Unions are asking Federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott to visit a group of textile workers who have been locked out of their jobs at Geelong Wool Combing west of Melbourne for the last 11 weeks.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow is visiting the workers this morning at a protest outside the company’s Corio plant, where 100 workers have been locked out since May 1 for refusing to accept a pay cut.

Ms Burrow said that as the responsible minister, Mr Abbott should explain why the government’s industrial laws allow employers to lock out workers who refuse to accept a pay cut.

“The workers at Geelong Wool Combing had not taken any industrial action. They have been locked out of their jobs for refusing to accept a 25% reduction in their pay and conditions,” Ms Burrow said.

“The employees have turned up ready to work every day for the last 11 weeks but have not been allowed back to work.

“This is the kind of extremist employer action that is being encouraged by Mr Abbott’s legislation. The minister should come and explain to the workers why Australia should have these laws.”

Ms Burrow said that under the Federal Workplace Relations Act, employers are not required to bargain with their employees in good faith and the Industrial Relations Commission lacks the necessary powers to resolve difficult disputes.

The Howard Government refused to support Labor Party legislation introduced into federal parliament last month requiring employers to bargain in good faith and restoring the powers of the Industrial Relations Commission.

On May 23 this year Mr Abbott attended a picket line during the recent 16-week long Morris McMahon cannery dispute in Sydney’s west, when he told workers that “ you have every right to ask for a collective agreement.”