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No end in sight for Australian Paper dispute

Friday, 09 February 2018
By Jake Nelson

The AMWU picket line at Australian Paper, Preston.

A Fair Work Commission (FWC) hearing has failed to resolve the strike at Australian Paper’s facility in Preston, Victoria, now in its fourth week. Both sides have dug in, and a second hearing has been postponed.

Dean Griffiths, AMWU.

Dean Griffiths, AMWU delegate, blamed Australian Paper for the impasse at yesterday’s hearing, saying the manufacturer is not giving ground on the workers’ concerns including a plan by management to reduce registered days off. “They’re still sticking to their guns, saying that as long as the industrial action is taking place they won’t talk to the negotiators. They’re not willing to move,” he said.

Most of the plant’s 90 workers went on strike last month, asking for a 2.5 percent pay increase over three years and protesting what they described as management plans to change worker classifications and cut RDOs. Griffiths says that they’ve received plenty of support from the community, from other unions, and from federal Labor MP Andrew Giles. “The people on the line are still sticking together, I’m giving each party the feedback from yesterday’s hearing, and we’re getting a lot of support from the community and in federal Parliament – Andrew Giles spoke about how these big multi-nationals are all driven by profits and aren’t worried about the hurt it puts on employees,” he said. “All the other unions I’ve spoken to – Nurses and Midwives, ETU, CFMEU, CWU, CPSU, the posties – are coming down, supporting the line, and making donations to keep everyone upbeat and happy.”

The strike has hit envelope supplies at Australian Paper, which has been left unable to provide stock to major customers including Officeworks.

Andrew Giles

In his speech to Parliament last week, Giles, the member for Scullin, condemned Australian Paper for not bargaining in ‘good faith’, and praised the workers and the union. “I draw attention of members of the House to those workers at Australian Paper, workers who late last year worked overtime to ensure that Australians could vote in the postal survey to deliver marriage equality. They deserve to be treated with dignity and decency by their employers,” Giles said.

The division of Scullin borders Batman, where the Preston plant is located. Batman will face a by-election on March 17 to replace Labor MP David Feeney, who resigned due to dual citizenship issues.

Australian Paper could not be contacted for comment; however, before the hearing, Craig Dunn, general manager for communications and sustainability, said in a statement that he hoped the FWC could come to a satisfactory resolution. “The Fair Work Commission has been asked to assist the parties in trying to reach a positive outcome and in the interim we are continuing to service our customers as required. While Australian Paper remains hopeful of an eventual return to work by our employees, we understand that this will be their decision,” he said.

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