AWU concessions at BlueScope “game-changing”

Yesterday’s vote by workers to make dramatic savings at BlueScope to keep the Port Kembla blast furnace running has been praised by the company and others.

The vote by 95 per cent of workers to accept 500 jobs cut and a three-year wage freeze would achieve a reported $170 million in savings. The concessions were made following eight weeks of negotiations.

BlueScope’s managing director Paul O’Malley said it was a “game-changing approach” and a “major step” towards the goal of $200 million in savings.

“We still have a lot of work to do in the coming weeks, as steel prices remain under pressure from the global steel glut,” he said.

Former ACTU boss and federal Labor industry minister Greg Combet assisted the concessions get reached. Combet was given access the BlueScope’s books and explained to union that the situation was not a bluff.

The relevance to other struggling manufacturing businesses was highlighted by some.

The Australian Industry Group’s Stephen Smith said there were other cases where unions had been less willing to negotiate with companies facing challenges.

“This does highlight that when all of the parties can focus on the key issues and the future of an organisation, and what that means not only for the company, but the employees, an agreed outcome can be reached,” said Smith.

Andrew Stewart, a professor of law at University of Adelaide, said the agreement was not unique – cited instances during the GFC – but would set a precent for other manufacturers.

"Whether or not you are going to need businesses at the brink of closure, you would think in most cases there is going to be a need for a crisis to have substantial willingness from workers to reduce their conditions,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald.

The Australian Financial Review chose to compare the concessions with the unwillingness by the AMWU to give ground at Toyota Australia, which announced early last year that it will cease manufacturing its local operations.

“The determination of both BlueScope and the AWU to not "do a Toyota" is laudable and will have to be continued if the mill is to keep making steel,” the paper’s editorial noted.

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