Federal opposition leader Bill Shorten has helped intensify the campaign of Alcoa workers on indefinite strike over the failure of the company and the Australian Workers Union (AWU) to settle on a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA).
Sporadic showers and a gloomy grey sky overhead did not deter more than 1100 workers from a meeting at the North Pinjarra Oval on Wednesday afternoon.
Labor’s frontman was welcomed with cheers and chants from onlookers as he delivered an address filled with encouragement for the industrial action, which started on August 8.
Since then, Pinjarra workers have remained committed to the protest, along with their colleagues from Alcoa’s Kwinana, Wagerup, Huntly and Willowdale facilities.
For the past 18 months, both parties have failed to settle on conditions of a new EBA for the mining giant’s Western Australian operations.
With Wednesday marking the 22nd-day workers have walked off the job to protest, the AWU said it was more important than ever employee stuck together to make a stand.
On Monday, the mining giant asked employees to vote on the new agreement, with voting to close on September 6.
Mr Shorten assured workers their voices were being heard and said it was not fair they had to stress over job security.
He claimed the general casualisation of the Australian workforce was a backward step for the nation and the focus needed to be brought back to the employees. “What you’re going through cannot be easy - you're losing money, I understand that," Mr Shorten said.
"It’s not easy but what you are doing is you are fighting for something very important - job security.
“I’m telling you - this company will move. The reason it will move is because you’re strong and you have very good arguments. Decades ago… many of you fought to get a better deal. You don’t want to be the generation of Alcoa workers who hands on inferior conditions.”
An Alcoa spokeswoman said claims by the AWU that Alcoa is seeking to casualise the workforce were “simply untrue”.
“The union is seeking an absolute guarantee that employees can never be made redundant involuntarily," she said.
“The EBA addresses job security with a range of measures including a commitment to call for voluntary redundancies first, in the event changes to the workforce are required. It also includes a generous redundancy package well above National Employment Standards.”
She said Alcoa had offered employees a generous EBA that provides income growth on top of their already "very competitive pay and conditions".
“This action is unnecessary and will only serve to impact employees through lost earnings,” she said.
AWU West Australian state secretary Mike Zoetbrood also addressed workers at the oval on Wednesday.
“I have to, unfortunately, report that Alcoa still isn’t listening - they’ve not made any move whatsoever on providing you any job security," he said.
“They have indicated to our national office that they just want to wait and see what the ballot result is - they want to see whether you vote this agreement up or not. So let’s go ahead and send them a crystal-clear message.
“Alcoa is also out there saying that we, the union, have not sought to meet.
“Well, they must be deaf because I’m getting sick and tired of saying this, but we will march to their palace in Booragoon and we’ll hand deliver them an invitation to come and address the outstanding job security issues so we can reach an agreement.”
Alcoa has been operating in Western Australia for 55 years and employs thousands of people from the region.
The spokeswoman said the turnover rate of Alcoa's workforce was extremely low.
“The average length of service of our employees who are AWU members is almost 20 years,” she said.
She said Alcoa had participated in more than 50 meetings with the AWU, as well as two mediated processes, while the union and company had been in negotiations for the past 18 months.
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