I guess if I were representing SPC Ardmona, I would have a crack at trying to defend the indefensible by producing a spin-rich media release. After all, enterprise bargaining agreements are signed by the workers – read trade union, in this case – and the company. The company must therefore take a fair share of the blame for the deplorable state of work practices and excessive wages and conditions.
According to the company, the total cost of all the allowances – bright can, cold, hot, wet place, etc – does not add up to a hill of beans. So why are they there in the agreement? They may cost only $116,000 a year; they probably cost more to the company to administer.
And here is where the company’s spin comes in. In responding to the claim that sick leave is cashed out each year, evidently this condition existed prior to the 2012 agreement. But under the current EBA, retrenched workers are paid out for 20 days of unused sick leave and existing workers are also able to cash out some unused sick leave. So the company is being a bit fast and loose with the truth here.
And here is another fudge by the company – the old redundancy condition was reduced in 2012 to a 52 week cap. Yes, but only for new employees taken on after July 2012. For all other employees – and this is the vast majority, given the loss of one third of positions since 2011 – the old arrangement continues to apply. That is, the maximum redundancy entitlement for them is 104 weeks, with 2 weeks for every six months of service.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the company attempts to lay the blame for its parlous state on factors external to management – cheap, unsafe imports, barriers to export, the high value of the dollar. According to the company, “a flood of cheap imported product to be sold in Australia below the cost of production here” and the decimation of “the company export markets” caused by the high dollar are chiefly to blame.
Funnily enough, the Productivity Commission doesn’t see it that way. In reviewing the company’s application for protection made last year, it was noted that domestic retail sales of processed fruit, both local and imported, have declined by 20 per cent in the past five years.
And while it is true that Australian exports of processed peaches, pears, apricots and mixtures fell by nearly 60 per cent between 2009 and 2012, the decline had begun much earlier. Australian exports of processed fruit have decreased by nearly 90 per cent since 2003.
In finding against the company, the Productivity Commission noted that there was no evidence of increasing price pressures from imported products for any of the product categories.
“Other factors have caused the injury, including: decreasing domestic demand for processed fruit; rising domestic costs of production; and decreasing export volumes”, according to the PC.
So who is telling lies? Shadow Industry Minister, Kim Carr, and local Liberal MP Sharmon Stone are a tag-team when it comes to accusing the Prime Minister of uttering porkies about the excessive workers’ conditions and restrictive practices. The trouble is that the evidence is there for everyone to read.
The SPC Ardmona EBA does provide for wages which are 40 per cent above the award; does contain superannuation contributions of 11.5 per cent (above the norm of 9.25 per cent); does allow for some cashing out of sick leave; does provide excessive redundancy payouts for the majority of workers; does provide for a day of leave to attend the Food Preservers’ Picnic and numerous RDOs; and the list goes on. And if the various allowances are so trivial, they should have been cashed out and eliminated years ago.
All this reminds me of the wage freeze that supposedly was agreed by the GMH workers – it was more of a faux wage freeze, contingent on the company agreeing to invest to keep the plant going. Now all bets are off. It was also trivial in view of all the other restrictive elements in the GMH EBA.