Australia: Mass picket brings workers’ victory at Melbourne engineering plant

First serious setback for government’s new anti-union laws

Bosses’ at ‘Finlay Engineering’, in Melbourne, caved in to a mass picket outside their West Heidelberg plant and reinstated sacked workers Harry, Vince and Arjunta.

This result – which marks the first big set back for the government’s anti-worker industrial laws – is a clear message to the ACTU (Australian unions federation) and all workers – we don’t have to wait until the next Federal election or for an expensive win against the new laws in the High Court – we can win on the ground with unity and resolve!

The three sacked Finlay Engineering workers were sacked several weeks ago, after an incident of alleged “smirking” by a worker at his boss. The boss explicitly stated he felt more comfortable sacking these workers after the introduction of the government’s ‘Work Choices’ legislation.

But, last Tuesday, at 6am, a snap picket line (that stopped all trucks entering the Finlay Engineering site) was called by Union Solidarity, with the help of many others, including the Socialist Party. Over 300 people blocked the two entrances and forced the boss to retreat. This is the first serious setback for Howard’s new IR laws.

The following report of the dispute, which mentions the role of the Socialist Party, is from the Australian ‘Herald Sun’ newspaper.

Unions in ’smirker’ case win

John Masanauskas, industrial reporter

4 May 2006 (Herald and Weekly Times)

A west Heidelberg factory has been forced to rehire three workers who were sacked last month after the Federal Government changed the nation’s unfair dismissal laws.

Finlay Engineering yesterday retreated after a campaign by unions and Left-wing activists. A picket line involving the Socialist Party severely disrupted the factory on Tuesday.

Finlay owner Jim Sutton said he had agreed to reinstate the workers after talks with ACTU president Sharan Burrow and Australian Manufacturing Workers Union officials.

"We have not backed down: there’s a mutual agreement that will satisfy both parties," he told the Herald Sun.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union claimed that Mr Sutton had sacked two union activists and another worker after one of them smirked at him after a meeting on the new industrial laws last month.

Mr Sutton denied sacking them over a smirk, saying he had been set up by the union after talks over a new workplace deal broke down.

The sackings occurred soon after new federal legislation came into effect exempting firms with fewer than 100 employees from unfair dismissal laws.

Most Finlay workers have signed Australian Workplace Agreements to replace union awards.

In a joint statement, Ms Burrow and AMWU state secretary Dave Oliver said the sacked workers were thrilled to return to work.

"The AMWU and the ACTU are pleased with the result of the negotiations and are committed to continue to work co-operatively with the company," they said.

The Federal Government has pledged protection for truck owner-drivers in Victoria and NSW under its new Independent Contractors Bill.

Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews said yesterday that the law would stop contractors being roped into obeying state laws that in effect made them employees.

But the Government recognised that owner-drivers, like outworkers, had certain vulnerabilities that required protection, he said.

Opposition industrial relations spokesman Stephen Smith said that, as with all the Government’s Work Choice legislation, the devil was in the detail.

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May 2006