Peter Khalil: It has been almost 170 days since I last knocked back a VB. Why am I sharing my drinking habits with the Federation Chamber? You might ask that question. The reason I have boycotted my favourite beer is simple: it is because I am in solidarity with CUB workers. CUB workers had their contracts ended and they were then offered a take it or leave it deal, which involved a 65 per cent reduction in monetary entitlements and cuts to most of their hard-won conditions. CUB knew that this would not go down well with their existing workers, so they reportedly lined up new contractors to come in and work for the rock bottom pay offer. They knew that their loyal workers simply would not stomach being rorted in this way. This CUB dispute reminds us all of the ugly actions of the Patrick Corporation during the infamous 1998 waterfront dispute. In that case, the company, trying to rid itself of its committed union workers, attempted to replace them with a non-union labour force, and that inspired public outrage at the time.
Some of these shafted employees have worked at the CUB brewery for decades. They are hardworking and experienced people. Some are apprentices who have been left high and dry with no job and no qualification to show for their efforts. As CUB’s international parent company reportedly booked a $4.4 billion profit last financial year, this assault upon the livelihoods of their workers cannot be justified by the old excuse of difficult commercial conditions. It can only be explained by greed in the extreme, or by control just for the sake of it, because it has actually cost them more over these 170 days. It strikes at the heart of Australia’s values of fairness and compassion. This is not what good corporate citizens should be doing.
I visited the workers at the picket line outside the Abbotsford brewery last week. Since July, these guys have been standing strong and fighting for a fair go. It has been a tough time. It is tough on them. It is tough on their families. They just want to go to work. But they get up every morning and they arrive at 6 am on the site to continue their fight for fairness. The picket line, despite the egregious situation, is a dignified and peaceful act of protest. I commend everyone involved in the dispute for the way they have conducted themselves in the midst of such outrageous treatment. Despite going through such an ordeal, their spirits are high and they are still continuing to fight the good fight. People can donate to the cause, the workers and their families by going to the AMWU website. Until this whole thing is done, and these workers are properly respected by CUB management, I know I will be drinking Brunswick Bitter instead.