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Issue #1524      26 October 2011

Plastic makers demand a better workplace

Low paid migrants working at a plastic manufacturer in Melbourne’s south, have created a better-paid, fairer and safer workplace after securing their site’s first Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) collective agreement.

The workers, who make pot plants, snorkels and other plastic products for Palamont Rotor in Dandenong, joined the union on mass one year ago, after the company tried unsuccessfully to push individual contracts. Site delegate Anil Mannapperuma said despite attempts by management to thwart union activity, workers remained determined to improve conditions.

“We wanted job security and better rights. We had a lot of bullying, there was favouritism and our hourly rate wasn’t very high. They (management) could push us anyway they liked.

“As soon as we joined they sacked three guys without notice.”
Despite fears of reprehension, Mr Mannapperuma urged workers to stick together.

“I said to the guys ‘Being together is the only way to win this situation. If you break up, they will crush us anyway they want. Once we sign their agreement we will have no rights.’”

With the assistance of AMWU regional organiser, Craig Kelly, the workers took their plan for collective action to Fair Work Australia after the company refused to recognise the AMWU.

Mr Kelly said the united front shown by workers sent a clear message to management.

“They were a collective and they were ready to exercise their strength. The members made it clear to the company they would be facing not one or two union activists - but every union member on site.”

Following an extended period of negotiation between the company’s management and the AMWU, major improvements on the wages and conditions were won.

As well as a pay rise of 14 percent over three years, the members significantly improved their long service leave and redundancy entitlements (two weeks per year of service) and a new clause providing a pay-out of all sick leave after ten years of service.

But the major win for members, according to Mr Mannapperuma, came through the development of a fairer and safer workplace.

“With the AMWU we now have a structure where all bullying issues that arise are quickly addressed. Before, bullying between superiors and workplace was a common occurrence.”

He said health and safety was now an integral part of the workplace.

“We now have trained five health and safety delegates to oversee the standards. We’ve also identified and removed the use of chemicals that weren’t suitable or safe for the workplace.”

Craig Kelly said he couldn’t be happier with the result achieved at Palamont.

“It’s heartening because we’re always trying to convince new shops to take the step and join on mass. This is a shining example of that. It reaffirms our beliefs.”  

Next article – Ombudsman forced to resign – for doing his job

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