Mill workers prepared to strike

PRODUCTION workers at Australian Paper’s Maryvale Mill have prepared themselves to take protected industrial action as enterprise bargaining negotiations continue.

More than 400 workers voted in support of a range of actions in a secret ballot conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission last week, the most extreme being strike action in all or part of the workplace.

But Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union Maryvale secretary Anthony Pavey said stoppages would be a “last resort” for members, who hadn’t taken industrial action in 35 years.

“We’re still willing to sit down and talk with the company,” Mr Pavey said.

“We’re not in a downward spiral in negotiations, we’ve just done the required work so if the situation does deteriorate, we’re in a position to take action under the law.”

The previous enterprise agreement was in place for three and-a-half years and expired in January.

Workers had sought a six per cent pay rise each year for the next three years, along with an increase in redundancy pay from four to five weeks for every year worked and temporary employees to be made permanent after 12 months, among other conditions.

As part of negotiations the union was ready to take a compromise back to members, seeking a shorter, 18-month agreement with a rollover of conditions from the previous term and a six-month pay rise deferral.

But Mr Pavey said Australian Paper wanted to amend certain conditions relating to overtime clauses for small sections of the workforce.

Australian Paper’s general manager HR Mark Nelson said the company was a manufacturer struggling to compete against imported products coming into the country.

“The reality for us is we need to get some cost offsets for wage increases that members continue to seek,” he said.

“We can’t just continue to give money away.”

Mr Pavey said the union had been working with Australian Paper to cut costs, including axing 22 permanent positions in two years.

“Workers are picking up extras that had been done by sub-contractors or external suppliers, for example, observers for confined space work,” Mr Pavey said.

“We’re helping the company save $3 million a year.”