Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 September 2018



7:45 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Last Wednesday I met with members of the Australian Workers' Union who were working for Alcoa. Today marks, very sadly and disgracefully, their 35th day of strike action—and they're not even asking for very much. Last Friday an overwhelming no vote came down on their enterprise agreement, but Alcoa knew that would be the case because the shop stewards had told them. That is a unionised workforce and it is well and truly sticking together on picket lines against a very, very big company with very, very deep pockets. These workers that we often hear the Morrison government deride and call all sorts of unjust, completely inappropriate and wrong names are ordinary men and women living decent lives, earning a decent wage for their families and contributing to the Australian economy through the homes they buy, through the cars they drive and through the products they purchase. Yet today is the 35th day they've been on strike.

I know from talking to Andy today down on the picket line in Kwinana that Daniel Walton, the secretary of the AWU, met and talked with the head of Alcoa last Friday. Alcoa committed to meet with the AWU. Well, today is Tuesday, and we are nearly at the end of Tuesday. We are way past the average person's working day. Alcoa has not lifted up the phone to the AWU to set down a meeting time, despite the AWU saying, 'We will meet with you at any time on any day.' Alcoa is stalling. Why is it stalling? It's because next week the current enterprise agreement for those ordinary men and women earning a decent wage to look after their families expires. If Alcoa then takes matters into its own hands and cancels that enterprise agreement, those workers will lose about $50,000 a year. But the Morrison government think that's okay and they somehow think that all unions are bad.

It's a shame that none of the Western Australian MPs or senators have bothered to go down and meet those ordinary workers. I'm sure they are not all Labor voters. I'm sure they will be after 35 days on a strike! But they are not. They are ordinary men and women who live in the suburbs of Australia, right across this country, and Alcoa is treating them in a disgraceful way. This is not a way the old Alcoa of 20 years ago behaved. This is an Alcoa taking advantage of a government that favours the big end of town, a government that champions big business and tries to deride unions. This is an Alcoa that was shown in data released by the ATO in December of last year to be amongst the 10 highest earning companies. We should applaud that. It's one of the 10 highest earning companies, but do you know what? It pays not one single cent of tax in Australia. So not only did it assault all Australians because it didn't pay any tax but now it is seeking to reduce the wages of its workforce, a workforce who are loyal, a workforce who make those profits and a workforce who expect to be treated with respect and dignity. Yet today marks their 35th day on that picket line.

It's kind of hard to get a proper handle on the sorts of profits that Alcoa are making, but there is no doubt they are a profitable company. Of course we want them to be profitable. But we also want them to pay their tax and we want them to treat their workforce fairly and justly and with respect. These are ordinary Australian workers providing for their families.

The West Australian newspaper reported that an environmental crackdown by the Chinese drove up global alumina prices. That helped deliver a dramatic surge in Alcoa WA focused mining and refining operations. Alcoa are not crying poor here. I wrote to the CEO of the company. He's yet to call me back. Pick the phone up, meet with the AWU and settle this dispute.