WorkChoices, worst choices Abbott’s SPC

1921Ardmona Fruit Products Co-Op Ltd. opens for business.

1921 Ardmona Fruit Products Co-Op Ltd. opens for business.

As Tony’s chances go up, workers’ hopes will go down.  Source:  The Daily Telegraph, July 2012

IN a sure-fire sign that the Liberals have grown incredibly cocky about their electoral prospects at the next federal election, Tony Abbott has once again raised the spectre of WorkChoices.

Despite Tony Abbott’s promise during the 2010 federal election that WorkChoices was “dead, buried, cremated”, “the spirit of WorkChoices rose from the dead again…”.  The pledge back in 2012 was that “if elected”, Tony Abbott would enact laws allowing “greater flexibility for employers“, and promised that he “won’t stop there“.

Only a few days later, Abbott – and the desciption at the time was “bizarrely” declared – that he, Tony Abbott, was the best friend of the Australian worker but that “right now we have got a flexibility problem, we have got a militancy problem, we have got a productivity problem.”

This was, and of course, continues to be absolute rubbish. Compared with decades past there is very, very little industrial unrest in Australia.  Australians continue to work some of the longest hours, with the least job security of any industrialised nation.

Back in 2012, Tony Abbott’s “technique” was described thus:  Does this ring any loud bells?

Once again, Abbott is resorting to his favourite technique, create a problem where one doesn’t exist (“militant unions”), repeat it ad nauseam (“we must stop militant unions”), and hope the public falls for it (“I will stop militant unions”).

After an intial philosophical attack against SPC, and a somewhat snide remarkDavid Gonski ‘is not going to let down the workers of SPC Ardmona’, says PM Tony Abbott – it became exactly the opposite, an attack on the workers and their conditions.

STRUGGLING fruit canner SPC Ardmona today undermined the Government’s blistering attack on its apparently generous working conditions.

Senior government officials had claimed the workforce had nine weeks’ leave a year. The company said the actual figure was 20 days.

The Government said the workers were paid a loading on top of overtime. The company said almost zero overtime is paid. An agreement for cashing in sick leave ended in 2012.

According to the Government the workers received a generous wet allowance. In fact, no wet allowance was paid in 2012.

Dr Stone said it made no sense for the government to support a Tasmanian fish farmer, Huon Aquaculture, by spending $3.5 million in public money to upgrade machinery while rejecting SPC Ardmona’s bid.

She said the government had sought to widen its attack on unions at SPC Ardmona after unrelated reports of corruption in the building industry.

”This seemed to be a convenient way to draw a line in the sand to accuse this company [SPC] of being destroyed by unions and outrageous wages,” she said.

Specific details of the “extraordinary working conditions” which Tony Abbott would have us believe that SPC workers enjoy are:

. . . on Tuesday released financial details and information on its agreement with the AMWU that refuted nearly all of Mr Abbott’s claims. It said the wet allowance, worth just 58¢ an hour, was not paid at all last year. It also said total allowances paid to workers were just $116,427 in 2013; or less than 0.1 per cent of its cost of goods for the year.

It said there was little overtime at SPC Ardmona, and the company had in 2012 reduced redundancy provisions and stopped sick leave from being cashed out.

On Monday, Joe Hockey said that, drought assistance was already available to farmers and declared ”the age of entitlement is over and the age of personal responsibility has begun”.

Perhaps Hockey has missed something, that although climatic conditions are always challenging for rural communities, the company’s current difficulties have nothing whatsoever to do with drought.  From SPC’s Managing Director Peter Kelly:

“Mr Kelly says the major culprit behind SPC’s difficulties is the sustained high Australian dollar, which has led to a flood of cheap imported canned fruit and a “decimation” of the company’s export markets.

“The serious problems that have beset SPCA have not been because of labour costs and certainly not from the allowances, a fact borne out by the Productivity Commission’s recent analysis,” he said.

Returning to Abbott’s “technique”:  create a problem where one doesn’t exist (“militant unions”), repeat it ad nauseam (“we must stop militant unions”), and hope the public falls for it (“I will stop militant unions”).  If it seems nonsensical how a request from SPC could suddenly morph into an attack on a 58 cent per hour wet allowance, here is the answer:  create a problem where one doesn’t exist.

If Tony Abbott thought to entertain the idea that this issue could be the commencement of his undeniable fervent wish to introduce a future clone of WorkChoices, perhaps “succeed” where his mentor John Howard failed, then he has made an unimpressive start to his campaign by attacking the workers of SPC Ardmona and the town of Shepparton.

Photo:  SPC Ardmona - Our Rich History

Photo: SPC Ardmona – Our Rich History