The Guardian February 2, 2000


Yallourn sparks dispute

by Rohan Gowland

Power maintenance workers in Victoria remain on strike indefinitely in a 
determined fight against a British transnational company's attempts to 
implement its world-wide anti-union, anti-worker agenda on Australian 
workers.

As businesses returned to work, the lack of maintenance and hot weather 
posed a threat of power cuts.

This week will be the third week on strike for the workers at Yallourn 
Energy; the strike beginning after the company locked them out in response 
to workplace bans.

Yallourn, owned by British company PowerGem, has decided to scrap the 
system of rotating shifts, with penalties, of four days on and four days 
off. The company, which operates 24-hours per day, told the workers they 
will only work day shift from now on, but none of them will lose their 
jobs. 

The union is more than skeptical, as this would mean paying the same 
workers to do half the amount of work.

The real agenda seems to be to phase out the current workforce and replace 
them with contractors. The company has plainly stated that it wants 
unrestricted use of contractors for any shift, day or night.

Dean Mighell, secretary of the ETU (CEPU Electrical Division) Vic Branch, 
told The Guardian that the proposed new work arrangements would take 
away job security for the current workforce of permanent workers because 
the contractors could be brought in at any time on a much lower rate of 
pay.

Mr Mighell said the permanent workers would face a 30 per cent loss of 
income due to the restriction to day work and the loss of overtime rates. 
He said many of these workers have made long-term financial commitments 
based on the income they were getting with these penalty rates.

As well as unfettered use of contractors, the company wants to introduce 
work teams and multi-skilling. The ETU is thoroughly opposed to this 
agenda, which it sees as a plan to cut jobs, reduce working conditions, 
undermine job security and weaken union power in the workplace.

The agenda Yallourn is wishing to implant on its Victorian workforce is 
consistent with the anti-union agenda of its parent company, PowerGem, 
which has done a similar thing with its operations in Britain and most 
recently in India.

Mr Mighell said Yallourn should realise that Australian workers and their 
unions will fight to maintain fair wages and conditions.

At present, only the maintenance workers, members of the ETU, AMWU and some 
AWU, have taken strike action  about 80 workers in a workforce of 500. 
Members of the ASU have not yet supported the strike action and have 
continued to work during the lockout and strike by ETU members.

The company is pursuing legal action against the ETU. On Friday last week, 
the ETU was seeking a Federal Court injunction to stop the company from 
taking the dispute to the Supreme Court.

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