WORKERS at Simplot’s Bathurst and Kelso plants will go to a ballot this week to determine if they will take protected industrial action as collective agreement negotiations break down.
Australian Manufacturing Workers Union NSW secretary Tim Ayres yesterday said bargaining with Simplot management over the next collective agreement had stalled.
He described the claim advanced on behalf of employees at the Bathurst, Kelso and Tasmanian sites as “very modest” and said the union was asking for protection of the workers’ existing conditions and a wage increase of two per cent above the consumer price index.
“These conditions were negotiated with the company over the last 20 years, and sacrifices were made to get them,” Mr Ayres said.
Over the past year more than 100 workers have been laid off from the plant, but Mr Ayres doesn’t believe demands for a wage increase are unrealistic.
“It’s effectively a wage cut,” Mr Ayres said. “There isn’t a way forward for Simplot by driving wages and conditions down. That is not how they are going to remain competitive.
“We need to settle the collective agreement and that is only settled by people sitting around the table and negotiating.
“Simplot has had a very confrontational approach to these negotiations.
“It is time for them to shift gears and adopt a more mature approach.”
Mr Ayres conceded times are tough for food processors in Australia, but said Bathurst is a high productivity plant and the union and employees have been engaging with the company to take on that productivity challenge.
“We are not going to do that by driving wages down to compete with Bangladesh and India,” Mr Ayres said. “It has to be about quality and working smarter.”
Simplot manufactures food for brands such as Bird’s Eye, Leggos, Edgell, John West and Lean Cuisine. It employs 200 union members in two local plants.
The AMWU says Simplot is threatening to desert the region.
“If we are always frightened of a plant closing no-one would ever negotiate a wage increase,” he said.
“The company is negotiating vigorously. We’ll get through it.”
Mr Ayres said a large number of workers know they have lost their jobs, yet everyone is working hard to make sure the plants are continuing to pump out product.
He said the corn season starts in December, and will move into full production in January.