The industrial dispute at five Alcoa sites across Western Australia is still unresolved. After striking for 52 days during August and September, members of the Australian Workers Union (AWU) agreed to return to work after the company promised to protect job security.
The full agreement however was still subject to negotiation and, when it was put to a vote in mid-October, 61% of the workers voted it down. This came after a previous sub-par offer was voted down by about 80% in September.
It seems that the company is still unwilling to genuinely guarantee job security or maintain the workers conditions. Despite being extremely profitable, Alcoa is determined to wind back the workers hard-won gains and create an environment where it is much easier to slash jobs over time.
There are also reports that the company is attempting to discriminate against some of the workers who participated in the strike.
While the workers had hoped that a return to work would help them to reach a resolution, the company has used the breathing space to try and wear the workers down.
Making matters worse, Alcoa is still asking the Fair Work Commission to terminate the existing enterprise agreement. If agreed, this would result in hugely reduced wages due to the workers being pushed onto inferior award standards.
It is unclear why the AWU agreed to return to work without demanding that Alcoa withdraw their termination application. There is no doubt that at least a section of the workforce is unhappy about this and angry that the union leaders attempted to portray the return to work as a ‘victory’.
When the strike was in full swing the workers had the company under immense pressure. Returning to work before any solid commitments were made was a mistake and has only served to boost Alcoa’s resolve.
If Alcoa refuses to significantly improve their offer, or if the current agreement is terminated, the strike should be resumed and the pickets remounted. The previous strike showed that the workers have widespread support and there is much more the trade union movement could do force Alcoa to retreat.
By Anthony Main