Since 16 January, workers at the Australian Paper plant in Preston have been on strike. They have set up a picket. It came after months of negotiation through the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) that produced no result.
The purpose is to put pressure on the company to negotiate and shift from its earlier attempt to impose a cut to existing conditions.
This amounted to a real cut in wages growth, through holding down the wages highest classification, until those on the lower catch up. About 80 percent are on the highest and will be kept on just over $23 an hour for up to 6 years. There is also a reduction in the number of rostered days off
Australian paper is the country’s largest envelope manufacturer, and the plant is in Preston an inner Melbourne suburb.
Many of the 90 workers involved in the strike, have been there for many years. One of them Margaret Peacock, who has worked at Australian Paper for 33 years, said that “we are still all determined, still all standing strong. We are going from 5:30 in the morning to 11:30 at night each day. We started on Tuesday, we had a meeting and we all unanimously voted to go out. There are about 88 people in the union and a couple are still working but the majority are outside. We cannot go back inside, they will take everything off us.
“Our main concerns is them taking away our RDOs, I have worked here for a long time and we have had 16 and now they want to take four away. People here work for them. There is also the grandfathering, people on top of the tier cannot get pay rises until everyone catches up. This covers about 80 per cent of our work force, they probably will not be able to get a pay rise. They have spent 20-30 years working towards this, doing the training and learning the machinery and now they are expected to train new people coming in, who will get rises while they do not. It is not fair.
“The discussions for the agreement have been going on since March last year. Then Australian Paper produced envelopes for the gay marriage survey, which was a big job but during that time the company stalled on any decisions. They said your RDOs will be alright and then after the job they came back with an agreement that had only 12 RDOs.
“We are hoping they will come out and talk by next week.
“It is hard economic times, we do not understand why they will not cooperate with us. I have worked here for 33 years and have never seen a strike here like this. We are all pretty close, like family. Most people here have worked here for 20 plus years and they have a lot to lose.”
On 22 January, management announced that it would not negotiate until there was a return to work.
Although founded in 1868 in Melbourne, Australian Paper is now Japanese owned (Nippon Paper Industries) and decisions are made by directors, according to their own global strategy, and passed along by local management. This is a factor that is making the situation harder to resolve. They are restructuring their operations, which includes a plan to cut wages in the countries in which they operate. Those working at the Maryvale Mill in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley, have already experienced a five percent pay cut.
The determination of the strikers to make a breakthrough is determined as ever.
They are calling on supporters to drop in at 54 Raglan St.
Video from the AMWU