|Issue No 2||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."
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005