19 September 2019

Further industrial action at Bega Cheese called off

| Ian Campbell
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Part of the sprawling Bega Cheese factory at North Bega. Photo: Weekend Notes.

Part of the sprawling Bega Cheese factory at North Bega. Photo: Weekend Notes.

Further industrial action at Bega Cheese has been called off after workers agreed in principle to a new pay offer provided by management earlier this week.

Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union Secretary, Patricia Fernandez, says “workers have stood strong in demanding respect.”

“They can’t take advantage of regional workers, funneling profits away from the local community into the pockets of CEOs and Board members.”

Unprecedented industrial action at the iconic cheese brand was flagged on Friday (September 13), led by members of the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union and Electrical Trades Union.

In light of the breakdown in wage negotiations, Bega Cheese made an application to the Fair Work Commission to assist in dealing with the dispute, that would now seem unnecessary.

“The Company is disappointed that protected industrial action will be taken,” a Bega Cheese statement at the time said.

In announcing the action last week State Secretary of the AMWU, Steve Murphy said, “The Board of Directors [Bega Cheese] are happy to award themselves a pay rise of 2.7%, but when it comes to the workers who actually manufacture this product, they say that 2.5% is good enough.”

Bega Cheese believed it to be a fair offer with “regard to the current economic environment and the competitive challenges we face in the markets that the Bega NSW factories compete – reducing milk volumes and excess cut and wrap processing capacity in the industry being the most significant.”

Since Friday’s action, Bega Cheese workers have won improved wages and conditions including a base increase on wages, plus payments and allowances that satisfy their original claim of a 3 per cent increase.

Workers have also achieved improvements in casual worker rights, uniforms for administrative staff, better sick leave conditions and new domestic violence support for employees.

The proposed agreement will be put to workers for a formal vote in the coming weeks, no further action is planned.

In a media statement, Bega Cheese says, “Bega Cheese employees have agreed in principle with the company to the terms of a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement.”

“It was pleasing that this was achieved without any industrial action and due process is now underway to finalise the agreement.”

Last year, Bega Cheese generated record revenue – $1.42 billion, up by 13% on the previous year. Earnings were a record $115.4 million. The company boasts around 2000 employees across various sites in Australia.

Locally, jobs at the North Bega processing and packaging plant are sort after and in some respects seen as a right of passage.

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