||Year End 2003|
Interview: Robbo’s Rules
Unions: Fightback 2003
Bad Boss: Madame Lash Whips Tony
Politics: United Front
Economics: Looking Back - Looking Forward
International: Net Benefits
History: The New Guard
Poetry: What is the PM singing this Christmas?
Review: Culture That Was
The Locker Room
Backs to the Wall
Looking The Otherway At Christmas
Madame Lash Whips Tony
She's back - Judith Beswick and her can manufacturing outfit, Morris McMahon - have their names back in lights as winners of the second annual Tony Award.
Last time Beswick featured on our pages she threw a Queen-sized tanty, refusing to settle even though an agreement had been reached with AMWU representatives. The Clarence St lawyer wouldn't sign-off until Workers Online removed the announcement of her Bad Boss nomination from its website.
We complied but six months down the track experienced IR judges have put Morris McMahon back on our radar. Their unanimous vote saw the company beat off strong competition from TeleTech, Sydney City Council, Sunnybrand Chickens, Metro Shelf and building company, PTV, to walk away with the 2003 Tony.
NSW Labor Council secretary, John Robertson, said the company had "impressed" by
- rejecting employees' vote for a union agreement
- refusing to negotiate with their democratically chosen
representative, the AMWU
- busing scabs through picket lines
- secretly filming employees and their supporters
- offering lump sum inducements to lure workers onto non-union, individual contracts
- blocking the return of elected job delegates
"It was a textbook case of an employer attempting to break a union so it could erode wages and conditions and provide workers with only one choice - take it or leave it," Robertson said.
"It was a testimony to the strength and unity of the workforce, their union, and their many supporters that, after four months, they won a union-negotiated agreement and a fair pay rise."
For 16 weeks, employees determined to be represented by a collective, union agreement picketed the premises. There were claims and counter claims. The dispute entered mainstream news being cited as a "classic example" of the power imbalance created by the Howard Government.
Morris McMahon called in consultants, Professional Public Relations, to spin their line in the court of public opinion, while picketers were backed by other workers, including MUA members at nearby Port Botany and CFMEU activists.
But it wasn't just Labor Council who would pass judgement on the company and its tactics. Both the industrial umpire and the state's Industrial Relations Minister were moved to comment.
IRC Commissioner Munro was highly critical of Morris McMahon's behaviour. He lamented the federal system's failure to provide adequate redress.
Munro wrote that Beswick's company had engaged in "practise that is not fair labour process" and had "not bargained in good faith with representatives of the bulk of its employees."
It was, he said, "appropriate to place on record that in my view the company, by its bargaining conduct, has contributed to or engaged in a form of conduct that would merit sanction or prevention if relevant powers or defences were available".
At the height of the dispute, NSW IR Minister, John Della Bosca, pointed the finger at the company's refusal to deal with the AMWU. "This is", Della Bosca said, "despite the AMWU being a bona fide negotiating party under the federal Workplace Relations Act."
At the end, Morris McMahon's one unflinching ally was the then Workplace Relations Minister. When Tony Abbott fronted up to employees on the picketline he endorsed their rights to join a union and negotiate a collective agreement. By the time he had got back to his office, however, he appeared to have changed his tune.
"Given that the company is operating more or less successfully, why should it be forced to do a deal with a union, which it for some reason, I think some understandable reasons, has some animosity towards?" Abbott asked.
The Tony, of course, was struck to commemorate Abbott's belligerent defence of bad employers - "like a bad father ... etc, etc" . It was appropriate, then, that it should go to a company that used his laws and his public support to such ends.
Workers Online trusts Ms Beswick will get satisfaction from her Monk.
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