Pain con­tin­ues for di­vided sawmill town

Plea for Fair Work Com­mis­sion to help re­solve pay dis­pute and end lock­out

Australian Forests and Timber - - Front Page -

THE MYRTLE­FORD Carter Holt Har­vey mill dis­pute, now in its third month, is in freefall af­ter a vote by work­ers knocked back an of­fer from the com­pany. More than one in five union mem­bers, against the union’s edict, voted to ac­cept Carter Holt Har­vey’s pay deal but it wasn’t enough to break the in­dus­trial dead­lock. The fi­nal vote was 97-86 against the com­pany’s pay deal.

CHH salaried staff have also been told to take in­def­i­nite leave.

CFMEU As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary An­drew Ven­dramini said a loud and clear mes­sage had now been sent to the com­pany. "They need to the right thing by the work­ers and the town of Myrtle­ford and end the lock­out,” he said.

“We have a hear­ing in Fair Work with Carter Holt Har­vey over Mor­well (sched­uled to close at the end of Au­gust be­cause of log sup­ply prob­lems; 160 work­ers to be out of a job) and we will ap­proach them about a meet­ing on Myrtle­ford then.

“We be­lieve all our ne­go­ti­a­tions should be at a neu­tral venue from now on – hav­ing talks at the mill just hasn’t worked.”

Enzo D’An­drea, who is rep­re­sent­ing the al­most 60 work­ers who are not union­aligned, con­sulted with their so­lic­i­tor as to the way for­ward. “Our guys are dev­as­tated, I’m per­son­ally gut­ted,” he said af­ter the EBA vote.

“I wasn’t sur­prised at the num­bers, I ex­pected a close vote, we just hoped it would go our way.

“I’m gen­uinely con­cerned for the fu­ture of the mill – it’s an in­def­i­nite lock­out, it's hard to imag­ine that even if we get back to work that there won’t be ma­jor changes, per­haps re­dun­dan­cies.

“We al­ready know that the mill has lost some of its cus­tomers be­cause they couldn’t sup­ply prod­uct.

“Now that they have re­jected our of­fer to ne­go­ti­ate as well we don’t know what hap­pens next.”

More than 50 work­ers and union of­fi­cials marched un­der po­lice es­cort from the mill lock­out camp to the Myrtle­ford RSL on the first of two day’s vot­ing on the dis­puted en­ter­prise bar­gain agree­ment and its pay of­fer.

Tem­pers flared when the group made its way through town with at least two busi­ness own­ers and a fel­low, non-union, worker call­ing on them to go back to work.

Se­cu­rity guards manned the en­trance to the vot­ing sta­tion with work­ers ush­ered in one at a time.

Mr Ven­dramini made light of those call­ing on them to go back to work.

“Rather than get an­gry at our mem­bers per­haps they should be tar­get­ing the com­pany who has re­fused to budge, re­fused to ac­cept that these work­ers were promised a mean­ing­ful pay rise at the pre­vi­ous EBA deal three years ear­lier.

“Carter Holt Har­vey it seems is just happy to sit back and watch this play out in the com­mu­nity.”

Just prior to the vote CHH ran a full page let­ter in the Wan­garatta Chron­i­cle urg­ing its work­ers to ac­cept what it termed a fair and rea­son­able of­fer and to se­ri­ously con­sider the com­mer­cial re­al­i­ties thje com­pany faced. The CFMEU also used the col­umns of the Chron­i­cle to urge CHH to re­turn to the ne­go­ti­at­ing table. The union said the "com­mu­nity had suf­fered enough" and sought help from the Fair Work Com­mis­sion to try and re­solve the dis­pute.

Po­lice have de­nied there is an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into bul­ly­ing and in­tim­i­da­tion of work­ers in­volved in the on­go­ing pay dis­pute at Carter Holt Har­vey, how­ever, they have called for peo­ple to mod­er­ate their so­cial me­dia com­ments.

“What I would say is that a lot of ill will is be­ing gen­er­ated through com­ments made on so­cial me­dia, com­ments that per­haps wouldn’t be made if it was a face-to­face con­ver­sa­tion,” said Myrtle­ford Sgt Paul Evans.

“Peo­ple need to think about their posts, un­der­stand that it will be there for­ever.”

Aus­tralian For­est In­dus­tries estab­lished the mill in 1975 and Carter Holt Har­vey bought it in 1995. The mill has made ply­wood since 1981.

A $50 mil­lion up­grade of the Myrtle­ford site about six years ago made it Aus­tralia’s largest ply­wood mill.

Mill work­ers leave the picket line.

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