Monday, July 30, 2007

Support the Esselte workers!

Why isn't Barbara Bennett, head of the Workplace Authority, down at the gates of Esselte in Sydney, explaining to the workers that no-one's trying to force them onto un-Australian Workplace Agreements? She can smile and say "No they can't!" just like she does in those repetitive tax-payer funded full page newspaper ads in which she's lent herself , as a senior public servant, out to Howard and his gang of union-busting thugs.

Esselte Australia, which is owned by the giant US-based J W Childs Corporation and has an annual turnover of US$1.5 billion, has proposed individual contracts (AWAs) to their employees during negotiations for a new union Collective Agreement.

The AWAs severely cut back the conditions, allowances and penalties of Esselte workers.
Gone are Rostered Days Off, union picnic days, meal allowances and paid meal breaks. Workers will be required to work 38 hours per week averaged over 12 months (which will end any over-time) and a productivity “incentive” scheme will be introduced.

According to one worker at Esselte, in June 2006 when the workers first decided to reject the AWAs, “The company took us, one by one, down to the Campbelltown Art Gallery and sat us down in front of a government official. It was interrogation. “They tried to get me to answer questions like ‘Why didn’t you sign an AWA?’ for seven hours. They were very intimidating. The interrogator banged his hand on the table and yelled ‘Stop mollycoddling me!’”

In the latest development, union officials have accused the company of planting a secret listening device near where they meet the striking workers.

The bizarre discovery comes amid admissions from the employer that he was video-taping the strikers and claims he had warned them that they would be bashed by their colleagues.

Esselte boss Barry Starr denied management had planted the device, (which could instead be an RFID type tag used by some security firms whose patrolman has to get near or touch this tag with his equipment as he is doing his round); nevertheless Starr admitted he was keeping the workers under video surveillance "to stop them breaking the law".

Starr also admitted he warned the workers there would be consequences for their actions and that they were angering their workmates.

"I said they were creating problems for themselves and there were a lot of angry people in there," he said.

Three of the workers have signed statutory declarations stating Starr went further.

They claim Starr told them words to the effect of: "If you get back in there to work, there are some angry people. When you are in the corner they will bash you up or they will damage your car and the company won't be responsible."

National Union of Workers NSW State Secretary Derrick Belan said “This company is run by a bunch of industrial vandals who just can’t wait to attack their workers with Howard’s horrible IR laws. Esselte’s US-style of corporate bullying will harm the workers and their families. However, we will fight to protect our members at the warehouse.”

Just like the Radio rentals workers in Adelaide who had to withstand a similar campaign of thuggery and disinformation, the Esselte workers will win if they stand firm and remain united.

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