Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1593      May 15, 2013

Thales workers’ victory

AMWU (Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union) members at Thales making munitions for the armed forces have won a new union agreement which locks in their improved wages and conditions beyond the date their employer’s existing contract for the key Defence Department work runs out in 2015.

Strategic industrial action every day over four weeks by members saw Thales agree to wage rises totalling 10.2 percent plus full back pay to last October.

But the biggest bonus for the 229 AMWU members in Mulwala and Benalla was forcing the French firm to a deal which runs until October 2015, three months beyond the date that Thales’ existing contract as the Defence Department’s main munitions supplier ends.

“That will give our members some peace of mind their entitlements will be carried over through the transition of business if one of the competitors to Thales wins the next munitions contract,” said AMWU assistant Victorian secretary Leigh Diehm.

Mr Diehm and Mulwala-Benalla delegates Julian Gross, Mick Liddington and Clinton Cole further backed that up by meeting Defence Materiel Minister Mike Kelly in Canberra.

They came away with a written pledge that the Minister would do everything “legally and humanly possible” to ensure all existing entitlements were retained in a transfer to any new employer for the post-June 2015 contract.

A decision on the final two tenderers for the contract is due in coming months.

AMWU delegate Julian Gross said solidarity among all 420 workers in a multi-union campaign involving the NUW, AWU, ETU and APESMA had worn down Thales and the Defence Department, which initially only wanted a 12-month deal, then another which expired with the current contract.

But action which stopped production every day for one hour at 10.30am began to disrupt supply of tons of bullets and shells to the armed forces, as AMWU members at both sites walked out the gates to protest for a three-year agreement.

Overtime and call-back bans also bit deeply into Thales’ schedule of meeting defence orders.

“It was a dramatic show of unity which, by the time the machinery was properly shut down and re-started, disrupted production for more like two to three hours every day and made it clear our issues needed to be addressed,” Mr Gross said.

Mr Gross and AMWU organisers Dave Corben and Cindy O’Connor watched management’s attitude become more conciliatory in past weeks as production of high explosive at Mulwala and finished shells, bombs and bullets at Benalla fell behind schedule.

The in-principle union agreement includes full back pay, annual wage rises of 3.5, 3.5 and 3.2 percent, employee control over 12-hour shift patterns, protection for maintenance workers conditions from casual contract labour and some special rates rolled into a weekly allowance.

Thales dropped all its demands, including introduction of key performance indicators and an attempt to absorb employer superannuation contribution rises into wage increases.

Members at Benalla and Mulwala voted almost unanimously in mass meetings to accept the in-principle agreement.

Up to five companies are competing for the post- June 2015 munitions contract, with that set to be culled to two by September.

“Those companies will know when they bid that they are under pressure to factor in the terms and conditions of this agreement – including long service, sick leave, annual leave – for the workforce,” Mr Gross said.   

Next article – High school students set to join strike against education cuts

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