Senate debates

Monday, 10 September 2018


Western Australia: Workplace Relations

9:50 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development (Senate)) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight not on a good note, unfortunately, but I think the Senate should really listen to what I have to say. I can't believe that in this day and age I'm making this speech.

In Western Australia, roughly 1,600 workers are on an indefinite strike at Alcoa sites around the state. This has been going on for the last month—34 days, to be exact. Sixteen hundred Western Australians are attempting to ensure that their job security is there and to maintain their current conditions. That's not unfair to ask for in this day and age, surely, in a developed nation as great as this country, Australia?

But Alcoa workers from Kwinana, Pinjarra and across the region have voted against accepting a new enterprise bargaining agreement, with 80 per cent—can you believe that, Mr Acting Deputy President Smith?—turning down the company's proposal. That's a pretty strong endorsing number of those workers who don't want the agreement. But wait until I go into what is expected of them, and you'll understand. In fact, you'll probably question how come it's only 80 per cent.

Alcoa has applied to the Fair Work Commission—and this makes me want to vomit—to have workers' current terms and conditions terminated. I'm told that the hearings will commence next Monday, and I understand that the AWU are hoping to have a meeting with Alcoa before the end of this week. I urge Alcoa, for crying out loud, to sort out this mess that they've created. Right from the beginning the workers have said that they're happy—listen to this!—to meet with Alcoa management, and that that's not a problem. However, nothing has happened yet; the company won't meet with them.

This fight is about protecting job security, not just for the workers there now but for generations to come—as generations before them have been at Alcoa. Mr Acting Deputy President, you're from the great state of WA, you understand what I'm talking about. This is not a union rant; every Australian and Western Australian legislator and, in fact, the whole public should be alarmed at what I'm telling you and what I'm sharing with this chamber. These workers, some of whom have worked for the company for over 30 years—I've met a number of them—only want what is fair and reasonable. They want secure jobs and fair conditions so that they can support their families and also support and contribute to their communities, as they've done for many years.

Let me share the facts with the Senate. Alcoa is trying to rip away job security, and families depend on job security. Alcoa made a profit of $1.1 billion using bauxite which belongs to the Australian people. There is nothing wrong with profit, that's fine, and $1.1 billion is nothing to sneeze at. Have a listen to this: Alcoa's employees offered the company a three-year wage freeze—three years—which the company rejected. No-one can make this crap up! Sorry, I should haven't said that. I can't make this rubbish up. This is unbelievable! They offered a three-year wage freeze and the company rejected it. For crying out loud, I can think of how many employers would jump at that and snatch the rings off the fingers of the guys and girls as they went to sign the agreement.

Alcoa is trying to cut the workers' pay by no less than up to 50 per cent. Who in this nation would offer a three-year pay freeze and then get salt rubbed into their eyes by the employer saying, 'Not only do we want that but we want you to take a 50 per cent cut.' This is Alcoa, a greedy multinational mining company. That's what they are, and I can tell them that I haven't finished with them yet.

In 2017, the company generated a total revenue of $4,578 billion, including sales and other revenue. These figures are unbelievable! So they aren't screwing the living daylights out of just their workforce. These workers don't want a pay rise; they just want job security. Not only do they not want a pay rise, and said that they would have a wage freeze for three years, but they actually don't want to be forced into redundancies—and you would get this, Mr Acting Deputy President Smith—while there are labour hire companies and contractors on the site. What is un-Australian about a full-time employee who has been there for many, many years—or even one who has only been there for a week—who wants to save their job and offers a three-year wage freeze, just saying, 'Please, Mr Greedy ALCOA, don't march us off the job with, "Here's your redundancy," while there are contractors and darned labour hire'?

And I won't start on what I think about labour hire companies—no, I will. What a bunch of parasites the labour hire companies are. But I'll save that for another day. And I speak with authority here, because I had to deal with the grubs when I was in the transport industry. They offer nothing to the workers that they don't have to, above the grubby minimum wages that they pay them. They offer nothing in training—you know that, Mr Acting Deputy President Ketter. They offer no holidays and no long service leave. Parasites they are, in the industrial scene.

Anyway—so what did I do? After I'd visited the sights of Pinjarra and Kwinana, I met with the men and the women down there. Politicians were coming out of the woodwork! And hats off to Mr Hastie. Who'd have thought—

Honourable Senator:

An honourable senator interjecting

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development (Senate)) Share this | | Hansard source

no, seriously—there would be a coalition member on the back of a ute, addressing workers? He knows this is not a union stoush. This is destroying a community, and 1,600 jobs so they can outsource them to contractors or say, 'You can take a 50 per cent wage cut and then you can come back in our gates, and, by the way, we're not even going to talk to you; we don't even want to know you people, even though you worked for us for years.'

So I wrote a letter to Alcoa, and I want to share this letter. It's on the web, so it's out there. I've got the 'nice Glenn Sterle' hat on, but, I've got to tell you, if I'd been on the picket line for 34 days, it wouldn't be the nice Glenn Sterle! In it I've virtually asked Alcoa: 'Please, you're making a good deal of money—and that's fine; that's great—you've been in the community, you've been in our state, extracting our resources with Australian workers. All we ask is that, while you're making money, just give the workers the decency of putting in writing, in an agreement that offers no pay rises for three years: "We won't march you off the job under the pretence of a redundancy and employ contractors and labour hire." Is that fair?'

Well, this should come as no shock. I wrote the letter and sent it off on 3 September. Today is only the 10th, and I know that that is only a week, but all these sites are shut down. The mines are shut down; the refineries are shut down. It's not as though they're flat-out busy, unless they're planning to bring in foreign workers or contractors or whatever it is. You'd think someone in Alcoa would've thought, 'We'd had better respond and just say, "Look, you're on the wrong train, mate," or, "Yes, we want to talk to our employees; you go away; we'd rather deal with them."' No—radio silence from Alcoa.

I don't even know anyone at Alcoa, except the workers. I've never met the management of Alcoa, and I've got no desire to meet the management from Alcoa, unless they come in here and apologise for shafting the living daylights out of Australian workers. That's the only reason I'd want to. In fact, I want to share this with you, Mr Acting Deputy President. This is not the case, but if Glenn Sterle was the Prime Minister, it'd be sorted very quickly, because the phone call would go through to the management under this feller, Mr Michael Parker, who I've never had the chance of meeting, who is the chairman and managing director, and I'd say: 'Mr Parker, it's the Prime Minister here, Glenn Sterle. I want you to come and have a meeting with me. Jump on the first plane to Canberra—or, even better, if you're too busy I'll come to you,' and, when I got there or he got here, the advisers and the bureaucrats would be out of the room, and his hangers-on taking their notes would all be out of the room, and we would have a man-to-man conversation about the way things happen in Australia. And I can guarantee you one thing: it wouldn't be pleasant, because how the hell can a mongrel—jeez, I could get so wound up here! How can a foreign company come in here, extract our resources—ours; they belong to the Australian people, but I'd normally have no problem with this—have 30 years of continued growth in our state of Western Australia from digging up our bauxite and exporting it around the world, and, by the same token, be frogmarching Australians seafarers off the MV Portland? I said last year and the year before that this was just the thin end of the wedge: 'Here they come to replace them with foreign workers.' And they love this model. Mr Parker, you want to cross your fingers that I never decide to go to the other side and end up as the Prime Minister, because I can tell you I would be around a lot longer than you, Mr Parker from Alcoa.

I make no apologies for this. This is disgraceful, disgusting behaviour by a foreign raider. How the hell can they go through our communities in the south-west of Western Australia, Senator Dean Smith, and say, 'Aren't we good people because we might build a set of shades over a playground or something'? I'm told that Alcoa had been a responsible member of the community, but they'd had a shift in management. The previous managers, in my eyes and the workers' eyes, were decent, working human beings who all had the same objectives at the end of the day. There was a family there to consider, trying to pay off a mortgage and put the kids through school and give them the best opportunity and hoping the grandkids would get an even better opportunity.

Well, Mr Parker, if this is the way you run your business—in fact, I would like to meet Mr Parker. Oh, I would relish the opportunity, because this man has a lot to answer for. Mr Parker, you should at least have the intestinal fortitude to pick up the phone, call your workers, call your staff, call the ones who have contributed to your company's wealth and to your pay packet. You and all your mates around you are hiding there in Melville in the three-storey building where I attended the other day. They are hiding behind the laws of this land that can take enterprise agreements away from workers and shaft them by 50 per cent to put more money into the grubby pockets of Mr Michael Parker and every one of the other mongrels on the board of Alcoa. What a disgrace.