Staff wage freeze hoped to secure Maryvale Mill

A year of negotiations has ended with 160 maintenance workers at Australian Paper’s Maryvale Mill voting ‘yes’ to a new enterprise agreement.

The agreement is hoped to save the future of the Latrobe Valley site as Australian Paper looks to lift itself from years of financial mess.

It has set out to gain $3 million of savings in labour costs for its maintenance employees while increasing the productivity of its workforce.

Australian Paper human resources general manager Mark Nelson said after the 12 months of negotiations involving open, forthright discussions, those objectives had been achieved.

“I’d say this is a very strong sign of the commitment of our workforce to Maryvale Mill, to Australian Paper as a whole, and something which our owner, Nippon Paper Industries of Japan, recognise,” Mr Nelson said.

Maryvale maintenance workers have agreed on a 38-hour, four-day week while being paid for 35 hours, and will receive 52 days off a year in return.

They have also agreed on a wage freeze to help reduce costs, which means they will not receive a pay increase until April 2017.

Branch organisers from the Electrical Trades Union, Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union and National Union of Workers had about 30 meetings with the company to come up with the new deal.

ETU Gippsland branch organiser Peter Mooney said the union was only “partly happy” with the agreement, but he hoped it would at least secure the mill’s future.

“This was a different type of negotiation; it wasn’t adversarial,” Mr Mooney said.

“It was one where all parties were trying to get an understanding and also at the same time build a relationship and a commitment to the long-term viability of the mill.”

Early last year Australian Paper announced a ‘turnaround plan’ to combat four years of consecutive losses.

It closed its Shoalhaven Mill in New South Wales later that year, shredding 75 jobs at the time.

Despite production beginning at Maryvale Mill’s $90 million de-inking and recycling plant, the site still struggles to compete against international paper producers due to little demand for locally made.

“The reality is that without change, without taking costs out of our business, Maryvale Mill may not have survived,” Mr Nelson said.

“That would have been a disaster, not just for our employees, but for the whole of the region.”

AMWU organiser Steve Dodd called on the state and federal governments to do more to support the industry, a major employer in the region.

“You’re never 100 per cent happy, but we thought it was a satisfactory result and our members overwhelmingly endorsed it,” Mr Dodd said.

“We believe we have done our part in agreeing to this agreement, which gives the mill a better opportunity to go forward.” 

The maintenance workers’ 38-hour, four-day week will begin from 10 April.

Australian Paper is currently negotiating with the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union about a new enterprise agreement for its production workers.