The 40 workers at one of Visy’s can-making factories, in Shepparton, Victoria, are planning to walk out for four days after today’s Labour Day public holiday, bringing their strike days this year to 17.
They first struck on 18 January for a better-than-inflation pay rise, the first strike at the plant in 60 years. The men and women are members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU).
All the strikers are learning about union action and what they can achieve by standing together. There is always discussion about the meaning of every act on the picket lines.
They have also travelled to Melbourne to protest outside the company’s head office in Southbank and have visited their sister Visy cannery in North Coburg to raise awareness and solidarity donations. The North Coburg cannery will be bargaining with Visy in months.
Strikers plan to visit other Visy sites in a “road show” put on by their union to raise solidarity donations. But they have steered clear of solidarity action due to official wariness of anti-union laws.
Unions in the Hume region have been quick to support striking Visy workers, with two teacher union AEU branches donating $150 and $250.
Visy is Australia’s largest privately-owned company with an annual turnover of $7 billion. Its owner, Anthony Pratt, is worth an estimated $14 billion, making him the third richest person in Australia.
A Tax Office review of the biggest company non-tax payers for 2013-14 listed Pratt Consolidated Holdings as having paid no tax in that year, despite more than $2.5 billion in revenue.
This year the company is offering its cannery workers in Shepparton a meagre 2.6 per cent pay rise annually for three years. This amounts to a pay cut with inflation running at 7.8 per cent.
Less than a year into a Labor government, workers are learning that we will still need to fight for above-inflation pay rises.
With the cost-of-living crisis caused by major companies boosting their profits and Labor not willing to address the issue, all workers should be on strike for pay rises at or above inflation.
Strikers rejected Visy’s proposed agreement via an electronic vote set up by Visy, with the AMWU running a “Hell, No” campaign.
Visy is arguing that given a NSW cannery accepted a lower pay rise, Shepparton workers should follow suit. That cannery did not take any strike action for a new EBA.
Danny Miller, the AMWU organiser, said Shepparton cannery workers put in extra hours during COVID-19 to meet greater demand. In effect, Visy can-makers were “essential workers”.
Strikers are angry that, as one striker said, “Visy has treated us like we are just numbers.”
As the dispute settles into a war of attrition, it’s important that other workers support their brothers and sisters at Visy.
The Visy strikers are in a powerful position as they make the cans for SPC Fruits, Campbell’s Soup and Simplot.
But with anti-union laws and anti-picketing laws in place the need to defy the laws to win is a key question.
Shepparton picket lines have focused on can distribution sites that Visy have set up in a “cat and mouse” game. Some truck drivers have turned around in acts of solidarity with the picket lines.
Friends and family who work at SPC, Campbell’s Soup and Simplot have told strikers that can supplies are low at all three firms and one of the firms is looking into other suppliers.
Solidarity action from other Visy workers would be the best way to kick the Visy can to the kerb.
Support the strike fund:
ACCOUNT NUMBER: 18-898-9948
ACCOUNT NAME: AMWU Disaster Appeal Account
REFERENCE: Visy Shepp
By Tom Orsag