The Guardian February 9, 2000


Stop bosses doing a runner

by Anna Pha

The 342 workers who lost their jobs when the National Textiles company in 
the NSW Hunter Valley closed last month are still waiting for their money. 
The directors of the company pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars, 
while the workers have been left high and dry, with no sign of the $11 
million they are owed.

The Federal Government's "entitlement protection scheme", due to go before 
Cabinet as The Guardian goes to press, is a sham to let employers 
off the hook. It's not fooling workers and their unions for a second.

The scheme is purported to offer workers up to $20,000 when the company 
employing them goes bust and fails to pay their entitlements.

But the way the scheme is structured, very few workers would qualify for 
anything like the $20,000, let alone the full amount of legal entitlements.

As pointed out in last week's Guardian, one of the National Textiles 
workers with 31 years of service would only receive $7,900.89 under 
Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith's scheme, a far cry from that 
worker's legal entitlement of $43,826.45.

Tony Maher, the General President of the CFMEU Mining and Energy Division, 
described Reith's scheme as "totally inadequate".

"It is basically the same offer we rejected in the Oakdale campaign. If we 
had accepted it then, the 125 [sacked] Oakdale miners and their families 
would have received only about 20 per cent of their full entitlements and 
badly missed out on what they were owed, and eventually received."

The Oakdale settlement involved the Federal Government legislating so that 
the miners could be paid their full entitlements.

Central fund

Their entitlements were paid from the coal industry's Long Service Leave 
Fund  a central fund based on employer contributions that has protected 
long service leave entitlements in the industry.

Reith wants to abolish the Fund and hand the coal owners a $240 million 
windfall and rob workers of their long service leave security.

At present, when mines go bankrupt the only benefit mineworkers are 
guaranteed of is their long service leave entitlement.

The CFMEU is calling for the retention of the fund as a permanent feature 
to ensure all entitlements, not just long service leave.

"If the Federal Government could legislate last year to provide for the 
Oakdale miners, why can't they do so now to protect all employees?", asked 
Tony Maher.

Apart from being totally inadequate as compensation, Reith's scheme relies 
on the co-operation of all State Governments  by no means certain  and 
does nothing to prevent further thefts by employers.

It also fails to address the crucial fact that companies must take 
responsibility for entitlements owing to their employees.

In recent months thousands of workers have been left high and dry as 
corporations and directors have made off with their wages and other 
entitlements through restructuring and other manipulations similar to 
Patrick's underhand tactics against the Maritime Union.

It is time these were made public and fully investigated through a Senate 
inquiry.

Company laws must be tightened to stop thieving company directors doing a 
runner through the back door with the cash. When it comes to companies 
going bust, all other creditors must be placed in the queue behind 
the workforce when payouts are made.

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