In an all too familiar sounding ploy these days, the owners of Harvey Beef in Western Australia have sacked over 150 of their employees whilst negotiating new terms for an enterprise agreement.
The sackings came after the workforce voted down a proposal by the company that would have slashed wages and conditions at the plant. The company then put the same proposal to the workforce to vote on for a second time but that too was defeated.
The new agreement would see some workers wages cut by 20% or more and various entitlements and conditions stripped back.
One contentious issue is the removal of breaks. The company claims that the abattoir is uncompetitive with the eastern states and must restructure.
AMIEU WA Branch secretary, Graeme Haynes, said that stripping working conditions to the bone is not a cure to financial instability. There have been many occasions where workers have sacrificed wages and still been put out of work.
“The argument can always be had that jobs can be saved at lower wages until it gets to a point where it’s just simply ridiculous” he said.
Following the defeat of the agreement on the second occasion the company immediately commenced negotiations with the union for a union collective agreement.
In the meantime the union applied to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to hold a ballot to allow the commencement of industrial action.
The company will very likely now put the proposed agreement to the workers for a third time which, according the union, simply makes a mockery of the negotiation process.
The union believes that it is an abuse of process to keep putting up the same agreement over and over until the workers get sick of the fight and give in.
“Once an agreement has been voted down then any further proposals should have fundamental differences to the defeated ones before they can be considered again” said a spokesman for the union.
Many workers at the plant are saying that they are happy to look at proposals to guarantee a future for the plant but many of the things that the company wants are just ideologically driven and don’t impact on real costs.
“Some of the things the company wants are just to kick workers in the guts” said one worker who did not want to be named. “It’s bad enough copping pay cuts,” he said, “the rest is just too much”.
The dispute continues.