The Guardian May 28, 2003


Campaign 2003 meets stiff ideological opposition

by Bob Briton

Bosses have closed ranks against workers seeking to renew more than 1100 
enterprise agreements in the manufacturing sector. The agreements have been 
falling due for renewal since March this year and will all have expired by 
June. So far, two months of intense negotiations by the Australian 
Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) have resulted in only 100 employers 
signing on.

The AMWU has accused Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott of 
encouraging employers to take on the union. Negotiations have certainly 
taken place in an atmosphere of threat and menace with the Minister and the 
Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) linking punitive legal 
measures to every mention of industrial action.

Australian Industries Group (AIG) Chief Executive Bob Herbert says that 
"economic realities" are guiding employers  code for pretexts to deny the 
just demands of their workers.

The fact that many of the enterprise agreements at issue affect workers in 
the automotive component industry is glossed over in discussion of these 
economic "realities". Good news like an increase in vehicle sales in April 
by 2.3 per cent over their already high March levels is discounted.

But the surplus capacity in General Motors' facilities in Thailand was used 
by GMH as part of its push to get the AMWU to drop a claim for a staggered 
ten-minute "smoko" or comfort break during the four-hour shifts.

GMH said it would reconsider the hiring of between 300 and 1000 staff for a 
new third shift at their Elizabeth plant if the workers pushed ahead with 
the claim.

The AIG has refused to discuss an industry-wide framework for renewing the 
enterprise agreements in question. This, and individual employer 
intransigence, has obliged the AMWU to resort to a series of half-day 
stoppages.

Delegates decided last week to target 15 workplaces with over 1000 
employees each  most of them in Victoria  in support of a package of 
improvements called Campaign 2003.

Key areas that members want tackled include agreement to secure 100 per 
cent of entitlements, increasing the number of apprenticeships, wage 
justice, shorter hours, regulation of casual employment and paid maternity 
leave.

Specifically, a 36-hour week, a 13 percent pay increase over the life of 
the new agreements and support for the NEST trust scheme have been put on 
the table. While some employers have come to agreements on a number of 
these claims, the overall stance of the bosses is one of confrontation.

A number of employers have taken it upon themselves to distribute booklets 
among the workers seeking to discredit the NEST scheme favoured by the 
AMWU. NEST is an independent, not-for-profit trust that receives payments 
from employees on behalf of their workers for entitlements such as annual 
leave.

The invitation from the AMWU to employers to come to agreement on the 
issues still stands. However, the members are clearly in no mood to be 
fobbed off. Last week, Victorian State Secretary Dave Oliver had the 
following to say: "The resolve of our members should not be underestimated. 
We call upon those employers who are simply towing the ideological line to 
sit down and begin addressing these key areas immediately."

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