Aussie Packaging Company Folds Under Pressure

f2de09c5-38e5-47ea-8c77-e03089fd1698Aussie Packaging printer Colorpak have backed down in the face of a determined industrial campaign and agreed to a peace deal with the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union who were aided by comrades from the company’s New Zealand operations. 

Anxious management compromised last week when faced with a 24-hour strike which would be replicated across the Tasman and cost the firm millions of dollars.

Previously hardline bosses also faced embarrassment from a planned AMWU protest to shareholders outside the company’s Annual General Meeting this week.

The company agreed to a new 12-month union agreement covering its main site at Braeside in  Melbourne, which delivers improvements including permanency after six months for casual and labour hire employees.

It also includes a legal deed giving extra security to union members in administration, genuine union consultation over workplace change plus a $295 tax-free bonus for every worker when the agreement is signed.

The one-year deal was initially endorsed by shop floor meetings, with the 240 AMWU members set for a formal vote next week.

It was a dramatic change of attitude from Colorpak, which had aggressively targeted union members with letters to their homes after stoppages in October and wrongly claimed in the national media to have finalized industrial matters months ago.

AMWU delegate Iain Eld (a former Unite activist and FOC in the UK) said the bridging deal was a solid base for pursuing a national agreement including real-value wage rises in 2015, to bring Colorpak’s Sydney site under a single agreement with Melbourne.

“The management were extremely agitated at the prospect of our members stepping up protected action to the 24-hour stoppage, with our comrades in New Zealand pledging action in support,” he said.

“Power and collective strength have shown you can push what appears to be an unmovable employer into a reasonable position.”

The management agreed to three final union claims to have the planned actions cancelled.

AMWU National secretary (Print) Lorraine Cassin said the determination of members had forced the company to understand it could not intimidate them.

“Our members stood up to Colorpak, they took strength from one another to persist until they won the respect and proper consideration they deserve,” she sad.

Ms Cassin said the AMWU would be lending its support to NZ members of its sister union, which is yet to finalise its agreement with Colorpak.

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UAW and VW One Step Closer To Recognition

After several years of campaigning to organise the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on 12th November Volkswagen announced a new policy which includes that with more than 45 percent support, a union can meet once every two weeks with VW Chattanooga’s executive committee.

The United Autoworkers union, UAW and Germany’s IG Metall welcomed the step forward, but want more.

UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel stated: “In the first conversations that will occur, we will remind them of the mutually agreed-upon commitments that were made by Volkswagen and the UAW last spring in Germany. Among those commitments: Volkswagen will recognise the UAW as the representative of our members. We believe Volkswagen made this commitment in good faith and we believe the company will honour this commitment. Additionally, we will present the Chattanooga plant management with the September letter of intent in which the influential Volkswagen Global Group Works Council expressed its desire for the Chattanooga plant to be a ‘UAW-represented facility.’”

IG Metall President Detlef Wetzel said: “We expect VW to show their true colours and accept the UAW as its collective bargaining partner, once UAW proves that they represent the majority of workers.”

The policy announced by VW is not perfect as it opens the possibility for more than one union to represent workers and act as the company’s bargaining partner. A small yellow union exists at the plant.

UAW Local 42 was set up in July to organize and represent workers at the VW plant in Chattanooga. It has been supported throughout their campaign by IG Metall, the Global Works Council at VW and by IndustriALL Global Union.

The Chattanooga plant is the only VW facility in the world without worker representation. Local 42 under the newly elected leadership of president Mike Cantrell and vice president Steve Cochran will take its place on the VW Global Works Council. Until now it has been the only plant not represented on the global body where workers and management regularly meet to set corporate policy.

Outside influence from well-funded anti-union lobby groups makes a free and fair workplace election impossible at VW in Chattanooga. For that reason the union is following a different organizing strategy to empower workers with a voice and industrial relations structure in their workplace.

Volkswagen is setting an industry example in defying anti-union politicians and other pressure in the Southern United States to work with the UAW and respect international labour standards. The UAW is also campaigning to organize workers in a hostile environment at Mercedes-Benz in Alabama, and Nissan in Mississippi.

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The Return Of The News International Dispute Exhibition

Wapping Flyer 2015 St Bride_Page_1

Wapping Flyer 2015 St Bride_Page_2

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Strikes At Trelleborg Industrial AVS : “Workers Feel Betrayed”

8144858-largeUnite members in Leicester UK employed by Trelleborg Industrial AVS who manufacture specialist components for construction vehicles, boats and rail are taking further strike action this week after staging strikes following the rejection of a 1.5% wage rise for 2014 and 2015.

Over 160 members of Unite, are taking part in a series of stoppages, as well as working to rule and refusing to work overtime following the imposition of below inflation pay offer by management at the Swedish owned firm.

Following a successful stoppage of work on November 14th more strikes are planned for later this week.

In a statement Unite says that members have worked hard to support the company, which has just won a lucrative contract with Bombardier, and accepted a pay freeze to get it back on track last year.

Yet, despite a record year, members have grown increasingly frustrated by the company’s refusal to engage in meaningful talks and address their concerns over pay.

Unite regional officer Lakhy Mahal said: “The workforce feel betrayed by the company’s refusal to recognise their hard work in getting the company back on track and achieving record sales.

“They’ve endured pay freezes and worked around the clock so that Trelleborg was in a position to secure the Bombardier contract. Yet all they get in return is a pay offer that amounts to a pay cut in real terms and refusal by management to meaningfully address their concerns over pay.

 “The company should be in no doubt of the workforce’s resolve which is underlined by the massive vote in favour of industrial action. Management need to engage in meaningful talks to resolve the dispute and give people a fair and decent pay rise.”

A Unite member working at the company told the local newspaper: “We are being forced to do this because the company will not listen to us. They have told us they want to keep wages down so we can stay competitive with China.”

Messages of solidarity and support can be sent  to Unite members via lakhy.mahal@unitetheunion.org

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Why Poor Whites Vote Against Their Interests

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Canadian Telecoms Union To Merge With Steelworkers

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Members of the Telecommunications Workers Union (TWU) in Canada have voted 73.7% in favour of joining the United Steelworkers (USW).

The TWU represents 12,000 members across Canada who work for telecommunications companies including TELUS and Shaw Communications, as well as employers in related telecommunications sectors and companies.

“This is a great result for our membership, our families and our communities across Canada.  This merger will help us improve the working lives of our members. It is a great step forward and there is a real sense of unity and excitement in our membership about the future,” ,” said TWU National President Lee Riggs.

“This merger is an example of a shared, positive vision for the labour movement: global, outward-looking and focused on concrete action. We are optimistic about the future and we’re honoured by the votes cast by so many TWU members,” said USW National Director Ken Neumann.

The merger agreement takes effect on January 1st, 2015, but both unions will kick off joint activities immediately. The agreement includes strong, mutual commitments around collective bargaining, education, organising and legislative action.

“With the USW’s extensive international network of allies and resources and the TWU’s deep expertise in the sector, our newly merged union can become a global leader in the telecommunications sector,” Riggs and Neumann said in a joint statement.

Balloting was conducted electronically, over a 24-day period, to facilitate participation by members in a wide array of workplaces, communities and shift arrangements.

The United Steelworkers in the USA and Canada and Unite the Union in the UK and Ireland created the global trade union Workers Uniting in 2008.

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Unite’s Howard Beckett : ‘Holiday Pay Ruling Will Not Open The Floodgates’.

This week there was an historic ruling that workers in the UK are entitled to have overtime and other payments included in their holiday pay calculations.

The ruling attracted much media attention.

It was a great win for workers – however the Government rushed into setting up a task force to look at how to limit the impact of the ruling and some employers and employers bodies warned of the end of civilisation as we know it, calling it a ‘nightmare’ and predicting bankruptcies and lay-offs.

It is worth remembering employers some did the same with the introduction of the national minimum wage and increased holidays emanating from the EU.

Other employers and employers bodies have taken the decision in their stride and said that they will comply with the ruling and get on with it and work with unions on the issue.

Howard Beckett, the legal director for Unite explained that the ruling by the employment appeal tribunal to include overtime in holiday pay will not open the floodgates to historic payments.

The ruling comes after some workers who are contractually obliged to work overtime were receiving less than their normal wage in holiday pay.

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Unite Takes On The Sun Over Smears

The Sun : This paper once again abuses its position in public life.

The Sun : This paper once again abuses its position in public life.

The Sun’s deliberate failure to allow Unite a defence following the paper’s recent attack on the union, and an opportunity to correct inaccuracies, has earned it a referral to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).

In its letter of complaint to the regulator, Unite highlighted a series of breaches to the code of conduct for editors within the article entitled ‘Unite and take over’, which The Sun published on 5th November.

The claims were further repeated in its editorial and on the Twitter feeds of the paper’s political team.

The union says that against the backdrop of an increasingly bitter pre-election period, it has no choice but to engage IPSO, urging it to act now to ensure newspapers operate within the code at all times.

Despite 28 mentions of Unite in the article, plus editorial and social media commentary, The Sun made no attempt whatsoever to seek a response to its allegations about the union.  Unite also claims the report is littered with misleading facts and inaccuracies.

When approached by Unite for an opportunity to correct the errors, The Sun failed to respond to the requests for a right of reply.

Commenting, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Such are the lengths that The Sun will go to smear Unite that it denies the union even a basic defence.  In so doing, this paper once again abuses its position in public life. 

“The Sun ignored the code of conduct governing our press because the rules would have impeded this latest slur on a union representing hundreds of thousands of decent working people.  It did so in a single-minded effort to undermine the elected leader of the Labour party, Ed Miliband.

“As the general election draws closer, we know it  will not be a fair fight such is the wealth amassed by one party and with the vast majority of the popular media in the pocket of the Conservative party.

“Against this backdrop, The Sun’s utter lack of respect for the regulator, and of the rules of accuracy and balance in our media, has serious, dangerous consequences for our democracy.

“We therefore urge the regulator to take steps now to prevent politically-motivated attacks, such as that on Unite, as we go into the bitter pre-election period.”

In its letter to the chair of IPSO, Unite states its belief that the paper violated clause 1 of the code of conduct for editors, saying:

“At no point prior to publication were we contacted about this article nor did the newspaper seek our comment despite the fact that Unite and the general secretary are mentioned a total of 28 times and that the lead editorial item of the paper questions the supposed inappropriate behaviour of the union.”

On being refused a right to reply, the complaint said: “We sought a remedy to our concerns on the morning of publication, setting out our concerns about the factual failures in the piece and questioning why we had not been approached for a comment that made serious allegations against the union; however, the paper refused to accept that we had a right to reply.

“The refusal of The Sun to either amend their inaccurate copy or supply the union with a right to reply is in clear breach of clause 1 section of the code of conduct.”

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Updated: 125,000 Take Part In Brussels Demo In Lead Up To General Strike.

AVC union leader Marc Leemans

AVC union leader Marc Leemans

Ahead of a General Strike called for December 15th, 125,000 workers and their supporters took to the streets of Brussels today (November 6th) to demonstrate against austerity policies being imposed by the Belgium government.

The police estimated the march as being 120,000 but Belgium trade unionists communicating on social mead and with this blog put the figure at 125,000.

Brussels20141106a-1Unions taking part included ACV-CSC, ABVV-FGTB and ACLVB-CGSLB.

The demonstration brought the centre of Brussels to a stand still and Belgium’s unions predicted a solid response will be forthcoming from unions for the General Strike.

Police were highly visible and turned water cannon on protestors as well as using tear gas.

Right wing media reports blamed dock workers for starting ‘violent clashes’ in the city centre.

09fcbd00-1700-425a-85f3-e819fbd0f4c1_othermainThe protest starts a month long campaign against Belgium’s right wing coalition, which wants to extend the pension age from 65 to 67, cut wages and public services.

Demonstrations will occur each week until the General Strike.

Rail companies also sold low priced tickets to increase protest numbers in the capital.

ACV union leader Marc Leemans said: “The signal is clear. People are angry, livid. This government’s policies are totally unbalanced.”

Morning Star report – click here.

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The MG Rover Phoenix Four must cough up

273214-157By Professor David Bailey

It’s almost a decade Since MG Rover went bust, and it’s time for the ‘Phoenix Four’ (plus one) group of directors to finally cough up.

The group has finally run out of excuses, and they are about to pocket another million quid each from the wreckage of the car crash that they presided over at MG Rover. They should hand it over to the ex-workers.

John Towers, Nick Stephenson, Peter Beale and John Edwards are in line for another payday as a result of the liquidation of MGR Capital, the car finance joint venture which was set up with HBOS.

The liquidator, Paul Stanley of Begbies Traynor, had banked more than £23 million from MGR Capital after MG Rover collapsed in 2005, but the cash had been trapped in legal limbo-land while the Pensions Regulator prepared a claim on part of the money.

A deal has been struck at last. Mr Stanley stated last week that £8 million had been paid to the pension scheme for former MG Rover management.

The remaining money, around £12 million, will be divided between the shareholders.

Mr Stanley couldn’t do anything else other than hand the money over, stating: “I do not have any options in law, all I can do in law is pay these people on the share register…I do not get a view on it, I do not get a moral standing on it. I have an obligation in law to pay out, no-one has discretion over this.”

That means more than a million pounds each for the Phoenix Four, plus MG Rover former chief executive Kevin Howe, thanks to their 49.9 per stake in MGR Capital, apparently held via a trust owned by Beale and Edwards. Nice work if you can get it.

News on this latest bonanza rubs salt in the wounds of 6,500 of ex-MG Rover workers who lost their jobs at Longbridge factory without any redundancy payment when the company went bust owing £1.4 billion. Our work tracking the ex-workers found what a struggle many of them and their families went through. While many of the ex-MG Rover workers did get back into work eventually, many were on much more precarious terms and with substantial cuts in incomes.

When the 2008-9 recession hit, many lost their jobs again. Many of the ex-workers have been in and out of employment repeatedly in the near decade since MG Rover went bust.

Contrast that with the pay-out bonanza enjoyed by the Phoenix Four-plus-one between 2000 and 2005. Remember that the Phoenix Four bought MG Rover for just a tenner from BMW back in 2000, with MG Rover coming with a £500 million dowry from the German car-maker.

The Four then set up a highly complex financial structure to move money around and extract value – to the tune of £42 million in salaries and pensions before the loss-making firm collapsed five years later.

A 2009 Department of Business report concluded that the five directors running carmaker MG Rover awarded themselves “unreasonably large” payouts, despite the fact that the risks they took were “relatively unsubstantial”.

Indeed, that 2009 BIS report noted that they “chose to give themselves rewards out of all proportion to the incomes which they had previously commanded, which were also large when compared with remuneration paid in other companies and which were not obviously demanded by their qualifications and experience”.

Meanwhile, the distribution of assets and liabilities in the complex group meant that assets could be allocated to non-MG Rover companies in the group, while MG Rover was made to bear liabilities that should have been borne by Phoenix.

Signs-on-the-gates-at-the-MG-Rover-plant-in-Longbridge

In addition, tax losses to which MG Rover was entitled were transferred to Phoenix.

The Four didn’t face any criminal charges as the complex financial structure they set up to extract value was cleverly designed and within the rules, but they were disqualified from being directors of any company for up to six years. After the latest pay out to the Phoenix Four, former MG Rover Trust Fund trustee Carl Chinn stated last week: “I am outraged and disgusted.

“If they had any honour, they would hand their money over to the workers who have lost so much. The workers gave everything to MG Rover and have been treated shabbily.”

Labour MP Richard Burdon, whose Birmingham Northfield constituency includes Longbridge, also said last week that the Phoenix Four should hand the money over to workers, stating that “they have a moral responsibility to pay up.”

They both have a strong point. When MG Rover collapsed the Pheonix Four pledged to set up a trust fund for the 6,500 former staff. When that pledge was first made, the Four did not attach any conditions to paying staff with the trust fund money. But so far the Phoenix Four have failed to cough up any money at all.

While there may be technical reasons as to why the Phoenix Four plus One couldn’t hand over funds for several years, you’d have thought that they could anyway dip into their own deep pockets. After all, they did manage to stash away £42 million during their five years at the helm.

And the latest pay-out to them anyway means that the Four – dubbed ‘the unacceptable face of capitalism’ when MG Rover went under – have now run out of excuses as to why they can’t honour their commitment to workers.

A million quid each from Towers, Stephenson, Beale, Edwards and Howe would be relatively small beer for them after all the money they extracted from MG Rover. But it would be a belated recognition of the very significant losses suffered by so many ex-workers.

And it would mean that the Phoenix Four finally honoured a promise they made to ex-workers back in 2005. It really is time for them to cough up.

Professor David Bailey, is Professor of Industry at Aston Business School

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