55 maintenance workers were sacked by Carlton United Breweries (CUB) in June this year. They were offered their jobs back on 65% less pay with a new sub-contractor. SABMiller, who own the CUB brewery, posted profits of $2.7 billion earlier this year but the company is hell-bent on cutting production costs to boost profits even further.
CUB repeatedly claimed the workers were not sacked, as they work for a sub-contracted company. The reality is that CUB outsourced maintenance of its Abbotsford brewery, with no real change in the role of the workers, in order to cut costs. Any reasonable person can see that these workers were employed by CUB, even if indirectly. It is clearly the actions of CUB in ending the contract that has left these workers out in the cold.
A demonstration in Melbourne on August 8 attracted around 10,000 people in an act of solidarity with the sacked 55. Speakers at the rally called for the launch of a senate inquiry into the activities of companies that attempt to exploit loopholes in workplace legislation to drive down wages and conditions.
Such activities are common, but even when cases are identified where workers have clearly been ripped off, the outcomes are often less than satisfactory. A recent example is an agreement with Coles that was found to pay workers below Award wages – but those workers are still being paid less than the Award.
While a senate inquiry would help highlight the practices of dodgy companies, it will do little to halt these activities. Where improvements have been won it has come from industrial action by workers at the point of production. The Socialist Party urges the wider trade union movement to look at ways of supporting the sacked 55 by preventing production as usual at the Abbotsford plant.
By Alex Foley