14th CPA Congress – Resolution on employers lock out

14th CPA Congress – Resolution on employers lock out

Adopted on 25-27 February 2022


The Great Australian Lockout must end.

Delegates to the Communist Party of Australia’s 14th National Congress considers the following:

Australia has some of the most reactionary, anti-worker lockout laws in the OECD. Under the Fair Work Act enshrined in section 411 the ‘employer response action’, employers can take protected industrial action against employees in response to industrial action by employees. Reform is needed in Australian lockout law to bring Australian legal standards into the international mainstream.

Once rare and a relic belonging to the late 19th century history and during the crisis years of the Great Depression, lockouts where an employer temporarily withdraws paid work for its employees have resurfaced. Since 1996 there has been an ongoing upward trend in the use of lockouts that now sees employers responsible for most of the long-running disputes in Australia accounting for over half of the long disputes between 1999-2003. The working days lost to lockouts grew from just 3% between 1994-98 to 26% between 1999-2003. This trend has only continued.

Of real concern for current circumstances, along with the observed ongoing increases to their use, lockouts typically occur in depressed markets. Slow business conditions lower the losses sustained by the bosses. Adding further pressure employees who are locked out cannot claim unemployment benefits.

The ability of workers to freely associate and bargain collectively to pursue their interests in disputes with their employers is hindered in Australia by legislation that limits access to take strike action. This coupled with the virtual absence of limitations on lockouts in Australian labour law defies the norm throughout the OECD.

The equal treatment of lockouts and strikes is inconsistent with other legal principles such as freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining and strike. Effectively it renders the rights of employees meaningless.

Being able to withdraw our labour or at least the implied threat to do so underpins the bargaining power of employees and unions. Without this, employees are relegated to a state of dependence unable to bargain effectively.

Recently, we saw over 300 Coles distribution centre workers in NSW locked out of their workplace for over 3 months after taking 24 hours strike action demanding improved wages and conditions. The reasons for the strike included unequal pay rates with other warehouse workers, increasing pick rates (workers report that rates had increased to 230 cartons per hour, up from 160 just seven years ago) leading to potentially unsafe work practices and failure to supply PPE during the COVID crisis and increasing casualisation. In WA, Seven West media has locked its production workers out for 2 weeks before xmas after a 4-hour stoppage, another lockout is currently underway after workers again rejected Enterprise Agreement proposal that will strip their conditions and make way for the casualisation of the workforce. When fighting back against lockouts, we saw the RTBU and its members campaign heavily against the narrative, set by the NSW state government, that the lockout was a by-product of a lack of cooperation of the union and its workers providing a pathway forward for future lockout struggles.

There are many more examples.

It is only the implicit threat or explicit strike weapon which restores any sort of equilibrium between labour and capital. The CPA calls for the right to strike and for the prohibition of lockouts. We call on the Australian union movement to join us in taking up this call.