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Workers at SPC cannery in Victoria have agreed to a $2.5 million pay cut to keep the company afloat

RICHARD PALFREYMAN: Workers at the SPC tinned fruit factory at Shepparton, in Victoria, have agreed to $2.5 million worth of pay cuts to keep the financially troubled company afloat. Employees will give up leave loading, over award payments and days off, and accept cuts in penalty rates for working weekends. SPC Food Preservers Union shop steward, Barry Driver, told Libby Price that mistakes by former company management left workers with the choice of pay cuts or retrenchments.

BARRY DRIVER: We're at our bottom now. The workers, as you realise, everyone has things to pay - houses, you know, everyone's got to live - so what we've done was sat down with our manager, we've come up with this agreement now, but they've told us that there'll be no more cuts, and then after 12 months - if it goes through Arbitration - we'll be back to normal. They have also said that once we get back on our feet - and I would like to point this out - that there will be profit sharing in the future for all employees.

LIBBY PRICE: So workers are virtually having to delve into their own pockets by forgoing income to save the company because of its debt problems?

BARRY DRIVER: Well, there's two ways of looking at it. If the company does not get back on its feet, we're in that bad a financial position that they could have to shut the doors. Now, out in the work force, at the moment - you know jobs are hard to get - so it's been put to the workers and they've unanimously agreed to take these cuts.

LIBBY PRICE: So are management taking the same cuts?

BARRY DRIVER: Yes - management, staff and all. It's right across the board.

LIBBY PRICE: What has SPC done to put itself in this troubled financial position?

BARRY DRIVER: What have they done? Well, they've sacked the last management who we had here, directors and all. They've made quite a few blunders which have put them in the red, and now they've been completely dismissed and they've got a new board of management in here taking over.

LIBBY PRICE: But is that fair that the workers have to pay for the blunders of former management?

BARRY DRIVER: No, it's not fair - I agree with that entirely - but once it's been done, it's out of our hands, isn't it? We didn't have a say in this - the workers on the floor - all right? Now, I know that they're going to make a $10 million loss.

LIBBY PRICE: Well, do you think some other unions have been too inflexible? Should they also be negotiating similar agreements if other companies are finding it difficult to maintain viability?

BARRY DRIVER: Well, that's up to the individual. We can't speak - a lot of companies that are making great profits might try the same thing, but I don't agree with that. We wouldn't have agreed to this, either, only that we know the position that the company are in. Like, you can't expect the workers to take cuts in their pay when a company is showing great profits.

LIBBY PRICE: But if companies are in financial strife, should unions be more flexible, as you have been?

BARRY DRIVER: Well, that's up to the individual. Yes, I suppose they could be. As long as it means keeping the company going and saving jobs, you know, and getting back on our feet.

RICHARD PALFREYMAN: Canning factory shop steward, Barry Driver, talking there, to Libby Price.