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Issue #1648      July 23, 2014

VB’s new owners offer workers dregs

Brewery workers who help Australia quench a hard-earned thirst have begun action to gain proper compensation for a dramatic roster change which would cause upheaval to their family lives.

The 30 maintenance fitters who help keep VB and Carlton Draught flowing from Melbourne’s Abbotsford brewery kicked off protected industrial action with a strike on World Cup Final morning, having a barbecue outside the gates.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) is working to negotiate the first union agreement since Foster’s was taken over by hardline beer giant SABMiller in 2011.

Delegate Sam Garro said members mainly work day shift and their lives would be radically changed as the multinational wants to introduce rotating shifts – day, afternoon and night – as part of the “SABMiller manufacturing way” it uses worldwide.

“In my department no one wants to do these new shifts, not us blokes a bit older and certainly not the younger ones with children,” Mr Garro said. “I’ve been day shift for my 33 years here, now they want us to work overnight, rotating shifts changing each week.

“People need something for the lost time with our families, and I don’t think an extra week in leave pay is too much to ask.”

Their direct employer is maintenance contractor ABB, but under heavy pressure from SABMiller it has refused the workers’ claim for one week’s extra annual leave or an equivalent bonus to compensate them.

It also refused the AMWU members’ wage proposal of nine percent over three years, offering a figure well below inflation.

Protected action bans are likely to disrupt the production of VB, Carlton Draught and Crown Lager as the fitters are specialists at keeping the ageing Abbotsford site machinery going.

AMWU organiser David Roach said ABB and SABMiller were playing “hardball” because agreements with the majority of brewery workers – covered by unions United Voice and the ETU – were yet to be done.

“They’ve been used to paying low wages and controlling workers overseas but they are finding their ‘new way’ of manufacturing won’t come at the expense of our members,” he said.

Next article – Government’s grim intentions for ABC, SBS

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