AWU National Secretary Bill Shorten gave the following speech at a Community Forum held in the NSW Central West Town of Orange over Electrolux’s recent decision to slash 200 jobs there.
Welcome everyone and thank you for having me to speak here today.
It is a privilege for me to be here because I believe that the problems we
face in your local area are the real critical issues for our union – not just
here in Orange now, but for working people across Australia and the world.
That is, the problem of multinational corporate exploitation of workers and
their families, wherever they may be.
That’s why I thank you all for coming here today and being involved in
working for a better future for your community. I would also like to thank our
local political and community leaders and representatives for being here today –
Peter Andren, David Campbell, John Davis, Russ Collison, Pat Johnson, Peter
Darley and Professor Lambert.
And I very much want to thank my union colleagues who have put so much hard
work into our struggle with Electrolux. Russ – our State Secretary, Mick Madden
our State President, and our local organiser Anne Thompson, thank you all,
you’re work is having an important impact.
I believe that your community’s fight to save decent local jobs is part of
the same struggle and the same reason why our union exists.
Your fight is the same struggle that unites our union with everyone in your
community – we are all working for change to create decent economic
opportunities for our local people and their families.
Your fight is part of the same struggle that our union is campaigning for
across New South Wales and around Australia. It is part of the same struggle
that unites our union internationally in global campaigns for justice for
working people, wherever they may live and work. And Electrolux is very much in
the sights of the global unions.
Electrolux’s modus operandi involves moving profitable jobs offshore, with no
regard to the social impact on communities. It is exploitative, it is
irresponsible, and it is economically unnecessary.
Not only here in Australia, but around the world, Electrolux is carrying out
a deliberate anti-union strategy to drive down wages and export quality
manufacturing jobs from their traditional bases to low-pay developing
Many Australian workers have experience of Electrolux’s vicious anti-worker
policies – in Adelaide, in Melbourne, and especially here in Orange.
We remember the outrage across your whole community after Electrolux’s
takeover of Email and the start of their anti-worker campaign a few years ago.
We remember how your community was united in some of the biggest rallies in
the history of Orange.
We remember how you and your workmates stood firm against Electrolux’s
non-union agreements, despite their dirty tricks campaign in the secret ballot
We remember how Electrolux refused to listen to our concerns about
occupational health and safety until one of our teenage workers lost his thumb
on a machine without decent protection.
We remember how Electrolux foisted substandard overtime conditions here in
Orange last year in another dirty tricks ballot last year.
We remember a few years ago in my hometown of Melbourne, when Electrolux took
over the Chef Ovens factory. It slashed hundreds of local jobs under the pretext
of centralising operations in Adelaide. In this tricky deal, Chef played the two
State Governments off against each other and wrecked any chance of a rescue bid
to keep the business operating.
We remember back in 2001, when the independent umpire, the Industrial
Relations Commission, had to knock back another Electrolux tricky deal because
it discriminated against workers exercising their basic right to take industrial
We remember how you and your fellow taxpayers in NSW forked out $6 million in
State Government subsidies to Electrolux to keep operating here in Orange.
After taking our money, Electrolux then tells us that they’re slashing 200
jobs here to move them to China.
That’s the kind of thanks you get from Electrolux. And this from a company
that almost doubled its profit last year to more than US$600 million.
Electrolux’s global revenue is more than US$15 billion. Their boss, Hans
Straberg (who is both President and CEO) pockets $3.2 million a year.
The message from Electrolux is clear: they don’t care about our people, they
don’t care about our community, they don’t care about our union, they don’t care
about our government, they don’t care about our country.
Electrolux’s track record against workers overseas is just as outrageous.
In the US, Electrolux is sacking 2,700 workers to move its fridge plant from
the small Michigan town of Greenville to Mexico. Greenville will be economically
and socially devastated by the move.
Electrolux’s reason for destroying an entire US community is simple: they can
exploit Mexican workers on about one-tenth of the US wages. The US fridge
workers earn between US$13 and US$15 an hour, compared to about US$1.50 an hour
for workers in Mexico.
To add insult to injury, Electrolux’s planned new factory site in Mexico,
near Ciudad Juarez, is on land which poverty-stricken farmers claim has been
stolen from them. There is an ongoing land rights case in the Mexican courts to
decide the issue.
Electrolux’s form is similar in Europe. Around 500 people are set to lose
their jobs from a vacuum cleaner plant in Vasterik, in Electrolux’s home base of
Sweden and move the jobs to Hungary.
Again the main reason for the move is to exploit the lower wages of desperate
and vulnerable manufacturing workers in a developing economy. But even more
alarming, Electrolux officials also have admitted to the media that the transfer
is part of an incentive deal to encourage Hungary to buy 14 JAS 39 Gripen
fighter jets currently being leased from Sweden by the Hungarian Government.
I guess that nobody should be surprised that Electrolux is prepared to
devastate employment prospects in a small town in its own home country to
benefit the international arms trade. That’s the kind of people we’re up
So I do encourage you all to join in the campaign to stop this company’s
rampage against workers, especially here in Orange.
Help us save Australian jobs from a company that has axed 24,000 jobs
worldwide in the last five years. Join the campaign now; we have launched a
special campaign website located at www.awu.net.au where you and other members
of the community can send protest emails to Electrolux management in Sweden.
Its important we send them a strong message – so take some leaflets, tell
your friends, family and colleagues and get involved.
And finally I would like you all to know this. No matter what Electrolux
tries to do, the AWU will support you all the way. I will support you all the
way. Your workmates will support you all the way. Your local community will
support you all the way. And the unions internationally will support you all the
Good work, stick together, and thank you.