Downer workers strike to win back conditions 

Hundreds of workers across New South Wales have struck against Downer Group to demand a wage increase and to win back conditions lost in their last enterprise agreement. The three-day strike – from 6 to 8 June – and an indefinite ban on overtime are a part of the Downer workers’ industrial campaign for a new workplace agreement. They have been negotiating since January.

Downer employs 430 workers across several sites around the Hunter Valley and Illawarra, including on the Newcastle light rail construction and at BlueScope Steel at Port Kembla. Union coverage is split between the Electrical Trades Union and Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union. Workers from the two unions united in actions around the state, kicking off the Wednesday morning strike with a rally of 200 in Newcastle. 

Chanting “Union power!”, they marched through the streets, outraged at the contempt the company has shown for their claims. The unions are demanding a 3 percent annual pay rise and a return of conditions that were lost during the last round of bargaining. Downer remains intransigent, offering only a 2.25 percent per year wage rise and no further cuts to conditions.   

The dispute over wages and conditions comes as Downer’s profits continue to rise. In the second half of 2017, the company’s net profits jumped by 8.5 percent to $78.2 million, and the head of Downer ECM received a $495,000 bonus on top of his $1.03 million annual salary.

“These workers are the reason profits are surging, yet they’re being denied a fair deal that sees them receive the benefits of their hard work”, ETU NSW secretary Dave McKinley said.

In 2015 the unions agreed to a two-year wage freeze, as well as to cuts to site allowances and redundancy benefits, because the company claimed it wasn’t then profitable enough to pay. While the story is very different now, Downer is digging in its heels to hold on to the concessions it won in the last enterprise agreement. 

In the cold morning air at Port Kembla, workers were determined they would win. “When are we going to get it? Now!” confidently rang out across the crowd. The conditions and allowances the NSW workers are fighting for already exist in agreements in Victoria and Queensland – it’s only a matter of making Downer see that, if it doesn’t concede, then it’s in for a fight.