Factory workers staged a four day occupation in the outer Melbourne suburb of Dandenong last month. Arriving to find themselves locked out, approximately 30 workers rushed inside the International Flavor & Fragrance (IFF) complex when the gates were briefly opened. They quickly established a lunchroom sit-in.
Negotiations for a new workplace agreement had been lagging. Management wanted to remove paid breaks, abolish accrued sick leave entitlements, and give a below-inflation pay rise. IFF’s aggressive move came after the workers’ union, the National Union of Workers (NUW), had already made concessions regarding the workers’ pay demands.
IFF is a multinational company that manufactures artificial flavours and fragrances. Last year they turned over a $353 million profit. They can more than afford to pay their staff decent wages.
Workers took to social media to raise the profile of their dispute using the #occupydandenong hashtag. This provoked wider media coverage, and in addition to a petition, pressured the Singapore-based management to fly to Australia for negotiations.
Ultimately, breaks and sick leave entitlements were protected. The pay deal, however, fell short of initial demands. More could have potentially been achieved if the broader union movement was mobilised to support the struggle. Nevertheless, the workers are to be applauded for their courage and determination.
By Ben Convey