Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 February 2018


Workplace Relations

8:10 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Environment and Water (Senate)) Share this | Hansard source

I rise tonight to share some good news with the Senate. Tomorrow, workers at Griffin Coal in Collie, all members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union, will return to work after more than 180 days of protected industrial action and two years of protracted negotiations. Senator Bridget McKenzie knows the situation well because she visited Collie with me when Senate hearings about these very issues took place there.

Tomorrow brings an end to the longest-running industrial dispute in the history of Western Australia's coalmining industry. It is an incredibly hard fought victory for these workers. They have voted up an agreement that wins them back their family friendly rosters, a liveable wage and their entitlements at the rate they were accrued at—all of which were under threat when the Fair Work Commission terminated their agreement in 2016 after an application by Griffin Coal. We know that that took them back to the base award rate, not only on their official wages but also in terms of their accrued entitlements. They faced pay cuts of up to 46 per cent. They were being forced to work on FIFO-like rosters—even though they were a settled residential community—on low award wages while missing out on important family time. They were at risk of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars of entitlements accrued over many decades.

Community and volunteering groups lost their volunteers and community supporters, local businesses felt the pinch because these workers and their families had much less money to spend, and mums and dads worried for a long time about how to put food on the table. Some of the families told me they could no longer afford their houses after such a significant pay cut. At the same time, as the values of their homes dropped because of the uncertainty in the local economy, they couldn't sell either. All of this is because of a Fair Work system that is broken—a system that's designed to benefit wealthy multinational companies at the expense of Australian workers and Australian communities. We want to see this fixed. The rules are broken, and we need to change the rules.

Ever since, these workers and their families, and the local community, have fought for the future of the town of Collie. Last year I hosted some wonderful Griffin community action group members who'd come here to Canberra to tell their story. They spoke to MPs and senators about the impact of the ongoing dispute on their families and their community. They fought, and no doubt they will continue to fight, for the change workers right across the country need to see: change that would allow workers to truly negotiate in good faith with their employers about wages and conditions. Following their advocacy, and that of many other workers across the country in the same situation, Labor committed to finding a solution to this problem, to amend the section of the Fair Work Act that allows companies to terminate agreements whilst bargaining. We must restore balance to workplace negotiations in this country.

Finally, it is only because of the solidarity of the union and the community that this win has been possible; otherwise these workers would have been left in an impossible, no-win situation. I want to acknowledge the AMWU members in Collie and their families and thank them for their advocacy and their commitment to fighting for this important win for their community.


No comments