Workers at the Australian Paper Preston factory are returning to work today after resolving their long term dispute over the company’s new enterprise agreement, with workers claiming most of the terms they asked for being met and the rest to be settled.
Around 90 workers from the major envelope producer were on strike for eight weeks, with Japanese owners Nippon Paper not wanting to negotiate until they were back at work. However the workers refused until a deal was done.
The site is the country’s biggest envelope manufacturing plant by far, producing some two billion envelopes a year. The union claimed the company was having to import envelopes to maintain supply as the strike went on.
The envelope sector is in long term decline thanks to electronic communication. The country’s second biggest envelope producer Candida closed its Sydney plant late last year to consolidate into Adelaide, while the biggest envelope manufacturer in the US Cenveo has just gone into Chapter 11 under a mountain of debt.
Craig Dunn, general manager of Communications & Sustainability at Australian Paper says, “Australian Paper is pleased to welcome our Preston employees back to work while we continue discussions to reach final agreement. We will also maintain a strong focus on meeting the needs of our customers as we finalise these discussions.”
The dispute came about after nine months of failed negotiations for a new EBA. Workers asked for a 2.5 per cent annual pay rise for three years and no loss of RDOs, and were against a reclassification of the pay structure which they claim will freeze pay increases for long time staff until newer employees’ wages catch up. The company offered a total 6.5 per cent pay rise over four years and wanted to reduce the current 16 RDOs to 12.
Dean Griffiths, union organiser says, “It has been a win on the RTOs, they will not be touched now. Grandparenting has also been taken off the table. For pay increases, we are still sorting that out but now we are only 1 per cent apart. We are sorting the rest of that out later today, the devil is in the detail.”
On the workers, Griffiths says, “Everything they hit the grass for has basically been granted, they are ecstatic about keeping their conditions. They are heading back to work today.
“We have had a few wins, we have been able to get the pay rises outside classifications, which has given people the confidence to go back to work. It is not all settled though, until the EBA is ratified and we have sorted out the final details.”
Tony Piccolo, AMWU Print Assistant State Secretary says, “All of these workers stood together, united behind a common goal and they won. Eight weeks is a long time on strike, but these workers were committed to ensuring they received a fair deal in the EBA. There was never any question of settling for anything less.
[Related: FWC asks Australian Paper picket to stop]
“It should not have to come to this for workers to get a fair pay rise when the economy is screaming out for wage growth. It is a great testament to the leadership, organisation and discipline of the union delegates Margaret and Martin, that these workers stood strong for so many weeks.
The resolution comes after the company met with the AMWU last week for their first negotiation following the protest. Prior to this, the company had asked the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to step in to mediate discussions. The FWC had called for a suspension of the picket, which was then appealed by the AMWU.
“The company obviously saw that these workers were not going to accept an unfair deal and we are pleased that they’ve finally came to the table to negotiate a fair agreement.
“We are confident the company has listened and will do the right thing by the workers who are looking forward to getting their agreement finalised and getting back to work.”
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