Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Radio Rentals locks out workers

Radio Rentals stores in Adelaide were the site of community protests last Saturday. During the week, management at the electrical retailers began a lockout of technicians who had voted in a secret ballot to take strike action against the company’s refusal to negotiate a collective agreement. The company is also taking action in the Federal Court against 13 workers who attended an after-hours protest about their treatment while still wearing their uniform. The company is determined to make the most of the Howard Government’s IR legislation to step up the exploitation of its workforce.

Instead of negotiating a collective agreement, Radio Rentals sought to impose Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) that would strip the workers of long-held entitlements and offer an insulting one percent pay rise. In real terms this amounts to a wage reduction of three percent when price rises over the past 12 months are taken into consideration. In fact it is worse than that. The technicians have not had a pay increase for three years.

Changes to redundancy payments would cheat a number of long-time employees out of tens of thousands of dollars. The previous arrangement – which allowed four weeks pay for each year of service – would be replaced by AWAs which cap payouts at 16 weeks pay after nine years of service before being reduced to 12 weeks for those with 10 or more years with the firm. Radio Rentals would clearly like to slap a “use by” stamp on its technical staff!

The company has also “offered” a contract with a 2.5 percent pay increase on condition that the workers submit to production targets considered impossible by its experienced technicians.

Radio Rentals has responded to widespread sympathy for the workers with a one-page advertisement in last Saturday’s Advertiser. The statement sought to isolate the 16 technicians holding out against the degrading AWAs from the rest of the stores’ employees. It also tried to distance the company from the Howard Government by saying that the infamous WorkChoices had not been used during the war being waged on its workers and that it had relied instead on the 1996 Workplace Relations Act – ignoring the fact that this was another piece of Howard anti-worker thuggery!

The workers were obliged to submit to a WorkChoices-mandated secret ballot to take their first industrial action against Radio Rentals – a four-hour stoppage last Thursday. All but one voted in favour of the action which was eventually deemed “protected” by the Industrial Relations Commission.

The open letter pedalled the line that the company pays “vastly better” than the award. There is no appropriate award for these workers. The one that is applied has standard pay rates of $16 an hour – a completely unrealistic figure for the highly skilled workers. The letter also contains a Goebbels-like call to the workers to surrender: “No-one needed to lose a single dollar of pay. Radio Rentals does not want to lock out its employees. These 16 can return to work as soon as they and the union withdraw the industrial action.”

The workers are not impressed. The company’s Prospect store has been the site of frequent protests since management sacked three workers (the union delegate and two other activists) and sought to inflict the AWAs on the technicians. A fortnight ago, an early morning gathering concluded with the workers tearing up their unsigned contracts and throwing them in a bin carrying a sign “Howard – only looking after big business”. Opposition leader Kim Beazley attended the protest and pledged that a future Labor Government would rip up WorkChoices. He declared the ALP “the party of collective bargaining”.

SA State Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), John Camillo, has put out the call for continued community support. “AMWU members at Radio Rentals need your moral and financial support to help protect their rights at work as they stand up to this attack from their employer and the Howard Government’s anti-worker industrial laws”, he said during the week.

More protests outside the Prospect store are set down for this week including one at 12.30 on Thursday where AMWU National Secretary Doug Cameron will speak. Meanwhile, a fund has been established to make up the pay of the technicians being locked out by Radio Rentals. Donations can be made at:

National Australia Bank
Account name: AMWU Dispute Fund
BSB: 082-057
Account No: 86-239-3418


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