ONE of the union organisers behind this month’s industrial campaign against light rail builder Downer Group has an answer for those wanting a decent pay increase: join a union and bargain collectively.
Australian Manufacturing Workers Union assistant state secretary Cory Wright said on Thursday that an in-principle agreement with Downer for a pay rise that was very close to what the unions were after showed that the basic tool in the unionist’s bag – the right to withdraw labour – was still the most useful.
A lack of wages growth in the Australian economy has become so noticeable in recent times that even Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe have been talking up wages.
All sorts of answers have been put up to explain why wages haven’t risen in an apparently strong economy, and the unions are keen to highlight the Downer result as an important outcome.
Despite settling the dispute, Downer declined to comment on its pay offer, while the Australian Industry Group was similarly silent when asked if it would respond to union claims that strong industrial action was the best way to win a wage increase.
When the Downer strike began this month, Mr Wright and the leaders of the other union involved, the Electrical Trades Union, said employees had accepted sacrifices in order to help the company through financial difficulty, and the time had come for them to be fairly rewarded.
Negotiations had been deadlocked with the company offering a 2.25 per cent pay rise for each year of a three-year agreement.
“After the action we have agreed in-principle to 2.5 per cent plus 3 per cent plus 3 per cent, some other improvements and no loss of conditions,” Mr Wright said.
More than 400 union members in the Hunter and Illawarra regions took part in the action. After negotiators came to an agreement on Tuesday, about 140 members voted at a mass meeting at Hunter Workers in Newcastle to accept the deal. Mr Wright said Downer would still have put the offer formally to its employees, probably by online ballot.
“There is a clear cause of action for us to ask workers to join their unions and to have the resolve to take action to with the support of the union,” Mr Wright said. “It can be difficult. The job market is hard, secure employment is hard to come by. People say they can’t afford to take action. We say the opposite: they can’t afford not to.”
Mr Wright said Coalition governments have been determined to destroy unions, but membership was rising.
And on the back of the Downer success, members had voted for industrial action at three sites involving two firms in the region.
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