Why hundreds of factory workers held up a city

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A high-vis army gathered in the Melbourne CBD on Thursday morning to show solidarity with their regional colleagues suffering from “corporate greed”.

About 200 people joined the rally, organised by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), to support the continued strike action of factory workers in Shepparton over a wage dispute.

A group of protesters were pictured on the corner of Bourke and Swanston Streets in Melbourne. Picture: Reddit.A group of protesters were pictured on the corner of Bourke and Swanston Streets in Melbourne. Picture: Reddit.

Cannery workers at the Visy plant in Shepparton have been undertaking rolling industrial action since January after reaching a stalemate over the company’s latest enterprise bargaining agreement.

Visy has reportedly offered the regional workers an eight per cent wage increase over the next three years – or an estimated 2.6 per cent annually, which is well below the current 7.8 per cent inflation rate.

An AMWU spokesman told news.com.au said the offer effectively amounts to a pay cut and workers are fed up.

“Times are tough,” the spokesman said. “Workers have had enough, during Covid they took wage freezes to help the company through and they’ve (Visy) milked that for all that it is worth.”

He said the skilled workers at the Shepparton factory are paid around $20 an hour, which “is low in the industry and low for Visy as well”.

The AMWU and workers believe the company can afford a much better offer, especially given it is Australia’s largest privately owned company.

Visy’s annual turnover is estimated by IBISWorld to be about $9.3 billion, The Australian reports.

And, according to The Australian’s 2022 Richest 250 list, the company’s executive chairman Anthony Pratt is estimated to be worth $27.7 billion – making him the country’s third-richest person.

Visy boss Anthony Pratt is one of the richest people in Australia. Picture: Nigel HallettVisy boss Anthony Pratt is one of the richest people in Australia. Picture: Nigel Hallett

AMWU’s Victorian state secretary Tony Mavromatis said Mr Pratt would “prefer to let those workers go on stroke than see them take home a living wage”.

“Cannery workers at the Visy Shepparton plant have been on the grass, fighting for a living wage, for over eight weeks,” he said in a statement.

“Australians need to see that there are real villains behind this cost of living crisis. We need to wake up to the outrageous greed that these corporates are demonstrating every day – and we need to tell them enough is enough. It’s time to put pay before profit.”

This latest Melbourne protest follows another gathering of Shepparton Visy workers and AMWU members outside Visy’s head office in Southbank.

The workers have also taken to the streets of Shepparton, and visited a sister factory in North Coburg – which will soon enter its own bargaining negotiations – to raise awareness of their concerns.

The AMWU spokesman said the rally on Thursday morning was a mass meeting attended by members from a range of building and industry workers – including from the CFMEU, Electrical Trades Union, and Plumbers Union.

Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Hilakari was also among the rally and later tweeted about the “big crowd”.

“The early unionist catch’s (sic) the rally,” he said.

“Lots of people talking about cost of living, excessive profits and rising mortgage repayments.”

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The rally was also attended by workers from major Melbourne CBC sites including the Metro Tunnel, West Connex Tunnel, and Port Melbourne, “to name a few” the spokesman said.

Visy has been contacted for comment.

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