Morris McMahon and Co. Pty Ltd Industrial Dispute
|About this Item||Subjects||Industrial Disputes; Trade Unions
||Speakers||Primrose The Hon Peter
||Commentary|| Employee Entitlements Scheme
The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE [5.33 p.m.]: Honourable members will recall that I have previously raised in the House the industrial dispute at Morris McMahon Pty Ltd. Indeed, I raised the matter in question time today. The dispute is now entering its twelfth week. About 50 workers are still on the picket line outside the factory at Arncliffe. A number of workers are inside the factory, most of whom are supplied through a professional strikebreaking company. The exact number of these workers is unknown because they are delivered each day to the factory in a bus with the windows blacked out.
Unlike the thugs and goons used by strikebreaking companies in previous disputes that I have drawn to the attention of the House, such as the infamous Patricks and Joy disputes, the workers who are employed by the company to break the picket in this dispute are not ideologues or highly paid professional strikebreakers themselves. Instead, they are generally recruited from the local long-term unemployed who are desperate for any sort of work to feed their families. Daily they endure the shame of crossing a picket line of other workers because they are forced by poverty and Federal legislation to accept any job that is offered or risk losing their benefits.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that the gap between the rich and the poor in Australia has never been wider. The picket line at Morris McMahon is what this statistic means in real life: 50 Australian men and women who, despite the fact that they work, are paid so little that they are in grinding poverty; and 50 other Australians who are forced by poverty to confront each other in a degrading ritual every morning and afternoon across a picket line of union flags.
That is what industrial relations means to Tony Abbott—a war of attrition between the immense personal and corporate wealth, lawyers and public relations company of Judith Beswick, who is herself a lawyer with her own law firm, and 50 workers who want the right to an enforceable, registered collective agreement and a decent living wage to support their families. As has been stated on transcript by numerous commissioners in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, Tony Abbott's Government has stripped the Industrial Relations Commission of the resources and power it needs to intervene and help to resolve disputes such as that at Morris McMahon.
Indeed, while the Federal Minister accepted a challenge to visit the picket line, he refused to assist in negotiating any resolution to the protracted dispute. He also admitted to the media that he did not know what could only be described as fairly fundamental details of his own Workplace Relations Act, including that the company did not have to negotiate with its employees in good faith. The Minister made great play in the media about promising to speak with Ms Beswick. However, when the microphones and cameras were not there he told one worker that he should forget about trying to resolve the dispute and "Go get another job". So much for his claim to be the Minister for employees and employers!
However, Tony Abbott can claim some success from his industrial relations policies. Clearly, there is a group of enterprising individuals out there who have recognised a niche market. They have a ready supply of desperately poor workers and Federal legislation to force them to work under any circumstances, and an increasing number of industrial disputes with no alternative form of resolution other than pitched battle. This is a fertile field for thugs and other criminals looking for money-making opportunities. And as the musclebound, pumped up manager of the particular company involved at Morris McMahon told a prospective new employee:
We don't need to advertise—we provide a specialised service and there's plenty of work, just by word of mouth.
Indeed, Judith Beswick has employed a representative from the strikebreaking company as her crisis manager during this dispute. So the person who stands to gain most financially from a protracted dispute is the same person advising Ms Beswick on how to handle the dispute. Talk about putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank! This is a clear conflict of interest. The current Federal Government has a blueprint for this country. It dresses up the blueprint by talking about "flexibility", "freedom to negotiate" and other so-called freedoms. It accuses union officials of being ideologues, as if it were not. However, the dirty little secret of the Federal Government's ideology is the hardship that ordinary Australian workers and their families are forced to suffer.
I am certain that this dispute will be raised again in this place. However, I shall finish this evening by putting on record—and I am sick to the stomach to report this—that one security manager employed to deal with the dispute has approached a young female worker on the picket and threatened her, in very graphic and specific details, with rape. While there is possibly no more frightening or intimidating threat that a man can make to a woman, the particular woman involved is from a cultural background where this has even more horrific implications, if that is possible. Violence of any sort against women, and sexual violence in particular, is the most gross and degrading form of intimidation. This obscene and vile threat by a man in a position of power against a woman whom he perceives as being without power is contemptible. I advise the House that legal advice and counselling have been arranged for this woman and her family.