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The only rat worth fighting for

in Employment Law by Slater and Gordon on
The only rat worth fighting for

The Battle of the Brewery is now legendary - the fight of the AMWU and the ETU and its members against Carlton & United Breweries. In June 2016, CUB through its subcontractor sacked the maintenance workforce of fitters and electricians at its brewery in Melbourne and told the workers they could reapply for their jobs with a 65% cut to wages. If CUB thought they’d have an easy win, they were wrong.    

The unions quickly established a picket outside the brewery in Abbotsford. The office windows of the boss were in direct sight. It wasn’t an ordinary picket. It was an occupation. While there was a Council permit in place for a mobile scaffold and two vehicles, the site continued to expand. Soon there were three stacked shipping containers with stairs, toilets, trucks and other vehicles. There were loud speakers and horns. And who could forget the presence of a giant inflatable rat called “Scabby” that had made his home outside the brewery.  

The need for updated road/footpath occupation and planning permits became urgent. The Council and police came under pressure from CUB to remove the structures.

CUB complained under the Public Health and Wellbring Act 2012 (Vic) that the picket was a public nuisance and that the presence of the scaffold interfered with the use and enjoyment of the site. They alleged the nuisance included people congregating in large numbers, intimidation, interference with contractors delivering goods, blocked entrances and the emission of noise. They said Scabby was in the way and that the site was dangerous to health and offensive.

There were no permits allowing Scabby and the structures to remain. Scabby faced eviction.

It was at that point that the unions asked Slater and Gordon to step in to save Scabby. Our work was done on a pro-bono basis. The team in property and planning (usually better known for their work representing owners facing compulsory property acquisition) went to work. Draftspersons, town planners, surveyors and traffic management consultants were involved. A Traffic Management Plan and a Survey Plan were prepared to apply for a new Road Occupation Permit and Planning Permit.

There was extensive dialogue with Council to meet all their requirements – from crash barrier protections and minimum footpath access distances to providing public liability insurance, reducing the volume on speakers and ensuring Scabby didn’t block driveways. Scabby featured prominently in correspondence although could only be called the “Rat”. Slater and Gordon argued that the industrial campaign was an important and significant exercise in the defence and promotion of workers’ rights. We said that any inconvenience was proportionate and justifiable in the circumstances.

Within weeks the permits were issued. The picket would remain for 6 months in total – with all the permissions that were needed, and awaiting CUB’s eventual defeat in December 2016.