Wingham Beef Exports employees march through streets of Wingham to protest current wages

Industrial action: AMIEU Newcastle and Northern NSW secretary Grant Courtney leads the march through Wingham. Photo: Sally Codyre.
Industrial action: AMIEU Newcastle and Northern NSW secretary Grant Courtney leads the march through Wingham. Photo: Sally Codyre.

About 150 Wingham Beef Exports employees attached to the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union have been indefinitely locked out. 

The group started industrial action on Wednesday, July 11 in relation to a wage dispute.

This action involved a march on the main streets of Wingham and a meeting in Central Park. 

They had initially intended to stop work for two hours.

However, a protected industrial action notice was issued to the group before the protest that stated by taking action, the company has barred them from returning to work indefinitely. 

The statement said:

“If you are a member of the AMIEU and you have elected to participate in the industrial action, you are hereby notified that the company will be taking industrial action by way of a lockout in response to your industrial action, and that you are directed in accordance with section 414(5) of the Fair Work Act to remain away from your workplace and your employment for so long as the lockout continues in force.”

“The company will not require your services for that period.

“This means you will not be required to attend work and will not be paid by the company for that period,” the statement said. 

The statement also outlined that workers will be able to return once the lockout has been withdrawn.

“The lockout will be withdrawn as soon as practicable after the notified protected industrial action by employees is withdrawn, and when sufficient livestock can be delivered to the plant to re-commence production.”

It was also stated that employees had the option to return if they have elected not to take protected industrial action.

“It is the right of an employee to be a member of a union and, if so, to participate in protected industrial action, however it is also important that you understand what the company’s response will be to you taking this action.”

AMIEU Newcastle and Northern NSW secretary Grant Courtney led the march and said wages do not meet costs of living for employees. 

“What we’re seeking is four per cent.

“Four per cent is not much.

“We want a wage increase, we want a living wage increase,” Mr Courtney said.

Mr Courtney added that negotiations with Wingham Beef Exports and parent company NH Foods had failed to yield a result.

The union notified the company of industrial action last week. 

The company has offered all employees pay rises of between 2.5 per cent and 3.75 per cent.

Impact on employees

Employee Michael Schiffmann works as a slaughterman.

He said workers continue to struggle with costs of living and that wage increases would have minimal impact on the company.

“These guys have got issues with mortgages and paying the bills.

“It’s not really a big deal considering how much work we do.

We just want them to come to the party.

Michael Schiffmann, Wingham Beef Exports employee

“We just want them to come to the party.

“We would rather be there then standing out here,” Mr Schiffmann said during the meeting at Central Park.

Mr Schiffmann said work in boning, slicing, slaughtering and cleaning is physically demanding.

“Some of the blokes here have had shoulder reconstructions,” Mr Schiffmann said.