Industrial relations between BlueScope Steel and unions have reached an ‘‘all-time low’’ after a clash in Fair Work Australia, a union heavyweight says.
Australian Workers’ Union Port Kembla branch secretary Wayne Phillips lashed out at the steelmaker yesterday for using ‘‘delaying tactics’’ to stall the union’s application for a workers’ vote that would authorise strike action.
The matter was adjourned after the company opposed the planned protected action ballot, he said.
The delay comes after the industrial umpire this week approved ballots for three other steelworkers’ unions, overcoming BlueScope’s objections in each case.
Mr Phillips said the AWU - the biggest union at the Port Kembla steelworks - had engaged a barrister and the matter would be settled on Monday.
‘‘They know we’re going to get it up and this is just trying to delay it as much as possible,’’ he said.
If approved, workers could vote for a range of legal actions from brief, one-hour stoppages to overtime bans and longer strikes.
The industrial relations landscape at BlueScope has soured in recent months after unsuccessful enterprise agreement talks.
Union leaders are now talking about combined strike action with a growing air of certainty, despite the fact workers are yet to vote.
Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union organiser Brad Hattenfels said industrial action was a last resort. But he felt it was ‘‘extremely likely’’ if the company didn’t shift in several key areas of contention.
Talks between unions and BlueScope over a new enterprise bargaining agreement began in February.
They recommenced last month after a long delay, but major differences in opinion quickly emerged.
Unions claim the company’s offer attacks conditions including sick leave, job security clauses and dispute-settling procedures.
‘‘We’re going to do everything we can to try to resolve the issues but we’re not going to sell out the things we’ve won in the past - that’s been made clear to the company from the word go,’’ Mr Hattenfels said.
BlueScope has a policy not to comment on industrial relations matters.
Mr Phillips was confident the AWU would succeed in its ballot application and said the delay had made action more likely.
‘‘We’ve done meetings on most areas across the site, the Springhill site and the whole steelworks itself, and every single department we’ve been to people overwhelmingly are saying we want to give the company a belt,’’ he said.
Meantime, in a separate industrial dispute, Roads and Maritime Services workers returned to work yesterday after an illegal blockade of the Russell Vale depot.
An RMS spokeswoman said workers would be docked a day’s pay as the action was not authorised. Further talks will take place between RMS and unions.