MORE than 300 SunRice workers will strike across regional NSW and Victoria this week, calling on the company to ditch its proposal to erode worker conditions.
The United Workers Union has been negotiating a new workplace agreement with SunRice for the past eight months, but talks have come to a standstill.
The workers are seeking a decent pay increase per year over a four year agreement, improving their job security and ensuring casuals are looked after, without trading away their current conditions.
UWU spokesman Tom Czech said workers were essentially being asked to fund their own pay rise with the company's proposed cuts to conditions that would have ramifications through the regions.
"Workers are deeply concerned to see SunRice attempt to remove important conditions," Mr Czech said.
"This included removing leave from the agreement for volunteer firefighters and domestic violence victims, as well as time to donate blood.
"Here we have a heartless corporation neglecting their workers and their communities by stripping workers of guaranteed time to contribute and play these vital roles."
Mr Czech said the attempt at reducing worker conditions was a particularly bitter pill to swallow, SunRice's bumper seasons and bumper profits.
Despite staff shortages of up to 15 per cent across all sites, the company produced 620,000 tonnes of rice last year.
Last time an agreement rollover was negotiated, only 47,000 tonnes of rice was produced, but the company didn't take any conditions away.
"Through the pandemic, workers have been expected to do countless overtime to cover for staffing shortages and to process bumper harvests," Mr Czech said.
"As essential workers, they have kept supermarket shelves stocked with staple goods for communities around the country. The company's response is an insult, driven by corporate greed."
However, a SunRice Group spokesperson said the company had faced a number of headwinds and had been in a loss-making position due to drought, record low rice production in Australia and supply disruptions caused by COVID-19.
"Despite these challenges, SunRice has been able to maintain employment and skills in our Riverina facilities due to the strength and diversity of our Group.
"We have also continued to award annual pay increases to our employees across our regional operations, without seeking any changes to conditions under the existing enterprise agreement."
The company also said the union was misrepresenting its offer and that existing provisions relating to emergency services leave, volunteering leave and domestic and family violence leave would remain in the proposed Operations Enterprise Agreement.
"Contrary to the claims made in the UWU's press release, SunRice has not diverted money away from pay increases into acquisitions," the spokesperson said.
"We have been fortunate as a business to have a strong balance sheet that has afforded us the opportunity to invest in acquisitions.
"We call on the UWU to cease misrepresenting SunRice's proposed offer to employees, to return to the negotiating table and to call off this damaging protected industrial action."
The 330 workers stopped work at SunRice, CopRice and Australian Grain Storage locations on Tuesday, February 1 and Wednesday, February 2.
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