|Issue No 94||04 May 2001|
'Workers Bank' Protest Rally Backs Cleaners
By Andrew Casey
Workers angry at one of the key promoters of a so-called 'workers bank' staged a rally outside the Melbourne head office of AXA Australia today.
Several unions sent representatives to the rally to show solidarity with the LHMU Cleaners Union who are at the centre of a nearly six week long dispute at the Collins St Melbourne head office of AXA.
On Thursday night the Victorian Trades Hall Council discussed the dispute and its ramifications for a continuing relationship between the union movement and Members Equity.
ACTU President, Sharan Burrow, has said she supports the LHMU in this dispute even though AXA Australia is playing a key role in helping the ACTU and the Union Super Funds to set up Members Equity as a 'workers bank'.
ACTU intervention with senior AXA Australia people has not helped to resolve the dispute.
" AXA Australia - a French-owned multinational finance conglomerate - is earning millions of dollars off the backs of working peoples' super funds, but they want to get rid of nine LHMU cleaners and save $200,000 in cleaning costs," Vaska Dervisovski, the LHMU Cleaners Union organiser said.
" Our rally was organised following the break down of negotiations yesterday between the union, AXA Australia, and the cleaning contractor, the Australian-owned Prestige Property Services. "
Talks started on Tuesday - May Day - between the union and the companies involved in the dispute, but they have now completely collapsed.
" Even though the dispute is nearly six weeks old Tuesday was the first time that AXA Australia representatives agreed to meet with the union and the cleaning contractor," Vaska Dervisovski said.
" Despite AXA Australia's claims to the contrary they are directly responsible for the working conditions of the cleaning workers. It is the finance company who sets the conditions under which the cleaning contracter operates, " Vaska Dervisovski said.
" The continuing crisis at AXA Australia reflects badly on the image of AXA as an employer who boasts close links to national union leaders."
The LHMU Cleaners Union members have been involved in an almost daily protest outside the AXA office ever since the company decided to order the cleaning contractor, Prestige Property Services, to cut the hours and the number of workers employed.
Second AXA dispute
This is the second time this year that the LHMU has been involved in a dispute with AXA Australia.
In Sydney, the company sold for $108 million the upmarket Wentworth Hotel. As part of the 'sale price' AXA Australia agreed to sack 20 hotel workers before the new owner took over the hotel property.
In February, after vigorous protest and community outrage that workers jobs should be sold as a condition of the sale, AXA backed down.
The Melbourne dispute has seen some quite imaginative campaigning.
LHMU Cleaners Union members hand out latex gloves, and on other days green garbage bags, stapled to information leaflets - informing the 1600 office workers in the building of new possible health hazards caused by the cutbacks.
Support for cleaners
Inside the building Finance Sector Union activists have lent their support by sending out e-mails to all the 1600 workers giving them regular updates on the LHMU Cleaners Union dispute and suggesting imaginative ways they can show their support to the cleaners.
The cleaners have even received international support. The dispute in Melbourne was raised by a French union delegate at the AXA European Works Council, which is a legally established forum of union and management representatives.
The Swiss-based international federation of unions - UNI - with 1000 world-wide affiliates and 15 million members represents both cleaners' and finance workers' unions.
UNI has sent a number of protest notes to AXA Australia supporting LHMU cleaners. They have noted that AXA is a French multinational, with UNI affiliated unions representing their workforce, and they have AXA members around the world who are closely watching the Australian dispute.
Send a message to AXA
You too can show your support by sending a message to Les Owens, the boss of AXA Australia, by clicking here.
And don't forget to send a copy of your message to the LHMU's Vaska Dervisovski at: mailto:[email protected]
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