Envelope strike begins to bite

As the strike by Australian Paper workers enters its second week the AMWU claims that envelope supplies to the market are starting to be impacted.

The company and the union are currently in a who blinks first state, with Australian Paper demanding the 90 workers return to the factory floor before any talks will begin, while the union is adamant there will be no return to work until an agreement is reached.

Australian Paper is owned by Japanese giant Nippon Paper Industries, which is battling a slump in its business, and has called on employees to get on board with its restructuring and medium term business plan. This has already seen workers at the company’s Maryvale paper mill take a five per cent pay cut.

The Australian Paper Preston site is the country’s biggest envelope manufacturer, producing some two billion a year, with many of the country’s government departments, banks, telcos, utilities and office products companies among its customers.

There are half a dozen other envelope manufacturers, but they are far smaller, many of them boutique suppliers, and will not have the capacity to take up the slack. The biggest, Candida, closed its Sydney manufacturing site at Christmas to consolidate production into its Adelaide factory.

Dean Griffiths, union organiser with the AMWU says, “We had an email exchange with the company. They said they were willing to negotiate as long as we stop corporate action. We know what that means, they will take us into the office, give us the same terms and we will get nothing. So we are going to keep going and everyone is still determined.” Griffiths says that supplies to the market are now being impacted.

Craig Dunn, senior marketing manager with Australian Paper says, “The situation is unchanged from the company’s perspective.”

Around 90 workers stopped work at Preston and formed a picket line after nine months of failed negotiations for a new enterprise agreement. The factory staff have requested a 2.5 per cent annual wage increase over three years and the company in response is offering a 6.5 per cent pay increase over four years, with a pay rise freeze for the first year, followed by 2 per cent, 2 per cent, and 2.5 per cent increases over the next three years. Those picketing say they only want the same rise given to the warehouse workers, which was 2.5 per cent.

Other issues in the dispute include the reduction of the staff’s rostered days off from 16 to 12 and a reclassification of the workplace structure which would define pay for roles as lower than what some workers currently receive, potentially meaning that it could take years for some workers to see a pay rise.

Three of the 90 staff – many earning $21.50 an hour – have reportedly gone back to work, but the rest are still picketing outside the company’s envelope and stationery manufacturing plant in Preston, after starting the protest last Tuesday.

Australian Paper was founded in Melbourne in 1868. It currently employs more than 1,300 staff.

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