Published: 06/07/2011

Workers at Heinz’ sauces factory in Girgarre, in Australia, set to close in January 2012 with the loss of 146 jobs, had four hours’ pay docked on 17 June after attending a one-hour union meeting.

The meeting was called against the background of uncertainty and the lack of information from management since the planned closure was announced.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), which represents virtually all the workers at the site, informed management of their intention to hold the meeting, but management refused to agree to let the meeting take place. This allowed them to dock pay for “unprotected industrial action” as provided for by law.

Workers faced with redundancy are anxious to know when the site should be closed, whether workers who found jobs earlier could access redundancy packages, and how long-term casuals will be treated. Heinz is not providing answers and in negotiations with the AMWU is refusing to respect certain redundancy provisions already included in the collective bargaining agreement. The AMWU has taken this up with the Fair Work Commission, the Australian labour court.

The company showed the same contempt for its workers at the site in Brisbane which produces canned fruits and vegetables and juices. Following the announcement – made first to the media, then to the workers – of the transfer of the beetroot processing line with the loss of 160 jobs, Heinz initially refused to allow the National Union of Workers (NUW) to hold a meeting with its membership  Meanwhile, beetroot farmers in the Lockyer Valley west of Brisbane – who sell their produce exclusively to Heinz – have been informed that their contracts will terminate in June 2012.

The closure of 5 plants and the elimination of 1,000 jobs – including the Girgarre plant and job cuts at Heinz sites in Brisbane and Wagga Wagga – were announced just 24 hours after the company revealed a global net profit of $223.9 million for the last quarter (read Heinz celebrates biggest profit jump ever).

Production from Australia is to be transferred to New Zealand, where “a small number of new positions will be created” (Heinz Watties Ltd. press release). It has since been revealed that Heinz has no intention to create any new permanent jobs in New Zealand, but proposes to hire casual workers at the sites slated to receive the production in the Hawkes Bay area.
In Poland, with the transfer of production from the Międzychód to the Pudliszki plant, there will be no increase in the workforce, just an increase in workload.

Heinz’ initiatives “to increase manufacturing efficiency and accelerate productivity on a global scale” (President and CEO William Johnson) amount to a global race to the bottom based on increased casualisation, increased workloads, production shifts to lower-cost factories and pressure on workers and their unions at the bargaining table.