Pain continues for divided sawmill town
Plea for Fair Work Commission to help resolve pay dispute and end lockout
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.