The Guardian November 21, 2001


Sunshine Sugar workers fight lockout

On November 5, management from Sunshine Sugar in NSW locked out 350 
workers from their north coast sugar mills at Condon, Broadwater and 
Harwood and their sugar refinery at Harwood. The workers have been locked 
out because Sunshine Sugar management broke off the negotiation of a new 
Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) with their workers.

Many northern NSW towns like Yamba, Ballina and Murwillambah may feel the 
negative effects on their economies because of the lock out.

It's not that the workers claimed something exceptionally outrageous. They 
have already reduced the items they wanted to negotiate with management 
from 23 to six. 

Sunshine Sugar offered workers an 8.5 per cent pay rise over 3 years. This 
is almost half of most pay rises negotiated by enterprise bargaining and is 
below the inflation rate.

Sunshine Sugar also wants to compel all of its workers to work on public 
holidays, including Christmas. For workers who work long hours, on shift 
work around the clock seven days a week, Christmas and public holidays are 
pretty important family days.

Many workers have in the past volunteered to work public holidays, but some 
workers object to being forced to work these special days. 

Sunshine Sugar workers took this current dispute to the Australian 
Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) for advice. The AIRC listened to 
both sides of the story, then advised that the mills stay open, that there 
be a "cooling off period" of two weeks and that negotiations for the new 
EBA continue after that.

Sunshine Sugar ignored the advice and locked out the workers instead.

The company then proceeded to spread misinformation about the dispute. 
Local cane farmers were told that mill workers were on strike  which is a 
lie as they were locked out. The local community was told that they had 
locked out the workers because there had been so many strikes. 

This is also a lie. The only industrial action at the mills for years have 
been short, legal stop work meetings so that workers could hear a report 
from their negotiating team on how EBA negotiations were progressing. 

Farmers and workers have everything in common in this dispute. Both want a 
return to work and for the harvest to be finished (sugar harvest is at 
least 80 per cent over, but many struggling sugarcane farmers may lose 
everything).

Sunshine Sugar is ruining the prosperity of local farmers just as surely as 
they are attempting to starve mill workers and their families into 
submission. Sunshine Sugar does not care about its workers or local 
farmers.

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