SPC spills the beans on workplace conditions

Fruit processor SPC Ardmona is setting the record straight in regards to its workers’ allowances and conditions, arguing that recent claims made by the federal government are untrue.

Last week prime minister Tony Abbott formerly rejected SPCA’s request for $25 million in assistance to upgrade its Shepparton plant, arguing the company needed to renegotiate "extraordinary” workplace conditions which were "way in excess of the award", the ABC reports. Reported conditions include that SPC workers are paid up to 58 percent above award wage levels and receive nine weeks’ paid leave.

SPC has today (4 February) released a statement, claiming that Abbott’s comments are “mistaken and need to be refuted by the facts.”

According to the statement, the total cost of allowances for all production staff at SPC Ardmona for the entire year of 2013 was $116,467, which represents less than 0.1 percent of the business’s cost of goods for the year. In regards to leave entitlements, employees get 20 days annual leave, not nine weeks. 

The statement goes on to explain that since 2011 32 percent of positions across the business have been made redundant and in December 2013, 73 employees in the company’s maintenance and trade function were made redundant.

SPC Ardmona’s managing director, Peter Kelly, said “We are doing our best to reduce all costs across the business, however the serious problems that have beset SPCA have not been because of labour costs and certainly not from the allowances, a fact borne out by the Productivity Commission’s recent analysis.

“The business has been severely damaged in recent times by a ‘perfect storm’ created by external economic factors – the high Australian dollar, which appreciated more than 50 percent from 2009 to 2013, has both enabled the flood of cheap imported product to be sold in Australia below the cost of production here, and also decimated the company’s export markets.

“In that period market share of private label canned fruit grew to 58 percent today, while SPC Ardmona canned fruit share declined to 33 percent. Our export market volumes declined by 90 percent in the past five years,” he said.

The company also lists adverse weather conditions, dumping of cheap imported fruit and vegetable products into Australia from countries with less stringent safety, environmental and labour standards, and the fact that there are no or very low tariffs imposed on imported fruit products from countries such as China and the European Union as contributors to SPC’s struggles.

The truth according to SPC

Claim: SPC Ardmona employees get “over generous” allowances.

Fact: The total allowances paid to SPC production staff in 2013 was $116,467, which represents less than 0.1 percent of the business’s cost of goods for the year.

Claim: There is a generous “wet” allowance of 58 cents per hour for cleaners

Fact: Zero ($0.00) paid in 2013.

Claim: SPC Ardmona employees get nine weeks paid leave a year.

Fact: SPCA employees get 20 days annual leave.

Claim:  A five day Melbourne Cup long weekend.

Fact: Production staff accrue rostered days off (RDOs) during the year which SPCA requires them not to take during the peak season. Instead these RDOs are taken at the start of November, the optimum time for a plant shutdown to allow maintenance in preparation for the canning season from December to April. RDOs are not additional leave.

Claim: Sick leave is cashed out each year.

Fact: This was removed from the EBA in 2012.

Claim: Loading, or shift penalties are above the award.

Fact: SPCA’s are the same as industry standards and common to many Australian EBAs. Afternoon shift is a 20 percent and night shift at 30 percent.

Claim: Loadings on top of overtime.

Fact: Production workers do almost zero overtime.

Claim: Redundancy is in excess of the award.

Fact: This old condition was reduced in 2012 to a 52 week cap


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