Mill workers strike for first time in three decades over pay dispute

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
3 Min Read

Construction material workers in Newcastle walked off the job yesterday after being unable to resolve an ongoing pay dispute.

Workers at Infrabuild’s Rod and AusTube Mills went on strike on Thursday afternoon, demanding a pay rise in line with cost-of-living increases.

Wage negotiations between Infrabuild and staff had reached a stalemate over the preceding months, with workers at both mills rejecting a previous increased pay offer in a landslide vote.

The bonus-based proposal was declined by 85 per cent of employees at the Newcastle Rod Mill and 91 per cent at the AusTube Mills, respectively.

Australian Workers Union NSW Branch Secretary Tony Callinan says the rejected offer, due to its structure, would have failed to keep pace with the nation’s rising cost of living.

“At the Newcastle Rod Mill, we have been encouraged by Infrabuild’s recent movement in negotiations, but our members are adamant that wage increases should be made into base wages and not structured as bonuses,” he said.

“At AusTube Mills, we remain concerned about the erosion of a range of conditions from the current enterprise agreement.”

“Our collective commitment to securing a fair and just outcome for the hardworking individuals at the mills remains steadfast.”

Industrial action to continue without revised offer

Mr Callinan called on the organisation to take inspiration from other Newcastle construction material businesses and called for a guaranteed first-year increase to workers’ base pay.

“Other businesses in Newcastle, such as Tomago Aluminium and UGL, have recognised the challenges posed by the rising cost of living,” he said.

In their recent enterprise agreements, they have provided a substantial six per cent increase in the first year to acknowledge the pressing concerns of their employees. We believe Infrabuild should consider similar measures.”

The Newcastle Rod Mill specialises in converting long steel bars (billets) into thinner steel rods, with union members claiming record low staffing levels have reduced morale and affected productivity in recent years.

Meanwhile, AusTube Mills manufactures structural steel tubular, pipe and profile products alongside a range of coatings and has dealt with the “stripping back of conditions”, according to the AWU.

The walkouts were the first strikes in 30 years at either mill, with workers hoping the industrial action would lead to a better offer.

“Industrial action has been a rare sight at the Newcastle Rod Mill and AusTube Mills in modern history, and the decision to walk off the job was not taken lightly,” Mr Callinan said.

“It is important that management understands this action will persist until our members are offered a fair and reasonable wage increase.”

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.