APPM confrontation heats up

Issue 

By Ian Jamieson

BURNIE — Tasmanian paper giant APPM is continuing to up the ante in its drive to eliminate unions from its large plant here. Among its latest moves is a series of civil writs against union officials, including ACTU president Martin Ferguson.

The writs seek damages against the officials for allegedly impeding pulp and paper production by organising a stop-work meeting before Easter over the company's union-busting tactics. All company employees who attended this and other meetings have been sent letters threatening dismissal if they continue to observe union stop-works.

The dispute arose over a company decision to revoke nearly all industrial agreements made before April 2. Many of these were the result of extensive negotiations over workplace restructuring and efficiency.

The company's writs, due to be heard on May 15, are also a direct snub to the Liberal government of Premier Ray Groom, coming a day after a meeting between APPM management and state cabinet. After six months of indecision, the meeting reflected growing government concern over the worsening industrial situation.

There are divisions within Groom's Liberals between New Right ideologues and others who are mainly concerned about the immediate economic and political situation.

Divisions within the Liberal Party have been exacerbated by shenanigans in the federal parliament over the Resource Security Bill. State Liberals are frustrated with the blocking role of their federal counterparts' insistence on amendments to tighten the bill.

However, there is also evidence that APPM wants to torpedo the bill despite its willingness to have the public believe the resource legislation would clear the way for a new paper mill in northern Tasmania. It appears APPM wants to avoid involvement in any new paper venture and to concentrate on woodchip production, which will be far more profitable in the short term. Meanwhile, the company will blame the union movement and environmentalists for the "loss" of the new mill.

The eight unions in the Burnie plant have completed their submissions to the federal Industrial Relations Commission's Paul Munro, and the company is now due to present its case. A judgment is expected within a month, but the company has already said it will not accept an unfavourable verdict.

Meanwhile, as APPM continues to crack its legal-industrial whip, union members are considering some moves of their own, including an application to write questions of workers' rights into their award. Such rights would include union representation and recognition and the right to dignified treatment on and off the job.

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