Contributed from Western Australia
Cape, a company subcontracting for mining company Alcoa, tried to blackmail its workers into signing a new agreement that would cut their wages by 25 percent. It was a take it or leave offer.
The workers reacted by walking off the job. To their mind, this was unfair and could not be accepted. They have been out for three weeks now and are getting the support of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU). support from other workers and unions is building up. They see that movers to cut wages could spread and threaten them too.
at Cape, they specialise in asbestos removal, which makes theirs a dangerous job, requiring specialised expertise and years of experience to do it safely.
“We have workers which have been here for on average 10 to 28 years, we know how to manage the asbestos well, we do encourage diversity, we encourage multi-skilling, we work well outside of our scope of work,” the protesters’ spokesperson said.
“In rewards for our efforts, as a thank you, we’ve basically been told that 25 per cent pay cut is the way forward.
“If we don’t accept that there’s a good chance that we will be made redundant and that other people could come in and do our jobs.”
These workers had already agreed to a 12 month pay freeze and sacrificed other conditions to assist their employer to tender for a new contract with Alcoa. They can only go so far.
This indicates that much of the blame lies with pressure coming in from Alcoa, which wants to minimise what is pays out to smaller companies that it does business with. But needing to cut costs in a tender is no justification for cutting wages. It would have been much more productive for Cape to act in a partnership with its workers, in its dealings with Alcoa.
For its part, Alcoa needs to be scrutinised over its contracting policies. If the company takes part in pressuring for lower wages, it should be held to account.