Workers at Bega's manufacturing plant on the New South Wales south coast have voted to take industrial action after negotiations with Bega Cheese management on a new Enterprise Agreement broke down. 

Bega released a statement today (12 September) saying it made an offer earlier this week to employee representatives and their unions, but that had not been put to all employees for their consideration.

Workers at the Bega facility are represented by the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU), the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and the Electrical Trades Union (ETU).

AMIEU NSW Secretary, Patricia Fernandez, said that industrial action was unprecedented in the history of Bega Cheese.

“Workers have bargained in good faith and are making reasonable demands at the table. They have made the historic decision to take industrial action because Bega Cheese refuses to give them a fair pay rise” Fernandez said.

In its statement, Bega said it believed “that the offer is fair having regard to the current economic environment and the competitive challenges we face in the markets that the Bega NSW factories compete – reducing milk volumes and excess cut and wrap processing capacity in the industry being the most significant”.

AMWU members have given notice of planned industrial action to take place on Friday, with other workers joining early next week, after the company on Tuesday (10 September) refused to offer pay rises above 2.5 per cent, the unions said.

Bega has made an application to the Fair Work Commission to help resolve the dispute and is waiting on advice of a hearing date.

“We believe that the assistance of an independent third party may help to break the current impasse in negotiations and avoid any impactful industrial action.

“The Company is disappointed that protected industrial action will be taken by the AMWU members in the form of a 24-hour stoppage this Friday and further industrial actions are planned for next week of shorter durations including an overtime ban involving CEPU and AMIEU members.

“Bega’s strong preference is to continue the negotiations with the aim of reaching an Agreement without industrial action and call on the unions to put the offer made earlier this week to our employees,” it said.

The two Bega production plants in NSW will continue to manufacture products for our customers.

“Possibly the most difficult year since deregulation”

Late last month (28 August) the company delivered its FY2019 full year results. In its annual report, Bega Cheese Chair Max Roberts said it had been a "challenging year" with major structural changes in competitive environments.

“The year just passed represents possibly the most difficult year for the dairy industry since deregulation with the last quarter the worst. The drought along with high water, feed and power costs have all had an impact,” he said.

The company missed its own revised target for its fiscal 2019 earnings. The ongoing drought causing a significant reduction in the milk pool made for difficult times, it said.

Revenue was up 13 per cent to $1.4 billion, while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation were down three per cent to $89.5 million from $92 million in FY2018.

In August, Bega had revised its earnings to between $113 million and $117 million for the financial year, compared with the $123 million to $130 million forecast at its half-year results announcement.

Earlier this week Brancourts Dairy went into voluntary administration due to current challenges being faced through a combination of high milk prices and the company’s inability to reflect these increased costs in its end products (Food & Drink Business, 11 September 2019).


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