Over 90 workers at Melbourne’s Australian Paper (AP) factory, members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), have pushed back their boss with a solid eight-week strike.

The strikers won on two of their three main demands.

AP has dropped its effort to cut Rostered Days Off (RDOs) by 25 per cent and change the wages formula to deny 80 per cent of the workers a pay rise. The reclassified pay structure would have frozen the pay rates of long-term staff, until newer employees’ wages caught up.

“We’re not highly paid,” one striker told Solidarity. “The standard rate is $21 an hour. People that have been here a long time, trained up on the machines and multi-skilled are getting $28 an hour.”

The strike came after nine months of failed negotiations. The strikers, who make envelopes, playing cards and school books, also wanted a pay rise of 2.5 per cent each year. The company offered a four-year deal with a wage freeze for one year, 2 per cent increases in the second and third years and 2.5 per cent in the fourth.

Negotiations on pay are ongoing but according to AMWU Organiser Dean Griffiths, “we are only 1 per cent apart.”

When the strike began to bite, the company ran off to the Fair Work Commission (FWC), to get orders to force the strikers back to work. The FWC, no surprise, ordered a suspension of the strike, under the guise of a “cooling-off” period. The AMWU appealed and secured a stay on the order. The strike continued for two more weeks, building pressure on the company, before the bosses eventually agreed to two out of the three key demands.

While the company cried poor, the Preston factory is the country’s biggest envelope manufacturer, producing some two billion envelopes a year. It had done the envelopes for the equal marriage postal survey.

Tony Piccolo, AMWU Print Assistant State Secretary, said the result was, “a great testament to the leadership, organization and discipline of the union delegates, that these workers stood strong for so many weeks.”

The strike hit production with AP at one point planning to import envelopes to break the strike. The determination these workers showed in keeping up their strike is an example to follow, whenever the boss pushes the envelope on conditions and wages.

By Tom Orsag

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