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Issue #1843      October 10, 2018

Alcoa:

Workers United – Will never be defeated

After 52 days, six picket lines across five sites, and more than 1,500 courageous striking workers, the Alcoa dispute has ended with AWU (Australian Workers’ Union) members securing the job security provisions they were seeking.

The new agreement endorsed last week ensures permanent full-time workers cannot be replaced by contractors, labour hire, casual, or part-time workers.

Richard Titelius reports:

On September 24 the CPA WA Branch visited the Alcoa picket line in Kwinana. Party President Vinnie Molina delivered a message of solidarity.

Workers covered by an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement with Alcoa were into the seventh week of their picket outside two bauxite mining sites at Huntley and Willowdale near Pinjarra and three refineries at Pinjarra, Wagerup near Waroona and at Kwinana. The union representing the 1,500 workers, the AWU, began negotiations with Alcoa nearly two years ago.

At the time of the Party branch visit, workers were waiting for an outcome of negotiations between their union and Alcoa about the picket and the shape of their conditions and rights.

One of the workers, Tony, told me one of the biggest problems the AWU has with the proposal is Alcoa’s position to strip hard won employment conditions and rights from the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement. Alcoa also wants to introduce powers for the employer to use forced redundancies and to exclude from being specified in job descriptions.

Alcoa would be able to use people to undertake work on lower pay scales to do higher level work with no requirement to pay them according to their knowledge, skill and ability.

Alcoa wants to remove all union structures within the Alcoa workforce which currently has a union convenor whose job it is to attend to union business on all work sites at all times. With the abolition of the convenor the situation would revert back to elected delegates who are only allowed to use 16 hours on union business per week.

In relation to health and safety workers must be constantly vigilant to the risks and hazards such as chemical exposure from the smelting process. Many workers at the refineries have suffered burns from the caustic soda used in the smelting and cleaning process. Each shift currently has its own Occupational Health Safety and Welfare delegate which is usually a trained union member.

The aging infrastructure and exposure to other chemicals and chemical processes also presents hazards including increasing numbers of leaks from corrosion and movement of pipes and tubing.

The workers at a mass rally agreed to retain the same EBA with the same structures but with no wage rises for three years. But when the offer was communicated up the chain all the way to the head office of Alcoa in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania it was rejected.

The Alcoa workers have been disappointed with the lack of coverage by the mainstream media of their strike, picket lines and rally outside the Fair Work Commission (FWC) in the second week of September, in the Perth CBD, where for four consecutive days the workers were there with their banners and leaflets. Where the dispute did feature, however, was in social media as concerned members of the public uploaded images of the workers’ rally outside the Fair Work Commission.

Tony said the threshold that enables employers to go to the Fair Work Commission in order to shift employees from their Enterprise Bargaining Agreement is quite low. The FWC is seen as an institution set up predominantly to ensure the interests of capital are met: in the last financial year 2016 - 17 Aloca’s profit was US$1.1 billion.

The AWU members took indefinite protected industrial action as Alcoa had applied to the FWC to have their current terms and conditions terminated. The AWU representing the striking workers met with the management in the days leading up to September 28, in an effort to resolve the dispute and protect the conditions and rights attached to their EBA.

The Communist Party of Australia joins with ACTU Secretary Sally McManus and the rest of the Australian union movement in congratulating the Alcoa workers and their families on their victory and resolve.

The unity and solidarity of the workers and their families demonstrated that the collective strength of the organised working class is the force which can be successful in defending workers’ rights, wages and conditions.

Next article – Editorial – No march to the drums of war

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