Industry News

Politics matter

As workers, whether we like it or not, the political party in Government has a huge impact on our working lives and earning ability.

The Liberal and Nationals are ideologically driven and fixated on looking after the big end of town.  They believe workers are lucky to have a job and should get what their masters think they are worth. Nothing was more blatantly obvious than that during the John Howard years and Workchoices, where conditions were decimated and individual contracts were the norm.

With Tony Abbott now in power, workers should brace themselves for WorkChoices round two.

While the Labor Government didn’t give workers everything they wanted, they are worlds apart from the current conservative governments and their views when it comes to workers’ rights.

Unfortunately, Queensland has a Liberal National state government and a Liberal federal government and we are now seeing the erosion of basic workplace rights that have been fought for over a long period.

You just have to look at Campbell Newman’s changes to WorkCover and how all workers will now be worse off during their most vulnerable times:  when they are injured or applying for a new job.

Even before the election, several employers were running around with their tails in the air kicking up their heels knowing a change of government was likely. Several employers in the lead up to the Federal election had the same mantra “that manufacturing had to reform for it to survive into the future”. It was like they had attended the same conference and were regurgitating what had been said.  Others were keen to get on with the job, however, some were not.

One of those employers fixated on reducing workers conditions was Teys/Cargill at their Beenleigh plant.

The Union and the old Teys Bros had a very good relationship for a long time. While we had our differences we had been able to work through them and get on with the job.

Since the merger between Teys Bros and Cargill, the relationship has changed considerably.

The first agreement that came up for negotiation under the new merger was Beenleigh and to say it’s been difficult, is an understatement.

At Beenleigh, the old agreement expired in December 2012 and the workers last pay increase was December 2011.

The AMIEU and the committee commenced negotiations for a new agreement at Beenleigh in September 2012.

From the outset, representatives from the company took a very firm stance on the committee’s log of claims. One of the committee’s critical claims was a site rates clause where all workers would receive the agreement rates irrespective of who was the employer.

This request came after a situation at Teys Rockhampton where workers were being paid substantially less under a labour hire company (AWX) than what they would have received under the Teys Rockhampton agreement.

Teys/Cargill at Beenleigh put an agreement to a vote in February 2013.  This proposal did not contain a site rates clause and it was subsequently rejected by 85% of participants. This was an important issue to the workers at Beenleigh and one Teys/Cargill chose to ignore.

After this overwhelming rejection of their offer, Teys/Cargill representatives embarked on a very public media campaign stating that there was a crisis in the industry and costs had to be cut at their Beenleigh plant otherwise it would shut its doors and 800 jobs would be lost.

The workers took the virtually unprecedented decision to commence an industrial campaign and several stoppages took place over many weeks. Teys/Cargill also locked workers out on several occasions over that time.

The committee and the Union continued to negotiate over this period in an attempt to secure a reasonable agreement for the workers at Beenleigh.

With the assistance of the commission, several conciliation conferences took place during this period.  However, a compromise was unable to be reached.

All through this, Teys/Cargill representatives continued their rhetoric that Beenleigh was making poor returns on their asset and they would shut the gates unless the workers were prepared to do more for less.

As we all know, Beenleigh, once a rural under-developed area, is increasingly becoming urbanised and as a consequence, the land on which the abattoir sits is becoming more valuable by the day. However, the value of that asset is not reflective of the actual investment in it. While it is true if that asset is sold that its value might be realised, however, all of the advantages to operating in an urban situation have to be considered as well:  access to transport, convenience to ports, reliable water supply, access to rail transport, convenience to feed lots, and the ability to attract a workforce, all have a value.

A value that Teys/Cargill did not want to acknowledge or talk about.

Why should the workers have to take a pay cut because a Teys/Cargill asset is increasing in value????

The Union, throughout this time, maintained the industry was in a good position and Teys/Cargill claims were unwarranted.

This claim was later validated when Teys/Cargill made it to number one in Brisbane’s top 100 companies with an increase in turn over in 2013 to $219,000,000,000.00 dollars that’s right $2.19 billion dollars.

The company was insisting the workers accept an agreement they had on offer or they would shut the plant.

Surprise, surprise!  The agreement on offer was very similar to the Cargill Tamworth agreement which was a purely time based agreement with ridiculous proposed quantum’s of work.

Unfortunately, in August the company put the agreement to a vote and due to overwhelming pressure from the company it was voted up by the slimmest of margins 359 yes to 343 no.

However, true to form it was reported by the committee that trainee managers voted on the agreement and the Union is of the opinion these people are not covered by the proposed agreement and therefore should not have voted on it. As a result, the result of the vote is subject to a full bench hearing on December 11th 2013.

The only hope now is that justice is done, the vote is declared invalid and workers get another opportunity to negotiate a fair agreement for themselves and their family’s future.

The Teys/Cargill situation is typical of a large multinational company (Cargill is the largest agrifood business in the world) attempting to stamp its dominance on an industry that fewer and fewer local companies are involved in.

We believe Teys/Cargill would not have been as keen to change the world had they not sensed a change of government and considered it the right time to implement their reforms.

All workers need to consider their vote carefully.  While a lot may not care about politics, we all have to be aware how it can have such monumental impacts on our working lives.