The Abbott government’s attempt to attack ‘‘extraordinary’’ union-negotiated workplace agreements in Australia has suffered a significant blow with fruit processor SPC Ardmona refuting key government claims.
Abbott is lying about SPC: Liberal MP
In an interview with ABC rural radio, federal MP Sharman Stone accuses the Prime Minister of lying in saying that SPC's union pay deals are the reason they're in trouble.
It comes as an Abbott government backbencher and local Shepparton MP, Dr Sharman Stone, accused the Prime Minister and Treasurer Joe Hockey of ‘‘lying’’ about the ‘‘astounding’’ union deal at SPC Ardmona.
The government has sought to link industry assistance to companies cutting back workplace conditions and at Toyota is supporting a Federal Court appeal to give workers a vote on reducing their conditions. It has also criticised other union deals in the car sector.
After cabinet refused to give $25 million to SPC Ardmona, Mr Abbott and other frontbenchers attacked the company’s workplace agreement with the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. Mr Abbott described the deal as ‘‘pretty extraordinary’’, highlighting conditions such as wet allowances, loadings on overtime, ability to cash out sick pay, and redundancy payouts of up to two years.
‘‘The existing agreement contains conditions and provisions which are well in excess of the award,’’ he said last week.
But SPC Ardmona 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.
A separate analysis by Fairfax Media highlighted that a typical full time worker at SPC Ardmona is paid about $50,000 a year – significantly less than the average ordinary hours wage in manufacturing of nearly $67,000. The average worker in Australia earns just shy of $74,000.
SPC Ardmona managing director Peter Kelly said it had made "significant improvements" in productivity and had cut jobs by a third.
He said its problems were not from labour costs or productivity, but rather a high dollar which hurt exports and allowed a "flood" of cheap imports since 2009. “In that period market share of private label canned fruit grew to 58 per cent today, while SPC Ardmona canned fruit share declined to 33 per cent. Our export market volumes declined by 90 per cent in the past five years.’’
Local Liberal MP Sharman Stone on Tuesday accused Mr Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey of lying.
Asked on ABC Radio whether she thought Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey are "actually, really lying when they’re saying it’s about this issue [the workplace agreement]", Dr Stone responded:
"Well they’re not speaking the reality."
Asked if that constituted "lying", Dr Stone said: "It’s not the truth, that’s right, it’s lying."
"What really upsets me most ... the federal government didn’t say, look we’d love to help but we just don’t have the money right now," she added.
"What they said was, we’re not going to help because it is the amazing wages and conditions that have knocked this company for six."
Dr Stone said such arguments were "just wrong".
"This is a witch hunt," she added. "And sorry, I don’t like witch hunts, which are ... unfair and in this case could lead to us losing an industry."
Mr Abbott declined to comment as did Mr Hockey’s office.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said Dr Stone had made a mistake calling Mr Abbott a liar. ‘‘On reflection she’s probably disappointed she made that particular statement.’’
Labor leader Bill Shorten said Dr Stone, the Murray MP, was "right".
"We’ve got a Liberal MP here willing to tell the truth and call out Tony Abbott and Eric Abetz," he said.
"Tony Abbott and Eric Abetz should stop blaming the workers for their decision to sell out SPC Ardmona jobs."
AMWU national secretary Paul Bastian said the workers had been targeted by Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey so they can ‘‘entertain their ideological perversions’’ about cutting funding from key industries.
‘‘This government came to power on the promise of being open for business, being adults and not lying. Well businesses are closing. The government is lying. And it’s pretty childish to refuse to take responsibility for your own decision by blaming workers,” he said.
With Jonathan Swan, James Massola, Judith Ireland