Workers at a South-Eastern Melbourne factory have returned to work victorious following an industrial dispute spanning more than three months.
For ninety-seven days factory workers at Fletcher Insulation maintained a picket line at a Dandenong manufacturing plant, fighting to protect hard fought and won wages and conditions.
The 89 workers, members of the Australian Workers Union, manned the picket line at Fletcher Insulation through the near hundred day struggle, after negotiations for a new Enterprise Agreement had failed to produce satisfactory outcomes for the employees.
The workers took up the fight, and maintained a seven day a week, twenty-four hour camp, in response to the company’s proposed attack. The company had attempted to impose savage cutbacks to working conditions. The workforce comprised many workers that had served long periods of employment at the outer Melbourne manufacturing plant; a third of the workforce have served more than thirty years with the company.
As recently as December, the workers set productivity records at the plant. Ben Davis, Victorian Secretary of the AWU stated “It defies logic that workers who have proved they are committed to the company and just months ago set new productivity records, could be treated so shabbily”
The proposal offerred no wage increase for a three year period, aimed to slash redundancy provisions, and included a plan for the unlimited usage of casual labour. The workers also hit the grass in order to defend the glass industry standard of the 35 hour working week, which was under threat through the dispute.
Approximately one month into the dispute, management revealed their latest plan, which was to seek to have the current Enterprise Agreement terminated.
‘One day longer – one day stronger’ was the motto by which the group of workers in rallied, determined to defeat the company proposal, and prepared to defend all the hard fought conditions until they would eventually crush the company’s hopes and claim victory.
The AWU members returned to their factory triumphant, retaining the industry standard 35 hour week, after the company had attempted to impose a longer working week on the employees, and also maintained their uncapped redundancy provision, fending off the company plan to cap this provision.
Fletcher management had also sought provision for the unlimited supply of casual labour. This provision now has restrictions in place, another important victory in a period where more than 40% of workers in Australia are placed in this insecure, precarious form of employment. Workers will now receive a 2% wage increase for each year of the new agreement, following the company’s initial demand that employee’s settle on a pay freeze for a three year period.
This victory by the 89 Fletcher Insulation workers has been heralded as a victory for all Australian workers; a small group of workers that stood united and defied, and ultimately defeated, a large multi-national company in their quest to decimate the conditions of working people.
The Dandenong victory follows on from another win for workers; that of the CUB 55 and their protracted six-month struggle at the Melbourne brewery, another small group of workers that took up the fight of the working class and defended and maintained their rights for secure employment, and decent working conditions.