Beer brewer tries to slash wages by 65%

July 15, 2016

Carlton and United Brewery (CUB) is trying to impose a 65% pay cut on its maintenance workforce.

The 54 electricians and fitters were called to a meeting in a pub on June 10 and told their jobs were terminated. They were then told they could reapply for their jobs with a company called Catalyst Recruitment which is part of the Programmed/Skilled Group.

Five apprentices have been left in limbo with no jobs and no trade qualifications.

The jobs would be on individual contracts, would be covered by a barely compliant non-union enterprise bargaining agreement and would result in a massive loss of terms and conditions, including a 65% pay cut.

Mechanical fitters are being offered a base rate of just $19.50 an hour under a new non-union enterprise agreement. This is just 50 cents above the lowest award base.

In a new industrial tactic, the non-union EBA being imposed by Catalyst is a common law agreement. This means that workers cannot change it through the Fair Work Commission but have to apply to a court to change it. The agreement covers all Catalyst workers throughout Australia in all of the industries it operates in, so it would be virtually impossible for the CUB workers to change any agreement.

The Programmed/Skilled Group is known for its union-busting activities.

The workers, who are members of the Electrical Trades Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, are in the fifth week of protesting against their sacking.

Many of the workers have worked at the plant for a long time — up to 34 years — because the unionised workforce has won very good working conditions and pay.

Prior to the sackings, CUB forced the workers to work enormous amounts of overtime — more than 60 hours a week — in order to stockpile beer before the dispute.

However, beer supplies in Melbourne are running low with the inexperienced scabs unable to maintain the level of beer production before the dispute. It requires specialised electricians and fitters to be able to maintain the machines.

CUB brew the Carlton beers, Pure Blonde, VB and the Bulmer's ciders. CUB dominates the Australian beer market, owning five of the 10 biggest brands, including VB, Australia's single most popular brand.

Australia's undemocratic industrial relations laws allow companies to sack workers without prior notice, and also allow companies to get injunctions from the court banning pickets, banning workers from calling union busting workers “scabs” and banning the use of megaphones.

CUB is owned by a multinational beer conglomerate SAB Miller. SAB Miller made $4.4 billion in operating profit in 2015 and its CEO Alan Clark is estimated to receive $62 million in earnings this year. In 2015-2016, SABMiller paid zero tax in Australia.

SABMiller is preparing to merge with another beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev in a deal worth US$104 billion. This newly merged company will control the overwhelming majority of the beer market internationally.

CUB's international owner, the London-based SABMiller maintains US$22 billion a year in revenue as it prepares to sell itself to another beer giant, Anheuser-Busch InBev in a deal worth US$104 billion.

Last year, SABMiller paid zero tax.

SABMiller claims its action is legal because it has no direct contractual relationship with the maintenance crews laid off — it has been with one subcontractor and it is merely passing the contract to another who will simply assert the workers pay and conditions at its own discretion.

The argument that the unions are making is that what is taking place is a transmission of business manoeuvre, where a workforce is passed from one company to another to force new conditions on employees — like cutting their pay, or stripping their conditions — to improve the corporation's bottom line.

Workers and their supporters are protesting at the gates of the CUB plant from 6am to 6pm Monday to Friday. Visit the protest at Southampton Crescent, Abbotsford.

The workers have called for a boycott of all Carlton & United products, including:

Abbotsford, Carlton, Cascade, Crown, Foster's, Great Northern, Grolsch, Matilda Bay, Melbourne Bitter, Miller, NT, Peroni, Pilsner Urquell, Pure Blonde, Redd's, Reschs, Sheaf, Victoria Bitter, Bulmers, Dirty Granny, Mercury, Strongbow, Kopparberg, Cougar Bourbon, Cougar, The Black Douglas, Karloff Vodka, Akropolis Oyzo, Prince Albert's Gin, Coyote and Continental.

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