Mexican standoff at mill
MILL workers say they had no choice but to take industrial action.
The workers were escorted off the Carter Holt Harvey’s Myrtleford plywood mill at 2am last Wednesday as they prepared for the first of 4-hour rolling stoppages to protest the lack of action on their enterprise bargain agreement.
On Monday the union again asked for a meeting with the company but at the time of going to print was yet to get a response.
CFMEU assistant secretary Andrew Vendramini said they planned to meet with state and federal politicians in the coming days.
He hopes they may be able to help broker a deal.
The workers themselves, said to be about 160 full-time and about 40 casuals, say the pay deal has been in negotiation for more than 18 months and now out of date for about a year.
The main sticking points are a 3 per cent pay rise annually over three years, one week’s annual leave allowable in the Christmas holiday period and better access to income protection insurance.
A week after the lockout the site remains a Mexican standoff, workers at a campsite outside the mill and security guards manning temporary cyclone wire fencing.
“This has dragged on for 18 months, we first went to see the company about the EBA six months before the last one expired and they didn’t want to talk to us,” the worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
“We tried everything to avoid this but it is now 12 months later and they have refused to budge – there was some anxiety and angst but people here are now united.
“This isn’t easy on us or our families – we have enough money to pay our bills and that is about all.
“In the last EBA the company pleaded poor and we accepted less than we believed we were entitled too, now this is the largest plywood mill in the country and they are offering us the same deal.
“We just want this resolved as soon as possible.”
The union says Carter Holt Harvey is offering a 2 per cent increase annually over the three-year deal.
Another worker said the Christmas shutdown had been a feature of the mill for as long as they could remember.
“About two years ago that all changed – now the shifts continue and so many workers don’t get to spend time with their families,” he said.
“We don’t want to return to the two week shutdown, we’re just asking for a week.
“At the moment the weather has been good to us and there is a stack of support from people travelling past – it is amazing.”
Carter Holt Harvey have not responded to requests for comment.
The last industrial action over pay deals at the mill was in 1993.