Packaging workers end year on a win

A group of manufacturing workers ended 2016 by fending off an attack on their wages and conditions. Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union members at a VIP Packaging factory in Truganina, western Melbourne, struck for nine days, late in December.  

It was the first strike at the site, but the workers were confident from the beginning. “Management will bow down to our demands, eventually it’s going to happen”, AMWU delegate Parminder Singh told Red Flag.

The workers manufacture metal packaging and containers – drums, containers and cans – critical for a number of industries including oil and food production. The items they make are used by companies such as Castrol, PPG, AKZO, Goodman Fielder, Frontera and Murray Goulburn. Parminder said the strike would quickly make it very difficult for the company to fill its orders.

The industrial action came during enterprise agreement negotiations, but was in part prompted by the behaviour of new and widely-despised manager. One worker described the manager as “wanting to control everything”, another talked about being threatened with an official warning for speaking a language other than English to a co-worker.

It was reported that the manager had cameras and additional monitoring systems installed in parts of the factory and is trying to impose more strict control of work patterns and break times.

After maintaining their strike camp for more than a week, the workers voted to accept an offer that includes an annual pay rise of 3.5 percent – a 2.9 percent wage increase and a 0.6 percent unconditional bonus.

One worker speculated that the company wanted to carve up the pay rise in that way to help it pressure workers in other VIP factories to accept lower pay rises in upcoming negotiations. He said that Truganina is considered a pace setter for other sites. Workers at another VIP factory in nearby Laverton also went on strike last year and won.

At the end of the dispute, according to Parminder, “we pretty much got the conditions we wanted”, and people going back to work “are feeling pretty positive”. The hated manager remains in place, but, Parminder said, “We have to show real unity day in day out and we have to stand up as a group to anyone and everyone who tries to be a bully”.