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Australia: 1,600 Alcoa workers strike over job security

23 August, 2018Workers at five Alcoa sites in Western Australia have voted almost unanimously to take indefinite strike action after 20 months of negotiations with Alcoa failed to provide a guarantee of no forced redundancies.

Members of IndustriALL Global Union affiliate the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) from the Kwinana, Pinjarra and Wagerup aluminium refineries, the Huntley and Willowdale bauxite mines, and Bunbury Port started industrial action on August 8, after Alcoa applied to Australia’s workplace regulator to terminate the collective agreement. About 1,200 people gathered at the Pinjarra sports grounds to show their support.

The workers are striking to defend the current agreement. Negotiations broke down because the company wants to end minimum staffing levels but failed to provide assurances about job security. Workers want a guarantee of no forced redundancies. The company used threats of termination in an attempt to intimidate the workforce into accepting new working conditions. AWU Western Australia branch president Andy Hacking, who works at the Kwinana refinery, was quoted in local media, saying:

“This is all about Alcoa being prepared to talk. Many of us are long-term employees who have never caused them any grief but they won’t provide assurances about not casualising employment, outsourcing contractors or agreements on manning hours.”

IndustriALL convenes a global network of unions in Alcoa. Unions in the network, including FICA-UGT in Spain, Industri Energi in Norway and the Machinists' Union (IAMAW) and United Steelworkers (USW) in the US and Canada have written to the AWU to pledge their support.

In a solidarity letter to the AWU, IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches wrote:

“IndustriALL Global Union condemns in the strongest terms Alcoa of Australia’ intransigent stance, which would deny workers any job security. Furthermore, we find it unacceptable that the company is threatening workers with termination, as a way of pressuring them into accepting substandard working conditions.

“We stand strong in solidarity with our sisters and brothers at Alcoa's Pinjarra, Wagerup, and Kwinana refineries, and the Huntley and Willowdale bauxite mines, and you can count on our full support, which will include coordinating international solidarity from unions with membership at Alcoa’s sites worldwide.”

Alcoa is a US-based multinational aluminium producer. More than a thousand members of the USW have been locked out of the Bécancour refinery in Quebec, Canada, since January this year. The refinery is 75 per cent owned by Alcoa.

The Australian refineries account for around 8 percent of the world’s alumina supply. On 22 August, workers demonstrated in Solidarity Park outside the provincial parliament in Perth.

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