BlueScope workers have voted to swallow “a very bitter pill” to help keep the Port Kembla steelworks open.
At a 7am meeting on Thursday at the Fraternity Club more than 500 steelworkers showed up to vote on a proposal that would save the company money but cost them hard-won conditions.
In August, BlueScope CEO Paul O’Malley said $200 million in cost savings had to be found otherwise the steelworks would be mothballed.
This figure included 500 job losses.
In an effort to save as many jobs as possible, union officials looked for other ways to save money.
“Our aim was to save as many jobs as possible,” AWU Port Kembla secretary Wayne Phillip told the meeting.
This led to a proposal that would freeze wages for three years, allow for more flexible working arrangement and see sick pay on weekends and public holidays paid at the standard rate.
It would also see 228 of their workmates walk out the door – through either voluntary or forced redundancies.
There was anger directed at union officials, and it seemed the vote could go against the steelworks.
It was a concern that saw Mr Phillips beg people not to vote against the proposal.
“Don’t vote no, please don’t,” he said.
“It’ll be ‘see you in the dole queue’ if the no vote gets up.”
Mr Phillips also admitted the workers were being asked to eat a “shit sandwich”.
“But think about if it shuts – what will happen? Where are you going to get jobs paying $60-$70,000?”
Mr Phillips also said former ACTU secretary Greg Combet had gone through BlueScope’s books and said the financial straits the company was in were real.
About two hours after the start of the meeting, the proposal – which also called on the NSW government to provide “long-term monetary relief to this industry” – was put to a vote.
It passed by an overwhelming show of hands with only a few votes against.
South Coast Labour Council’s Arthur Rorris praised the sacrifice of the workers.
“They’ve taken a decision to swallow a very bitter pill and to shoulder an unfair responsibility for the rest of us,” Mr Rorris said.
“They’ve done it in a dignified way. They’ve done it in a unified way and they’ve sent a clear message to the community that they’ve done it not just for themselves but for the whole community, for the rest of us.”