Subject: Tristar workers; Howard Government’s industrial relations policy
JOURNALIST: So 13 workers I understand have received their pay out, leaving another 17 to go?
ALBANESE: Yes, that’s correct that 13 workers have received some justice and been made redundant, but there are another 17 workers who will still have to turn up to work everyday even though there is clearly no work being done here. It is a vindication of the struggle that these workers and their familles have endured, over what is now 17 months, and indeed the support of their trade union during that time.
JOURNALIST: You have been speaking to some of the workers here and you have seen the news being broken to some of them. What have their reactions been?
ALBANESE: I have never been in a position before of congratulating people who have just become unemployed and redundant. These are people, whilst not having endured work physically, have been mentally tortured each and every day. They have had to turn up, clock on, put in the time here and then clock off, having not done anything during the day. This has gone on day after day, week after week, month after month. It really is a human tragedy that has unfolded here. Essentially an unscrupulous employer has attempted to grind these workers into submission and hope that they just walk away without their redundancy payments and when you have got people here, like one gentleman who walked in before – 78 years old and has worked here for over 40 years – it is fantastic that they are going to get their entitlements. It is due to their persistence, by sticking together and the courage that they have shown and the ability to be represented by a union.
JOURNALIST: What sort of ramifications do you think this decision will have for the future?
ALBANESE: What this shows is exactly how farcical this process has now been for 17 months. I raised this issue now more than a year ago in the Federal Parliament. John Howard wasn’t interested in the plight of these workers. He wasn’t interested in providing them with any assistance. Now, after all this time, now they have been made redundant, given there has been no work to do, it is entirely appropriate. I am concerned about the ongoing workers who have not been made redundant. Everyone I have spoken to here just wants to leave with their entitlements – nothing more, but nothing less – and be able to get on with their lives.
We are speaking about people, most of whom are from a migrant background who have worked here for 30 and 40 years, who have made a contribution to the nation and who should be respected. It is tragic that under our industrial relations regime that John Howard has presided over, there has been a shift in that balance, whereby employers can feel like they can treat people without respect and without dignity.
These workers deserve the applause of each and every Australian for standing up for their rights and standing up for their co-workers rights.
JOURNALIST: Do you think this could be a reflection of the current IR laws?
ALBANESE: There is no doubt that is the context in which this dispute has occurred. A message has been given by John Howard that employers can do what they like. What we need is balance in industrial relations. We need to balance the legitimate interests of both employers and employees. We haven’t had that and I can think of no better example of workers being mistreated than what has occurred here over 17 long months. Most people I don’t think could have endured it, but there is a great sense of mateship and solidarity here between the employees. They have worked side by side, not just for years, but for decades. Their courage deserves the applause of each and every Australian.
JOURNALIST: What are the chances of the remaining people receiving their redundancy payments?
ALBANESE: Well I certainly hope that occurs. It is pretty clear that should occur. Some people are quite upset here who haven’t been granted their redundancy. It is an unusual situation whereby you have people who are the most happy are those who have been told they have lost their jobs and they are redundant. But each and every person here knows, as you can see for yourself, that there is no work to be done here. The case of the treatment of the late John Beaven, whose son is here today, was the most extraordinary callous action by an employer that I have seen.
What needs to happen is that people need to be made redundant because there is no work, but they must be given their full entitlements. The workers here are not asking for anything special, they are just asking for what they are entitled to.
JOURNALIST: Do you think there is a possibility that the company might be able to split up those redundancies by splitting up those who have been given them and those who have not – that they won’t be given their full entitlement?
ALBANESE: It is unclear what the strategy of the company has been for the last 17 months. It frankly doesn’t make much sense. This factory has been kept open with people coming here, clocking on in the morning having no work to do and then leaving in the afternoon, without creating any work which has produced income for the company. The redundancies that have made today clearly are an indication by the company, putting its hand up and saying yes there is no work for you to do.
It is tragic that it has taken 17 months and that the workers have had to endure pain and suffering over that 17 months in order to get what they were rightly entitled to.
JOURNALIST: I was speaking to one gentleman who said that if he had been given a redundancy last June he would have been given and extra 15% loading because he was moved to a day shift rather than a night shift. Do you think that was the strategy of the company to delay as well?
ALBANESE: There is no doubt that the company’s strategy has centred around trying to minimise the entitlement that they paid to workers; that workers were legally entitled to. They were able to do that in part because of the government. When it was raised with John Howard more than a year ago in the Federal Parliament, he refused to take this issue seriously and treated the workers here, even when they went to Canberra to see him, with contempt. There is no doubt that the company thought that they could get away with it. They underestimated the courage and endurance of the workforce here and their ability to stick together with the great Australian principles of mateship and solidarity. It is a credit to each and every one of the workers here that some justice has been achieved for thirteen people today. We need to make sure that justice is delivered to each and every worker here.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.