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  Issue No 79 Official Organ of LaborNet 24 November 2000  




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It's Only a Job

In a stunning new book, author Phil Thornton and photographer Paul Jones have combined to portray working life in all its diversity through the eyes of ordinary people like process worker Sharonak Shannon



Process worker

Sharonah Shannon stands on the line, shoulder-to-shoulder with two burly blokes. As a silver car-body slides between them, she quickly grabs a huge overhead welding gun and squeezes. A golden arch of fat burning sparks fly from the three guns, bouncing off her checked flannel-shirt. 'I wear long sleeved shirts because I've been burnt and on fire heaps of times. You feel a bit warm and look down to find half your shirt is missing. It doesn't cause much damage besides ruining your clothes,' she says.

Sharonah, 28, builds VT Commodores at Holden's vehicle assembly plant in the industrial suburb of Elizabeth, a 20-minute drive north of Adelaide. "It's not seen as a woman's job, but I love it. I feel it's an achievement' Sharonah says. 'The money is fantastic-last year I earned $45000 and this year, with overtime I hope to take home $50000.

Sharon says working on the process line means coping with repetivness and being flexible when asked to do boring jobs. 'The work is precise, you've got to be able to keep your mind on it, but it does wonder. I put myself on autopilot; think about what I'm cooking for tea or what I'm going to buy with my next wages'.

Sharonah did well in her year 12, but opted to be an invoice clerk with big w for five years instead of going to university. After the birth of her daughter, Taylor, she did a variety of casual jobs before getting a job in the noisy car factory. Now, having to wear steel-toed boots, work shirts and eye protection to work she says she has no regrets. 'I don't have to get dressed up nice to go to work. I don't worry about make up or nice hair or stuff like that. I can put on yesterdays clothes and nobody will notice or care, I like the way there's no airs or flares.'

Work on the process line is done in groups and it is important to fit in. 'If you don't blend in, you are not accepted. And if your not accepted you wont be helped or liked and you wont be able to fit in with your work group or mingle, have friends or get along with anyone.'

Even though Sharonah gets on well and loves her work, she's not prepared to cop every thing they dish up to her. 'The blokes know what they can and cant get away with. The older men are the worst. They throw a few lewd cracks, but I don't even hear it. I tell them to "eff off" - it works'

Being a woman working the line has not held Sharonah back. 'There's no resentment, 95 per cent of the guys will help you out if you need it. They know you're not there to show off or to be looked at, you're there to work, get paid and go home like the rest of them.' But she likes to have a woman around for emotional matters.

Sharonah does a verity of jobs, including six different welding tasks on the line. She does vehicle inspections to check cars for faults, and decides if the car is going to continue down the line. 'This is really important; I have to get it right. I look for any missing spot welds, holes blown in panels, missing sealer or any other damage done to the car. 'Don't ever buy a Monday car' she says with a mischievous laugh.

Behind Sharonah, a double row of big yellow robot arms waits for a silver car to stop on the 'j line'. Their long arms spring to life dipping in and out of windows, boots and delicately twisting without toughing the car body. Finding the weld spot, they send a 20-foot shower of hot metal skywards. 'They're fabulas to watch they seem to do their own thing, weld, weld, weld...move along...weld, weld, weld.

According to Sharonah, robots do what the workers cant do or cant do quickly enough she says workers tack the cars together and the robots do the heavy work, such as high welds, re spotting and the final weld that holds the car together. But there not all they cracked up to be 'sometimes I feel like kicking them each time the line breaks down it costs $4000 per minute, that's big money.'

Even though the robots do most of the repetitive work it hasn't prevented Sharonah or her workmates from getting injured. 'I'll stay here as long as my body copes with it. I've got a shoulder injury from repetitive movements, making my body do what it doesn't want to do. I can't do any outward lifting. The welding guns I use are hung high, you have to reach up and pull them down every 90 seconds.

Sharonah shift begins at 5:30 and finishes at 3:20 when she leaves to pick up her five-year-old daughter from the day centre. "It feels great at the end of the day. I crave to get in my car and not have the radio on, go home and have a shower with no light on.'

Getting tea ready, doing the washing, helping Taylor with her reading and studying for a vehicle industry certificate keeps the pressure on Sharonah as well. 'I look forward to getting away from the noise and the bights lights and going home to my family. I feel I'm a workaholic. All I do is work, eat, sleep and I'm still busy when I get home too, which sucks. But if I didn't have my job I'd be miserable _ working is healthy.

'It's Only a Job' by Phil Thornton AND PAUL Jones is published by New Holland


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 79 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Back on Track
After blowing the whistle on rail privatization, NSW Transport Minister Carl Scully is rebuilding bridges with the trade union movement.
*  Unions: The Problem with Organising
It may be the new mantra, but Brisbane Institute director Peter Botsman argues that organising may be the wrong to go for a movement attempting to attract a new breed of workers.
*  International: Burma: Workers Act on ILO Ruling
Energy workers' trade unions across the Asia-Pacific have urged Western oil and gas companies to "cease investment in Burma while the use of forced labour continues".
*  Economics: Rethinking Incomes Policy
While many have thrown incomes policy out with the Acoord bathwater, Graham White argues it still has a role to play.
*  History: What Goes Around Comes Around
Labor Council's Mark Lennon argues that while trade unions - and labour history - might be unfashionable, there's life left in both of them.
*  Education: Peas in a Pod
Both sides of politics must take blame for funding levels in our public schools, argues NSW Teachers Federation president Sue Simpson.
*  Satire: Hurley Rebukes Actors' Guild: I'm No Actor!
Liz Hurley has responded angrily to claims by actors that she crossed a picket line by filming an Estee Lauder ad.
*  Review: It's Only a Job
In a stunning new book, author Phil Thornton and photographer Paul Jones have combined to portray working life in all its diversity through the eyes of ordinary people like process worker Sharonak Shannon

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