Another company asking for Government assistance....Holden gets a mention as well as part of the article...(The Australian 28/12/13)....
FOOD producer SPC Ardmona is under fire for telling 73 unionised workers they will be replaced next year with contract labour, as the company struggles to modernise its operations, rein in costs and boost productivity.
Unions accused the company of sacking its maintenance workforce as "sacrificial lambs" to appease Coalition demands to get its house in order, as SPC pleads for $50 million in taxpayer assistance from the federal and Victorian governments.
Sharman Stone, the Liberal MP for the Victorian electorate of Murray, which is home to the Shepparton cannery, said she trusted SPC's judgment that the job losses were necessary and the company was doing its best to increase "productivity and be sustainable in the future".
The Coca-Cola Amatil subsidiary broke the news to some of the workers at 7am yesterday after they returned from their Christmas break.
An SPC spokeswoman said staff were "aware of the critical and urgent need to transform our business" and the company had been assessing work practices for months, to identify significant improvements in productivity.
"Today, as part of the labour productivity review, 73 employees in the maintenance and trade function at SPC Ardmona, who had been previously advised their positions were under review are to be made redundant," the spokeswoman said. The work will be outsourced in May.
Electrical Trades Union Victorian branch organiser Damian King said it was unheard of to sack workers after they had returned from Christmas and tell them they would be replaced by contract labour.
"The federal government has been demanding so-called 'productivity improvements' before it will consider providing $25m to support a restructure of SPC Ardmona's Goulburn Valley operations," Mr King said.
"Today's announcement means that SPC plans to sack the maintenance employees as sacrificial lambs to provide the appearance of improvement at a time when Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane is preparing a cabinet submission on the issue."
Mr King denied the workers were "highly paid by industry standards", saying unions had put forward an offer of a two-year wage freeze and improved shift rostering to save costs.
"Our members and the members of other unions work a considerable amount of overtime, a considerable amount of shift work and a considerable amount of weekend work," he said. "That's not the demand of the union, that's the requirement of the company to process their product. The fact we have reasonable wages and conditions in Australia means those people get some pretty fair wage rates."
SPC employs about 1000 people at its Shepparton processing centre but is struggling to compete against cheap imports because of the high Australian dollar and popularity of Coles and Woolworths home-brand products.
The company is promising to invest $90m to refit its factory if it can secure $25m from Canberra and a matching amount from the Victorian government.
The demand has become the latest flashpoint in the debate over taxpayer assistance in the wake of General Motors Holden's decision to end Australian carmaking by 2017 and proposals for a debt guarantee for Qantas.
Tony Abbott has taken a hard line on handouts, saying he wants to stamp out "corporate welfare" and companies such as SPC need to get their houses in order
Cabinet has been critical of SPC's request for assistance, with concerns companies are turning to the government for cash while agreeing to workplace conditions that push up costs. Ministers believe the food company bears the blame for its cost pressures, amid suggestions it is paying $120,000 or more to dozens of workers.
Dr Stone told The Weekend Australian that "everyone knows the extraordinarily difficult time the company is in - under threat of closure".
"Without federal and state government support, they will close," she said.
Asked whether she thought the workers were being sacrificed by the company, Dr Stone said she understood the particular group of workers had been in negotiations with the company over a long period before reaching a stalemate. "It's very sad, of course, but it's about the greater good at the end of the day."
She said there were another 6000-7000 jobs at stake.
Australian Manufacturing Workers Union Victorian secretary Steve Dargavel said SPC's decision was most likely a "panicked reaction" to demands made by the federal government.
"It's quite clear there's been a number of senior Coalition members who have been campaigning to eliminate the concept of industry assistance and running a campaign that SPC's problems are the workers' fault," he said.
"That's a dishonest campaign. Maintenance overheads are not enormous and these workers' wages are below the industry average, regional average and Victorian average. They're working on antiquated equipment and they're working hard," he said.
Mr Dargavel said the union would hold mass meetings with its members in the lead-up to a meeting with SPC on January 9. "We'll be engaging with the company about the increased risks associated with using a contractor. It's a regrettable decision," he said.
Last week, a Productivity Commission report found the food processor's operations had suffered from declining demand, greater supermarket competition, reduced export volumes and extreme weather rather than from an influx of cheap food imports.
A spokesman for Victorian Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional and Rural Development Peter Ryan said the state government was a strong supporter of SPC.
Mr Macfarlane declined to comment on the ETU's claims.