The Guardian 1 June, 2005

No AWA, no job

A group of young Sydneysiders is resisting "sign or you’re sacked" AWA ultimatums. Storeman Daniel Pestano is not happy about the prospect of his workmates at Appaloosa Holdings, in the western suburb of Banksmeadow, becoming the first victims of John Howard’s latest industrial relations experiment.

In a vision of the Prime Minister’s workplace of the future, they were outsourced without warning to labour hire firm EL Blue, who offered them their existing jobs conditional on "agreeing to the terms of employment contained in the Australian Workplace Agreement", the government’s non-union individual contracts.

"We’re not happy about it", Pestano said. "There was no choice. They offered the contract as take it or leave it."

Derek Belan of the National Unions of Workers (NUW) said more people would be "chewed up and spat out" by companies or agencies "offering a pittance" if Howard got his way on workplace deregulation.

"The ‘sign here or you’re sacked’ employment offer would become the norm", he warned. Appaloosa Holdings employed 18 people, aged 16-25, working under a State Award. Fourteen have signed a petition saying that they don’t want to be put on an AWA.

The AWA they have been offered strips their conditions, putting them on a seven-day roster where they can be employed anywhere and at anytime with minimal notice. They lose guaranteed weekly hours.

"Well, if these kids don’t sign, they’re gone", E L Blue senior operations manager, Victoria Keeys, told the NUW.

"The way that Appaloosa Holdings have treated their employees is appalling," says the NUW’s Mark Ptolemy. "These young workers have been fed to an aggressive and greedy labour hire agency, with an offer much less then what they had.

"They have been given an ultimatum that they either sign their individual contracts or hit the road."

Entrenching AWAs is a key part of the Howard government’s workplace law reforms announced this week.

Under the new rules workers’ (official, but not enforced) rights to not be disadvantaged by the introduction of AWAs would be dumped, with the test being set against the proposed Fair Pay Commission’s minimum wage and a few paltry conditions legislated by the government.

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