Brisbane workers' lunch room sit-in continues

Supporters rallied at the front gates of the Smith’s Snackfood Company factory in Brisbane on 27 November in solidarity with National Union of Workers (NUW) members who are staging a sit-in at the site. 

The sit-in, which started with the day shift, was triggered by management’s demand that workers report for duty even though they were told they would not be paid.

The Smith’s workers had planned to impose partial work bans as part of enterprise agreement negotiations. However, after management said that no wages would be paid for any work they did, workers instead voted to hold a sit-in in the lunchroom.

They are fighting for a wage increase, equal pay for equal work and improved job security. The lunchroom occupation follows months of bargaining with a company unwilling to concede on the issues of most importance to workers. 

So far, management’s response to their action has only deepened the resentment felt by workers. At a short meeting in the lunchroom management read out a statement with “no questions allowed.”

At the 2pm shift change, a mass meeting of afternoon shift workers determined to continue the sit-in until management was forced to make concessions. The day shift workers triumphantly marched to meet them at the gates chanting “the workers united will never be defeated”.

Red Flag spoke to a number of afternoon shift workers as they turned up. One man who works as a machine operator told of poorly maintained and broken machines; others talked about dealing with the stifling Brisbane heat on the factory floor. While workers sweat, management are “wearing jumpers” in crisp air conditioned offices, according to NUW national president, Caterina Cinnani.

Ian Mackay, NUW organiser, explained that the company were filling once permanent positions with labour -hire workers. He said that management preferred these workers because their lack of job security left them vulnerable to being intimidated into “towing the company line”. Under the labour-hire arrangements these workers can also be paid less for performing the same work as permanent staff. Eradicating this practice is one of the key demands the Smith’s workers are pushing for. 

On their way out, day shift workers described a buoyant and confident mood inside. The union is strong, with around 90 percent of eligible workers in the NUW. The sit-in continues.