Paddle Pop, Magnum and Golden Gaytime maker Streets ice cream faces accusations of using “industrial blackmail” to push through cuts to staff wages and conditions.
Unilever, the multinational company that owns Streets, has applied to the Fair Work Commission to terminate an expired enterprise agreement covering factory workers in the western Sydney suburb of Minto.
The company said the decision was made after “careful consideration of all options to create more flexible working conditions and enhance the competitiveness and viability of the factory in the longer-term, which is ultimately in the best interest of employees and the company”.
However, the union estimates the move would cut workers’ take-home pay by 46 per cent, a claim Unilever said in a statement had “no basis in fact”.
Steve Murphy, the assistant secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, said 145 Streets factory workers represented by the union faced an uncertain future.
“The nuclear option of terminating the agreement and cutting their workers’ pay will not be accepted by our members or the consumers of their products,” he said.
Mr Murphy said workers had been trying to negotiate a new agreement that improved productivity as well as pay and conditions. He urged Streets to return to the negotiating table.
But Unilever said the AMWU and Unilever would “all get to have a say and be heard” as part of the Fair Work Commission process.
The AMWU said Unilever’s application to have the Streets Minto factory enterprise agreement terminated would, if successful, mean workers would revert to the modern food award.
It estimates workers’ pay would be cut from $40.18 an hour to $22.43. Including changes to shifts, it said this would result in an overall annual pay cut of 46 per cent.
The union said workers could also face weaker pay rates for overtime and reductions in leave entitlements and flexible shifts.
The ACTU described the company threat to terminate the enterprise agreement as “industrial blackmail”.
“This is a new tool in the employers’ bargaining shed,” ACTU president Ged Kearney said.
“More and more, we are seeing employers use this tactic whereby they introduce a new enterprise bargaining agreement that they know will be unacceptable to the employees.
“They stretch out bargaining over and over and force the employees to vote down unacceptable agreements and then say ‘we can’t come to an agreement’ and apply to the Fair Work Commission for a termination.”
Ms Kearney said this left employees with a choice between accepting a new agreement that cut their pay below current levels, or being forced onto an award that paid them even less.
“They are using it as industrial blackmail,” she said.
“You are asked to choose between a pay cut and a worse pay cut.
“This tactic is driving down wages, trashing the bargaining system and making an absolute joke of any industrial relations protections that workers might have.”