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Tuesday, 23 May 1989
Page: 2510


Senator COONEY(10.30) —On Monday 15 May 1989 workers at Henderson's Spring Industries in Melbourne ended a 10-day strike. Much has been said about it. My remarks will be short. We live in hard economic times. There is need for restraint, for sacrifice, for altruism. Workers are asked for greater effort for the country's good. Given this, the strike was tagged as unwarranted. Four thousand vehicle builders were stood down, production was slowed and the economy was prejudiced.

Why did people at Henderson's strike? The reason is found in their work conditions. Last week two employees told me of their experiences with the company before the strike. One employee has worked at Henderson's for the last year. His shift is from 4 o'clock in the afternoon till after midnight and he arrives home each night at about 1.00 a.m. His domestic problems are great; he has a child needing extensive medical treatment; and his wife looks after the child and does not work. Before the strike he took home about $290 a week. This is hardly commensurate with the cost of basic living. Bills for rent, food, clothing, gas, electricity, transport, medication and toiletries mounted up to overwhelm his family. His problems still haunt him both at home and at work. There are very few other places to which he can afford to go.

When he first worked with Henderson's there was overtime. That gave him a reasonable wage. He took home about $370 a week. About three months ago the company instituted a scheme to increase production. It did so. This reduced the need for overtime and his wage fell by $80 net a week. There was limited overtime available for a period following the increase in productivity. This was given to those favoured by management. Those not favoured found their pay slashed. Now overtime is available to a few key workers only.

The other person I spoke to was one of the key workers. He does overtime. He works 9 1/2 hours a day six days a week and at times on Sunday. He must do so in poor conditions. Before the strike he earned $475 a week. He is a family man, he has a wife and two young children; his wife must look after the children and so cannot go out to work. Quite often she needs his help at home but she cannot get it because of the hours he works. This leads to tension and there is misery aplenty.

The Henderson's strike imposed costs on the country, on employer and on employee. This was an unhappy outcome which no-one welcomed. The forces driving the workers were great. Poor pay, bad conditions, long hours and troubled relations with management set the scene for their industrial action. To ignore these realities is to be unfair and foolhardy.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senate adjourned at 10.33 p.m.