National Union of Workers (NUW) members at the Ridley Agri site in the Geelong suburb of Lara stopped work for 24 hours on January 29 after negotiations lasting more than six months for a new enterprise agreement broke down.
The workers, who are all on individual contracts, want to collectively negotiate an enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA).
The workers told Green Left Weekly the plant is chronically understaffed, causing safety problems when untrained workers have to complete maintenance work and fatigue from excessive overtime. Workers have also been required to work public holidays. They are hoping an EBA would address these issues as well as lead to better pay rates.
Ridley Agri is Australia’s largest commercial provider of animal nutrition products. The company made a profit of more than $25 million after tax last year. The Lara site is the company’s most profitable plant.
Geelong Trades Hall Council secretary Colin Vernon told Green Left Weekly: “It is really good to see the NUW workers standing up for themselves in negotiations with Ridley Agri in Lara.
“The thing that has been unsaid about the dispute is that the Fair Work Act required the workers to give seven days’ notice of having the dispute. That is just unacceptable.
“The standard is three days under the agreement and demanding seven days is yet another example of the rules being broken.”