After a ten week lock out, 150 United Voice workers at Schweppes distribution and processing factory in Tullamarine, Victoria, are back inside the gate.
The workers had been maintaining a 24-hour picket since December 15 2011, demanding the maintenance of existing shifts, rosters and overtime penalty rates. Schweppes management are seeking to replace a 35-hour Monday to Friday roster with a 12-hour a day, six-to-seven day working week.
The lock out followed similar aggressive anti-union action taken by Qantas and POAGS stevedoring bosses late last year.
According to United Voice Assistant Victorian Secretary Ben Redford, “Schweppes launched a vicious attack on the eight-hour day, as well as trying to rob workers of their weekends.”
Schweppes had initially lodged an application to Fair Work Australia for arbitration to end all industrial action, but was unsuccessful in its attempt.
But as negotiations continued with Schweppes, the union actually ended any serious attempt to picket the factory.
The picket became a token protest presence allowing the factory to maintain production at 60 to 70 per cent of normal levels using casualised labour hire contract workers and management as scabs.
Workers recently turned down a bribe of $5000 from management in favour of maintaining an indefinite protest at the gates. But the officials made no attempt to spread the industrial action, build the picket or get solidarity from other unions.
Now, after negotiations with the company, the dispute is once again headed for arbitration. There will be 21 days’ conciliation to try to reach a settlement. Then Fair Work Australia will arbitrate if nothing is agreed.
But arbitration is a big risk. At the beginning of the lockout, with an effective picket line in place, output from the plant was seriously cut with some Melbourne shops reporting shortages of Schweppes in the run up to Christmas. Determined picketing and solidarity from other unions could have shut down its operations completely.
A 13-day all-out strike by Baiada chicken workers in November last year won all their demands for pay increases and job security.
Jimmy Yan

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