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Schweppes workers return to factory after 8 week lock-out over shift length

Over 150 workers at Schweppes’ Tullamarine plant will return to work for the first time in over eight weeks tomorrow.

The factory, north-west of the Melbourne CBD, locked workers out on 15 December when they began industrial action over the company’s plans to introduce 12-hour shifts to boost productivity.

Workers said the company did not provide enough time prior to the implementation of the roster changes to be able to arrange childcare and living arrangements.

After two months without pay over the issue, employees are ready to get back to work, according to Ben Redford, assistant secretary of the United Voice union.

“They are really happy we will be able to attack the proposed 12-hour shifts at Fair Work Australia, which will have a detrimental effect on the lives of workers,” he said.

‘We cut a deal with the company last week and they are now being paid and they will be back to work tomorrow.”

The dispute, combined with a chemical spill at the Koorngarang Island plant of energy giant Orica led to some stores across Australia selling out of Schweppes products.

The issues the plant are had flow-on affects for the beverage manufacturing industry, with no CO2 being produced to make drinks fizz.

CO2 is used in beer and soft drinks to make the product fizzy, but the company has not produced any since June last year.

In early January Schweppes confirmed that the Orica closure had impacted its production but hopes to be back at normal production levels by the end of January.

‘Over the past two months, there has been a shortage in the supply of CO2 to our largest East Coast manufacturing facilities, due to the closure of Orica’s plant at Kooragang Island, NSW, in August and then compounded in December by the planned closure of Origin Energy’s plant in Lang Lang, Victoria,’’ a statement said.

‘‘As a consequence of this shortage, we have not been able to produce the volume of soft drinks that we normally would be producing at this time of year.’’

The dispute will now go to 21 days’ conciliation, and Fair Work Australia will decide if a solution cannot be found within that time.

The number of industrial disputes in Australia is on the rise, according to the latest figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistic (ABS).

Sixty-six 66 disputes took place in the September quarter 2011, ABS figures revealed. This was 13 more than in the June quarter 2011.

September quarter figures also showed that the number of employees involved in industrial disputes was 66,400, an increase from 14,700 in the June quarter 2011.

Calls by Food Magazine to Schweppes this morning have gone unanswered.

Image: The Age

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