Staff at one of New South Wales’ largest abattoirs are set to strike over a pay dispute that boils down to an argument over $2 a week, the Sydney Morning Herald reported this morning.
The row, which has pitched the owners of Bindaree Beef against the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union, will add further fuel to the current debate over industrial relations and the pay demands of unions.
The AMIEU is threatening rolling two and eight-hour stoppages at the Bindaree plant, which employs 800 workers at Inverell, from next week over a stalemate in settling a workplace agreement negotiated over the past 12 months.
Of the 238 employees who were eligble to vote, only 162 actually took part:
- 96 voted to approve an unlimited number of 2hr stoppages
- 91 voted to approve an unlimited number of 8hr stoppages
- 87 voted to approve an unlimited number of 24hr stoppages
- 93 voted to approve an unlimited number of overtime bans.
The company feared union-led stoppages would cripple production at the plant which kills and processes 5600 cattle a week, the Herald reported.
Bindaree received a $24 million Federal Government grant last year, negotiated by former New England independent Tony Windsor as part of the Gillard government’s investments in clean energy, and has embarked on an expansion that led to it taking on 150 new employees last year.
The union has asked for a basic pay rise of 3pc for all slaughtermen, boners, carcase graders and cleaners at Bindaree. The company's final offer is 2.8pc on the basic wage, but it claims that production-based incentives mean the 3pc pay rise will be easily exceeded as production expands.
The latest offer means an extra $25 to $75 a week, depending on the grade of the worker, the Herald said. Sources close to Bindaree said the union's demand amounts to $27-$77, a difference of just $2 a week.
Bindaree workers receive an $80 'attendance allowance’ for turning up to work five days in a row. Other conditions include the $5 a day ‘awful allocation allowance’ paid to employees dealing with ‘black tripe’.
A grade one slaughterman gets a $7 'handling bonus' for every animal processed over 20 – worth on average $77 a day. Under the former agreement, grade one slaughtermen and neck boners get a basic wage of $689.30 a week. Carcase graders get $643.70.
AMIEU-Newcastle general-secretary Grant Courtney said abattoir workers were the lowest paid in manufacturing and Bindaree owner JR McDonald's offer amounted to an extra 0.2pc over the next 12 months, an increase of just $1.46 a week for the lowest grade worker.
The union has approval from Fair Work Australia to proceed with protected action but workers will meet next week to vote on any strike or overtime ban, Mr Courtney said.
A spokesman for NSW Workplace Minister Eric Abetz said he was aware of the stand-off at Bindaree, and the situation was being closely monitored.
Bindaree declined to comment, when approached by the Herald.