By Ben Wilson
Back on 18 January, cannery workers at Visy in Shepparton took strike action for 24 hours over stalled negotiations between their union and management for a new agreement. They walked of the job again on 25 and 17 January, and again on 17 March. Strikes have continued for 2 shifts each week.
Visy is Australia’s largest privately-owned company with an annual turnover of $7 billion.
Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union organiser Danny Miller said the action was due to negotiations over a new enterprise bargaining agreement reaching a “stalemate,” and that company’s offer of an eight per cent increase in pay over three years amounted to a pay cut due to the current rate of inflation. This does nothing to help in the face of the rising cost of living.
Workers had accepted a wage freeze during the Covid period. They expected that management would take this into account. This didn’t happen, and it hasn’t gone down well, especially when then know that profit has been up and the company’s executive chair, Anthony Pratt, is Australia’s third richest person.
On 22 May, the Victorian Trades Call Council, the peak union body in the state, released a statement showing its support for the Visy workers. A fund has been set up through the Megaphone online platform:
Name: AMWU Disaster Appeal Account
Account No: 188989948
Reference: VISY SHEPP
to raise money for these workers. There is also a petition.
Visy workers and supporters from construction and other industries and nearby worksites joined them in a march to the company’s head office in Melbourne.
The statement said,
“Visy Shepparton workers have been out on the grass now for 19 weeks, fighting for a new, fair agreement.
While Visy rakes in record profits, the company is denying its workers a fair wage. Workers have been on strike, asking their employer to come to the table with a fair deal, for weeks! These workers need your support to keep up the fight.”
This dispute is receiving widespread attention because it represents a situation that is real across Australia. Wages have been lagging as their share of income is transferred upwards towards company profits and the incomes of the wealthiest. Visy has become a poster for this, and the outcome of this dispute will have ramifications that go beyond a single employer.
Australian Manufacturing workers Union (AMWU) Victorian state secretary Tony Mavromatis said Mr Pratt would “prefer to let those workers go on stroke than see them take home a living wage”.
“Cannery workers at the Visy Shepparton plant have been on the grass, fighting for a living wage, for over eight weeks,” he said in a statement.
“Australians need to see that there are real villains behind this cost of living crisis. We need to wake up to the outrageous greed that these corporates are demonstrating every day – and we need to tell them enough is enough. It’s time to put pay before profit.”
It’s not only wages. There is the backdrop of the casualisation of work, which has meant increasing the pace of work and job insecurity.
There hasn’t been a strike in this workplace for 60 years, which goes to show how far the situation has deteriorated. Something has changed, and this is the deterioration of the value of wages and an employer becoming increasingly miserly and hardheaded