Crane workers have won a five-week strike against Boom Logistics through widespread action in defiance of the law.
The win brings their pay packets up to industry standard with immediate pay rises of between 8 and 26 per cent at the Port Kembla yard. The union covering the workers, CFMEU, said that workers at the Singleton and Newcastle yards won immediate pay rises of between 20 and 50 per cent. It combines three sites onto a single agreement.
Workers have also secured their original claim of 2.5 per cent pay rises every six months. This applies for the next year until the agreement expires, with the CFMEU hoping to roll it over afterwards.
Boom began advertising for scab labour through labour hire companies about a month before the strike began—aided by a Fair Work Commission decision that banned an earlier strike in August.
In Port Kembla workers stopped the scab operation early on by forming an illegal hard picket.
At the Singleton and Newcastle sites it required an ongoing fight against the scabs.
“A lot of those guys, once the union shut them down on the first day, said they didn’t want to work when there was industrial action happening,” Port Kembla CFMEU delegate Luke Jewitt told Solidarity.
In response the bosses sent an email to them saying, “we’re grateful for your work during these tough times,” gave them a $100 a week pay rise and took them all out to dinner.
The company moved the cranes out of their yards and onto sites at mines and the coal loader where the company works.
Pickets spread out all across the Hunter to shut them down.
Workers parked in front of yard gates to prevent the company from moving its cranes around. If they spotted Boom cranes on the road, they followed them, entering yards and then boxing the cranes inside so they couldn’t leave.
For cranes that could only be moved at night because of their size, the CFMEU organised 24-hour pickets. While solidarity action in support of striking workers is technically illegal, workers on organised CFMEU sites found ways of refusing to work with Boom Cranes if they showed up on site.
The CFMEU mobilised support across the union, levying all members to support the strikers financially and toured Boom workers to speak at union meetings.
Workers won improved working away from home allowances, including an increase of $25 per day after three weeks away.
Port Kembla workers spend on average 75 per cent of their time working away. There are also redundancy improvements.
“The workers are happy to have got it done,” said Jewitt. “It’s a good result. But at the same time there are things that are not in our new EBA that have been there for a long time, which was a bitter pill to swallow. But the company had a bitter pill to swallow when they had to give us a bloody pay rise.”
Port Kembla workers had not received a pay rise for four years. It was even longer, six years, at the Newcastle yard.
Crucially all three yards are now on the same EBA which places them in a stronger position to fight in the next round of bargaining.
The bosses desperately wanted to avoid that.
“They tried to play us off against each other, early in the piece,” said Jewitt. “They rang everyone in our yard, telling us if we went back to work they would give us the union EBA, but we would have to separate from the other two yards. But we said no.”
A significant loss for workers is that the company is no longer required to have a minimum of three people as part of every crane crew. Such a requirement is banned under the new federal Building Code introduced by the LNP government.
Previously, the CFMEU had vowed to fight the Building Code and to continue to fight for EBA provisions that were not code compliant, like the minimum three-person crew.
But last year the union took a decision to no longer fight the code, in the hope of electing a Labor government that would scrap it. The strategy has involved signing short-term EBAs with a view to changing them after Labor is elected.
“We wanted a three-year deal, but the [CFMEU organisers] said trust us. The Liberal Party have really handcuffed us,” said Jewitt.
This sets up a renewed fight under a Labor government right across the construction industry to restore conditions lost under the Liberals.
By Caitlin Doyle and Miro Sandev