The Guardian September 5, 2001


Systematic plan to victimise smelter workers

Employees of the Tomago Aluminium smelter in the NSW Hunter Valley have 
discovered that management of the company was contemplating a scheme to 
force employees to accept voluntary redundancy.

Last year the employees won an enterprise agreement which ensured that job 
losses could only occur through voluntary redundancy or natural attrition. 
This wasn't good enough for the management, however, because a report 
commissioned by a consultants' group had recommended the dismissal of some 
250 employees. 

Armed with this recommendation, the smelter management recently held a 
"brainstorming" seminar at which they discussed accelerating the pace of 
voluntary redundancy among the Tomago smelter workforce.

The various means by which this was to be achieved included giving 
employees work that they hated, and transferring them to work sites they 
couldn't stand.

Another trick proposed was to simply give the employee concerned no work at 
all. Although this appears to be a soft touch for the workers concerned, 
the sheer boredom of having nothing to do, and the anxiety this creates 
over time, has often been employed as a very successful means of forcing 
employees to "jump ship".

And as if all this wasn't enough, the seminar also discussed the targeting 
of certain individuals for this special "treatment". The target groups 
included the medically unfit, and also, presumably, the shop floor 
leadership. This particular tactic raises serious issues of discrimination.

The seminar went sour, however, when someone included details of the 
recommendations in a staff circular about the seminar outcome, and enraged 
smelter employees contacted their unions. Discussions on the proposals are 
continuing with the plant management, but the employees have now placed 
industrial action firmly on the agenda.

Company managers will always deny that they are unfair in dealing with 
their employees, but the Tomago story provides hard evidence of a 
particularly ruthless side of company management and capitalist production. 

How far will employers go to increase the exploitation of the workforce, 
and hence to increase profits? The only limits, as the Tomago story 
illustrates, are those imposed by industrial law and militant unionisation.

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