Bryce Eishold and Heidi Kraak
Up to 200 workers will start industrial action at Australian Paper Maryvale today, six months after negotiations for a new enterprise bargaining agreement commenced.
Unions are expected to implement a range of indefinite bans including on overtime, responding to callouts as well as performing higher duties, and are yet to rule out strike action.
The industrial action will involve between 180 and 200 workers in the Electrical Trades Union, Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union and National Union of Workers and relates to a “lack of secure employment”, unionists say.
ETU Gippsland organiser Peter Mooney feared proposed changes by Australian Paper to the EBA, which ended on June 11, might mean full-time staff could be laid off and contractors brought in to carry out the work.
However, Australian Paper said it was “continuing to make positive progress towards a new enterprise agreement” with its maintenance employees and was committed “to reaching an outcome that is fair for our employees and Australian Paper”.
“Labour is Australian Paper’s highest input cost and we need to ensure that wage increases in the new agreement are offset by productivity improvements in other areas,” Australian Paper general manager communications and sustainability Craig Dunn said.
“A number of areas of productivity improvements have been explored but to this point none have been agreed by the parties.”
But Mr Mooney said Australian Paper was “attacking our job protection and security of employment” because they “want [us] removed from the agreement”.
“In the agreement we have a clause that states how many electricians, storemen and fitters maintain the equipment at the mill,” Mr Mooney said.
“[Australian Paper] wants to remove those numbers from the agreement and that would remove our job security and protection. It needs to be left alone.”
AMWU organiser Steve Dodd said the unions had been “backed into a corner”, with security of employment “a really big concern to us”.
“You really need to have permanent, experienced employees on the ground, instead of causal ones that walk in the gate that don’t know the plant, don’t know the systems,” he said.
Nearly 100 per cent of AMWU members had voted to take protected action, “which tells you that the guys are annoyed”, Mr Dodd said.
“We would be hopeful that there would be some common sense out of Australian Paper … instead of slashing and burning our conditions, especially in the last EBA [union members] made some significant changes to make sure the place stays competitive,” he said.
According to the unions, the last EBA involved a deal a lot of members were not in favour of, but voted for it in order to support the Australia Paper.
Mr Mooney said in the last EBA agreement, workers voted to work an additional three hours a week unpaid to “show their buy-in and support” of the Maryvale mill.
“We used to work out there 35 hours a week. Part of the deal going forward was that the employees agreed to move off the 35 hours and 38 hour but were only paid for 35,” Mr Mooney said.
“It means that our people work every week for three hours for nothing and if you do that over the life of the agreement we’ve worked 11 weeks for nothing – and that’s every maintenance employee since March 2016.”
But Australian paper general manager communications and sustainability Craig Dunn said the previous maintenance agreement was “resolved in a collaborative environment which demonstrated that all parties were committed to a positive future for Maryvale”.
“We hope that this will remain a core part of the current negotiations,” Mr Dunn said.
“Australian Paper competes in a global market and we need to tightly control our costs to remain competitive.