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  Issue No 2 Official Organ of LaborNet 26 February 1999  





How Much Can A Koala Bear?

By Troy Burton, TUTA Organiser

Workers at a Sydney hotel show how pulling together to stand up to management can lead to better hours and even regular pay-packets.

Two months ago workers at the Oxford Koala Hotel in Kings Cross were on the edge of despair.

Wages were being paid increasingly late and were frequently wrong, an aggressive management style was intimidating workers, workloads seemed to be ever-increasing, and many workers had begun to despise having to go to work.

Over the Christmas period, workers felt that they were being exploited on public holidays. They were not happy with the way they were paid (despite management reassurances prior to working), and they were faced with enormous, unrealistic workloads when they did work.

During this period a number of workers decided that enough was enough. Having seen the results of individuals who complained or stood up to management, they realised that the only way you make any real changes was to get everyone to stick together. In cooperation with organisers from the LHMU they began to organise their workplaces.

Whilst everyone agreed that things were bad and needed to change, there was a lot of fear about management reprisals, which made people reluctant to act or become involved.

Active members started to encourage others to join the union and attend meetings, while the union organisers talked to workers away from work, and assisted the activists develop ways of communicating with all the workers. Through organising the workplace and making sure everyone was kept informed and listened to, workers at the Oxford Koala were able to build confidence in each other and their ability to act collectively, and support each other in the face of hostile managers.

As initial effort to stand up to management by setting limits to workloads proved difficult to sustain, as individual workers were left open to intimidation. During discussions about these difficulties, members decided that future actions would have to be designed to ensure that no individual could be left exposed to management.

With the Australia Day holiday approaching, it was decided that in the absence of specific written guarantees from management about the payments for, and the workloads on, the public holiday, that would all refuse to work the day.

When management was unwilling to give these guarantees, the workers made good their promise and enjoyed Australia Day with their family and friends. Management was forced, at considerable expense, to rely on contractors to staff the hotel. As a result, management has now entered into discussions to avoid the situation arising in the future.

Despite the initial intimidation and fears, workers at the Oxford Koala are glad they had the courage to stand up to unreasonable conditions. As one Oxford Koala LHMU member said:

"We still have a lot of work to do, and there are things that we are still unhappy and concerned about, but at least now we are standing together and working to improve things.

"Management still doesn't like listening to us, but now they know they have to."


*    To find out more about the LHMU, visit their website

*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 2 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Checking the Spellar
We talk to a former union official who is now a minister in the Blair Government about the difficult relationship between New Labour and the labour movement.
*  Unions: Working It Out
NSW trade unions have embraced a movement-wide campaign to deal with the vexed issue of ensuring workers have a life.
*  History: Remembering The Eveleigh Railway Workshops
The Eveleigh railway yards have a rich history which your average commuter would never imagine.
*  Review: Opening Tanner's Australia
Lindsay Tanner's new book offers a frank and forthright view of the future for Australia.
*  Campaign Diary: Carr And The Unions
No-one would accuse the Premier and the labour movement of being bossum buddies, but their fortunes are inextricably linked.

»  Revealed: Reith Defies Own Pollster To Bash Unions
»  What's Going Down at Gordonstone?
»  VSU To Stop The Music
»  Employment Advocate Dines Out, But Not A Sausage For Workers
»  Union Interpreter Translates The Word “Exploit”
»  How Much Can A Koala Bear?
»  Botsman Shifts North To Tame The Rednecks

»  Guest Report
»  Sport
»  Trades Hall
»  Piers Watch

Letters to the editor
»  No Fan of Piers
»  Don't Be Glib
»  EMILY's List International Women's Day bash

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