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Philippines: Socialist party supports Australian workers' blockade

February 12, 2013 -- Radio Australia -- A Philippine socialist party has thrown its support behind the Australian workers blockading the Werribee Water Treatment plant south-west of Melbourne.

Unemployed local tradespeople have been blockading the Werribee Water Treatment plant for the past week to protest against the employment of Filipino workers on special 457 visas [for guest workers].

Earlier this week, the Federal Court reserved decision on the Fair Work Building and Construction Inspectorate's bid to end the eight-day blockade.

On Monday, a group of 12 men, including Filipino workers, were helicoptered into the water treatment plant to avoid the blockade.

The chairperson of the Party of the Laboring Masses (PLM), Sonny Melencio, has told Radio Australia's Asia Pacific program he's concerned Filipino workers are being used to break picket lines.

"There's a picket going on there and as far as we know, putting in Filipino workers there like they're now being put in a helicopter to break the picket line, that is unacceptable", Melencio said. "That is unacceptable among unions here (in the Philippines) and we do not do it here and we don't want to be seen as breaking picket lines in any areas."

Melencio says his party understands why the Australian workers are fighting for their rights and is concerned about the Filipino workers safety.

"This actually is not only for us a case of probable scabbing, but also a case of putting the lives of Filipino workers in conditions that are not good because there's a threatening situation where you have picket lines and workers protesting against the area where they are going to be put", he said.

The Philippines' PLM says it wants to meet local Australian unions to discuss this issue and others involving Filipino workers.

Melencio says he'll visit Australia in a few weeks time to get in contact with the workers protesting outside the water treatment plant. "We have to talk to the workers' unions there to find out what's really happening and to develop some kind of strategy where we can keep the solidarity between the Filipino workers and the Australian workers", he said.

Transcript

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Sonny Melencio, chair, PLM Party of the Laboring Masses, Philippines

[Listen HERE.]

MELENCIO: With our own network, there's been interest about the issue because this is an issue that's of concern to us, as Filipino overseas workers have been charged as taking away jobs of workers in countries where they are. And right now, I think the issue has become more grave for us, because this is now a question of Filipino workers being used as "scabs" to break pickets. And this is a case that we want to look into, and we want the Philippine government to act on.

LAM: But how can you say these men could be "scabs" when you don't know the details of the case -- do you know the skills that these men bring to these jobs?

MELENCIO: It's not a case of their special skills actually, it's a case of -- there's a picket going on there, and as far as we know, putting in Filipino workers there, like they're now being put in a helicopter to break the picket line -- that is unacceptable, that is unacceptable among unions here (in the Philippines) and we do not do it here, and we don't want to be seen as breaking picket lines in any areas. We know the conditions of the workers and we know why the workers are fighting for their rights. And this actually is not only for us a case of probable scabbing, but also a case of putting the lives of Filipino workers in conditions that are not good, because there's a threatening situation where you have picket lines and workers protesting against the area where they are going to be put.

LAM: And given your party's interest in this case, have you been in touch with the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union here in Australia, that's allegedly supporting the pickets?

MELENCIO: We have links with unions in Australia and it's been a longtime relationship that we have, and it's through our trade union federation here, which is called BMP, we're in the International Transport Federation and we have had meetings with their counterparts of the Transport Federation in Australia, in Melbourne, in Sydney. And I myself, was able to visit some of the Trades Councils and also union offices. But right now, I'll be going to Australia in a few weeks, getting the help from a network there -- from Green Left Weekly specifically, for us to be in contact with the protesting workers in that area.

LAM: So do you think Filipino workers who do go overseas are sometimes unfairly targetted by disgruntled local unions in those foreign countries -- in this case, Australia?

MELENCIO: Well, ... Yes, the charge that the Filipino workers are taking local jobs, of course, it's based on skills that we're putting in, in those areas and it's a legal question. But this is not just a legal question, it is now a question of breaking pickets and crossing picket lines -- so this is another issue for us. So, we have to talk to the workers' unions there, to find out what's really happening and to develop some kind of strategy where we can keep the solidarity between the Filipino workers and the Australian workers.

LAM: The Philippines as a nation depends much on the remunerations sent back by Filipinos and Filipinas who are working overseas. Has there been a government to this latest case?

MELENCIO: The government policy is still the export of labour, in order to keep the economy afloat, because labour exports have been contributing about 20-billion dollars yearly, from remittances of the Filipino workers abroad. For us, this is quite a problem because our labour export brings in alot of problems and this is like what is happening right now. So President Noy Noy Aquino has actually stated that the policy of the government is now to create jobs at home, so there's no more need for workers to look for employment abroad. But this has not been done during his term -- it's now three years of office, and still, the unemployment rate in the Philippines is quite big -- hovering from 6.8 per cent to 7.2 per cent, and the policy -- the Labor Export Policy is still going strong.

Unemployed metalworkers protest for jobs

By Ben Courtice, Melbourne

February 9, 2013 -- Unemployed workers staged a protest at a Werribee construction site where they say workers have been brought from overseas on subclass 457 work visas, without advertising the positions locally.

“We've spoken to management on site, they have confirmed there's 457 visa workers here,” protest spokesperson Nick Donohue told Green Left Weekly. “The 457 workers are welding tanks. We've got an abundance of skilled labour in the area that can do the same job, so there's no necessity for these workers to be brought here.”

“We've put up our hands that we're available for work.

The principal contractor on the project is Tedra, a joint venture between two subsidiaries of Spanish construction multinational ACS Group. The project is a salt reduction plant for recycled water. Victorian company Briagolong Engineering was named by protesters as the contractor providing labour on site.

"There's a shortage of work in the whole industry in the western suburbs. This trade shortage that you hear about all the time, well I don’t know where it is, it's certainly not in Melbourne. We're all struggling for work.”

Donohue said that the protesters aren't blaming the individual 457 visa workers for the situation. “We hope the employer treats them with dignity and respect, but we can't understand why they are needed. They don't get much of a voice on site, and we're worried they may not be in safe work conditions. Worksafe are currently investigating conditions on site and we believe there have been major safety breaches.”

Donohue told Green Left that the protesters aren't against migrant labour, but are against the use of temporary workers on 457 visas. “The original reasons for 457 visas aren't working and I believe they are being used unlawfully. The original purpose was to fill gaps where they couldn't find the right workers, like out the back of Bourke. Not here, halfway between Geelong and Werribee”, Donohue said.

Donohue said the protest was organised at the initiative of the protesters, without union involvement. “The laws that are put in place are designed to make unions ineffective, so we've taken the matter into our own hands. We've formed the Western District Alliance Group which we're hoping will grow in numbers.”

The group is maintaining their daily protest line at the site, which is at the Geelong Rd exit from the Princes Freeway in Werribee South, on the eastern side of the freeway.

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