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New South Wales: Cowra Abattoir prepares to reinstate all 29 dismissed workers.

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Tuesday 4 April 2006

New South Wales: Cowra Abattoir prepares to reinstate all 29 dismissed workers


MARK COLVIN: This afternoon's breakthrough in the case of the sacked ab attoir workers in the New South Wales town of Cowra looks like a win-win situation, but only perhaps for two of the parties involved. 


The workers themselves can consider themselves no longer dismissed and the Government has defused one of the most electorally unpalatable cases to spring up since the new workplace laws came into force. 


But the employer will be smarting after it was 'persuaded' by forceful arguments from the Government's Office of Workplace Relations. 


As the office of the Minister Kevin Andrews puts it: "the employer was provided with information regarding the obligations of employers under WorkChoices, including the protections available to employees". 


Until then the meat workers had been facing the sack, with the option of re-applying for fewer jobs, on lower pay. 


The Cowra abattoir backed down and said it would withdraw the termination notices that it issued last week. 


Peta Donald reports. 


PETA DONALD: The small town of Cowra found itself in the full glare of the media spotlight, when its main employer the abattoir gave notice to 29 workers, inviting them to re-apply for 20 jobs, with a pay-cut of up to $200 a week. 


It was hailed as a possible test of the new industrial relations regime. 


But this morning at a meeting with the union, the abattoir showed its first sign of backing down.  


Charlie Donzo is from the NSW branch of the Meat Employees Union. 


CHARLIE DONZO: It was a positive meeting. The company indicated that they were prepared to continue negotiations with us and they are also going to revise their proposition and table a revised position tomorrow. 


PETER DONALD: How would you describe the mood of the company this morning? Would you say that it's been under pressure and looks like it's backing down? 


CHARLIE DONZO: Well, you know, no doubt they've been under pressure, you know, because I think they've been advised badly in regards to how they've gone about this, but you know, I think they may well have realised that they're going to have to come to some form of arrangement with us. 


PETA DONALD: This afternoon it was confirmed. The Cowra abattoir informed the Federal Government's monitor, the Office of Workplace Services, that it plans to withdraw the termination notices. 


It was left to the Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews to make the announcement. 


KEVIN ANDREWS: As a result of the officials of Workplace Services visiting the Cowra Abattoirs over the last two days and having discussions with both the employer and the employees and pointing out the rights and obligations of all parties, that the employer Cowra Abattoirs has indicated that it will seek to withdraw the notices of termination that were given to the employees and that a meeting will be held tomorrow morning for the purposes of this.  


Under the law the employees have to agree to the withdrawal of the notice of the termination, but a withdrawal of this notice of termination means that the employees in question will have their jobs back.  


I encourage the employer and the employees, having had the advantage of advice from the Office of Workplace Services, to now sit down tomorrow and to work through any of the issues that remain to be sorted out at Cowra.  


Can I say finally that this also puts paid to the views that are being propagated by Mr Beazley today that there are no protections for employees under the legislation. It's quite clear that when the Office of Workplace Services went in and spoke to employers in this instance and the employees then there has been a resolution in the withdrawal or the proposed withdrawal of the notice of termination. 


PETA DONALD: Legal opinion had been divided over whether what the Cowra Abattoir was trying to do would be allowed under the new laws.  


For now that remains untested. Labor's industrial relations spokesman Stephen Smith: 


STEPHEN SMITH: The only reason it seems to me that there has been a back down by the company is because of the adverse publicity that has occurred. The fact that Kevin Andrews can't stand up and say the original termination notices were unlawful or illegal, leads me to draw the conclusion that the original conduct of the company was legal, and that is a direct result of the Government's legislation. And there is more than one lawyer out there saying the same thing. 


PETA DONALD: The Cowra Abattoir has refused to comment throughout the blaze of media attention. But Grant Edmonds, who runs a meat processor in the nearby town of Young, believes the employer in Cowra did have a case to argue. 


GRANT EDMONDS: The company's side would be that they need to make some changes and there's been a lot of work practices which need to be fixed. 


PETA DONALD: Like what? 


GRANT EDMONDS: Like people working three and four hours a day and getting paid for eight. I mean this sort of thing ... I mean it's not my business and really I shouldn't be making any comment at all but I think there is two sides to this story. 


MARK COLVIN: Grant Edmonds, from a meat processing company in Young, ending Peta Donald's report.