The Guardian August 15, 2001


BHP and Transfield the job destroyers

by Anna Pha

Unions and workers at BHP's steel works in Port Kembla on the NSW South 
Coast are fighting to save the jobs of 436 workers who are threatened by 
the company's plans to contract out maintenance work to Transfield Services 
and Fluor Gonian. BHP claims it will save $150 million over 10 years by 
contracting out the work.

The outsourcing will involve a considerable reduction in the size of the 
maintenance workforce. Transfield and Fluor Goninan plan to pick and choose 
which workers they will hire.

The workers whose jobs are at stake are not impressed by BHP's promises of 
voluntary redundancies and alternative job offers within BHP.

The unions involved, the Australian Workers' Union (AWU), the Australian 
Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and Electrical Trades Union (CEPU), are 
fighting it out with management. A decision is still to be made as to what 
work will be contracted out.

The unions oppose any contracting out.
 
At present all the workers are covered by the job security provisions of 
the national Steel Industry Agreement and cannot be retrenched, regardless 
of whether their work is contracted out.

Judge Walton of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission issued an interim 
order on July 17 this year preventing jobs being contracted out.

The unions are due to re-appear before the Commission on August 20. They 
will be seeking an extension of the order which is due to expire on August 
21. 

They are also arguing for an extension of the Steel Industry Agreement 
which is due to expire in September, just before Transfield Services 
intends to move in.

BHP continues to act as though the contracting out is a fait accompli, and 
is using scare tactics to make worker and their families feel insecure.

BHP has organised meetings of maintenance workers to hear a representative 
of Transfield spin promises of their golden future as contracted out 
labour. This is despite the Services Commission's decision.

In a slick speech, Kiehl Quinn, from Transfield's Operations and 
Maintenance Power, painted the workers a rosy picture of how good life 
would be with their new employer.

Workers left feeling as though they had been promised the world. They were 
given the opportunity to ask questions, but received vague answers  
particularly to questions about how the projected $150 million of savings 
would be made. 

Transfield Services is 45 percent owned by the private (i.e. not listed on 
the stock exchange) Transfield Holdings. It was created out of the 
Transfield group earlier this year when the Belgiorno-Nettis family (two of 
whom are on the board) decided to raise capital to clear Transfield's 
debts. It has maintenance and other contracts with both the private and 
public sectors.

It provides maintenance, cleaning and other services to the oil, 
petrochemical, gas, communications, and power industries. It also has 
contracts for service provision to the defence forces, the South Australian 
rail freight network

BHP workers have good reason to oppose the contracting out of their jobs to 
Transfield Services and to question how the company intends to make its 
huge savings.

Transfield's track record is a shocker. For example, it boasts that costs 
were reduced by nearly 50 per cent when it won a maintenance contract with 
the Mobil oil refinery at Altona, in Victoria and recorded "no industrial 
disputes in five years". 

It went into Mobil promising maintenance workers the world, even though all 
the workers had to re-apply for their own jobs. They were given training in 
new areas so that they could be riggers, crane drivers, scaffolders, dogman 
etc. But once they were multi-skilled the next part of the plan was 
revealed  a reduction in the work force from 350 to 70 over three to four 
years.

The multi-skilling and massive reduction in the work force created new 
problems. Highly skilled and specialised work was being carried out by less 
experienced workers, in a dangerous work environment, raising safety 
concerns. 

At the Shell oil refinery in Geelong, Transfield reduced the maintenance 
work force from 275 to 45. Even Shell could no longer cope with the 
company's aggressive style, and terminated it contract with Transfield two 
months ago.

Transfield sacked the remaining 45 workers with no notice when they were on 
their rostered day off.

Shell has divided up the work and contracted it out to a number of small 
companies. The workers are now casuals, on call, day-to-day, hoping for 
some work.

And let's not forget it designed and constructed the disastrous Melbourne 
City Link toll way with its leaking tunnel under the Yarra River.

Robert Nichols, Victorian Branch Organiser with the AWU told "The Guardian" 
that there have been a number of oil spills at Shell over the last few 
months, some hidden from the public.

The Communications Division of the CEPU has had dealings with Transfield in 
its provision of property management services (including cleaning) to 
14,500 Telstra Network sites across Australia.

"Not a nice mob" was how one union member described Transfield who said the 
maintenance and cleaning of Telstra exchanges and depots was "a disgrace".

The cleaning has been run down, the toilets are filthy.

Telstra employees, on the road all day, looking for somewhere to sit and 
eat a meal have seen their amenities ripped out  microwave ovens and 
fridges disappear.

The contract work is done by casual labour employed on inferior conditions 
instead of by permanent staff on award conditions.

These few examples form Mobil, Shell and Telstra illustrate some of the 
problems associated with the outsourcing of work. These include:

* Permanent award staff replaced casual labour;
* Lower wages and inferior working conditions;
* Massive job losses;
* Inferior services;
* Decline in standard;
* Safety put at risk;
* Increase in work load pressures;
* De-unionisation of the workplace;
* Introduction of individual work contracts (Australian Workplace 
Agreements).

This is why BHP plans to out-source its maintenance work, and why the 
unions and workers must be supported in their struggle to retain in-house 
maintenance by a permanent, unionised workforce under the Steel Industry 
Agreement.

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