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Vol.64/No.7      February 21, 2000 
Australia: textile workers protest layoffs  
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RUTHERFORD, Australia—Sacked workers at National Textiles here set up a picket line at the factory gate January 25. The union members are waging a fight for $A11 million ($A1= US$.63)in entitlements owed to them after the company announced four days earlier that the business was unsustainable. The bosses shut the gates and appointed an administrator.

Workers are maintaining a round-the-clock picket line to prevent the company from removing machinery and other assets. The pickets are mainly members of the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia, but also from the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, and the Electrical Trades Union.

The workers are entitled to pay from unused sick days, annual holiday pay, and long service leave pay, as well as redundancy (severance) pay. Such payments for workers designated as "permanent" in each industry or workplace are the product of collective bargaining by unions won over decades. At National Textiles, one worker with 40 years' service said he estimated that he was entitled to $A83,000 in entitlements but that the company says he will receive no more than $A20,000.

The show of support for this fight is evident at the tents set up at the factory gates. Tables and refrigerators are full of food dropped off by individuals, groups, and small businesses in the community. Personal cash donations have been collected at the picket line from residents, taxi drivers, and other workers.

National Textiles, with more than 300 workers, is one of the major employers in a region already hard hit by closings of most of the BHP Newcastle steelworks, as well as other factories, coal mines, and government and banking services.

A busload of wharfies (dockworkers), members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), from the nearby port of Newcastle, marched up to the gates and pledged their support January 31. Collections have been held at different MUA-organized facilities in Sydney and Newcastle. Wharfies across three shifts at Patrick stevedores' container terminal at Port Botany in Sydney collected more than $A1,100, as did workers at the P&O-owned CTAL container terminal.

At a meeting of creditors at the Newcastle Workers' Club January 28, the workers were told that they might have to wait up to two years to receive a maximum of half the redundancy money they are owed.

The chief executive of National Textiles, Derek Hodge, told the workers that if creditors agreed, a deed of arrangement would be signed in the next few weeks, after which about $A3 million worth of entitlements would be paid to the sacked workers. Then in the next 12 to 18 months, when the sale of equipment was finalized, redundancy payments would be paid at a maximum of 50 cents on the dollar.

Toni Oszko is a grader who worked at the plant for 16 years. She said, "They're chipping away [at our rights and conditions]. It's frightening. In another 10 years, we don't know where we'll be." Karl Oszko, a textile mechanic with 36 years' service with the company, added, "It's only a promise, but no one's going to be able to collect on it."

Graham Schuler has worked for nine years at the plant as an electrician and is an Electrical Trades Union delegate. He explained, "We reject their offer of 50 percent. We expect to get our full redundancy payments and we're willing to fight for it." Several pickets said their line would stay up until there was "good news."

Doug Cooper is a member of the Maritime Union of Australia. Ron Poulsen, also a member of the MUA, contributed to this article  
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