||Issue No. 186||11 July 2003|
Beyond the Possible
Interview: As They Say In The Bible ...
Industrial: Just Doing It
Unions: Breaking Into the Boys Club
Activists: Making the Hard Yards
Bad Boss: In the Pooh
Unions: National Focus
Economics: Pop Will Eat Itself
Technology: Dean for President
International: Rangoon Rumble
Education: Blackboard Jungle
Review: From Weakness to Strength
The Locker Room
Stop Thief: Shelf Company Owes Millions
Metro Shelf, the most public face of the Metro Group of Companies who manufacture supermarket supplies for the likes of Coles and Woolworths, went into administration yesterday, owing around $30 million to banks alone.
Down the gurgler with Metro went around $1.6 million in owed entitlements and at least $700,000 in super contributions, unpaid for the past year in contravention of existing law.
Metro had been negotiating a new EBA with unions, including the AMWU, AWU and CFMEU for the past three months, without tipping off anyone to its true financial position.
The company predominantly manufacutures supermarket trolleys with a workforce of around 90 people, the majority of whom are Vietnamese Australians. It has kept on 20 people in an effort to trade its way out of administration which unions label "optimistic".
AMWU secretary, Paul Bastian, said the time had come for Federal Government to "get serious" about protecting workers' money.
His union is insisting on a three-pronged approach to protect super and entitlements, whilst ensuring that directors of bust companies don't continue to run other businesses into the ground.
The AMWU recipe calls for:
- workers' money to be put beyond the reach of employers through industry funds such as NEST
- reverse onus on directors of companies in administration or receivership, requiring them to prove their "hands are clean" before they can act as directors of other businesses
- the ability to extract money owed from related companies, based on shared directorships
"The law has to change because ASIC isn't interested in chasing these bastards, even when there is evidence in creditors' reports of illegal activities. ATSIC only follows through on the cases it considers sexy," Bastian says.
"Metro Shelf is not a one-off case. It is happening all the time and our people are losing out."
Meanwhile, he says, time and again, directors get to keep big houses, flash cars and continue operating other businesses.
Between December, 2001, and December, 2002, 6000 Australian businesses failed, costing 55,000 workers their jobs and many of them their entitlements.
Metro Shelf is one of a number of companies operated by Hommous Khoshaba, and Paul and Craig Coughlan. They have set up an intricate web of business relationships which can see workers at the same site, doing the same job, employed by different legal entities in a reminder of the notorious Patrick arrangement, green-lighted by the Howard Government.
Metro companies were involved in a spectacular dispute with the CFMEU four years ago. Workers and students picketed Woolworths stores to prevent the company dumping regular employees in favour of labour hire casuals.
Two years ago, sacked AMWU members struck and picketed for months before winning reinstatement and significant financial compensation.
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