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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Feltex Workers Defeat AWAs by Sue Bolton, Melbourne

The Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union (TCFUA) has won its drawn-out dispute over carpet manufacturer Godfrey Hirst’s attempt to force more than 300 Feltex workers to sign AWAs (individual contracts) with reduced rights and conditions in order to keep their jobs.

The union has reached an agreement with the company for a collective union agreement, and the workers at Feltex, which was recently purchased by Godfrey Hirst, will transfer to the company with their entitlements protected.

Victorian state secretary of the TCFUA Michele O’Neil said the outcome shows that the only protection workers have from PM John Howard’s Work Choices laws is membership of a trade union. “What we’ve seen is over 300 resilient workers sticking together, staying strong and, through their union, fighting off multiple attempts to use John Howard’s IR laws to strip workers and their families of their rights and conditions”, she said. “The system is now inherently biased against workers, but Australian workers can still join unions and fight to keep their rights.”

Godfrey Hirst had twice sought an order from the Australian Industrial Relations Commission stating that the AWAs offered as a condition of employment were “acceptable alternative employment”. Both times, despite the Work Choices laws, the AIRC agreed with the TCFUA and ruled — on November 21 and December 11 — that there were key factors that made the AWAs inferior to the collective agreement.

Under the pressure of legal action by the TCFUA and worker and community protest, Godfrey Hirst scrapped its controversial AWA agenda just days before the Christmas break. Mass meetings of the workers at Feltex’s Melbourne factories then unanimously endorsed the new union collective agreement, and the workers were able to enjoy the break with their wages and conditions intact.

From: Australian News, Green Left Weekly issue #694 17 January 2007.

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