Thursday, July 4, 2024


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Fair Work Commission Orders Suspension Of Industrial Action At Wilmar Sites

The Fair Work Commission has ordered three unions to suspend industrial action at the Queensland factories of Wilmar Sugar and Renewables for six weeks after hearing submissions from unions and the company.

Fair Work Commission Deputy President Dobson had been asked by Sugar and Renewables to issue suspension orders after unions notified intention to mount a series of stoppages over coming weeks, further threatening company attempts to continue with the annual sugar season.

The company gave extensive evidence to the Commission on the impact of bans and stoppages, including the effect on regional economies and third parties in the sugar supply chain, particularly cane growers. The Sugar and Renewables spokesman said the suspension of industrial action relieves the immediate risk to the annual crushing season, and provides clear air for negotiations with unions on the enterprise agreement.

“Everyone in the supply chain can now make the necessary preparations to get underway and begin making up for lost time,” the spokesman said.

On Tuesday, Fair Work Commission Vice President Gibian, based in Sydney, heard an application from unions for a stay on the order made by Deputy President Dobson on Sunday night for suspension of industrial action in Wilmar Sugar and Renewables factories for six weeks. VP Gibian stood over the application until the unions’ appeal against DP Dobson’s decision is heard in the Commission on Friday. This means that the suspension order remains in place and no protected industrial action can proceed while it remains.

On Friday, 5 July, the Commission will hear an appeal by unions against DP Dobson’s decision on Sunday evening to order suspension of industrial action at Wilmar sites for six weeks.

After delays caused by industrial action and then rain, Wilmar reported that its factories are getting back into production quickly with the resumption of harvesting after the most recent widespread rainfall.

“As at 10.30 Tuesday morning, Kalamia, Inkerman, Proserpine, Plane Creek and Macknade were crushing, although Macknade faced early issues with excessive mud. Invicta is looking to crush Wednesday, and Pioneer should be in production by the end of the week,” a spokesperson said.

CANEGROWERS has welcomed the Fair Work Commission’s order to suspend industrial action at Wilmar sugar mills for a period of six weeks, with Chairman Owen Menkens calling on all parties to use the time to find a permanent resolution to the ongoing pay dispute.
“The Commission’s ruling will come as a huge relief to growers, many of whom have already been significantly impacted by this dispute,” Mr Menkens said. 
“It offers some certainty around crushing, at least until mid-August, so we can get on with the harvest while the milling company and unions continue to negotiate a fair resolution.”
Uncertainty created by the ongoing dispute has caused great anxiety within the growing community, Mr Menkens said.
“CANEGROWERS has been working with the affected districts to ensure grower concerns are addressed and to calculate the cost of ongoing disruptions to the crush.
“This dispute has dragged on for months and has already cost the industry a great deal due to stalling and delaying the crush across Wilmar districts, not to mention the stress it has caused to growers.
“We continue to support the rights of workers and employers to negotiate fair enterprise agreements, but as this dispute drags into the cane crushing season proper, there is a clear risk that growers’ livelihoods are being used as a bargaining chip by both sides. 
“The mill and unions are locked in a game of chicken, hurtling towards a mid-season collision and hoping the other side blinks. Cane farming families may well be the unintended casualties.
“The parties need to take any and all steps necessary to ensure there are no more disruptions to this year’s cane crush. 
“We need both parties to resolve the dispute now.”

Meanwhile, Wilmar received another blow last week, with two staff with more than 14 years of experience handing in their notice of resignation at Invicta Mill.

The AWU (Australian Workers’ Union) claims that these latest departures come as a direct result of Wilmar’s low wages and will leave Wilmar’s largest mill critically short-staffed.

The AWU reported that one Wilmar worker at Invicta, who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions, said the departing workers will lead to the mill struggling to maintain quality and reliability throughout the crush.

AWU Northern District Secretary Jim Wilson said these reports confirmed what workers, cane growers and the local community had been saying for some time.

“Wilmar’s greed is slowly strangling the sugar communities of our region,” said Mr Wilson.

“We have also heard that Wilmar has had to send a boiler operator and a boiler assistant from the Inkerman mill to Proserpine because they don’t have anyone trained to do the job down there.

“It’s time for Wilmar to send an adult into negotiations to get this resolved.”

Plane Creek started crushing on Tuesday due to delays created by industrial action and wet weather. Photo credit: Wilmar Sugar and Renewables

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