Greek Australians are amongst the victims of a series of dismissals that have taken place across Melbourne as the economic downturn starts to bite.
Twenty-two year old Chris Kyriakou was one of forty workers sacked by construction giant, John Holland from the Westgate Reconstruction project after demanding to be paid the industry rate for the job.

The workers are currently fighting for their jobs at an ongoing protest outside of John Holland Offices.

“When I was employed in February by Civil Pacific (a sub-contractor for John Holland), I was told to expect two years full time work so I left my previous job for this contract,” says Kyriakou.

“Our company signed an agreement with the unions that they would pay us the industry standard but when Civil Pacific approached the builder John Holland for the money, he refused to pay. We were sacked last Monday with no warning”.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) organiser Tony Mavromatis, who is representing the workers says that John Holland wanted to employ the workers on rates much lower than those in the agreement but the workers refused.

“John Holland is now trying to find other people to do the job, even though they have skilled, qualified workers. This is just another case of corporate greed. Like Pacific Brands and Fosters, Holland wants to employ people at a cheaper rate. It’s got nothing to do with the financial crisis”.

Kyriakou agrees. “They are trying to undercut the construction industry and take advantage of the financial crisis because there are no jobs and they expect us to come back and work for peanuts.

It’s a dangerous job, 35 workers died in the 1970s working on the bridge and a lot of entitlements we enjoy today were fought for on the job back then so that is why we are also fighting so hard to get what we are entitled to.”.

Electrical Fitter Johnny Manetas, 37, recently married with a 7 month old baby tells a simlar story about his redundancy from ANCA, a machine grinding company. ANCA culled almost half its employees in favour of reallocating to Thailand because of the lower costs of production.
“It was no surprise because we knew what was happening,” he says.

“Although their sales did drop over the last 6 months, this was something that was on the cards already as they wanted to go overseas to make a profit- the workers in Thailand work for peanuts”.

He goes on to say, “I think that it is terrible that a lot of companies are shutting down and going overseas. I think the government should be doing more to help local workers, and when they hand out money to some of the companies such as Pacific brands and ANCA, make it a condition that they are to remain in Australia”.

Commerce and engineer graduate, Tas Thaniotis suspects that some businesses may be using the economic crisis as an excuse to sack workers, but says that the majority of companies, like his previous employer, the Macquarie Group,  have genuinely had to lay of workers because of business losses.

“I was retrenched from my position as a graduate business analyst from Macquarie group in January. Basically they decided it was not sustainable to keep the amount of employees they currently have, going into the recession and with the crisis expected deepen rather than improve,” he says.

“Because the fund that I was working for was experiencing poor share prices in the recent months leading up to the crisis, the contract was cancelled and we were paid out a redundancy package. Some people were pretty bitter but I think it was a good experience. This is an industry where people sacrifice job security for high pay”.

It is estimated that 36,000 jobs have been lost since in the past year, with ANZ economist Riki Polygenis forecasting that unemployment in February will hit 5.1% (figures to be released on Thursday).

“We are expecting the unemployment rate to get up to 6.5% percent by end 2009, and 7.5% by middle of 2010. Whether or not we are already in a recession is beside the point; it’s very clear that Australian economic growth is going to be negative for some time”.