Australia : McCains imports french fries workers as Ballarat dispute worsens
Posted September 21, 2016 18:36:21
McCains has imported workers to ensure its production of french fries continues unabated, as hundreds of its Ballarat food manufacturing staff walk off the job.
Disgruntled workers gathered around megaphones and Australian Manufacturing Workers Union flags flew high in the wind, but the potato trucks kept coming.
More than 400 workers are employed at the Ballarat plant, which primarily produces frozen potato products such as french fries.
Most of the workforce were on strike for a second day on Wednesday, as part of a push for better job security and entitlements.
"It is not a money issue," Australian Manufacturing Workers Union's Angela McCarthy said.
"It's a matter of being able to access their entitlements, because the company is treating entitlements like privileges.
"If you give eight months' notice of intention to take leave and the company says no, that is an unreasonable refusal, and that's becoming more and more prominent."
But McCains, which supplies restaurants such as McDonalds with french fries, said seven staff had been brought in from interstate plants and New Zealand to ensure the plant's operation continued.
12-hour shifts without agreement 'frightening' says worker
Paul Laverey, who has worked at McCains for 27 years and currently works at the chip plant on rotating 12-hour shifts, said it was the first time the company had brought in workers from outside during an industrial dispute.
"They want to break our spirit; it's quite simple I think," Mr Laverey said.
"McCains was better than that in the past; 12-hour rotating shifts aren't unusual, they do happen, but they always happen by agreement.
"They don't want our agreement; they simply want to be able to do it.
"That's a little bit frightening to people."
Colin Muir is an organiser with the AMWU and said he conducted a safety inspection on Tuesday after concerns that people being brought in from outside to operate the plant's equipment were not adequately trained.
"I went in to actually do that audit, and I was looking for things like records of inductions, records of training, records of competency.
"The whole time I was there, which was almost five hours, the company was unable to provide me with one record that suggested anyone was competent in being able to operate and do the work that I clearly observed them doing."
But a company spokesman for McCains has told the ABC the union was welcome to the records.
"A union organiser did come to our premises, and requested the training records for the people on site, but he left the premises shortly afterwards without waiting to receive them," the spokesman said.
"We are more than happy to provide access to the union at any time."
The company said it would release a new enterprise bargaining agreement for workers to review on Thursday, when staff returned to rolling stoppages.
"We're confident our employees will vote for our offer, which includes a wage increase of more than 8 per cent over three years, which is well above inflation," potato production plan manager Karl Thin said.
"The voting process takes two weeks, so we're bringing in expertise from our teams in Hastings and Timaru to assist us in running the plants while the process takes place."
McCains workers will be given until October 4 to vote on the agreement.
The AMWU's Angela McCarthy said workers protesting outside the company on Wednesday had already voted not to endorse the agreement.
"They're in a bit of a propaganda war at the moment, to try and tell workers that their offer is reasonable," Ms McCarthy said.
"Workers need to be very well aware of the issues of the offer the company is putting out there; further jobs will go, it will not affect their ability to access annual leave and long service leave, manning levels will continue to decrease.
"All of the things that have been really troubling people for the last three years."