Unions Lay Down The Gauntlet

The Lines are drawn and the stage is set.

We’re only a few days into 2009, and the Labor Government is facing its first major confrontation with a Union.

In a report published in The Australian, Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union in Western Australia is demanding an immediate pay rise of between 25 and 33 per cent for boiler and turbine operators, who earn just under $100,000 a year for a 36-hour week at struggling WA aluminium giant Alcoa.

However, Acting PM, Julia Gillard has hit back urging unions to “temper pay-rise demands” in order to prevent job losses in a weakening economy.

Gillard told unions to think about bold wage claims in the context of broader job losses and the economic downturn, as Alcoa announced it would reduce capacity by 18 per cent, slash 13,500 jobs worldwide and cut spending to cope with the slowdown.

“The global financial crisis means Australian businesses and their employees are facing a turbulent period,” she said. “In this economic climate, job security will be foremost in most peoples’ minds.

“Responsible unions will be giving this issue their full attention in the interests of their members and seeking creative and responsible outcomes in enterprise bargaining to assist businesses to ride out this period.”

However, CFMEU mining division state secretary Gary Wood said Alcoa and its shareholders had in recent years benefited from good times while his members’ pay had lagged behind that of their peers.

Mr Wood said the union also wanted its approximately 100 power plant workers in Western Australia to receive annual pay rises of between 5 and 10 per cent in a new enterprise bargaining agreement. “The economic downturn won’t deter us in pursuit of the preferred terms and conditions,” he said. “Think of the economic good times they have had and how they have reaped the benefit of that and their shareholders have reaped the benefit of that.”

Mr Wood said the negotiations would be difficult, given the economic downturn, but that the claims were reasonable because the workers were skilled and shouldered big responsibilities, and those doing similar work for state government utility Verve were paid about $142,000 a year.

The union delegate at Alcoa’s Kwinana plant, Wayne O’Donnell, 55, said it was an important time for him and his colleagues to secure wage increases and conditions for the years ahead.

“(Alcoa) have been a pretty good bloody mob but now when we’re asking for something, they say, ‘We’re broke’,” he said.

Acting Opposition Leader Warren Truss said the CFMEU’s wage claim was likely to happen under the Rudd Government.

“This is a sign of things to come under this soft-touch Government. The CFMEU has obviously been given a nod and a wink by the Government that under its proposed new laws, the union can bowl up these sort of outrageous demands,” Mr Truss said.

“The CFMEU is obviously out of touch with the realities of the global economic situation.”

But ACTU president Sharan Burrow said decent wages were the best defence against a serious recession.

She said collectively bargained decent wages would “ensure that the spending power of working families is maintained”.

Cue Tom of Melbourne


36 Responses

  1. Of course! As soon as we get a Labor government those evil workers’ unions will be “running the country.” The ALP is “dominated by union bosses” etc etc.

    Yep, cue Tom of Melbourne .. come in, Tom

  2. Where’s Kevin Rudd in all this?

    Maybe, any day now, he’ll stroll into town to sort this mess out, just like the milky bar kid.

  3. Unions always start with outrageously large increase requests and bosses always start from zero. It is a bartering system.

    As for Warren Truss these types of requests were lodged by unions all the time under the Howard Goevernment as well. It doesn’t mean they will get it.

    A Media beatup to once again scaremonger about unions. Lets wait and see the final outcome.

    MMM wonder if Alcoa Management CEOs got more than 33% increases over the last few years.

  4. Put into perspective with the State Government award, it seems reasonable. Plus the 33% is over 3 years at 10% a year. I admit this sounds excessive but the way it’s being reported makes it sound much worse. It would also be good to know what the increases in wages have been over say the last 5 years. Also, are there any efficiency/ productivity improvements built into the increase sought? The problem is that there are so many variables here that it is impossible to make an informed comment. It will be interesting to see Tom’s take on this although there doesn’t appear to be any union bullying associated with this claim (yet?)

    If there is a labor shortage for these workers, Alcoa will need to pay it to keep the staff, if not, the CFMEU might find themselves with mud on their face.

    One thing I will say is that Gillard’s comments are sensible – restraint should be shown at the moment – inflation isn’t a big problem in the forseeeable couple of years and provided these workers weren’t left behind when inflation was high, I can’t see theuir justification for such a large pay rise other than “but those guys get more”.

    Good point about the CEOs though Shane and ditto your comments on Truss.

  5. I think anyone seeking a pay increase in today’s economic climate is making a very “courageous” move indeed (in the Sir Humphrey Appleby term of phrase).

  6. This is about positioning as much as it is about wages.

    This union wants to make sure that it has plenty of unresolved issues for 1 July – when new union friendly legislation comes into effect.

    Of course the additional complication is the inter union turf war. This cause destructive disputes over membership and coverage – exactly at the time we can least afford it.

    The ALP legislation actually facilitates this type of coverage disputation.

    This union is positioning itself as the most militant, in preparation for a turf war.

    Great work by Julia.

  7. I wanna be the first in 2009 to say:

    Unions – BOO!

  8. Tom of Melb

    Is that tongue in cheek or serious?

  9. Dave55 I just hope that the bosses likewise show suitable restraint rather than previous..fleecing the companies of mega millions in ‘performance’ payments.

    I think that the next time that there is an announcement about a person of upper management taking upteen million just in one year, there is going to be all hell to pay.

    And of course there is a always a lot more to it than is reported in the papers. I remember one time that the blokes went on strike because of safety issues which had failed to be addressed for over 6 months (a young bloke had fallen and broken his leg onsite) however the newspapers reported it as: Unions Strike for More Pay. I am certainly not suggesting that this is similar, but as Dave says, there is often a lot more to it than the popular press choose to report.

  10. Min

    As for upper management taking umpteen million a year, I am still flabergasted by the audacity of management at the moment.

    I own a number of shares and get the annual general meeting notice and my proxy vote. Every single one of them has included the issue of around 1,000,000 shares to CEOs and Board Directors even though many of these companies have plunged by between 50-80% in value for me as a shareholder. Naturally I vote no but know that they will be passed as Management has already sussed out the major shareholders ages before any resolutions are printed and posted to shareholders.

    The audacity to sack workers at the same time as seeking millions of shares and options leaves me speechless and wondering at what level of greed will we get to before CEOs and directors wages are more aligned with their workforce.

  11. I’ve just had a thought.

    If that reptile Tony Abbott gets involved in the debate, maybe we could call it “The Union of The Snake!”

  12. Bloody Hell..where is this job for $100,000pa for a 36 hour week. Try for a 58 hour week.

  13. Dave – some of the deficiencies in the ALP legislation are very serious.

    Most reasonable, informed people are concerned that the bill allows for disputation over union coverage. This is a destructive activity that has very little to do with wages and conditions.

    Unions will be encouraged to behave with increasing militancy to justify their coverage.

    It is poor policy. Gillard has failed to protect the public interest.

  14. Tom

    Can you provide a quote or link for the “Most reasonable, informed people are concerned that the bill allows for disputation over union coverage” comment?

    Because I have not seen any.

  15. Goodness Joni,

    You of all people, should know by now that when Tom says “most reasonable, informed people” it is the equivalent of using “the royal we”


  16. You mean Gillard has failed to protect the right wing elite interest.

  17. a Moree restaurant is offering a salary of $100,000 plus a unit rent free for a chef to cook at their restaurant and so far no takers. Unemployment can’t be that bad yet.

  18. Joni and reb – when I say ‘most informed and reasonable people’ I mean me.

    Adrian – the bill promotes militancy and demarcation disputes by allowing unions without traditional coverage to intervene in agreements – the clear and most concerning example is CFMEU and AWU in the WA mining industry.

    I think this claim is part of the positioning for a push into AWU areas of coverage.

    Allowing this type of outcome is not in the interests of anyone . Certainly not in the interests of maintaining employment.

  19. Shane @17. I think that this one is a furphy. Just checked with a friend of mind who is Cordon Bleu trained, also lots of os experience including ice carving and she is making $75,000 max.

  20. MIn

    If it is then MixFM are in trouble as they were advertising it yesterday afternoon as I was driving home.

    But I also thought it was too good to be true. Im not a chef so I didn’t stand a chance.

  21. Although Lamb Shanks with Rosemary form the slow cooker last night was very nice indeed and could sell well in Moree 🙂

  22. Shane, if you Google it, the average wage for a chef (qualified) is around the $46,000 mark (hours and shift work unknown) and so I suspect that anyone suggesting $100,000 plus accommodation at..ummm..Moree, is stretching the truth somewhat.

    Chefs in Byron Bay don’t earn that much so how they can earn it in Moree is well, a wee bit odd.

  23. Min

    I agree but sometimes you need to offer a much better incentive for a chef to go to Moree than to live in Byron Bay.

    When I was in the Bank we had special allowances and also next to nothing rent to live in isolated country towns.

  24. Shane, if they’re paying $100 grand in Moree to cook’em a feed, I’ll go there myself.

    Eww lamb shanks..all bone and no substance and a squillion % fat and gristle. You young’uns have all been sucked in because they call it ‘frenched’.

    And with apologies for being off topic viz unions.

  25. The Moree chef story to which Shane is referring can be found at http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,24871402-421,00.html?from=public_rss Min.

  26. Min

    Im not that young and I have loved lamb shanks all my life, the large muscle meat is delicious when slowly cooked. Having a farm we were raised on lamb and rabbit and always fouught over the shank especially at a roast dinner. Needless to say my sister who is more butch than Belinda Neal and three years older than I always won.

  27. bacchus

    Thanks for the rescue I thought I may have been losing my marbles and was going to have my hearing checked as Min could well have been right and I heard wrong.

  28. Was teasing Shane. My grandies had a dry land farm, sheep and wheat at Tungamah Vic. Bad luck if you don’t like mutton because that is all that was on the menu unless someone caught a fish in the creek or caught a rabbit. Turkeys were taken to market and Christmas dinner was one of the chooks that had stopped laying.

    My hubby loves lamb shank too..but I always thought that this was because he is part wog ;-))

  29. Shane@ Re…I may have been losing my marbles and was going to have my hearing checked as Min could well have been right…

    Hubby often says this..that if I am right, it’s because he is losing his marbles.

  30. Re the chef business. Learn to read between the lines. The linked article says in the headline:

    “No good applicants in four years”

    Doesn’t say no applicants just no ‘good’ applicants.

    Further into the body of the article:

    “But finding a good chef is proving impossible for Cafe Omega,”

    The owner is not looking for a short-order cook but a ‘good chef’.

    Tom’s probably been through Moree and he will probably verify that it’s a good place to drive through but not stay. Check out the ‘security’ on the buildings. Has a great ‘night-life’ but I wouldn’t recommend visiting the streets to check out the action.

    And Tom has a good point about inter-union squabbles and the CFMEU’s argy bargy in WA. Let’s not forget that Rudd was instrumental in Joe McDonald’s expulsion from the ALP.

    So far as the ALP is concerned Joe’s claim of “I’ll be back” hasn’t been realised. Lol.

  31. Have to choof. With apologies, how on earth did a topic about unions turn into a debate about lamb shanks? Will pick hubby’s brain tomorrow re the pay rise..he’s a bit a pooped tonight.

  32. Let’s face it. This chef’s position at $100K. His boss will be expecting him to serve a helluva lot of meals to justify paying that kind of salary.

    No wonder no one wants the job – it’s probably 7 days a week – breakfast, lunch and dinner.

  33. re the chef story:

    “We’ve had an unbelievable response – better than we expected,” Mr Budway said”

    It would seem that Budway, the owner of Cafe Omega, (and it looks like he has more than one Cafe) planted this story as part of a publicity campaign. Anyone surprised?

    He has now asked:

    “Why would you want to live the hectic life when you can live in Moree?”

    Does Charles want a list or an essay?


  34. Well, he certainly got his publicity eh?

  35. Nature 5 – don’t you think we’ll be so much better of with Joe McDonald throwing his weight around in WA mining?

    Exactly what these unions need – slack regulation.

  36. MIn

    That is something I enjoy about bolgocrats, the conversation takes all different turns and twists and ends up about many topics. To me this shows a level of comfort between us all in that we can talk about many things.

    A real conversation by people changes all the time with people going ” Oh before I forget, did you hear blah.blah” and so a new topic for discussion starts and the previous one gets forgotten for a while. So to me this site is more about conversations like we have with family and friends which change topic midstream time and time again.

    Just like family and friends we will have disagreements and mood swings but the biggest test is that we move on and remain a group of people comfortable enough to change topic all the time. And just like family and friends some choose not to enter discussions about certain topics or take a back seat from the emotion.

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