Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Industrial Disease

The big industrial relations news in Victoria this morning seems to be the closure of the Geelong Wool Combing (GWC) plant, with the loss of 93 jobs. There's been a lot of finger pointing on ABC radio this morning, with GWC's chief executive Leigh Schmitt blaming the intransigence of the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA), while TCFUA secretary Michele O'Neil has pointed the finger right back.

Mr Schmidt's position was endorsed by our trusty, tolerant Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello. He also took the opportunity to reject allegations that the closure might be a result of the Government's industrial relations reform:

... Responding to claims that Government laws on industrial lockouts were to blame for the factory's closure, Mr Costello said it was a 'long shot'.

"I would have thought if a union calls an industrial dispute, the union leaders can take responsibilities for their industrial disputes," Mr Costello told reporters in Melbourne.

So there you go; it's yet another local company brought down by irresponsible and bloody-minded industrial action. Except in this case, the industrial action wasn't taken by the union. A quick Google for "Geelong Wool Combing" reveals the industrial action at GWC is an employer initiated lock-out not a strike. At, you'll find this little nugget:

An initial lockout at Geelong Wool Combing on April 28 was stopped by the Federal Court, which ruled it breached the Workplace Relations Act because employees were not given the legally required three days' notice before industrial action was taken.

The current lockout started in early May.

In other words, the industrial action which has kept the GWC plant closed for the past 5 months was started by GWC on April 28. After the Federal Court ruled it illegal, no doubt the proper 3 days' notice was given before the lockout resumed in early May to ensure that it could continue on a legal footing.

It would be wrong to call Mr Costello's remarks misleading; they are perfectly in keeping with the new convention which allows a government minister to make any statement, on any issue, regardless of matters of fact, as long as he (or she) has been diligent in avoiding knowledge of the facts. Mr Costello has always been a diligent Treasurer.

Update (2 October): I just found this at the Australian Industrial Relations Commission site. It's the decision of Commissioner Whelan on GWC's application to "terminate a series of certified agreements between that company and the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia ". It's an interesting (but tedious) read.

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