Industrial action hits Victorian dairy processors

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Fonterra expects it can continue to supply products despite industrial action this week. Photo by Geoff Adams

Dairy processor Saputo is being hit by simultaneous industrial action by processing workers and transport drivers on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

The Transport Workers Union is taking protected action against Saputo on October 17, while a processing union is taking strike action against Saputo, Fonterra, Peters and Lactalis on October 18.

The action is only being taken in Victoria.

Major dairy companies have reassured customers there will be minimal production disruptions when 1400 workers walk off the job for better pay and conditions.

The United Workers Union says the companies have refused to offer fair wages and improved working conditions for their Victorian workers amid rising living costs.

“Workers don’t make this decision lightly,” national secretary Tim Kennedy said.

“They’re not even asking for a wage increase that matches inflation, just five per cent or so that gets them a little closer to being able to keep up with skyrocketing costs.”

Meanwhile the Transport Workers Union members employed by Saputo are striking in Gippsland and introducing some work bans in north-eastern Victoria, affecting the Cobram factory.

Dairy Farmers Victoria has expressed concern at the ramifications of the impending strike in the dairy supply chain.

The new representative body said the ramifications of a strike go far wider than the parties involve.

Dairy Farmers Victoria said industrial action can hurt the farmers, consumers and possibly the environment.

Fonterra director Rob Howell said the company had a “fair and reasonable offer” on the table for workers, with a minimum 10.5 per cent salary increase over three years and more leave options.

Fonterra would ensure there were minimal disruptions from the industrial action, he said.

“Our farmers will continue milking and we will be doing everything we can to ensure that their precious, perishable milk can be collected and not wasted,” Mr Howell said.

Saputo was committed to resolving outstanding items with union representatives “amicably and swiftly”, operations director Gerard Lourey said.

The company is also putting contingency measures in place to minimise disruptions.

Lactalis said its priority was working with farmers, who were at the peak of the spring milk season.

“We will do everything within our power to ensure action by the United Workers Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union does not result in farmers having to dump milk,” a company statement said.

A Peters spokesman said the company was surprised by the “unnecessary union-led blanket action” and negotiations have continued in good faith.

“Peters offers the best employment conditions in the ice-cream industry, paying its factory workers 70 to 80 per cent above award,” the spokesman said.

The TWU said the occurrence of industrial action by two separate unions in the same week was coincidental.

With AAP.