Up to 20,000 union members have taken strike action at Australia Post, part of a pre-Xmas rush of strikes that also hit Sydney buses, Telstra and Qantas.
Post workers are fed up with management’s arrogant and bullying attitude in its efforts to slash costs by cutting full-time staff and screwing more out of its workers.
Workers held a nationwide 24-hour strike in mid-December, followed by further stop work action just before Xmas which included another 24-hour strike in most states.
Australia Post has declared war on the union, declaring they would dock a day’s pay for any work bans including wearing union badges to work or sitting down on the job.
The strikes at Australia Post have been a long time coming. For years management has been slashing working conditions and shedding staff.
“We are forced to work fast to meet unrealistic times and it is dangerous”, Julie told Solidarity at the picketline at Melbourne’s Preston delivery centre.
“Australia Post does what it likes these days, directing injured workers to company doctors, who usually send them back straight back to work”.
This is not a dispute about pay—it is about maintaining fair working conditions and making sure there are controls on management to stop them slashing full-time jobs and conditions in future.
Yet management has been stalling on negotiations for over two years since the last post enterprise agreement expired.
Australia Post has used that time to continue imposing fresh cuts to penalty rates for Sundays and public holidays and furthering the shift to a part-time, casualised workforce. Cuts imposed to penalty rates triggered a walkout by workers at the Dandenong delivery centre in June 2008.
Step up the strike action
But the strike action this time has clearly hurt Australia Post bosses. The highlight was at Melbourne depots where pickets at Dandenong, Melbourne Airport, Geelong and Ardeer stopped trucks going into the centres.
Australia Post resorted to flying in five loads of mail to Dandenong delivery centre by helicopter!
Post workers have waited too long already for management to come to the table. The strike action needs to escalate in order to hit management hard and show them workers will not be pushed around any more.
It’s clear they will only concede fair conditions if they are hit hard with continuous days of strike action which hold up mail delivery and cost them money.
This dispute has also exposed how anti-worker the Rudd Labor government’s new workplace laws are. Its so-called “Fair Work Australia” body has continually frustrated union efforts to organise effective industrial action. Back in September it made a bizarre ruling stopping a ballot on industrial action, finding the union had “not genuinely been trying to reach agreement” with Australia Post—simply because the union had said in an internal publication that negotiations with management were unlikely to deliver anything.
After the union’s 24-hour strike in December it ordered a halt to follow-up strike action for three days. It found that the notice of strike action the union gave to Australia Post was not specific enough because it did not specify which workplaces would be affected by strike action. Australia Post management must be delighted with the extra time and information “Fair Work Australia” has given them to organise scabbing operations, and attempt to make the strikes ineffective. Rudd’s industrial laws are designed to make effective industrial action almost impossible.
Defying future orders to stop strike action will be necessary to win a fair agreement—both at Australia Post and elsewhere.