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New South Wales: Tristar employee describes mood of employees as they wait for redundancy payments.



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RADIO NATIONAL BREAKFAST

Wednesday, 31 January 2007

 

 

 

FRAN KELLY: As we mentioned with Michelle a little earlier, John Howard’s new ministry was sworn in yesterday. Among them the new Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey who has already plunged straight into the deep end of his portfolio trying to solve the plight of the workers employed by a Sydney car parts manufacturer, Tristar.

 

Workers claim Tristar, rather than paying out full-forced redundancies, is using the new WorkChoices redundancy provisions to pay long-time workers only 12 weeks salary. How? By keeping them on the payroll for an extra 12 months and giving them no meaningful work to do in the meantime.

 

The issue came to a head last week when the media campaigned for terminally ill Tristar employee John Bevan who won a voluntary redundancy payout eventually of $50,000 just days before his death. But despite the federal government’s efforts to resolve the matter, still the workers go to work and do nothing, watching their chances of full redundancy payouts slipping away.

 

In a moment we’ll speak to an expert on industrial law about what all this means and how it can happen. But to gauge the daily working situation at Tristar we are joined now by Tim White, a fitter and turner who has been with the company for 11 years.

 

Tim, welcome.

 

TIM WHITE: Good morning, Fran.

 

FRAN KELLY: Tim, you’ve had a little bit of work to do over recent weeks I think but not exactly ‘fittering’ and ‘turnering’ perhaps. What have you been doing?

 

TIM WHITE: Oh, I have been assisting with the strip-out of the main factory. That was pretty well completed before Christmas and since then I’ve haven’t done any fitting work at all.

 

FRAN KELLY: So what have you and your colleagues being doing over the past few months? Is there anything to do?

 

TIM WHITE: Well, we’re talking, like the past 12 months, some of my colleagues haven’t struck a blow at all.

 

FRAN KELLY: Nothing? Nothing to do.

 

TIM WHITE: Nothing. Nothing to do.

 

FRAN KELLY: But they have to rock up to work?

 

TIM WHITE: Yes, yes, that’s correct.

 

FRAN KELLY: So when you get to work you’re housed these days I think a pretty small tin shed because there’s actually no machining going on….

 

TIM WHITE: Yes, yes, they’ve downsized the factory.

 

FRAN KELLY: What are you doing all day?

 

TIM WHITE: Well, at the start of the day you come in and make your cup of coffee, might read the paper cover to cover, do a Sudoku, walk around and talk with the other workers, and that’s basically the day.

 

FRAN KELLY: And what’s the boss telling you in the meantime?

 

TIM WHITE: Nothing. The boss doesn’t even start till 8 o’clock. We start at six. So you know, there’s a good two hours before he even starts.

 

FRAN KELLY: There has been a suggestion I think that work will come. There is re-manufacturing of steering gears going on or about to go on.

 

TIM WHITE: Yes, well, there’s really no evidence of that happening at the moment.

 

FRAN KELLY: So you keep coming to work, you keep taking your lunch break and then you go back to Solitaire or Sudoku or whatever it is….

 

TIM WHITE: That’s right. It’s real mind-numbing.

 

FRAN KELLY: I’ll bet it is.

 

TIM WHITE: It is.

 

FRAN KELLY: It must be quite depressing too but you keep doing it. Why does everyone keep turning up?

 

TIM WHITE: Because a lot of people have been here for 30, 35 years and if they left now they would miss out on their redundancy payment which the company is trying to avoid by keeping them on for 12 months because our enterprise agreement has been cancelled. So if he keeps them on for 12 months he’ll only have to pay them 12 weeks.

 

FRAN KELLY: And if people walked away in the meantime, people who haven’t been offered voluntary redundancy, they’d lose everything. Right?

 

TIM WHITE: That’s right. That’s correct.

 

FRAN KELLY: So at the moment you’ve got people there who might be owed, perhaps a hundred weeks, who are facing the prospect of only getting 12—but that’s better than nothing. Is that the idea?

 

TIM WHITE: That’s right. Yes.

 

FRAN KELLY: How depressing is this?

 

TIM WHITE: It’s very depressing. It’s not only depressing here at work, it affects the family life as well.

 

FRAN KELLY: Yes, because some people might think, ‘Wow, you’re getting paid to do nothing, that’s good.’

 

TIM WHITE: It’s not.

 

FRAN KELLY: What impact is it having on you and your families?

 

TIM WHITE: Well, I find myself I am a lot more stressed than I used to be because my job was very fulfilling and, you know, you got stimulation out of it but at the moment I’ve got nothing, nothing at all.

 

FRAN KELLY: And what’s that doing to you? And I am sure you talk about this a lot in the factory as you sit around doing nothing. What is going on at people’s homes and in the families?

 

TIM WHITE: Well, I’ve heard people are not sleeping at night. The talk in the factory all day is about what’s the next move the company is going to make, and it’s all speculation and this just boils over day after day after day, and it’s not good.

 

FRAN KELLY: Some of the people have been working there for 20 or 30 years. A lot of the migrants came to the Tristar straight off the boat.

 

TIM WHITE: That’s right, yes. They’ve come here, they’ve done their job year after year, they have been told not to take any sick leave because the production was too busy and now, it comes to the crunch, they are just treated like dirt.

 

FRAN KELLY: Well, getting back to the company’s statement—they say they are acting within the law for starters but also there is more work coming. Do you have the facilities to do more machining if the work arrives?

 

TIM WHITE: Well, there’s not really any provisions for machining. There’s a few benches and one drill press—that’s about it for their re-manufacturing as far as I can see.

 

FRAN KELLY: And how many workers would be using that one bench?

 

TIM WHITE: I could say there’s probably enough work for probably three or four workers.

 

FRAN KELLY: And how many of you are there?

 

TIM WHITE: There’s 35.

 

FRAN KELLY: Well, the new minister came down last week—Joe Hockey. He had a chat to you all.

 

TIM WHITE: Yes, he did and he said it was criminal what the company are doing to us.

 

FRAN KELLY: Those were his words?

 

TIM WHITE: They were his words.

 

FRAN KELLY: And did he say there’s anything he and the government can or intend to do?

 

TIM WHITE: Well, he said the company is still working within the laws but he was going to see what he could do to help us out. But he did say it was criminal what they were doing.

 

FRAN KELLY: So what do you want to happen now, Tim?

 

TIM WHITE: Well, I want everyone to be paid their rightful redundancy and be able to get out of this place.

 

FRAN KELLY: And you will get yours, won’t you?

 

TIM WHITE: I don’t know. I don’t think so.

 

FRAN KELLY: Okay. Haven’t you….

 

TIM WHITE: Personally, I have volunteered but I am being kept on for some unknown reason.

 

FRAN KELLY: Okay, but aren’t you getting your voluntary redundancy payout?

 

TIM WHITE: No, not as yet. We had a notice come up on the board yesterday stating that voluntary redundancies will close on the 15 th of February, okay, and there’s another notice released—a media statement from the company—saying that Tristar has completed its restructuring program. So if they have completed their restructuring why are they putting a notice up saying ‘redundancies close on the 15 th of February’—voluntary redundancies, sorry.

 

FRAN KELLY: All right, Tim, well, look, thanks very much for joining us…

 

TIM WHITE: Okay, thanks Fran.

 

FRAN KELLY: …and good luck with some action on this.

 

That’s Tristar worker Tim White.