Electricians and manufacturing workers stuck tight and outsmarted the arrogant management of the Clayton can plant of the billionaire Pratt family-owned Visy company.
After 5 months of protracted EBA negotiations, Visy would not budge on its refusal to secure long-existing conditions in the new agreement, so workers took protected action. Visy management responded by locking out three ETU and 32 AMWU workers, which turned into a six-week strike, stopping production of two-million soft drink and beer cans per day.
‘Here is another example of why workers should be in their union,’ Assistant Secretary, Troy Gray, says.
“The members led by Colin Williams, and in the final steps by Howard Worthing, rejected an initial company offer of 1.5 per cent and stuck to their guns for six weeks, and have achieved a very good outcome.’
‘It just goes to show what you can achieve if you stick together and have a bit of a dip.’
For many of the workers at Clayton, the dispute was a new experience.
‘The Clayton workforce had never been treated like this before, as previous management had stated that it is in the top 5 per cent of Visy plants for productivity, and has a strong work culture that Visy would like to reflect in some of their other plants,’ ETU delegate, Paul Witte, says.
As the door was slammed shut in their faces, the workers defied the invitation to come back to work, and voted to protest Visy’s harsh tactics by staying out,to pursue a fair deal.
‘In spite of being treated like criminals, with Visy organising round-the-clock security guards, calling up to 20 police to the site, filming and recording activities, and serving ETU organiser Colin Williams, AMWU organiser Dinh Nguyen and AMWU Delegate Jerry Landolfo with a $500,000 Supreme Court writ for damages, the workers’ resolve only increased, while remaining rational and determined not to agree to any deal that fell short of what they deserved,’ Paul says.
As well as the workers’ solidarity, ETU Organiser Colin Williams used his experience from years as a steward to predict many of the tactics that Visy eventually tried, and had strategies in place to counter them.
Visy’s dodgy tactics backfired
‘The Visy tactic of organising four secret ballots then cancelling two of them for conditions that were not negotiated around the EBA table, backfired, as both of the ballots that were eventually held were overwhelmingly defeated,’ Colin says.
Neighbouring businesses donated money, firewood and food, and the AMWU supplied a caravan and a barbecue for the strikers who were camped outside the plant.
Eventually, Visy management got the message that workers would not agree to an EBA deal without union involvement, so conciliation was organised at Fair Work Australia.
‘With the full weight and resources of both unions fully supporting all of the workers for six weeks, we were able to secure all our existing above-award conditions in the EBA, as well as negotiating a fairer 4% per annum deal for three years, with a $500 implementation bonus and Visy dropping the $500,000 Supreme Court action,’ Paul says.
‘In the end, after six weeks around a camp fire gaining mateship and mutual respect for each other, we built our solidarity to the point that we achieved the result we wanted more than six months ago a fair deal!’