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Heinemman strikers go on!

category indonesia / philippines / australia | workplace struggles | news report author Saturday October 07, 2006 13:34author by Cheryl Cemeljicauthor email clc73 at optusnet dot com dot au Report this post to the editors


Thank you to all our supporters. Keep those horns blasting on Springvale Road.


It is now mid-way through the 6th week of the “5 days worked / 5 days owed” saga at Heinemann Electric, in Mulgrave, Victoria. The company has again called for a commission hearing to appeal the legal status of the protest, and again the company has lost.

What began as a standard EBA negotiation has turned into a farcical battle against an arrogant, petty and childish management. Workers were asking simply that their previous EBA be rolled over, that their entitlements continue to be guaranteed (as per the previous EBA), and a reasonable wage increase be granted. Nothing outstanding there, considering the company had operated profitably under these conditions, and competing companies had granted the same to their workers.

Instead, the company offered a complete re-working of the current award. Instead of a 38 hour week, the company proposed a 152 hour month, the extension of normal operating hours, and the introduction of forced flexi-time. In this manner, the company hoped to extend it’s normal operating hours to a 12 hour day, without the incursion of a single dollar of penalty rates. Workers were expected to accept these new conditions, along with a much lower wage increase, and no guarantee of their entitlements. Managements claim was, “the company won’t be closing so nobody needs to worry about entitlements”. In the same vein, it could be said that the company won’t be closing so why is the company worried about guaranteeing entitlements.

The employees, working under a contract of voluntary overtime conditions, elected to put a stop to the working of over-time hours until the company agreed to properly negotiate rather than dictate the conditions of the new EBA. The company’s reaction was to withhold the normal pay hours of these workers, hours that the workers had contributed to the productivity of the company.

Initially, there was a degree of mainstream media coverage, and in one quote Ross claimed that it would be illegal for him to have paid the workers while they had their ban on overtime hours. Very quickly though, the truth came out that it was not illegal for him to pay those hours, but that the law gave him the choice to pay or not to pay. The difference between legal or illegal (in this case) lies in the power of choice. The dilemma is not necessarily a legal issue, it is a moral issue - ask any Australian whether he or she should be paid for 38 hours of work, and you get a unanimous, and resounding YES!

There isn’t a shred of weight to John Howard’s claim that this has nothing to do with WorkChoices, after all, when was the last time you heard of a company withholding pay for hours that were worked. It’s a first for me, and judging by the initial uproar from the media, for them as well. While the ability to do this may have been in law all along, or since Mr Howard put it there in 1996, it is the power of WorkChoices that has given this tyrannical confidence to management.

So, where has the mainstream media gone. Well, I did read their lovely, and not at all contrite (sic), article regarding the signing of the 1 millionth AWA. So they got the millionth guy to say how very happy he was with his AWA, and ignored the vast majority of workers who were bullied and harassed into signing theirs. One wonders how many of these workers are better off under their AWA’s, as compared to their previous conditions (the media has conveniently neglected to investigate this).

If the management of Heinemann Electric has already shown such callous disregard for the backbone of it’s production profits without AWA’s, what can future employees of the company look forward to. Don’t expect it to be better wage conditions, or even better safety conditions. Those outstanding PIN’s still hang over their heads like the Sword of Damocles.

Surfing the net, I found this interesting bit of information regarding Heinemann Electric, South Africa, the company now known as CBI, which has now purchased Heinemann Electric, Australia. I’ve attached the web address for the full article.


Immediately before and during the Soweto uprisings, important and bitter struggles for union recognition were being waged by Black workers. A 12-day strike at Natal Cotton and Woollen Mills in Durban recorded a loss of some 7,200 striker-days, almost 40 per cent of the total striker-days in 1975. Eventually the striking workers were dismissed. In the Transvaal, workers at Heinemann Electric, a US subsidiary, were baton charged in March 1976, after they submitted a petition calling for recognition of MAWU, the Metal and Allied Workers Union. Union organizers were later victimized and found guilty in the courts for inciting the strike .7 Finally, at Pilkington's Armourplate Safety Glass Company, a legal strike was broken by police interference and arbitration through the Department of Labour was rejected. Strike funds were raised by workers on the Rand, and 205 workers held out for an exceptionally long period of ten weeks: In all three cases, workers were relearning the lessons of militant resistance that were a part of the everyday experience of SACTU affiliates in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Thank you to all our supporters. Keep those horns blasting on Springvale Road, and let management know that they’re doing business in Australia – a country that has fought hard for the rights of it’s workers, and will fight tooth-and-nail to keep them.

If you are in the area, please feel free to show your support by visiting the protest at 821 Springvale Rd, Mulgrave.

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