Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1581      February 13, 2013

Hospira takes union’s medicine

Strong leadership by delegates at Australia’s main facility for making cancer drugs has forced management to improve wages but also recognise the right of its research scientists to be represented by the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU).

Multinational giant Hospira strung out negotiations for six months last year, but finally took its medicine the night before prescribed industrial action earlier this month, which could have disrupted production of vital pharmaceuticals, was due to start.

Delegate Amanda Reaper said the resulting enterprise agreement vindicated the solidarity among about 115 AMWU members across diverse occupations, in the face of persistent tactics by Hospira to divide them. Ms Reaper said it ended three years of frustration for 15 people in the research and development department.

In that time, Hospira refused to recognise her as a delegate and the industrial rights of the AMWU members who elected her. “They had the irrational notion that professional scientists could not be represented by the AMWU, they’ve tried to ignore us. I think they had a fear that unionism in the R&D area might impact on investors, it was ridiculous,” she said.

“But in true AMWU style, the harder they pushed us, the more we united. The support from other members, delegates, from our officials has been incredible.”

Ms Reaper paid tribute to maintenance workers who supported their AMWU comrades in laboratories by planning strike action which caused the US-owned company to plead it was against the “national interest.”

Organiser Dinh Nguyen took a strong line with management on members’ determination to take the action, which convinced Hospira to settle most EBA terms in a marathon meeting on the eve of the strike.

Hospira staff won a two-year agreement expected to be approved by Fair Work Australia in the next few weeks. It includes a new dispute resolution clause recognising the AMWU’s role, with annual pay rises of four percent, backdated to October.

It also introduces improved redundancy provisions for all categories of staff and a process to settle on a new grading system properly reflecting the work value of technical staff.

Fellow delegate Daniela Chircop, a microbiology analyst, said a refusal by management to allow a lunchtime stop work meeting at its Mulgrave complex in Melbourne’s east had also backfired badly.

“As we stood in the street outside work, it became clear to many members the company only wanted their side of the story told – they were trying to play mind games,” she said.   

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