Protests by sacked workers outside Carlton and United Breweries’ Abbotsford plant have entered their twelfth week with no end in sight.
The workers, comprising electricians, fitters, and various maintenance workers, have proven to be integral to the production and supply of CUB’s various brands of beer.
CUB has been bussing in non-union workers to replace the sacked workers but it seems they lack the experience and skill of their predecessors, with production levels suffering as a result.
The Australian Manufacturers Workers Union allege that beer production has slowed down considerably, putting production output at only a third of normal levels.
“It’s a state-of-the-art brewery and for that you need state-of-the-art trades people,” said AMWU’s Craig Kelly to 3CR Community Radio.
In a press release CUB have claimed that union action has caused “no impact in beer supply” but added that it has caused “noise and disruption (that) has impacted local residents and businesses”.
“They are attacking Australian workers while not contributing to society in any meaningful way.”
The current impasse between CUB and its sacked workforce has turned out to be a public relations nightmare, with users taking to social media to express anger at CUB’s actions.
Facebook pages for Victoria Bitter (CUB’s best selling beer) and Pure Blonde, have been repositories of angry posts from users denouncing CUB’s actions and calling for the sacked workers to be rehired at their old pay rates, or at the very least, be given some fair and sympathetic treatment.
When considering VB’s target demographic, the hard-working tradesperson, it’s small wonder there has been public backlash following the mass terminations and subsequent treatment of its trade-workers.
Unfortunately for CUB the publics indignation has not been confined to social media. Prominent Melbourne pubs such as Kent St and The Lincoln Hotel have both turned off their taps for CUB products, in solidarity with the sacked workers. With the Grand Hotel Yamanto in Queensland also following suit, the action is spreading nationally.
CUB owns half of the most popular beer brands in Australia. Its parent company, SABMiller earns US$22bn in yearly revenue.
It produced zero taxable income in Australia during the 2015, in spite of generating A$2bn in earnings.
As Electrical Trades Union organiser Steve Diston points out, “They’ve (CUB) managed to find a way to pay no tax, while their CEO is in for a $64 million bonus. To top it off, they are attacking Australian workers while not contributing to society in any meaningful way.”
Perhaps this gross inequality lies at the heart of the anger surrounding this issue. To many unionists, this seems like little more than union-busting and cost-cutting, but the real cost is to the lives of those affected.
In an ABC AM radio programme interview, labour economist John Spoehr, pointed out that based on previous incidents “around about one third of manufacturing workers that lose their jobs during downturns go on to be long term unemployed.”
Unless some sort of fair agreement is reach between CUB and their workers soon, the costs of these workers losing their jobs is going to be more than just dollars and cents.
By Garry Johal