Action intensifies

Michelle Slater

Unions have not ruled out the possibility of forming a picket line outside Australian Paper’s Maryvale Mill as about 160 workers continue industrial action.

Electrical Trades Union, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and Australian Workers’ Union mill maintenance workers have downed tools in a long standing stoush over a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement.

ETU organiser Peter Mooney said 60 members began a 48-hour action yesterday, joined by about another 100 AMWU and AWU members today.

Union representatives met with AP and Fair Work Commissioner deputy president Richard Clancy yesterday afternoon.

“We are trying very hard to reach a new EBA with Australian Paper, the company has made some serious claims against members, and these claims will reduce our earning capacity,” Mr Mooney said prior to the meeting.

“We are at a point where we need to show the company that we are fair dinkum over maintaining our conditions. Our members are disappointed in the company’s attitude towards them.”

The unions are concerned over AP’s press for claims in clauses to personal leave, overtime, contractor labour, employment security, shifts and new starter rates.

Workers had also imposed permanent work bans on overtime, call-outs and upgrades.

Mr Mooney said members had voted to support the company in a previous EBA three years ago in which they would work an extra three hours a week unpaid.

He said this equated to 11 weeks of free labour over the lifetime of the agreement.

“Three years down the track the company is having a swipe at us after we supported them in the past. They are biting us on the bum,” he said.

AMWU organiser Steve Dodd said they “would do what it took” to protect workers’ rights.

“We hope Australia Paper will negotiate appropriately. We are always open for discussions and bargaining, we are trying to narrow the gap, but at this point the gap is like the Grand Canyon,” Mr Dodd said.

“This is an employer who tells the local community to buy its products, but if we agree to their changes it means less money to flow into the local economy.”

Australian Paper general manager communications Craig Dunn said the company was committed to ongoing discussions and reaching an agreement between all parties and the Fair Work Commission.

“Australian Paper competes in a global market and we need to tightly control our costs to remain competitive,” Mr Dunn said.

“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.”

Mr Dunn said a previous maintenance agreement was resolved in a collaborative environment and the company hoped this would remain a core part of the current negotiations.

“A number of areas of productivity improvements have been explored but to this point none have been agreed by the parties,” he said.