More strikes likely for Bluescope workers

Port Kembla steelworkers will return to work this morning after rejecting a recommendation to cut yesterday’s 24-hour strike short and end rolling stoppages.

At a fiery mass meeting yesterday, hundreds of angry union members voted overwhelmingly to continue their planned full-day stoppage against BlueScope Steel, the first 24-hour strike in an industrial campaign that has dragged on for two months.

Union officials are now predicting further action at Port Kembla unless a deal can be struck with BlueScope before another mass meeting next week.

Australian Workers Union Port Kembla branch secretary Wayne Phillips said a resolution to cease industrial action yesterday afternoon had been ‘‘shot down in flames’’ at the meeting.

‘‘Members are a lot more angry than people have given them credit for,’’ Mr Phillips said.

‘‘They want their sick leave protected and they want us to pursue that as hard as we can.’’

BlueScope and unions have so far failed to strike a deal over new enterprise agreements.

Major outstanding issues include the company’s planned cuts to extended sick leave.

Mr Phillips said the upshot of yesterday’s meeting would be more 24-hour and 48-hour stoppages.

‘‘It just emphasises that the workers are prepared to stand up and do whatever it takes to protect their current conditions,’’ he said after the meeting.

‘‘It certainly shows that the staggering amount of propaganda that the company has put out and the scare tactics and the threats ... have totally backfired on them.

‘‘I haven’t seen members galvanise together this close... for many, many years.’’

Union negotiators will meet BlueScope management again today.

It is understood an agreement is close on the touchy subject of departmental agreements, which unions want to have included in the new award.

BlueScope again refused to comment on the dispute yesterday.

Electrical Trades Union organiser John Thornton agreed the campaign of rolling stoppages could escalate into more 24-hour and 48-hour strikes after yesterday’s meeting.

Unions would apply to Fair Work Australia to extend protected industrial action, he said.

Despite strong support for yesterday’s decision, not all steelworkers were happy.

AWU delegate Nelio Bisa said he believed the 24-hour strike was ‘‘unnecessary’’.

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