The Guardian May 21, 2003


Support Morris McMahon workers

by Tom Pearson

"This is a dispute that affects every worker"

For more than 10 weeks workers at manufacturer Morris McMahon, in the inner 
western suburb of Arncliffe, have maintained a picket outside the plant 
against their employer's attempt to slash their pay and conditions. 
Management want to exclude the union from the workplace and has been 
bussing scabs supplied by a body hire outfit through the picket.

Morris McMahon manufactures sealable metal cans and has been operating for 
around 100 years.

The current management is setting itself up as a model for the union 
bashing Workplace Relations Act, with its individual work contracts or AWAs 
(Australian Workplace Agreements) as the Act calls them.

The wider agenda is Morris McMahon's use of the Federal Government's anti-
union legislation to impose individual contracts on its employees.

The 50 workers  members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union 
(AMWU)  have maintained the picket 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 
They are fighting for their life's blood, their wages and conditions and 
the fundamental right to bargain collectively through their union, in the 
knowledge that the vicious attack on them represents an attack on all 
workers.

They have been offered a bribe by the company of $1000 to abandon the union 
and sign a contract. Their wage levels are very low, $11-$12 per hour, and 
the company refuses to pay even the basic award entitlements such as for 
meal breaks and over time: essentially they are expected to work five days 
for four day's pay.

The workers and their union have been trying for more than nine months to 
conclude an enterprise bargaining agreement with the company, but 
management refuses to talk with union. When the workers originally 
approached management and asked to begin negotiations they were told point 
blank "no".

All through this tortuous process the Industrial Relations Commission has 
had its hands tied by the Workplace Relations Act which prevents it from 
ordering the parties to negotiate.

"Their agenda is, they don't want a union in there under any 
circumstances", workplace union delegate Keith Brown told The Guardian. 
"They want to force people to sign AWAs. They've refused to negotiate 
fairly with our negotiating committee.

"They're using a company called Frontline, a strike-breaking company, to 
try and break us." Frontline, a body-hire favourite among anti-union 
employees, has installed a "crisis manager" inside the plant, as overseer 
of its contract labour.

The workers are determined to stand firm. "We've offered to meet with 
management on numerous occasions, but they will not discuss having a 
certified agreement, because they simply don't want the union in there", 
said Mr Brown.

"Our approach now is to continue with the picket. We are in the process of 
getting in touch with the companies that purchase cans from them, trying to 
get them to put pressure on the company to settle it, and we're enlisting 
the support of other unions."

He warned that this isn't a dispute just about the Morris McMahan workers. 
"This is a dispute that affects every worker in Australia. This dispute 
will be used as a blueprint, if we lose it, for other employers to use the 
same tactics and attack the conditions of workers all over the place."

You can support the picket of the Morris McMahon workers at 34 Arncliffe 
Street, Arncliffe by visiting the picket or sending messages of solidarity 
to the AMWU, Vehicle Division, 133 Parramatta Rd. Granville, NSW 2142.

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