Transcript of meeting with Tristar workers, Marrickville
3 August 2006
E & OE – PROOF ONLY
Subject: Redundancy payments to workers, impact of Workchoices legislation, Tristar Steering and Suspension Ltd.
PAUL BASTIAN, Secretary NSW Branch AMWU: Martin has outlined what happened in the commission and we all know what the issue is – while on one hand the company says to its employees, look we want you to undertake this extra work in the hope that it will go somewhere, but at the same time they are not prepared to give you any cast iron commitments about your entitlements.
What this dispute goes back to is when the company was taken over there was a long dispute that you were involved to secure your entitlements – a long and bitter dispute that shut down the car industry, and you were able in that fight with the support of workers in the car industry in many of those plants, to get your entitlements secured. But now we work under a new regime. We work under the Howard Governments so called Workchoices legislation – when the rights for workers in return for their rights to be consulted, the rights to have proper representation from their union, the right to go to an independent third party like the commission and get some help have been wiped out at the swipe of a pen.
We now find a position where workers here who have done upwards of 20 years to 40 years service in this company are treated with no respect and are treated with no dignity. Their concerns about their future; the future for their family, the future for their children, are not considered by the company and they are treated simply as a commodity that this company can dispose of at will. We say that that is unacceptable in today’s society. We say that those sorts of laws are wrong and should be abolished.
Workers are entitled to some respect and some dignity. Workers are entitled, when a deal is being made, that a company should respect it and honour it, and not simply sit on the sidelines and hope that we are going to go away, or manage by intimidation or fear.
What this company is trying to do is that they know that if you accept a voluntary redundancy you accept a lower package. They know that if the company goes into voluntary administration they can get out of the process when your agreement expires, and your bond expires, and revert your entitlements back to the award and that’s no more than 12 weeks.
We say this company shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. We say the owners shouldn’t be able to get away with it. They are things that we are determined to fight on your behalf to make sure that this company honours your entitlements regardless of what the laws are. We’ll fight on your behalf so long as you want us to pursue this company to get your just entitlements.
We sought a meeting with the company. We wanted to arrange a meeting with your local member – a local member who has been involved in this company in its past manifestations TRW and Tristar, Anthony Albanese, who is also the Shadow Minister for the Environment.
We sought a meeting so the company could tell him what is happening to his constituents here in this plant – and the company has refused to meet with the local member. That is the level that this company has, not for Anthony Albanese but for you as workers and we think that has got to be addressed and we intend to carry that up. I invite Anthony to address you and tell you what the ALP position is in government in relation to workers entitlements and what their position is in relation to this law and what he thinks about this company. So I’d ask you to welcome your local member, Mr Anthony Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks Paul and thanks to Gavin. I’m not pleased to be here with my comrades from the AMWU and the AWU under these circumstances but I am pleased to stand with you proud members of these unions.
I do have a lot of history with this company. Before I was elected I actually assisted in making sure that this company, when it was TRW, could operate when for 24 hours and campaigned in the local area. TRW put in the insulation and spent about 3 million dollars. Why did I do that? Because at the time this company employed 600 workers – now we are down to 60. Now some 10 years on from that struggle to keep this place open, now it is clear that even though there are 60 workers here there is only work for a few of you – that essentially most of the time you are just sitting around.
My fear is the same as that of the Union. What is going on here is a company essentially stalling for time. I find it extraordinary I can ring up the company management, yesterday and again, today and I don’t even get the courtesy of a return phone call. I find that an outrage. The way that we used to operate in the Australia before John Howard, was that we treated each other with respect and dignity and a Federal Member of Parliament who rang up a company actually got to talk to them about what was going on. But not in John Howard’s Australia.
But what worries me is you. What worries me is your entitlements and the fact that under John Howard’s Workchoices legislation, come the end of September, when the current agreement can potentially be terminated by the company, that will reduce your entitlements.
If the company closes under the changes that the Howard Government has made to the GEERS scheme – if the company goes into voluntary administration rather than liquidation – only the limited entitlements that you would get there could be reduced even further. That GEERS scheme might not even apply.
What we have here is a very unusual case. I haven’t seen a case like it. We see an industrial relations nightmare down the track. I have dealt with in the past employees, arriving at working the morning, having a company shut up shop, locking them out of the gates and trying to remove their entitlements. Here is different.
Here we know from the way that they are behaving in the commission, that the company is intending to reduce your entitlements, and what I say, and what the Australian Labor Party says is, that is un-Australian.
We have built this nation on people like you, and me, and others who have come from all parts of the world. This is a very multicultural area. People have come to make this place their home and raise a family. What you’ve done is build a great nation.
But that nation falls apart when you have a government that is prepared to treat people like they are disposable, to throw them on the scrap heap. That is why Kim Beazley has said we’ll rip up John Howard’s Workchoice legislation. We’ll just rip it up and we’ll start again. We’ll build an industrial relations system that returns a fair umpire, that returns the right of collective bargaining and the rights of trade unions to represent workers, and return to a situation whereby the Australian principle of a fair go is recognised by all concerned.
So can I say to you – I am with you. I am will continue to come down and talk with you. I am committed to do what ever is necessary to make sure that your entitlements are protected. Because after all they are your entitlements. They are not something that is being given to you for the sake of goodwill. They are what you have earned and that is nothing more and nothing les than you are asking for.
I have spoken today to Kim Beazley’s office and to Stephen Smith, the Shadow Industrial Relations Minister, and we will be raising these issues next week in the Federal Parliament in Canberra.
John Howard’s Workchoice legalisation isn’t something that is obscure, it is about people – it is about you. It is about you getting screwed in a way that is completely unacceptable and completely un-Australian. I have pledged to Paul that I will do whatever I can to help you. Obviously the coming weeks will be tough but stay strong, stay together and work with the union. We will certainly do our best to make sure that you are looked after. You deserve nothing less.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.