Interview: Australia’s Most Wanted
Industrial: The Fox and the Contractor
Unions: Industrial Wasteland
International: Two Bob's Worth
Economics: National Interest
Environment: The Real Dinosaur
History: Only In Spain?
Review: Clerk Off
Justice, Applied Liberally
Twenty years ago Carrington Rd, Marrickville, throbbed to the sound of a new society finding its feet. Today, as disillusioned survivors prepare for another meaningless shift, the silence is deafening.
"Don't go in there," a big East European voice warns, "it's too noisy."
"Wear your ear muffs," his Vietnamese mate adds.
The giant workshop houses dozens of green, industrial lathes, still and silent.
The notice board, where management once recorded orders and consignment numbers, hasn't been used for years.
Welcome to Tristar Steering And Suspension Australia Limited where Dickensian is rapidly giving way to Orwellian.
"I haven't turned on a machine for five weeks," big Simon Kokinovski explains. "But, every day I have to come here and do nothing, just so they can take my money and leave my wife and grandkids with nothing.
"I've worked here for 30 years but loyalty means nothing to these people.
"This is torture, mental torture. It's like, every day, we are going to gaol."
Kokinowski, a fit 63, was a teacher in his native Macedonia. He arrived in Australia in 1967 and took himself to night school to learn English.
In 1975, "when Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister" he started at the complex which stretches from Carrington Rd to the Bankstown rail line.
Kokinowski's two kids were born in Sydney as their dad carved out a new life as a skilled machinist.
It's a variation on the typical Tristar story.
When production was at its peak, around 1600 people made components for Australian-built vehicles.
Old school Aussies rubbed shoulders with newcomers from around the globe. Before long, many could swap greetings, and insults, in Italian, Greek, Fijian, Maori, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese or a range of east European tongues.
In 1999, their company was bought by a seemingly-reputable Adelaide-based operation, Arrowcrest.
Inside two years, with staff numbers down to 350, Tristar was national news.
Workers struck to secure their entitlements and Workplace Relations Minister, Tony Abbott, came out swinging, labelling them economic traitors.
Despite that, they secured a $17.5 million insurance bond to cover what they were owed.
Since Arrowcrest took over, Tristar hasn't sold a new contract. Quite the opposite, earlier this year, it lost its last deal, supplying Holden.
The redundancies came thick and fast. Today, all the activists and ringleaders from the 2001 dispute are gone - laid off or paid off.
All that's left are around 50 people who Tristar won't make redundant and won't provide work for.
They have been head-hunted from production lines and occupational groups across the 6-7 acre site. All they seem to have in common is grey hair and decades of loyalty.
Oh, and the biggest entitlements packages of all - sums they were shepherding towards retirement.
Many are desperately worried because their enterprise agreement expires on September 30 and, under John Howard's laws, the employer can apply to have it terminated.
The bond, guaranteeing their nest eggs, would evaporate with it, dropping them back to Howard's maximum GEERS payouts of 16 weeks.
AMWU organiser, Martin Schutz, says, some people are staring at the possibility of $160,000 retirment packages being carved back to around $12,000.
Tristar won't come clean. Verbal and written requests for information go unanswered.
So 50 people, rock up every day, pull on their overalls and sit around, worrying about kids, grandkids and mortgages.
Not all of them are like Kokinovski. Most talk, passionately, but want to remain anonymous.
One woman explains there were 10 people on her line. One day Tristar declared her nine workmates redundant but told the 33-year loyalist she had to stay.
"On my line there were seven people," a colleague says. "One day, they make six people redundant but leave me here because I have 22 years service.
"That's how it happens."
A metal machinist says he walks around doing nothing.
He's been at Tristar for 36 unbroken years and has 1440 hours stacked up in long service, annual and sick leave.
"That's my retirement, I have to come in to protect that," he explains.
Other men want to show you where they worked. They pick up steering rods and try to explain how they work. There's not much else to do.
Some talk about the good times, the jokers, and the pranks they pulled before OH&S became a big deal.
We walk through the workshop without challenge. There isn't a boss to be seen.
"I leave home happy," one woman says, "I come here and get sick.
"You know the problem? The problem is, they never talk, ever since they take over.
"We don't mind if they call us stupid people or whatever, just tell us what is going on.
"This company told the Commission they are doing the old people a favour because they won't find other jobs but that's not the truth.
"What's true is, they owe us money and they won't pay it.
"We don't want favours from them. We just want what we are owed."
She prods her mate - go on, tell your story.
Slowly, her friend starts off.
"I have been in Australia 40 years and have four children, two children while I work here," she says.
"When my daughter was born I worked to eight and a half months. I came back when she was six weeks old.
"We missed holidays because they said they needed me. I am a religious person but I come and work for them on Sundays.
"When I work, I think this company a nice company and they help me grow up my kids.
It's hard to believe, they take this from us."
She's weeping, openly.
"What I do? I have only my two hands to keep working for my family and I work hard. We need two people working.
"Now, my poor husband, he asks why I cry and I stressed. I say, if we lose this money, how we survive?
"I know it's not me. It's not me, the problem, it's the way they treat me."
She's 58 but looks older. She is being treated for stress and fluid in her legs and has dropped 20kg since the redundancies started.
Two of her colleagues have had heart attacks.
None of them are confident. But, every day, they put on their overalls and turn up - just in case.
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