You can get it behind the wicket, or you can get it on the picket.
And workers at Melbourne’s CUB Factory have got it now, having secured a huge union win in one of the country’s longest running industrial disputes.
After exactly 6 months of boycott, beers like VB, Melbourne Bitter, Carlton Draught are back in unionists’ fridges this summer, as AMWU and ETU members at CUB in Melbourne secured a victory in time for Christmas.
Members held their heads high as the win came down, vindicated in standing strong for their rights. By the end, management of CUB-InBev buckled to all of the union’s demands: all workers able to go back to work (should they choose) on their original pay and conditions, a guarantee of no involuntary redundancies and any new contractor must meet the existing conditions. The temporary non-union workforce employed by the company will be leaving very soon.
State Secretary Steve Dargavel paid tribute to the CUB 55, the entire union movement, and the support of the general public.
“The members on the picket are the ones that held this together and their strength and endurance has been tremendous. But the support flowing in from fellow union members across the entire movement was critical, as was the work and support from friends and supporters in the general public.
“The Boycott Campaign took on a life of its own and this was a huge lynchpin to our success. We want to thank every person in Australia that chose not to drink CUB as a sign of their solidarity for the rights of these workers.
“We’re delighted that there’s now no beer off limits over the summer season – but even more importantly, that these guys stood strong, and that they got the result they deserved!”
Bitter Victorians: A long fight finally over
The dispute was long, cold and hard – workers at the CUB brewery in Abbotsford, Victoria, started picketing the plant in June 2016, when the company sacked 55 maintenance workers, all AMWU and ETU members. Non-union replacement workers were brought in.
The sacked workers were given the option of applying for their jobs through a new contractor – doing the same job for up to 65 per cent less pay. They refused – and were thrown out into the coldest, wettest winter Melbourne had seen for years.
It became the site of Australia’s most high-profile industrial dispute for many years.
AMWU Delegate Chris Brown became one of the public faces of the battle. He says the mood on the picket line was strong throughout the dispute, with workers confident they would get a positive result.
“Over the months morale stayed high,” Chris says. “It was really tough, but the support rolling in from union members and the everyday public was extraordinary.”
Dispute Exposes Sham Agreements
The battle with CUB wasn’t just about the sacked 55 workers. This dispute has exposed big flaws in the Fair Work system that allows sham ‘Trojan Horse’ agreements to undermine genuine agreements with real workers.
In the case of the CUB maintenance workers, an agreement struck by a company with just three casual workers in Perth two years ago was used as the basis of the deal between CUB and the contracted labour hire firm, Programmed Skilled.
An investigation by the ABC Radio program Background Briefing tracked down the worker who signed the original Enterprise Agreement – a 23 year-old who only worked for the company for six days, and who readily admitted that he didn’t understand what he was signing.
“It’s pretty blurry; I didn’t really know much about it,” he told Background Briefing. “I just sort of signed it because they asked me to do it."
Using this dodgy agreement, Programmed Skilled was able to pitch for the CUB work promising to dramatically reduce labour costs.
As it turned out, Programmed Skilled bit off more than it could chew. By the end of August it decided to pull out of the agreement with CUB.
But instead of reinstating the workers on their former pay and conditions, CUB kept the plant running on a minimum maintenance schedule.
AMWU Victoria State Secretary Steve Dargavel said the CUB dispute, along with the recent behaviour of companies such as Griffin Coal in WA and Esso in Victoria, has sparked a Senate inquiry into the legal loopholes companies use to avoid their responsibilities under the Fair Work Act.
“Too often we are seeing situations like this where companies use labour hire firms or dodgy manipulations of the Fair Work Act to come in and slash the pay and conditions of workers.
“These practices need to be stamped out, and we’ll be fighting every step of the way.”
Beer sales go flat
The CUB maintenance workers received enormous support from trade unionists and everyday beer drinkers around the country.
A campaign to get consumers to boycott CUB products took off. CUB-Free Grand Final day parties were held right around the country, and people pledged to have a CUB Free Melbourne Cup. With each passing week more people became aware of the boycott campaign. The campaign was ready to continue with a CUB Free Christmas and CUB Free Summer when the company called a truce.
Chris Brown said the support was overwhelming.
“Everyone was right behind us. We received support locally, nationally, and internationally, with messages of solidarity coming from around world.
“Even pubs got in on the act, with many turning off their CUB taps to show their support. It was amazing.”
In the meantime, Chris says the workers got a taste for local boutique brews.
“We even had a craft beer festival down here, and some of them have grown on us!
“But more importantly, we knew that sticking together and holding tight would see a victory in the end – and it did. It wasn’t easy but together we are the union, and together we saw it through.”
Workers Win Big
CUB workers won:
- Every worker able to return if they desire
- Their original pay and conditions
- No Involuntary redundancies
- Any new contractors must meet these conditions
- Temporary non-union workforce will be leaving