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Issue #1530      7 December 2011

In Perth, workers rally and march for local jobs

At the usually staid and uneventful monthly Unions WA Council meeting held on November 15, senior union officials from the Construction Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) addressed Council on the state of job creation and job training in WA’s resources boom.

CPSU/CSA Branch Secretary Toni Walkington addresses the crowd.

State secretary of the MUA, Chris Cain, described the situation of how many of the multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects were going offshore or alternatively multinationals such as Chevron and BHP Billiton were seeking to have trained workers come from overseas on temporary 457 visas to undertake the jobs which could have been given to local workers.

Chris Cain said that despite many meetings with the government and officers from the corporations themselves, they had gotten nowhere. The time had come to take the message to the streets and that his union and the CFMEU would be spearheading a rally calling for local jobs for local workers and called on other unions to endorse the rally and call on their own members to attend.

On a warm sunny lunchtime on November 29, workers and fellow activists gathered on The Esplanade of Perth’s foreshore in their thousands to hear a few brief speeches rallying workers to the cause of local jobs. This included the successor to the leadership of the CFMEU WA branch, Mick Buchan, who will take over from Kevin Reynolds. Buchan told the workers, “There was no skill shortage – there was only a lack of resolve from employers to pay for the training of our young men and women for the skilled jobs required for these resources jobs.” He called on workers to march and send a strong message to the greedy capitalists who controlled those resource projects.

Ian Bray from the MUA added, “It was unacceptable to have such high levels of unemployment amongst Aboriginal people which was approaching 30 percent in many communities and between 20-25 percent unemployment amongst our youth.”

The march made its way up Barrack Street and on to the main drag of St Georges Terrace, where the 5,000 plus workers with colourful union banners, whistles, drums chanted, “CFMEU here for a blue!” They put on an emphatic display of union power for the members of the public out at lunchtime.

Unlike the recent CHOGM protest, the police kept a low profile and did not venture to intimidate and harass the workers on the march.

They arrived at the QV1 building where resource giant Chevron have their offices and a statement from ACTU president Ged Kearney was read out passing on her encouragement to those protesting the use of overseas workers who were paid as little as $3 an hour. The use of these foreign workers in this manner added Kearney, “flew in the face of international human rights and labour standards.”

Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union organiser Terry Hayes advised the marchers that Woodside Petroleum, which was the controlling partner in the Pluto project, was retrenching Australian workers which included Australian electricians and retaining “supplementary labour” from overseas. He added that he was from the southern Perth suburb of Rockingham and that workers who lived there wanted dearly for their children to have a job. He said that in Rockingham High School there were 200 year 9, 10 and 11 students who wanted apprenticeships and that most would not be able to secure the training to obtain these skilled jobs that flowed from the current mining boom.

Unions WA president Meredith Hammat told the rally that the number of apprenticeships had fallen by 2,000 in the two years to 2010 as the resource companies who benefited from the boom, Chevron and BHP, saw their profits rise in 2010 by 85 percent to $19 billion and 100 percent to $12.75 billion respectively.

Hammat added, “Despite all the talk of skills shortages, it has never been so hard to get an apprenticeship in this state.” This was because, “Many of the smaller companies who train apprentices are not getting the contracts from the multinational corporations who want to be free to bring in the cheapest workers from anywhere in the world.”

These corporations and the federal government are being aided and abetted by a self-serving Barnett Liberal state government which later in the week in the business pages of the West Australian, described the union campaign as being focused on “trivial issues”.

Hammet summed up the demands of all unions who were protesting, “Unions are going to fight for training, education, well paid and secure jobs.”

MUA assistant secretary, Adrian Evans, observed that the vast sums which Chevron spent on television advertisements that were beamed predominantly to regional WA to proclaim that they support local jobs was just spin, when the vast majority of investment is going overseas.

Chevron was also not averse to using section 651 tourist visas to bring in workers in addition to the section 457 visas. Domestically workers were also being exploited through the increased casualisation of the workforce and use of labour hire where workers would have little access to sick leave, annual leave and other conditions that were part of the Minimum Conditions of the Employment Act.

CFMEU secretary Kevin Reynolds reminded workers to keep up the momentum and when asked by a reporter how long they would be there he replied, “One day longer than the bosses.”

In regards to concerns that his call at the March 2011, Local Content Rally for a ban on foreign workers, he commented that unions did not want workers employed on temporary visas as they did not enjoy the full rights, pay and conditions of workers employed as permanent residents, and thereby have the same rights and responsibilities as those workers who were born in Australia. He called for those workers to come to Australia with their families on a residential status.

Chris Cain concluded the march by announcing the beginning of a campaign of lunch-hour pickets outside Chevron offices every Friday from 12-2pm.

Earlier that morning there was a smaller local content rally outside the office of Corrective Services Minister Terry Redman in West Perth to protest the increased privatisation of prisons and the spectre of parole services also being contracted out to that big foreign corporate client of the federal and state governments, SERCO. That rally was called by the Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association and attended by about 50 protesters including several members of the Refugee Rights Action Network who themselves are no stranger the dastardly deeds of SERCO in Australia’s refugee detention centres.

CPSU/CSA branch secretary Toni Walkington addressed the rally to emphasise the need for prison and parole services to remain in public hands so that well paid public servants can carry out the work according to the expectations of the community and not corporate shareholders.

There were several similarities in the campaigns against privatisation and the one later in the day for local jobs including the close relations betweens governments and their corporate masters and spin campaigners to spin the tale to the public of how wonderful they are.

The unions and the community united and activated will prevail.  

Next article – Sydney planners ignore community housing concerns

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