Workers at International Flavours & Fragrances (IFF) began occupying the Dandenong factory on January 27 after negotiations for a new workplace agreement stalled. Negotiations have been ongoing since June, after contention arose over management’s proposal for a $0.55 an hour wage rise if workers forfeited one of their two paid 10 minute breaks.
Workers at the factory, which makes flavours for Smiths Chips, Coca-Cola and Lion Food & Dairy, gave notice of an overtime and paperwork ban. When they arrived for the early morning shift on January 27, they discovered that they had been locked out of the factory.
The Age reported that about 50 National Union of Workers' members then ran inside the factory when they saw the gates were shutting. They have been locked in the lunchroom ever since.
National Union of Workers' delegate Arthur Ingles said the employees were protesting against what they felt were unreasonable cuts to their conditions by IFF, which is one of the biggest flavouring companies in the world.
Workers were particularly concerned about plans to remove a clause paying out unused personal leave when an employee left the company. The union said employees were willing to negotiate on a $50 a day bonus for unused sick days, capped at $500 a year.
Inglis told Fairfax Media: "We will stay until we are able to negotiate a reasonable outcome with the company. The workers are prepared to do ‘whatever it takes’."
More than 2000 messages in support of the workers have been sent to IFF management from the union’s global affliate, which represents food workers worldwide.
The occupying workers say they are not just defending their own conditions, but also those that unionists fought hard to win in the past and will fight to win in the future.