Union ups ante

A MAJOR WA union has stepped up its campaign against Fremantle’s council’s decision to stand down its members.

The CFMEU WA on Wednesday posted a video to its Facebook site criticising the decision to stand down maintenance staff from the city depot, just hours before a council vote effectively killed off any opportunity to backtrack.

A union official also told the Herald they’d be “taking on the council in every forum”.

As previously reported by the Herald, about 60 workers across the city’s operations have been told to use up their leave, after which they’ll have to fend for themselves (“City slammed for mass stand-downs,” Herald, April 18, 2020).

CFMEU WA media officer Simon Stokes said it would leave his members unable to feed their families. 

“They could be on leave for weeks and weeks,” Mr Stokes said. 

He said workers had put together a list of jobs they knew needed to be done at the council which were within their skill sets, but had been rebuffed.  

“There is work at the Fremantle Arts Centre that needs to be done, but it’s closed,” Mr Stokes said.

Mr Stokes said his members were suspicious the council was using Covid-19 as an excuse to stand them down because its finances were already in poor shape, but stressed they didn’t have any concrete proof.

“Every city would be more than willing to expand their debt and get through this and keep people employed,” Mr Stokes said. 

“But then you get organisations, like the Freo council, that don’t want to be in debt.”

That position gained some traction when self-proclaimed “independent” councillor Marija Vujcic linked spending on the council’s $50 million administration centre to its current financial predicament.

“The investment into the bricks and mortar development of Kings Square was not wise nor prudent,” Cr Vujcic posted to her Facebook page.

“There was plenty of strong financial evidence that did not support this $40 million dollar plus expenditure. Had the decisions of council been prudent and wise, our city would weather this financial crisis much better.” 

But Cr Vujcic said she supported, and voted for, the council’s amended budget on Wednesday which left no room in the staffing budget for workers to be reinstated.

“There is criticism of the council for standing down some employees without pay,” she said.

“This is done as a last resort. We are all sympathetic to the suffering of people who have lost their jobs and who are struggling to make ends meet.  Paying employees would have just passed on the debt to the ratepayers and residents and this is not really a solution.”

CFMEU organiser Michelle Sheehy, who appeared in the union’s video, said further action was being planned.

“Our members are very disappointed,” Ms Sheehy said.

“They offered the council alternative work they could do but their ideas weren’t taken seriously.

“The city has turn its back on its employees and we will be taking on the council on every forum.” 

Councillor Sam Wainwright last week put forward a motion calling on the city to look at redeploying staff, but he concedes that following an amendment it became little more than a “vague hope for the future” rather than a assertive position.

“I think it fair to say that the council has an overwhelmingly technocratic conception of how to respond to the dramatic financial challenge facing the city – just balancing the budget,” Cr Wainwright said.

“I have been trying (without much success) to convince council of the need to get to grips with the political dimension of the challenge.”

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