MARITIME Union of Australia (MUA) members are not ruling out possible strike action at the GrainCorp Newcastle Port terminal as reports emerge that the company is preparing a scab workforce to takeover in the event of a stoppage.
Negotiations remain at a stalemate between both parties who are in talks about the pay and conditions for the about 60 staff at the site.
GrainCorp and MUA representatives have been negotiating over new agreements since April with employees calling for a 5 per cent pay increase as well as several operational changes, including overlapping shifts purportedly to increase loading efficiencies.
According to reports, GrainCorp brought in contract labour hire company MCC World International through the Newcastle terminal on Tuesday to assess the suitability for a takeover by a scab workforce.
This report came just after the MUA began consulting with members about the possibility of undertaking strike action.
MUA Newcastle branch secretary Glen Williams said several employees were present when contract company representatives were on site.
“Our guys felt very intimidated on Tuesday having people walked around in front of them,” Mr Williams said.
“We have always had a pretty good relationship, and everything has usually been done in the right spirit with negotiations.”
Mr Williams said it was his fourth employment agreement negotiation at the terminal and he had never seen as situation like this.
“It is quite out of character and right out of left field.”
He said the action by GrainCorp was “extreme and very aggressive” and was not warranted considering the MUA was only in the early stages of considering strike action.
“We applied to have our ballot and the application went in about a month ago and the guys haven’t even voted on it yet and it won’t get declared for another month.
“This is the only action we have to try and put some pressure on them and, in my mind, GrainCorp went straight to the nuclear option…which is not consistent with how negotiations had been going.”
Mr Williams said there is still the possibility of strike action in the future.
“We are hopeful that we don’t get to that point; hopefully there is some intervention from somebody from GrainCorp who has got a bit more of a cooler head that we can sit down and discuss with and try to resolve this.
“It is not something that we take lightly…and obviously there is a lot of other people to consider who would be impacted by it.”
Following the reports of contract labour hire company representatives in the terminal the parties met on Wednesday.
Mr Williams said it was during this meeting that GrainCorp increased the offer, but then restricted the ability for MUA representatives to discuss it with their members.
He said the company told them that the offer would be going straight to all employees for a vote and bypassing the union processes.
“To put an offer to the workers and to not even let them consider it and to say that they are putting the offer out regardless of what we say it is hardly good faith bargaining.
A GrainCorp spokesperson refuted claims that the company was not negotiating in good faith and said discussions were continuing.
“We met with MUA this week and continue to bargain in good faith, as we have done to date,” the spokesperson said.
“We also acknowledge the rights of the union and its members to take protected industrial action, but we certainly hope we can continue our constructive conversations.
“With the world facing an increasing food security crisis, GrainCorp is absolutely committed to ensuring the grains supply chain continues to operate.
“At this stage, we are planning for contingencies in the event of any disruption, in order to continue delivering our services for Australian growers and our customers.”
Mr Williams said GrainCorp in not agreeing to the pay rise, is failing to see that the employees are key to its recent financial success.
“They posted a record profit during the first half of this year, with a net profit after tax of $246 million…”
“Any other company would offer their employees a fair pay rise for the contribution made to their massive profitability, but the management of GrainCorp don’t want to share a cent of it with the people whose hard work has actually driven these profits,”
The GrainCorp spokesperson said the company has always acknowledged the ongoing efforts of employees and had, in the past, given back some of its profits to employees.
“GrainCorp was pleased to be able to share its success in 2021 by giving all permanent employees, including those covered by enterprise agreements, a discretionary payment of $1,000 to thank them for their contribution.”
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