the local residents and for the many visitors.” Stephen said that he hoped to see more regional shire workers joining the AWU and working Stronger Together to protect their rights and ensure that they had safe workplaces.


FRONTLINE NEWS ► WESTERN AUSTRALIA

W EST ER N AUST R ALI A

AWU CAMPAIGNING AT ALBANY SHOW The AWU Western Australian Branch was proud to attend and campaign at the Albany Regional Agricultural Show for another year, this time with WA Labor and the Member for Albany, Peter Watson. There were several major events that coincided with the weekend to make it a great weekend for members in the region. The Albany Agricultural show stretched across the 11th and 12th of November which saw nearly 20,000 locals from the Albany and Great Southern Region enjoy two days of farm displays, rides and entertainment – including the wood chopping and local shearing trials. While the rain was around on day two, it couldn’t keep AWU members away and interested locals from speaking with the Union about their rights and about the benefits that our industry partner ME Bank and Australia Super had on offer. The AWU had a number of organisers out in force, including

AWU Western Australian Branch Secretary Stephen Price, handing out a number of gifts for kids from our partner sponsors at Australian Super, ME Bank and CBUS. Later, the AWU held a members’ catchup, which was well attended. Over the course of the weekend a number of organisers held site visits to CBH Grain Depots and

terminals to coincide with the annual grain harvest. Overall a successful weekend with many potential opportunities identified for the Union to follow up in areas such as timber, grain harvesting and farm work. Stephen thanked the officials involved who gave up their time and attended the event.

AWU made a presence at Albany.

W EST ER N AUST R ALI A

AWU WHEATSTONE PROJECT WELL UNDERWAY Earlier this year, the AWU Western Australian Branch made what has become the project agreement for Chevron’s Wheatstone project. This greenfield agreement became one of the highest paying projects in the country, and with the inclusion of the modern award relativities, it includes significant increases for mobile plant operators, crane operators and non-trade civil construction workers. Significantly, the Union was able to achieve increases which maintain

“After the AWU’s great successes at May Day and other events in places such as the Goldfields, the Albany regional visit gave the wider community greater understanding of the work the AWU does for its members and how we can improve the conditions and safety of local workplaces,” Stephen said. “It also shows that the AWU is alive and well in regional Australia and the great southern region.”

the current relativities for the trades as well. While some unions in WA are criticising the Wheatstone project agreement, the AWU has been on the job near Onslow in north-western WA, with several dedicated officials based in Onslow. The AWU is the only union on site with dedicated project resources, with organising officials and communication strategies in place to represent and organise the workers on the $30 billion Wheatstone gas plant, which seeks

to employ over 5000 workers at peak construction. The AWU said it was not going to repeat the same mistakes made previously by failing to secure a union-negotiated project agreement for the construction of Woodside Pluto gas plant, on the Burrup Peninsula near Karratha, WA. AWU Western Australian Branch Secretary Stephen Price said that the size of the project made it the biggest construction project on mainland WA, next to the Gorgon LNG construction project on Barrow Island. “The size and location of the project means that it’s vital that we have a union greenfields agreement on site to lock in the best terms and conditions achievable for the workers, on this project.” Stephen said. “By having a union agreement on site, we can ensure that safety on the job is at the highest level possible, the workers are remunerated appropriately and The entrance to Woodside Petroleum’s Pluto development is shown on the Burrup Peninsula in the north of Western Australia.

the guys have protections under the agreement to ensure they are treated appropriately on the job. “The only way to improve and ensure the health and safety of AWU members can be protected is to be part of the process, be in the agreement and continue to improve the working conditions on the job.” The AWU had received some criticism from several Western Australian unions about signing the agreement which Stephen said was unfounded, ignorant and factually wrong. “We all sat in negotiations together for over six months. When we achieved the majority of key claims and it was quite obvious that there was no more to be achieved, I made the decision to sign the agreement. Prior to signing, I notified the others, gave them the opportunity to sign it with us, and they chose not to. We need to learn from past mistakes, not continue to make them.” We have a dedicated email and contact number for this project, so if you require any further information about the project, please email wheatstone@awuwa.asn.au or call the Wheatstone Organiser on 0437 748 746.

www.awu.net.au THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER

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MEET THE OFFICIAL

V IC TOR I A N BR A NCH V ICE PRESI DEN T

BEN DAVIS

Words: Laura Macfarlane Photography: Getty Images

B

eing Vice President of the AWU’s Victorian Branch and lead organiser for the growth and the construction areas keeps me pretty busy, but I love it. Unionism is definitely in my blood, but my present position came about in a very serendipitous way. I was studying arts and commerce at Melbourne University and, like most students, I also needed to earn some money. I got a job at the AWU offices doing some data entry and updating databases. This was before the internet, so all done offline. I ended up staying for about 18 months, doing campaign work in a number of areas. I realised on about day two that I was hooked and wanted to be a union organiser. I saw that union officials made a real difference in members’ lives every day. After being offered a job as a recruiter in March 1995, I dropped out of university to work for the AWU full time. I wasn’t a complete novice to unionism having been a union member and AWU delegate when I worked in the exhibition industry – another job I had as a uni student. My work as an AWU delegate and my previous work for the Union stood me in good stead to have a red-hot go as a recruiter. My mum, who has sadly passed away, and my dad, who is retired, were active in the unions for their respective professions. Mum was a schoolteacher and my father was in the Metal Workers Union. Both were also members of the Labor Party. Outside my work for the AWU, I’m a self-confessed election junky. The recent US elections brought back a lot of memories for me because four years ago I was in the US working on the Obama campaign for his first presidential election. I was based in Illinois for six weeks,

“Four years ago I was in the US working on the Obama campaign.” 44

THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER www.awu.net.au

Ben Davis.

working as a volunteer on the team of a candidate running for the House of Reps, Dan Seals. I went door knocking and did phonebanking (calling voters). Unfortunately Dan didn’t win a seat, but Obama won the election, as we all know. It was very exciting for me to be part of that history-making event: the election of the first African-American president of the United States. The place I was living in at that time had the very apt name of Libertyville. It was a small place and had every fast-food chain

known to man, but no bookshops. Needless to say it was with eager anticipation that I watched the events of the 2012 US election unfold toward an ultimately fantastic result. My other great passion, apart from my fiancée Lisa and my two staffies, is reading. I’m a total bookworm, reading anything fictional from sci-fantasy by Asimov, Arthur C Clarke and Kurt Vonnegut Jr to classic stuff like Dickens, Orwell and Steinbeck. Ironically, before I met her Lisa worked for a company where she got heaps of free books. She used to give them away, but I missed out on that junket! Our dogs, Max and Bella, are refugees from the dogs’ home and I got them when they were four and five years old. Currently, I’m being kept busy at work with growing our membership in new and existing industries, particularly in quarries and manufacturing. Also there is a lot going in the construction industry on the regional rail project. It is unfortunately the only large scale civil construction project going on in Victoria at present and is keeping the construction team hopping. Despite constant pressures from aggressive employers, conservative governments and occasionally from rival unions, the AWU is in better shape now than at any time since I first walked in the office 21 years ago. There is no reason why this won’t continue.


MEET THE DELEGATE

Brett loves footy and the Dragons.

AW U DELEGAT E AT PORT KEM BLA ST EELWOR K S

BRETT WITHERS

Words: Laura Macfarlane Photography: Getty Images

I

am a senior operator and team leader for Veolia Environmental Services. My job entails planning and overseeing high pressure water blasting work, refectories demolition and types of industrial services. I am also an AWU delegate and have been on the Branch’s executive for eight years. Being in a union goes without saying for me. Ever since I started working I have been a union member, starting when I was in the building industry. My dad was a member and delegate of the BWIU. I started my working life in the same industry in Darwin and the new parliament house in Canberra where I joined the Union. I have been a member ever since. The moment that influenced me to get active in the Union and not just be a member was when I was a contractor at Bluescope Steel, then called BHP. We had no amenities so we used to sit in the gutter to eat our lunch. At some point the management accused us of leaving the gutter dirty and the unfairness of that galvanised me into becoming more active,

to do something, to stick up for my own and my co-workers’ rights. We approached the AWU to get them to act for us and things started to improve. The biggest issue that I am faced with as a delegate at the moment is the reduction in the steel industry in Australia. We’ve lost 40 people in my area since the global financial crisis hit and Bluescope is cost cutting. For example, things that should be cleaned up are being left longer. Jobs we did daily are now being done weekly or monthly or not at all. We have lost half our work due to closures of number 6 blast furnace, number 3 furnace at the BOS, coke ovens and casting floors. That said, we have worked for and achieved a fair EBA in my area. My wife Helen and I live in the Illawarra with our daughters Casey and Tristan. We love the area because of the beautiful beaches, good fishing and camping and going to watch my NRL team the Dragons. In my spare time I play golf and I love fishing. I don’t own a boat, but go out with

Brett’s a keen fisherman.

mates who do. I also run the Veolia fishing competition which started after a crib room argument over who was the best fisherman in Veolia, we chase flathead in lakes and rivers on the south coast. I would love own my own fishing boat but being the good dad that I am, my two girls’ ballet lessons and dancing comes first. They are both keen dancers and compete in competitions throughout the year. Both my daughters are studying dance and take it seriously. Maybe when the girls are grown up I’ll get that boat after all.

“Being in a union goes without saying for me. Ever since I started working I have been a union member, starting when I was in the building industry.” www.awu.net.au THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER

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WORLD AT WORK

HELMETS TO HARDHATS 46

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Finding work after leaving the armed forces can be difficult. While visiting New York, Chris Ryan met some young military veterans – and staunch unionists – who are now rebuilding their lives while rebuilding a site of tragedy.

A

t the World Trade Centre site, hundreds of visitors queue patiently, waiting to visit the National September 11 Memorial. Once they pull on shoes and shoulder their bags after passing through a metal detector, they walk along a chain-link fence covered in blue mesh. Behind the fence, workers are still busy rebuilding the rest of the World Trade Centre. While people take a moment to reßect at the memorial pools built where the twin towers once stood, or run a hand over the names inscribed on the bronze plates that edge the pools, cranes swing beams into place and cement mixers pump concrete over steel reinforcing. Inside Tower Four sweat pours off Jansel Rodruiguez as he scurries through the building’s air-conditioning ducts. Underground in the transportation hub ironworker Lawrence Go"i shifts massive steel beams into place. They are just two of dozens of workers at the World Trade Centre site who have joined the construction industry through the Helmets to Hardhats program. The program was created by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial

Jansel Rodruiguez.

Organizations (AFL-CIO), working with construction industry employer associations. It helps military veterans pursue careers in construction, where the discipline and teamwork skills developed in the armed services shine through.

INTO UNIFORM Lawrence, formerly of the 82nd Airborne Division, is now a member of Ironworkers Local 40. He signed-up for the army while still in high school, a self-described nerdy kid with no direction, career or college-wise. “I was secretly hoping for a peacekeeping mission,” he told The Australian Worker. “You’re pu"ing yourself in danger, but at the same time you’re handing out food and water, or building a bridge or a school.” He recalls being on base on September 11, 2001, when that hope disappeared. “A friend came rushing into my room. He said, ‘You go"a see this, something’s happened in New York City.’ We turned on the TV and saw the second plane ßy in live. From that moment for the following three or four weeks, my room became the place where the entire platoon gathered.

That’s where we sat and watched the news, and half-jokingly talked about going AWOL to help. If someone had got into a car and started driving to New York, everybody would have followed.” Jansel, who was in the reserves after three years serving as a scout with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, remembers the moment just as vividly. He was at his mother’s home on Staten Island. “I was taking a shower and I heard my mum screaming, ‘Oh my god, we’ve been a"acked’. I ran straight to the TV, and the next thing I saw was the second plane hit. I didn’t know what to think.” Even now, he struggles to describe the thoughts and emotions that crowded his mind. “I knew it was just a ma"er of time until I got a call saying that I was going somewhere.” As it turned out it wasn’t until 2004, after the Iraq invasion, that Jansel was called on to serve. He ended up stationed on the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border, inspecting convoys. “I was lucky that the unit I went with was in an area that was very relaxed, so we didn’t see a lot of Þre-Þghting,” he says. It was a different story for Lawrence. From July 2002 to January 2003 his regiment, the 505th, was in combat operations against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. “It’s something I’m very intensely proud of,” Lawrence says of his service. “At the same point though, it’s a li"le humbling, because I feel like I didn’t do as much as other people. There was always more to do. “I feel thankful I’m alive and unhurt. I know guys who were killed in action and guys who were maimed. I have a friend who lost an arm and I’ve seen guys I’ve stayed close with where there are psychological effects. They’ll never be the same. They’re out there living their life, but there’s a price to pay. There’s a sacriÞce they made.”

“I knew it was just a matter of time until I got a call saying that I was going somewhere.” www.awu.net.au THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER

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WORLD AT WORK

ABOVE: The World Trade Centre memorial.

Lawrence Gotti is proud to be part of the program.

Lawrence was sceptical when operations moved to Iraq. “It was the same for the soldiers as it was for a lot of the public in the world. When we got to Iraq we knew it wasn’t exactly what they were telling us,” he says. “That being said, we built hospitals, we built schools. I saw the change from when we got there and people were afraid to leave their houses. At night it was like the entire country shut down and hid. We saw that go to the point where they’d be having outdoor festivals. People would come up to you and thank you.”

UNION & PROUD After his four years’ service, Lawrence didn’t slip back into civilian life easily. He says he bounced around, taking comfort knowing a return to the military was always an option: no one going to close them down. He did an associate degree at a community school. He considered going into forensic psychology or pursuing a law degree. He was working as a paralegal when friends told him about the Helmets to Hardhats program. From the outset he knew it was for him. “It’s that brotherhood, it’s right from the bat,” he says. “If you mess up you’re going to hear about it, but at the same point someone is going to take you aside and show you how to do it right. They are going to look after you. It’s a lot like the service. You have the older guys looking out for the younger guys, and before you know it, you’re one of the older guys helping out.” Jansel has also rediscovered the camaraderie he enjoyed in the army. He had been serving overseas when a fellow

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THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER www.awu.net.au

reservist received a care package from the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers (AWIU). Jansel, who studied graphic design, was struck by the AWIU logo on a shirt in the care package. It showed a salamander si!ing on a pipe, above a Þre. “I was like, ‘What the hell is that?’ He told me, ‘That’s my career,’ and explained to me what he did.” This sparked Jansel’s interest and when he heard about the Helmets to Hardhats program, he applied to join the AWIU. The transition from the military was an easy one. “In the military everything is always a cohesive unit,” he says. “There should be no weak links. If someone has fallen out you always lend a hand. When I came into the union, during the brieÞngs and the orientations, they were promoting the same thing. They said we’re all family, we are all here to work together: if you see someone who needs help, you lend a hand, it’s always about the growth of the whole union together.”

BRIGHT FUTURE Both men take a particular pride in working at the World Trade Centre. “When I was learning the business, once I heard there was an opportunity to work at the towers I actually called one of my supervisors and said, that’s deÞnitely where I want to go,” says Jansel. “It’s pre!y cool. Even though when you think about September 11, you think about the people who were lost and the incident that happened, it also symbolises something else. Right after the a!acks people that didn’t even know each other were coming together, and it was a big thing.”

Lawrence looks forward to showing his son the site. “He’s going to be two in December. At this point he has no idea what I do, but I deÞnitely look forward to telling him, ‘This is what I had a part in.’ Even projects like Freedom Tower, where I didn’t have a big hand in it, I was a part of that project.” And the transportation hub, which doesn’t sound as spectacular as a soaring skyscraper, is particularly special to Lawrence. “It’s going to be amazing because it’s open to the public. One thing we’ll always say; with Wall Street companies, in the Diamond District or the garment area, you build these huge buildings and you are there every day, day after day, then it’s built and they shut the doors, and they say, ‘Why would we let you back in here?’ “To see these giant steel structures go up, we’re looking at it now and we’re saying, ‘We are actually going to be able to walk through here.’ I’ll be able to take my son here and say, ‘I worked on that, and this is how we lifted this with the crane, and this weighs this much.’ That’s one of those things that is really amazing.”


BINDI & RINGER RIN

COLOUR USIN Bindi & Ringer have heard about the wonders of the sea, but they’ve also heard about some of the things that shouldn’t be there and are harmful to their ocean-dwelling friends. Can you circle seven objects that shouldn’t be in the sea? When you do, colour in the picture to bring the ocean to life! EDITED & ILLUSTRATED: Melissa Martin

THE AUSTRALIAN WORKER www.awu.net.au

ANSWER: An oil spill; 2 aluminium cans; 1 Plastic bag; 2 plastic chip packets; an anchor with net and rope attached.

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The Australian Worker Magazine Issue 3 2012  

The Australian Workers' Union National magazine