Manufacturing workers at Kozma Industries in Melbourne’s northern suburbs have returned to work after picketing their workplace for 4 days. The picket was set up at 7am Friday morning after the boss had told the workers that he was planning to close the factory at the end of the year.
His reason was that he had lost $15 million of work from some of his other plants which are located in the eastern suburb of Bayswater. Therefore he wanted to restructure the company, and as part of the restructure the Campbellfield plant was to be closed and the machinery moved to Bayswater. Management had told the workers that none of the 60 strong workforce will be required when the plant closes.
The workers, all members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, manufacture the back seats of the Ford Territory 4WD and were not convinced that the Campbellfield plant should be part of the restructure. This was because the work that had been lost was from the Bayswater plants and the Campbellfield plant has been consistently running at a profit. The Ford Territory is also continuing to sell extremely well.
The boss had offered an absolute insult of a redundancy package which was not much better than the award entitlements, and considering all of the workers had only been with the company less than 2 years it was not worth anything to them. They instead decided to tell the boss that they were going to fight for their jobs.
By 2pm Friday the boss had the union in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission declaring that the strike and picket were illegal. The commission agreed and ordered the workers back to work. The workers refused to return to work and the picket was officially taken over by ‘concerned members of the community’. The picket was maintained over the weekend ensuring that no product went in or out of the factory.
The workers had information that the boss was planning to break the picket at 5am Monday morning with trucks and perhaps scabs. So the workers sent out the word for help to bolster the line early that morning. In a fantastic show of solidarity over 80 people turned up and blockaded the entire plant.
This sent a strong message to the boss who within hours was desperate to bring the dispute to an end. After a few hours of negotiations between the shop stewards and management the boss offered a much improved redundancy package which the workers decided to accept. The package was between $6000 and $8000 per worker which is a substantial amount of money for what is a low payed workforce.
Whilst the demand for the factory to stay open was not won on this occasion, these workers have definitely laid down a marker for all workers facing job losses. Another important lesson to be drawn from this dispute was that links between the union movement and the community can be key in fighting back against the bosses attacks. These important links need to be maintained and strengthened in the coming period.
By Anthony Main