You receive a phone call. It’s your boss. That night’s shift is cancelled, you’re told, so don’t bother coming in. And you’re suspended until you come in to a disciplinary meeting the following week.
This is what happened at the start of May to a fellow delegate at the Melbourne call centre where I work. The call centre, which is organised by the National Union of Workers, has a union density of over 90 percent. Through the efforts of a small number of socialist activists, and the accumulation of some small but important victories, we have built up a union culture at work.
Our victories include the right to read and snack at our desks, which is now a custom in the workplace. We’ve prevented a number of sackings. We have the right to delegate-run union inductions. We’ve marked out a space in the break room for union notices, artwork and posters for upcoming protests. And we have a tradition of taking solidarity photos for social justice causes and organised contingents for union rallies.
Liz, the delegate under suspension, has been integral to winning backpay for workers who weren’t being paid the correct rate, and to winning union induction rights. She’s also part of our current campaign for company-provided pads and tampons, and for the right to be on a weekly pay cycle instead of the current fortnightly one, which sometimes means waiting up to 20 days to be paid for a shift.
Liz’s suspension is based on a number of trumped-up charges. Management have tried to label her a bully, accusing her of intimidating a male supervisor and another co-worker. They’ve also claimed that she hung up on people on calls during a shift. How can they argue this? Because they monitored her for 2.5 hours of her 4-hour shift. But the data they’ve provided doesn’t prove their claims, and it is the workers’ view that the charge of bullying and intimidation is being cynically used as part of management’s union-busting agenda.
As a delegate, Liz has been under heavy surveillance from management. She can’t take a break without them checking her timer (break time to go to the toilet, make a cup of tea, eat dinner is all monitored on our computer screens). She has also been subject to intimidation by the overwhelmingly male management team.
Luckily, our workmates, along with numerous other workers and students around the country, see this for what it is: targeting an effective union delegate.
We’ve taken a solidarity photo for Liz at work, held a number of meetings and distributed “Where’s My Delo Liz?” stickers for people to wear on shift. We’ve been sent solidarity photos from workers in a range of other industries, including the Chemist Warehouse workers who were recently on strike, and even workers from a print store in Vietnam.
We would appreciate more solidarity photos, all the better if they are union endorsed. Please send any to [email protected].