A dozen asbestos removal workers walked off the job in Port Kembla, Wollongong, on 29 July in protest over a reduction in their pay from $30 to $22 per hour. The workers are employed by GBAR, a hazardous waste removal company, and were working at the Bluescope steelworks at the time of the industrial action. Bluescope is the largest of GBAR’s clients. 

“There was always excuses”, Jarrod Woon, a full time GBAR worker, told Red Flag. “We threatened that we were going to join the union ... So then we went and set up a meeting with the CFMEU, and that’s when they’ve gone ‘Aw hang on, here’s this’”, Jarrod says, referring to the pay cut. 

“We are taking industrial action regarding our hourly rate and our allowances, regarding mainly travel”, says Darren, another GBAR worker. Most of the workers employed by GBAR live in Wollongong, but the bulk of the work is in Sydney. The workers receive no travel allowance. GBAR workers also don’t receive holiday leave loading, nor are they entitled to take rostered days off, despite the rostered day off wage being deducted from their pay. 

GBAR workers receive only $22 per hour, which is inadequate because, as Darren explains, “We do asbestos removal ... we’re only on a couple of dollars an hour extra than what our non-asbestos removal rate would be”. Asbestos removal is one of the most dangerous jobs in the industry, with health risks including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. 

The union has also raised concerns about safety for GBAR workers, including inadequate and ill-fitting personal protective equipment.

Striking workers targeted the Jani King cleaning franchise and Pancakes on the Rocks outlet owned by GBAR company director and multi-millionaire Barend Jacobus Stoltz. From 5 to 9 August, GBAR workers protested outside Stoltz’s cleaning business in the Sydney suburb of Norwest, continuing at Pancakes on the Rocks three days later, where chants of “One day longer! One day stronger!” echoed off the sandstone buildings. 

GBAR workers are prepared to stay out on strike for “as long as it takes” according to GBAR worker Gary Williams. “[Striking] gets you pumped up”, he says. “It’s good coming together with other workers.”