About 90 workers at envelope manufacturer Australian Paper’s Preston plant stopped work on January 16 and formed a picket in front of the factory after nine months of negotiations failed to secure a new enterprise agreement.
Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) organiser Dean Griffiths said: “We kicked off picketing on [January 16] with an indefinite stoppage. The company understands the workers’ desire for the enterprise agreement and until they make contact and are open to negotiations the workers will not stop.
“The workers want to keep their current conditions, but the company has reduced RDOs [rostered days off] from 16 to 12. We have asked for a three-year agreement with annual [pay] increases of 2.5%. The company has come back to us with a four-year agreement with 0% in the first year, 2% in the second and third and 2.5% in the fourth. That is a 6.5% increase over four years instead of a 7.5% increase over three and that is just going backwards.
“They are also looking to grandfather wages. It is tied up with classification structures: people with a certain skill are supposed to get a certain amount of pay. There is a figure for each classification.
“The EBA is lower than the workers’ current pay, so people with the most skills will not be receiving pay increases over the next few EBA cycles until others catch up, which could amount to more than six years.”
AMWU member Margaret Peacock, who has worked at Australian Paper for 33 years, urged people to come down and support the protest.
Peacock said: “We are here out on the grass to strike for a fair deal at work, for our right to pay rises that the company says it is not going to give us. They are trying to take four RDOs from us and they are also grandfathering our wages. We really need people to come down here and support us.”
The company announced on January 22 that it would not negotiate until the workers returned to work, but the workers are refusing to call off the picket until their demands are met.
Griffiths said: “We had an email exchange with the company. They said they were willing to negotiate as long as we stop corporate action. We know what that means, they will take us into the office, give us the same terms and we will get nothing. So we are going to keep going and everyone is still determined.”
Peacock said: “We are still all standing strong. We are picketing from 5.30 in the morning to 11.30 at night each day. We started on January 16, we had a meeting and we all unanimously voted to go out. We cannot go back inside — they will take everything off us.
“Our main concern is them taking away our RDOs. There is also the grandfathering; people on top of the tier cannot get pay rises until everyone catches up. This covers about 80% of our work force. They have spent 20–30 years working towards this, doing the training and learning the machinery and now they are expected to train new people coming in, who will get rises while they do not. It is not fair.”
[Unions are encouraging supporters to visit the picket line at 54 Raglan St, Preston, Victoria. You can also support the workers online via the AMWU Victoria Facebook Page.]