Union launches Streets ice cream boycott

The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) has called for Australians to boycott Streets ice creams this summer, claiming some of its workers are facing huge pay cuts.

Unilver, the maker of the ice creams, has applied to terminate the collective agreement negotiated by workers at its Minto site. According to unions, if successful, this will cut annual pay packets of workers by 46 per cent.

“Today, we are officially declaring a Streets Free Summer. We are calling on every Australian to stand up for fairness. If Streets won’t do what’s right, we won’t take a bite,” said Steve Murphy, AMWU NSW Secretary.

“No Australian worker should be forced to take a 46% pay cut. Streets and Unilever have decided to hit the nuclear option and have given workers no choice. It’s clear now, that the only way to make this global corporation listen is to hit them where it hurts.”

In response, Unilver called on the union to work constructively to secure Streets factory future.

“Our goal is to keep making Streets ice cream products in Australia, but our Minto factory lacks the flexibility needed to run a seasonal business and is too costly to run, making it uncompetitive,” the company said in a statement.

“We cannot continue with the current situation as it’s simply not sustainable.  For example, it’s currently almost 30 per cent cheaper to import a Magnum Classic ice cream made in Europe than to make the same ice cream at Minto, even when you include the 16,000 kilometres of frozen transport.”

Labour-hire operator penalised for underpaying overseas farm workers

Fair Work Ombudsman legal action stemming from the national Inquiry into exploitation of overseas workers on Australian farms has led to a Queensland labour-hire operator being penalised a total of $102,000 for underpaying 144 employees.

Queensland man Ram Kumar has been penalised $17,000 and his labour-hire company, Seasonal Farm Services Pty Ltd, has been penalised a further $85,000.

The penalties were imposed in the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane after Kumar admitted his company had underpaid 144 employees a total of $60,780 between June, 2014 and June, 2015.

Kumar and his company also contravened record-keeping laws, including by failing to keep any records for a further 70 employees who were paid piece rates.

The lack of records prevented the Fair Work Ombudsman from assessing whether the additional 70 employees had received their minimum lawful entitlements.

Judge Vasta said he found the record keeping contraventions to be “extremely serious” noting the impact it had on ascertaining the quantum of underpayment to the employees who were paid piece rates.

Fair Work inspectors found that Seasonal Farm Services had underpaid the 144 employees after supplying them to pick and pack fruit and vegetables on a number of farms in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley.

One of the employees also performed supervisor duties.

Most of the employees were overseas workers from Asia, Europe and the UK who were in Australia on 417 working holiday visas at the time with three aged as young as 19.

A number of the employees were working for Seasonal Farm Services to become eligible to stay in Australia for two years on their 417 visas by undertaking 88 days specified work in a designated regional area and in certain industries in their first year.

The employees were generally paid flat rates ranging from $16 to $18.50 an hour.

However, as casual employees under the Horticulture Industry Award, the pickers and packers were entitled to be paid $21.09 an hour, with the supervisor entitled to $22.31. The largest individual underpayment was $2820

The underpayments persisted for several months after the Fair Work Ombudsman put Kumar and his company on notice of the need to pay minimum award rates.

Food making salaries on the rise

Salaries for employees in the food manufacturing sector are rising and the demand for some specialised management staff is also up, according to new research.

According to the annual Hays Salary Guide, within the food sector, increased investment in technology and strong regulation and governance have created demand for skills in quality and compliance. As a result, salaries are rising and there is a particular demand for Production and Operational Managers.

Considering the manufacturing sector as a whole, the study found that seventy-six per cent of Australia’s manufacturing employers will give their staff a pay rise of up to three per cent in their next review, but seven per cent will not increase salaries at all.

In addition, 15 per cent of employers intend to award a salary increase of between three and six per cent, while just two per cent of employers will increase salaries at the higher level of more than six per cent.

“The value of the Australian dollar has stimulated manufacturing growth and more companies are bringing manufacturing back in-house,” said Tim James, Director of Hays Manufacturing & Operations.

“While the demise of the automotive sector continues, there are many positive stories of talent successfully transferring into other industries and facets of manufacturing. One is the Victorian Government’s ‘back to work’ scheme. Another is the number of SMEs in South Australia that have embraced diversification, resulting in new headcount creation across skilled blue collar and senior management roles in the latter half of 2016.”

James added that job candidates who adopt an agile approach and transform with the industry will see the most success in the manufacturing sector.

Worker at seafood processor paid just $9 an hour

The Fair Work Ombudsman has assisted a former employee of a seafood processing business in Box Hill, Victoria to recover $85,000 in unpaid entitlements.

The worker, who was a general hand assisting in the loading and unloading of stock, was paid just $9 to $11.50 during 16 years of employment at the business.

He worked at the business an average of 22 to 35 hours per week.

The employer told the Fair Work Ombudsman that the employee received a lower rate of pay because they believed the employee had a reduced capacity to carry out tasks and had hired the employee out of compassion.

The employee should have been paid according to the General Retail Industry Award 2010 for the duration of his employment.

Currently, Level 1 retail employees are entitled to receive $730.80 per week, or $19.44 per hour.  The rate increases to $24.30 for evening work and Saturday work, $38.88 for Sunday work and $48.60 for public holiday work.

Representatives from the Fair Work Ombudsman contacted the employer after receiving a request for assistance from the employee and assisted the parties to resolve the matter, without need for enforcement action.

The employer was educated about their obligations under the Fair Work Act.  They co-operated with the Agency and promptly rectified the matter.

The business avoided enforcement action because it co-operated with the Fair Work Ombudsman, agreed that it had breached its obligations and did not have any history of non-compliance before this matter.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says the error was inadvertent and was the result of the employer failing to check their obligations under workplace laws.

“When we find errors our preference is to educate employers about their obligations and assist them to put processes in place to ensure mistakes are not repeated,” James says.

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s website has a range of tools and resources to assist business owners to understand and comply with their obligations, including the Pay and Conditions Tool (PACT).

Pay rise for Dubbo pet food factory workers

Workers at the Real Pet Food factory in Dubbo have won pay rises of up to 30 per cent in a new union agreement.

A four-year agreement was negotiated between the Real Pet Food Company and Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, resulting in pay rises for its (approximate) 100 employees.

Depending on their shift, some workers could be paid as much as $260 extra each week, according to the union.

All employees won a pay rise of 4.5 per cent in the first year of the agreement, on top of a reclassification that increased wages by 2 per cent.

Pay rises in the years following will result in a 12 per cent pay increase over the timeframe of the agreement.

Furthermore, the agreement includes penalty rates for workers covering afternoon and evening shifts; 15 per cent loading for the afternoon shift and 30 per cent for the evening shift.

Other benefits include recognition of union delegates, improved arbitration measures and better protection from unfair dismissals.

The site was previously non-union, with workers joining last year in order to improve pay and conditions at the factory.

Dairy workers industrial action ends with new pay deal

The industrial dispute at Parmalat’s yoghurt factory in Echuca has been resolved, with workers accepting a new pay deal.

AAP reports that 70 workers had been locked out of the factory for two months after rejecting previous deals.

After workers rejected an initial pay offer, the company applied to terminate the existing agreement which the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) claimed would see wages slashed by up to 40 per cent.

Under the new agreement, the workers will receive a two per cent wage increase over the next three years and all production workers will be direct employees of Parmalat. In addition, there will be improved union rights provisions and the existing arrangements for Parmalat metal and electrical trades employees will be maintained.

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus called the news “a huge win for the Parmalat workers”.

“Following on from the win by CUB workers last year, there is a clear warning to big business that they should stop trying to undermine or attack workers and instead work with unions to ensure fair and mutually beneficial outcomes,” McManus said.

“No Australian should be locked out of their workplace and be threatened with pay cuts, just as no Australian should have their pay cut as we have seen with 700,000 penalty rate workers – we must fix the unfairness in our industrial relations laws.”

A spokeswoman for Parmalat also welcomed the resolution of the dispute.

“The terms and conditions for employment remain largely unchanged, however, employees will receive a 2 per cent wage increase over the next three years,” she told the SMH.

“In years two and three, wage increases will be set at 2 per cent, or the national CPI for the June quarter, whichever is higher.

“At this stage, it is expected that employees will return to work on Thursday and we are very pleased with this outcome – for both our business and the Echuca community.”

Parmalat dairy workers to face Senate inquiry

Workers from milk manufacturer Parmalat who are currently in a three month lockout will face a Senate inquiry tomorrow, according to The Riverine Herald.

The inquiry being held in Ballarat is investigating claims of corporate avoidance of paying wages, under the Fair Work Act. 

A spokesperson from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union told the Riverine Herald that workers would tell the Senate about Parmalat’s actions during enterprise agreement negotiations.

‘The workers will explain to the inquiry hearing how Parmalat — and its parent company Lactalis — have tried to attack their wages and conditions by making an outrageous offer in enterprise negotiations that included a wage freeze, a reduction in rights at work and made their jobs less secure,’’ the spokesperson said.

After workers rejected an initial pay offer, the company applied to terminate the existing agreement which the AMWU claims would see wages slashed by up to 40 per cent.

Baiada improves practices following wages scandal

Poultry processor Baiada Group has improved its workplace practices since last year’s findings of employee exploitation, according to a report by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman last year examined the employment practices of contractors engaged at the company’s processing sites in NSW, and found exploitation of overseas workers by contractors and very poor, or no governance arrangements, by the company relating to the various labour supply chains.

A report published today details the progress the company has made in improving compliance with workplace laws at its sites as a result of entering into a Compliance Partnership with the Fair Work Ombudsman just over a year ago.

The Compliance Partnership involved Baiada last year publicly declaring it had a “moral and ethical” responsibility to join with the Fair Work Ombudsman to eliminate the exploitation of vulnerable workers by contractors at its sites.

Today’s report notes the important systems reforms Baiada has undertaken to ensure it knows who is working on its sites, and that they have been paid correctly. Baiada has also ensured workers previously underpaid have been able to claim backpay and, where a contractor has not rectified an underpayment, Baiada has taken responsibility and paid-up.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said that while good progress has been made, the real test is the sustainability of changes over the life of the Proactive Compliance Deed and whether the culture has shifted to one of compliance throughout Baiada’s labour supply chain and across all its sites.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman will continue to work with Baiada and monitor compliance in this regard to ensure the progress continues to embed compliant practices throughout its labour supply chain and will once again report on progress in a year’s time,” she said.

Baiada Managing Director Simon Camilleri said the Proactive Compliance Partnership is a core priority for the company and has changed the way Baiada manages and operates its contract labour providers.

We have implemented significant reforms across our business to ensure contractors’ employees at our sites are being treated fairly and lawfully by their employer,” Mr Camilleri said.

“Baiada now has a stringent contractor compliance system that is rigorously enforced across all its processing sites.

“This includes Baiada taking responsibility for paying all contractors’ employees directly so they are protected from potential underpayment.”


Coles wins injunction to stop picket line

Coles has won a temporary Supreme Court junction to stop workers picketing a cold storage warehouse in Melbourne.

As AAP reports, the 650 workers walked off the job indefinitely on Tuesday and are demanding increased pay and improved job security.

The workers, who are represented by the National Union of Workers (NUW) are making the demands of Polar Fresh, which operates the Truganina facility on behalf of Coles.

Paul O’Grady, acting for Coles, told the court the picket line was preventing trucks from exiting not only the Truganina site but also other nearby sites at Derrimut and Laverton North, which had been set up to allow the business to keep operating.

Workers from those extra sites are not involved in the dispute.

“This is a specific targeting of Coles trucks,” O’Grady told Court on Tuesday afternoon. “One can infer it is to apply pressure to Polar Fresh through Coles.”

While the court heard the industrial action at Truganina was approved by the Fair Work Commission,  Justice Michael McDonald ordered the workers remove the picket line.

The matter will be revisited on Monday.

As the ABC reports, Curtly Tuala from the NUW earlier said the workers need better job security.

“We want a zero-casual site. We want a sense of security for the workers,” he said.

“They deserve a sense of security because we know what it would enable the workers to do, looking after a family and your kids and providing for them.”

Image: SMH