MORE than 200 people gathered at Central Park in Wingham on Thursday April 17 as Wingham Beef Exports employees rally for what they say is a "long overdue" pay increase.
Meat Workers Union secretary, Grant Courtney lead the peaceful strike of mostly full time employees and their families.
The workers are calling for a new three year Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) that would see a pay increase of 5 per cent for their lowest paid employees in the first year, followed by a further 4 per cent each of the two years remaining.
While the higher paid employees - the boners, slicers and slaughtermen - are seeking a 3.5 per cent increase in the first year and a further 3 per cent each year after.
About 80 per cent of the employees at WBE fall under the lower pay agreement and include cleaners, packers, those working in the freezer rooms and more.
These workers currently earn around $17.20 an hour and at the end of the three years this would rise to approximately $19 an hour, a figure which would still see them paid less than those in the same positions with many other export companies.
An original offer came from the company last year, that was for a nine per cent pay increase, however this deal would have seen the employees lose about 12 per cent in offsets, leaving them worse off than before.
"Obviously once we looked at the figures from that offer and people realised they'd be worse off, we rejected that," said Grant.
Grant said the negotiations have been going on for several months and admitted that common ground has been reached in many areas, but public holiday guarantees and overall wage increases were still being discussed.
When WBE was contacted on Thursday the Chronicle was advised that the company did not wish to discuss the negotiations it is having with the Union and Employee Reps through the media.
However a company spokesman did note that "130 workers have turned up for work today and the plant is operating."
"It is regretful this action is being taken by the Union and that the negotiations have been both difficult and protracted; but moving forward, the company is determined to continue to bargain in good faith and it hopes to pass on fair and sustainable wage increases to employees as soon as possible," the spokesman continued.
"We look forward to working towards a resolution."
More in next week's Chronicle..