Dozens of Workers Return From the Holidays to Receive Scrooge-Like News

When 73 workers at the SPC Ardmona processing plant in Victoria in southeastern Australia went into work two days after Christmas, they received some decidedly Scrooge-like news. The employees (the plant’s entire maintenance workforce) were told that, in May of 2014, they will lose their jobs which will be outsourced to contract workers.

Electrical Trades Union branch organizer Damian King described SPC Ardmona’s decision as a “massive festive season kick in the guts,” adding that “it is totally arrogant and offensive to answer such proposals by telling 70 employees, on the first working day after Christmas, that their employment would be terminated.”

SPC Ardmona operates the largest food processing plant in Australia; its parent company is Coca-Cola Amatil, one of the five major Coca-Cola bottlers in the world. The company has defended its decision to fire so many workers on the grounds that it had informed them “earlier that their jobs were under review” and that the company had a “critical and urgent need to transform [its] business.”

SPC Ardmona Is Seeking Help From the Government

The announcement of the workers’ termination from the cannery occurs as SPC Ardmona is awaiting a decision on a request for $50 million in funding from the federal and Victorian governments. The funds are, says the company, to be used for a restructuring of its food processing business.

The Australian government is split about providing the funding, with government ministers saying that SPC Ardmona is responsible for its own rising costs and also wary about setting a “dangerous precedent” if they give in to demands to help the company. Others have cited concerns about “union influence,” says the Herald Sun, and argued that the company is paying dozens of workers inflated wages.

Union Says its Workers Are Being Used as Sacrificial Lambs

King of the Electrical Trades Union disputes that the workers are “highly paid by industry standards,” pointing out that “our members and the members of other unions work a considerable amount of overtime, a considerable amount of shift work and a considerable amount of weekend work” because SPC Ardmona requires this.

He suggests that the planned redundancy of the workers was meant to give the “appearance of improvements” before the Australian federal government reconsiders the funding proposal late in January. The plan to fire the workers has “the fingerprints of the Federal Government all over it,” he comments, noting that the union had submitted its own cost-cutting plan — including a two-year wage freeze, improved shift rostering and hours of work — to the company two weeks ago.

SPC Ardmona, which processes fruits and vegetables, has been in operation for over 90 years in Australia. Were the plant to close, up to 2000 jobs in the Goulburn Valley would be lost, the Greater Shepparton Council predicts. The company came into conflict with farmers this past April after it cut its orders of pears, peaches, apples, plums and apricots from local growers; some farmers responded by bulldozing their orchards.

The controversy over the firing of the workers has become “the latest flashpoint in the debate over taxpayer assistance” to private companies, following General Motors’ decision to stop making the Holden brand, the iconic Australian car, by 2017 and proposals for a debt guarantee for the Australian airline Qantas, The Australian says. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been taking “a hard line on handouts” in order to end “corporate welfare.

As a result, companies including SPC Ardmona have been told that they need to in effect get their affairs in order. But that does not mean that workers who’ve been keeping the company going should be told, when they come into work in the midst of the holiday season, that they will soon be out of a job.

Photo from Thinkstock

97 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 months ago

thanks for the article.

Mike Wilkinson
Mike Wilkinson2 years ago

have not drank a coke in 41 years.....

Angela Verdenius
Angela Verdenius2 years ago

I live Down Under, and I hate what's happening to our work industry and people's livelihoods. I know people who say they'd gladly take a pay cut to keep industry going - as soon as the cost of living goes down. So easily forgotten that wages are supposed to go up to COVER the cost of living, so when you hear the powers that be say we've out-waged ourselves....well, I'm all for the powers that be to live off our wages and get paid according to the promises they keep..they'd soon realise we're not out-waged, and just imagine the money we'd save then....

Ros G.
Ros G.2 years ago

Thanks Alex H for a good comment......I'm a retired Real Estate Agent..we work for the Vendor/Seller never once have I heard anyone say to me "I'll take the lower offer over a higher oner because they look like a young struggling family and it will give the a bit of a leg up" As for selling off Australia..remember the Government controls that through the Foreign Investment Board..

amanda gill
amanda gill2 years ago

Met so many lovely cheerful Aussies in London - great people. It saddens me to read this ... Every country is now handicapped by corporatism.

And God help the Pacific Rim when this TPP thing goes through! I could hardly believe that one!

How have we managed to sleepwalk into this state of affairs? How are they getting away with it?

Leah J.
Leah J.2 years ago

What annoys me greatly about this is the damned adverts the company is putting out at the moment, telling we Australians not to worry about not being able to get Holden cars any more, because they'll just be imported after Holden closes down ! ! ! ! ! And that they will have all the usual terrific Service outlets for those still buying their Holdens the "All Australian Car" Great for the workers to have to see and listen to, when their jobs are going West ! ! ! ! !

Jauharah A.
Jauharah A.2 years ago

Harsh treatment. Hope they all finds jobs well before the cut-off date so they can leave the company up the creek without a paddle.

Alex H.
Alex H.2 years ago

There is a lot more to this story than meets the eye.For decades,Australians have enjoyed a very high standard of living,decent wages and conditions,permanent employment but also high costs,eg:food,petrol,electricity,water,phone etc.International suppliers charge Australians much more than in other countries because they state that "the market in Oz can stand it"??!!Now there is an agenda to drag down wages and conditions and Australians are being made to feel guilty because of their high standard of living.They are told "we can't compete"but this has only happened since globalisation took hold.Because other "dog eat dog"countries which treat their workers like slaves,won't lift their game (overpopulation creates a huge pool of underpaid workers),the Australian worker is going to suffer big time,because of course,all their costs won't go down but their wages and conditions will.One of the former Prime Ministers,Paul Keating stated 20 years ago,that Australia would become a "banana republic",and guess what,it is happening,much to the horror of the vast majority of Aussies who are being totally ignored by their elected politicians.The WTO and U.N. are now running the country and Australia's role is now as a "resource provider".Australia will be the country that suffers the most under globalisation.The biggest traitors are those companies which are moving off shore to take advantage of cheaper employees,and those real estate agents who are overseas selling off Australian houses

Miya Eniji
Miya Eniji2 years ago

Thanks David Y. of course many corporations lack empathy and compassion.
And, think about this- since when does a corporation need shelter, food, clothing- even air or water? it doesn't, of course, as it is merely an abstraction. Therefore a corporation is not and never can be a person !!
Last nite's news let me know that TPP was (for this year, anyway) dismissed in Japan- what a relief !! Thankfully, Toyota and others do not want to contend with a load of usa-produced rubbish cars...and Japanese consumers are very knowledgeable about what they eat- and do not want to eat !!

Ros G.
Ros G.2 years ago

Thanks Marc P...then they would probably want $150 million from the taxpayer..and put more pressure on Tony Abbott to make calls for boycotts illegal as was tried a few months back...and fell to the wayside...but with the new TPP CocaCola will probably be able to sue the Australian taxpayer because their profits have been reduced.