Transcript of doorstop interview – Tristar
JULIA GILLARD MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS
ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
FEDERAL LABOR MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
9AM Thursday, 1 February 2007
Tristar Factory, Marrickville
GILLARD: When the Howard Government passed its extreme industrial relations laws, it did one thing. It gave a sign to bad employers in this country that it is ok for them to go to extremes.
Now, a lot has been said and a lot has been written about this dispute at Tristar and I know that most industrial relations problems come packaged up with a lot of legal mumbo jumbo, but there is one essential truth at the bottom of this Tristar dispute and that is that there is no work for these remaining workers at Tristar to do. They are redundant and they should be paid their full redundancy entitlements. The company doesn’t want to do that because it doesn’t want to give them what they are entitled to. Instead the company is having them sit in this empty factory, leaving them to rot, occasionally coming along and bullying them and hoping against hope that it will wear them down and that they will go away with less money.
We are here today, I am here with my federal colleague, Anthony Albanese and the local State Member in New South Wales, Minister Carmel Tebbutt, to say these workers aren’t going to go away because they know this is unfair and rotten and we are not going to go away, the Labor Party, because we know this is unfair and rotten too.
Now, Joe Hockey intervened last week to try and get some money for Mr Beaven, one of these workers who shared this dreadful experience with the people we have met today, and then had to confront the additional tragedy of being terminally ill and knowing that his family’s future, and particularly their financial future, was in jeopardy. Mr Hockey intervened to get Mr Beaven part of what he should have had; and at least some money for Mr Beaven’s family is better than no money. But the reality is that Mr Hockey only intervened because Mr Beaven’s case was so tragic that it was dominating the headlines, dominating the radio stations and most particularly dominating what Alan Jones said to the Australian people on his radio show.
The Howard Government is full of clever politicians and they can see a political problem when it is in the headlines and they will go out and fix that political problem. But the reality for working Australians is most people aren’t walking headlines. Most people will experience unfairness and they will never be able to have it reported in the newspaper. They will experience that unfairness quietly and they will suffer alone. The only thing that fixes it for them is if the laws of this country are decent enough to give them a hand when they need it.
We are going to make sure we keep raising the Tristar dispute in Federal Parliament and beyond. It has been raised in Federal Parliament, directly with the Prime Minister last year and he basically shrugged his shoulders and dismissed it. We are going to make sure we raise it again and I doubt the Prime Minister will shrug his shoulders this time because he will be worried about the publicity.
So we want to do more than that, we want to do more than continue to raise this dispute. We want to make sure at the next election this country is able to make the choice to have decent and fair workplace laws so into the future, workers under this kind of pressure know they have got decent laws to rely on and know they have got a strong industrial umpire who can sort things out when they need a hand. I will just ask Anthony Albanese if he would like to say anything and then we will take your questions.
ALBANESE: I first raised this in Parliament on August 9. On August 10, I asked the Prime Minister would he use his ‘good offices’ to intervene on behalf of the workers here. He dismissed it and indeed came back to Parliament and blamed the workers for this predicament because they happened to be members of a trade union.
In November, a busload of these workers came down to Parliament House seeking a meeting with the Prime Minister or the Minister for Industrial Relations or anyone else in the Howard Government. They were treated with contempt. They sat in Question Time and watched as the Prime Minister dismissed their concerns. They wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister asking for his assistance in their plight. They have been treated with contempt, with no response to that letter.
Julia is quite right, were it not for the publicity and the tragedy concerning Mr Beaven and the fact that his courageous family were speaking out so articulately in the last days of his life, there wouldn’t have been the minimal resolution whereby Mr Beaven received $50,000 of the $212,000 that he was entitled to.
The 35 workers who remain here are the longest serving, most loyal servants of this company. Their redundancy entitlements were handed over when Tristar took over the company from the previous owner. This is nothing more and nothing less than a theft of what is rightfully theirs under the obligations that the company has. And yet what we have in John Howard’s Australia is a new morality, is a morality whereby unscrupulous employers, who are a minority, but employers such as here, can get away with whatever they try on.
I want to pay tribute today to the workers who struggle day after day after day, under traumatic circumstances, which I have seen on the regular visits that I make down here – and I have been coming here for more than a decade, but in the last 6 months I have been a regular visitor here – their courage in standing up for their rights is quite awe inspiring, and I think is symbolic, not just for them, but for what they are doing for working Australians in standing up. I also want to pay tribute to the union. This is an example of why unions continue to exist and the role that they play and it is terrific that we have the support of the State Labor Government in being represented here today as well.
JOURNALIST: What can Labor and the Government do to force Tristar to pay up when legally the company says, we don’t have to, we have got work for these people?
GILLARD: Well I think the Government, if it is prepared to really engage in this issue can make a difference. John Howard should have taken this issue up seriously when it was raised last August in Parliament. Instead he shrugged his shoulders and as Anthony Albanese has said, he blamed the workers. I don’t believe that if the Prime Minister of this country really made it his business to fix this dispute that it would remain unfixed.
So John Howard should seriously engage in fixing this dispute. He should be prepared to be on the case of the company and to say he has got to get this fixed. But we know, that the Howard Government isn’t going to do anything unless it is hounded into it by media exposure and even if they intervene in this dispute there are all of those cases, right around this country, happening day in and day out where people are being treated unfairly under Mr Howard’s laws but never make it into the newspaper, that are never spoken about on a radio station, that you don’t see on your TV screen and for those people the only fix is laws that are decent and fair and restore the balance in Australian workplaces and those laws are only going to come with the election of a Labor Government.
JOURNLAIST: What could you do retrospectively to help these people if you won government?
GILLARD: Well look the problem of course with retrospective payments and the like is that we don’t know what the circumstances would be there. We know, from what Anthony Albanese has said, that the money for these workers was guaranteed at an earlier point in time in this company’s history. We know that that money has now just been absorbed into the rest of the company’s money and we don’t know what is going to happen to it between now and Election Day. So the problem for these workers is urgent and it needs to resolved, if it is going to be resolved, now.
What we can resolve after the election and what we will certainly fix as an elected Labor government is we will rip up Mr Howard’s unfair workplace relations laws, we will get rid of his indecent laws and we will replace them with a system that is balanced and fair and meets the needs of working Australians including the needs of working Australians who find themselves in such a dreadful predicament as this one.
JOURNALIST: So all you can really do is to hope to prevent a repeat of this and in the meantime put some media pressure on?
GILLARD: Well this is John Howard’s Australia. This is happening under John Howard’s watch. He is taking his pay everyday for being Prime Minister. He has got a responsibility to get this fixed and if he doesn’t get this fixed people will judge him on the basis that he wasn’t prepared to lift a finger to fix it. That is the reality in Australia as we stand here today.
The future, what the future could be post the next election, with the election of a Labor Government is we have got decent laws that don’t allow a circumstance like this to happen again. Decent laws which means that redundancy entitlements are valued and decent laws which mean that there is a strong industrial umpire you could go to, to get a problem like this fixed in the first few days of the problem not months and months and months later.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.