The Guardian 26 September, 2007

Print giant junks work conditions

Workers at Australia’s largest print company will walk off the job for two days in Brisbane last week, in a bid to protect conditions and win a pay rise that keeps up with living costs. Print workers in Sydney are expected to follow suit.

PMP Print is refusing to guarantee employees at its Wacol site long-standing conditions like pre-shift overtime, penalties and pro-rata long service leave in redundancy packages, said Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) Queensland Print Secretary, Danny Dougherty.

During six months of negotiations for a new collective agreement the company has tried to impose longer shifts and hours per week, has removed guarantees on working conditions and limited its pay offer to 3 percent.

"Most of these workers are on $16 or $17 an hour. They already rely on large amounts of overtime to make ends meet. They need a pay rise of 4% and protection of their current conditions — that’s all we’re asking for", said Mr Dougherty.

Employees at the Wacol site, where 120 people do shift work round the clock to produce magazines and catalogues, have voted to take protected industrial action in a secret ballot as required under the Federal Government’s WorkChoices laws.

"The acceptance rate was about 99 percent", noted Danny Dougherty. "The workers have voted for a 48-hour strike, which in the current climate is a very significant stoppage."

Management at Wacol, in Brisbane’s western suburbs, were taking a hard-line approach to cutting conditions and wage costs, said Dougherty. Some employees had suffered abuse and bullying from managers, he said.

PMP Print has taken a similar stance in concurrent negotiations around the country.

Industrial action is looming at the company’s two Sydney sites — Moorebank, which prints catalogues and magazines, and Chullora, which prints directories and phone books.

At Moorebank, a secret ballot of 250 union members is currently under way, while an application for protected industrial action is being prepared on behalf of the Chullora workers, said the AMWU NSW Print Secretary, Matt Lowe.

Despite a record profit this year, PMP was looking to cut costs by robbing employees of their conditions and security of entitlements, said Mr Lowe.

Employees want to maintain the same conditions that were included in their recently-expired EBA in a new agreement, but are also concerned about their conditions and entitlements if the company is sold.

"PMP is actively pursuing a buyer, and they don’t want to enter into a union-collective agreement which protects conditions and entitlements in case it affects their sale price", said Lowe

"PMP is Australia’s largest employer in the print industry; it has the choice to protect conditions and entitlements in the terms of sale if it changes hands, but has so far ruled that out."

If conditions and entitlements aren’t protected in the terms of sale, employees come under the Transmission of Business provisions introduced by the Howard Government, where their terms of employment are only protected for 12 months before falling back to the five minimum conditions under WorkChoices.

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