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Issue #1443      17 February 2010

Shorter week on air warfare destroyer

The CFMEU has negotiated a 36-hour week for workers engaged in building three of the Navy’s new air warfare destroyers in Adelaide. Transfield – one of the contractors to the project – signed off on the deal which the union believes will help restore a reasonable work-life balance for its members. The agreement was approved by Fair Work Australia last August but not everybody is happy about it. The Australian Financial Review has quoted a “defence source” who says it “... will go straight to the bottom line and could mean up to a year’s delay over the life of the project.”

The mystery source sounds just like a short-sighted, profit-hungry boss who tries to stretch the working day, speed up production, reduce wages (or allow them to be eroded) and strip conditions in order to boost the boss’s take of what the workers produce. Experience has shown that productivity often increases when hours are reduced because workers are fresher and more focussed.

For employers, the question of increasing the working week is quite often about reducing costs and increasing the exploitation of workers.

The latest deal mirrors one already in place for a 36-hour working week for Transfield workers carrying out submarine maintenance for the Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC). The Air Warfare Destroyer Alliance, which includes the ASC, US weapons corporation Raytheon and the Defence Materiel Organisation is building three of the 6,250 tonne warships for the Navy at its Osborne facility.

The ASC shipyard workforce generally has a 37-hour working week with provision for overtime. Defence Minister John Faulkner is reported to be happy that the project is running to schedule and on budget.

Again, the “defence source” thinks differently. “The last thing the air warfare destroyer project needs is to see the work practices afflicting ASC’s submarine maintenance transferred to the warship project,” the supposed defence expert said.

The statement appears to blame workers for the long list of technical woes besetting the Navy’s Collins class submarines. The Navy is having difficulty keeping the fleet of six subs in service and cannot find enough crews to go down in the unloved vessels. To seek to push the blame for design issues onto workers for negotiating a 36-hour week is a bit rich.

HMAS Collins was first of the Collins Class submarines.

As CFMEU South Australian branch secretary Martin O’Malley points out about the 36-hour deal, “... a lot longer hours were worked than that. I’d like to see a few of those politicians in Canberra put in the hours our members do when it’s 42 degrees in the shade in Adelaide.”

Next article –  Call to end Aust Post’s abuse through company doctors

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