Union officials are alleging that the Abbott government had pushed for SPC Ardmona to cut workers’ pay by up to 40 percent in exchange for an assistance package.
According to union officials, SPC Ardmona’s managing director Peter Kelly was pressured by the Abbott government late last year to cut workers’ wages by putting them on the award in exchange for a possible $25m bailout, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.
If workers were to be moved to the award, wages would be cut dramatically. According to SMH, pay for a level-two process worker would be cut from $50,000 to $33,000, while skilled maintenance workers would receive a cut from $85,000 to around $50,000.
Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said that the processor needed to reduce labour costs, but did not directly answer questions relating to wage reductions.
“I do want to reduce labour costs but it's not necessarily reducing wages,'' he said.
''If we boost our productivity, if we increase the number of units that a person produces, then wages can remain stable but we do have to have competitive working conditions and we do have to make sure that some of the things that have happened in industry in Australia in the past are addressed.''
Troy Gray, state secretary for the Electrical Trades Union said that SPC's Peter Kelly had informed him of a number of meetings that he had with senior government figures including MacFarlane. According to Gray, Kelly explained to officials that placing workers on the award would equate to a severe reduction in wages.
Gray says that the government’s proposal was simply a push to pressure industrial relations reform by pressuring struggling companies to cut wages in order to secure assistance. ''This is WorkChoices mark 2 by stealth; it's disgusting to be honest,” Gray told SMH.
Brendan O’Connor, Labor’s employment and workplace relations spokesman mentioned the Liberal government’s attack on SPC’s pay conditions in which Tony Abbott claimed had claimed that SPC workers enjoyed "extraordinary” workplace conditions which were "way in excess of the award".
''Mr Hockey has made it clear that he supports a race-to-the-bottom approach to workers' wages and conditions in this country,''
SPC Ardmona has since secured $22m from the Victorian state government, and $78m from parent company Coca-Cola Amatil as part of a restructure plan over the next three years.