A close vote by Port Kembla steelworkers to avoid strike action yesterday was evidence that BlueScope's "dirty tactics" had alienated employees, a union official said.
The decision by union members to return to work brings to an end a long-running series of strikes and industrial action at BlueScope’s Port Kembla facility, as workers negotiated for a new enterprise agreement with the company.
At least 1600 workers packed the Fraternity Club auditorium, spilling out into the corridors to hear the result of the latest round of negotiations in a long-running dispute between the union and the company.
On a recommendation by delegates from the Australian Workers Union, (AWU) the Australian Metal Workers Union and the Electrical Trade Union, the workers voted by a wide margin to accept the company's in-principle offer.
The offer included an 8 per cent pay rise over three years - though the union will push for a CPI increase if it is greater.
The company also agreed to back off on its planned changes to sick leave, a key sticking point for employees, as well as a decision to recognise departmental agreements in the new award.
However, a vote on whether to return to work at 11.30am yesterday or continue with the planned 24-hour stoppage was very contentious, with a large number of workers wanting to stay on strike.
BlueScope Steel declined to make a statement, pointing out that it was company policy not to comment on industrial negotiations.
The AWU branch secretary Wayne Phillips said the closeness of the vote was unusual and he claimed it showed the company's action during the dispute had put a lot of people offside.
"That shows how much the company has lost their credibility," Mr Phillips said.
"They (the workers) were ready to punch on."
Mr Phillips said BlueScope's attitude was quite different to in past disputes.
"The company has been up to all sorts of threats about closure, and about how the union has been leading them up the garden path," Mr Phillips said.
"The company really sought to use dirty tactics. We know management aren't on our side but they've turned their relationships with their workers back 20 years.
"The company has lost a lot of credibility."
Mr Phillips said that, overall, the agreement was a good result given the state of the steel industry.
"The money's crap but we understand that the industry is a hole," he said.
"We said all along our focus wasn't on going for the cash grab. It was about maintaining our conditions.
"With the shape of the industry today, with the steel industry in crisis, I think that we've done pretty well."