OPAL Australian Paper has not budged in the latest round of Enterprise business agreement (EBA) negotiations.

Workers at the Maryvale mill have been in talks with management since the EBA expired in September last year.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) has continued implementing protected industrial action as the dispute passed its seventh meeting.

The vast majority of Opal’s Maryvale mill workforce is unionised and protected by an EBA negotiated by their union.

AMWU’s region representative, Simon Peel, said talks have stagnated as their demands have been ignored.

“It is frustrating because we want to work with the management, but they don’t want to work with us,” he said.

The union’s main disputes are centred on job security, contract labour, overtime and income protection.

Electrical Trades Union (ETU) and the Construction, Forestry and Maritime Employees Union (CFMEU) are also taking action.

“The three unions are still taking protected action – we had a meeting between Christmas and New Year with Opal’s management – the three Unions have moved their decisions, but Opal (hasn’t),” Mr Peel said.

This round of negotiations echoes scenes of the long-running dispute in 2020 when management locked out more than 100 workers.

“Every negotiation has ended up in industrial action,” Mr Peel said.

“Opal has a reputation for doing this on every EBA they do.”

To try to bring Opal to the negotiating table, the unions have decreased their annual requested pay increase from six to four per cent (which is about market value at the moment), but Opal’s demands for the EBA have remained unchanged.

History: Opal has been a major employer in the Latrobe Valley, but has a history of lengthy EBA negotiations. Photograph: Zaida Glibanovic

“They are sticking to the guns, and we believe they are trying to strip back everything that these blokes have fought for over the years in every dispute that they’ve had,” Mr Peel added.

The AMWU has extended an olive branch to Opal management dropping demands of additional pay for Emergency Response Teams despite their extensive training needs.

Opal Australian Paper has a long history in local paper manufacturing. The Maryvale Mill opened in the Latrobe Valley in 1937 and has since grown to be one of the largest employers in the region.

In recent times, and with the closure of white paper at the plant, the unions have grown increasingly concerned with their members’ job security.

Protected industrial action, including rolling one-hour stoppages, is still taking place, and many blanket bans on actions, including overtime, step-up duties, and using mobiles or other communications for plant purposes, remain firm.

“Financially, it does hurt our members, walking off the job and not getting paid.” Mr Peel explained.

Remaining optimistic, the three unions hope Opal will move their stance and give in to some of the union’s demands.

Representatives from the AMWU, the ETU and the CFMEU will meet in the upcoming weeks to discuss the possibility of stepping up industrial action if Opal were to continue to play hardball.

When questioned about the negotiations, an Opal spokesperson said, “Opal Australian Paper remains committed to working collaboratively in reaching an Agreement that works for the Mill and our maintenance team members.”

“We remain focused on achieving a successful transition of the Maryvale Mill into a commercially sustainable manufacturing operation.”