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Multinational Kirin Dead-ends “The Original Local Draught Beer”

Written by: Ned K. on 7 December 2020


In October this year, Japanese food and beverage industry multinational, Kirin, announced it was closing the iconic West End Brewery in Adelaide in June 2021.

The West End Brewery has a history stretching back to the 1880’s. 

It has employed thousands of workers in full time jobs over its 140 year history who through numerous struggles won above average wages and working conditions. 

The West End Brewery became somewhat of a cultural icon with its enormously popular Christmas display on the bank of the River Torrens on the northern side of the brewery. 

Two huge West End Draught beer tanks on the northern side of the brewery with the words, “Born and Brewed in SA” and “The Original Local Draught Beer” are just as well known landmarks in Adelaide as Adelaide Oval or the Town Hall and GPO!

Workers were shocked and angry at the closure announcement. Many of the long serving workers have been through numerous “restructures” over the years, especially since the brewery was taken over by multinational corporations.  In the early 1990s Lion Nathan from New Zealand ended the local capitalist ownership of the brewery and then in more recent times Japanese multinational Kirin took over ownership of the brewery along with breweries XXXX in Brisbane and Tooheys in Sydney. 

Workers were expecting another “restructure”, but not a complete closure, as the West End brewery was running at about 50% capacity due to Kirin concentrating most of its production in the larger breweries interstate. 

Once workers got over the initial shock of the announcement they got organised for a new Enterprise Agreement negotiation to win a better redundancy payout, including for long term labour hire casuals.

Kirin wanted no part of any increase in the redundancy pay so workers proceeded to take “protected industrial action” in pursuit of their redundancy pay demands. Short term stoppages failed to move the company so in late November workers decided to take strike action. After the first week of strike action there was no response from Kirin so workers intensified their strike action to block in-coming and outgoing trucks. This meant that salaried staff’s attempt to continue to operate the brewery on a small scale to produce and distribute the most lucrative and pressing orders failed.

In desperation, on early Saturday 5 December, the company gave the go-ahead for a local owner driver truck to try and break the picket line to enable some production in the brewery to continue. The truck was stopped by alert workers forcing the truck to be caught disrupting traffic on Port Road as it could not get through the gate due to determined picketers risking head and skin in front of the truck.

Frustrated Kirin managers and the strike breaking truck owner had the police at the scene quick smart. However the police assessed that the picketers were holding a peaceful assembly and that trying to remove them to enable the truck to get though would only escalate the situation. So they ordered the truck to reverse and go away. 

A small but important victory for the workers as they prepared on the weekend for expected future attempts by the company to break the picket in coming days with more trucks expected to come. Workers and their union, United Workers Union, were also expecting attempts by Kirin to use the bosses’ courts to break the strike and perhaps provide a face saving way out for the company which finds itself in a dispute with a determined workforce with a lot of community support due to the iconic nature of the West End Brewery and the community’s fear of more permanent full time manufacturing jobs disappearing from South Australia.



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