The Guardian 9 March, 2005

Contractors on brink of victory

In WA, 400 tradesmen who defied attempts to have them fined or imprisoned are on the brink of total victory in their battle for equal pay for doing the same work.

Days after contractors at BHP's Worsley alumina plant won Federal Court injunctions exposing 66 strikers to fines or jail, two key employers capitulated and agreed to equal pay for maintenance and construction workers.

Collex, which employs 48 of the workers, is now the only Worsley contractor holding out but workers have voted to stay out as a group until it comes into line.

CFMEU and MUA members from Perth joined a rally of over 400 tradesmen last week, characterising the action as the first major challenge to John Howard's industrial relations agenda.

They arrived at Bunbury just in time to hear Downer Engineering EDI and total Corrosion Control had agreed to strikers' demands. Bunbury tradesmen have been out since February 4 when contractors refused to cut permanent tradesmen in on rates being negotiated for the site's expansion project.

The contractors won Federal Court injunctions against maintenance tradesmen and orders for 66 named workers to return to the site, exposing them to prison or fines of $2000 a day.

Workers rejected both directions

Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union organiser, Tony Lovett, said maintenance tradesmen had voted "overwhelmingly" against what was an employer attempt to split them off from counterparts on the construction project.

"There is a longstanding history, over here, of people getting the same pay for doing the same work on the same job", Mr Lovett said. "It's called a fair go and that's what these guys believe in."

Unions WA secretary, Dave Robinson, said the employers' use of punitive laws had lifted the dispute to one of national significance.

"What has come across is the determination of employers to target individual workers and that is what we expect Howard to encourage with his legislation", he said. "A lot of workers are saying, 'If that's the colour of his legislation, we are happy to be tested on it'."

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