Published: 9 Apr 2009
The joint union action was the first initiated by the fledgling Australian Federation of Transport Unions comprising the Maritime Union, the Transport Workers Union and the Rail Tram and Bus Union.
Unions were tipped off that the factory gear was being shipped out and decided to take a stand. Together members of the MUA (covering the wharves), the Transport Workers' Union (covering truck drivers) and the Rail Tram and Bus Union (covering rail) are refusing to move the machinery from any Pacific Brands factory. The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association has also joined the boycott.
"Shameless Bonds executives give themselves a 170 per cent pay rise then cry poor and sack around 2000 workers, said Paddy Crumlin. The company has pocketed $17 million in government subsidies over the past two years, now they want to run off with all the gear the Australian taxpayer helped them out with. We are just not going to stand by and let this happen.
The union action received unprecedented media and public support, after the Sydney Daily Telegraph exposed the executive pay scandal.
Not since the 1998 Patrick dispute had the Maritime Union made the front page of The Daily Telegraph.
Chesty Bond Blockade, it announced. Transport unions are planning a national blockade to stop the shipment of millions of dollars of Bonds manufacturing equipment to China.
Unions are furious about Pacific Brands bosses receiving massively inflated pay packages and bonuses before sacking 1850 workers.
Amid unprecedented public outrage at the firms conduct, three major unions have vowed to keep a 24-hour vigil on the companys Australian factories to ensure they cannot move any equipment by road, rail or sea.
A half-page photo of Port Botany Patrick wharfies Russell Thomas, Bob Hadden, Simon Sheppard, Shaun Vose, Barry McGrath, Peter Balzen, Joe Rossiter, Matt Peninton and Paul Gatt taking a stand featured on page 5, with a quote from delegate Barry McGrath saying: We have to take a stand against the shipping out of Australian jobs.
The Australian government helped pay for this machinery and we are determined it should stay for the purpose that it was funded to support the Australian manufacturing sector, MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin told the Telegraph. The only things we will export are the executives.
Unions expressed concern the taxpayer money may have helped fund management remuneration.
The Telegraph also ran an unprecedented editorial Standing by the Unions supporting the blockade.
At The Daily Telegraph, we take a fair approach to industrial issues. This means we view each industrial matter on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes that will result in our opposing a certain course of union action, the editorial read. But on other issues we are happy to come down on the side of unions. The looming dispute between transport unions and Pacific Brands is such case.
We say: Bring on the blockade.
The union action also got blanket coverage on radio, print and television.
If we can identify the machinery, then our members are going to leave it there, whether they be truck drivers, train drivers or wharfies, National Secretary of the TWU Tony Sheldon told The Sydney Morning Herald.
But while Treasurer Wayne Swan was understanding about public and union fury, Workplace Minister Julia Gillard warned a union blockade might be in breach of the Trade Practices Act.
Treasurer Swan took aim at the clothing company's executives over their "sickening" pay increases. He told the Herald he refused to rule out capping executive pay rates, or imposing other limits on companies that accepted public grants.
US President Barack Obama has also announced he will cap executive salaries of companies which receive government bailouts.
ACTU President Sharan Burrow said the issue of executive salaries should be dealt with in the next few weeks at the same time the Parliament is due to deal with the new industrial relations laws designed to get rid of WorkChoices.
It is not a coincidence that executive bonuses skyrocketed to obscene levels at the same time that WorkChoices was used to push down the take home pay of workers, she said. Both arose out of the policies of the Liberal and National Parties and both now need to be fixed.
Pacific Brands chief executive Sue Morphet accepted a $1.1 million pay rise last year.
Unions are fuming over the big pay packages bosses gave themselves before sacking the workers, ABC TV 1 ran on their nightly bulletin in all State capitals with Paddy Crumlin joining Greens leader Senator Bob Brown to condemn Pacific Brands.
Channel 9 also gave the MUA a voice alongside the Pacific Brands CEO and sacked Bonds workers.
Channel 10 reported on the hopes of a breakthrough in the crisis with the national secretary quoted as saying the national union blockade would go ahead if the company did not back down. And all three unions got ABC radio coverage welcoming news of talks between the clothing company, the union and the minister Kim Carr that afternoon.
Unions are cautiously welcoming news that Pacific Brands may rethink their jobs cuts, 2UE reported, quoting Paddy Crumlin.
When TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon learned about the company plans to ship out the equipment, he immediately contacted the MUA and the RTBU to gear up the transport federation and make the ban stick by collective union action. He told 2UE that the government funding was given on the basis that they were going to modernise equipment and train staff up. Company insiders say their intention is to move the equipment overseas.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry predictably dismissed ACTU and government calls to regulate executive pay as unworkable despite the community outrage. But the Shareholders Association is lobbying for termination payouts to be cut to one years salary, not seven available under current laws.
National Secretary of the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia, Michele ONeil, said it would be a disgrace if the company received further grants unless they reversed their decision to shut down Australian factories. She said outsourcing to Asian countries without labour rights and where child labour is widespread was not good for business.
That afternoon the Transport Union Federation (TUF) put out a joint media release congratulating the minister for attempting to broker a deal between the company and union.
National Secretary of the Transport Workers Union, Tony Sheldon said this first meeting was important because there is a clear role for the government to hold companies accountable to their workforce, especially where they have received taxpayer contracts or aid.
The government needs to take another look at its $42 billion stimulus package, as well as its procurement policy which spends up to $44 billion every year. By ensuring this money is used to provide well-paying Australian jobs they can make a huge difference, Mr Sheldon said.
The transport unions stand was followed by construction, fire fighters, health services and ambulance unions calling for all contracts on Pacific Brand work gear to be cancelled if the move offshore went ahead.
The company has denied any move to shift the equipment offshore.
The union initative won support of Independent MP Bob Katter who is campaigning for an end to the boycott legislation.