Seasonal workers

By Country News

SPC Ardmona and the Australian Manufacturers Workers’ Union are embroiled in a dispute over the medical testing of seasonal workers.

The dispute led to a ruling by the Fair Work Commission in January, but AMWU assistant state secretary Jason Hefford said with only a few weeks left to run of the 2018-19 season the matter was still unresolved.

Older casual and seasonal workers are bearing the brunt of a new medical testing regime, according to Mr Hefford. Some were left without any employment after decades of loyal service, he claimed.

SPC Ardmona has engaged Work Health Australia to conduct the testing, which Mr Hefford claimed was unfairly targeting older workers.

He said he had a list of about 30 workers who failed to resecure casual or seasonal work following the testing.

‘‘If you break down the list, the majority are elderly workers, anyone who is 45 (years old) and onwards,’’ Mr Hefford said.

‘‘We know of at least 30 that have come to us, but I reckon it’s closer to 100.’’

A spokesperson for Coca-Cola Amatil, current owner of SPC Ardmona, said the new medical tests were designed to improve health and safety.

He denied the testing and workplace restructuring had anything to do with plans to sell the business.

‘‘Each year SPC advertise and recruit for seasonal employees for the peak of the fruit processing season. In 2018 we received more than 3000 applications, including many from people who had worked in these roles in previous years,’’ the spokesperson said.

‘‘Seasonal employees are contracted for a period of time. They can reapply each year and if hired they sign a new contract each time.

‘‘The size of the seasonal workforce varies based on production plans, customer demand, fruit intake and, of course, the weather. The season has been running a few weeks later than usual due to local weather conditions.’’

Mr Hefford claimed the size of SPC’s full-time workforce had declined in recent years, partly in response to improved automation.

‘‘The full-time workforce used to be 1000 per site, now you’re down to 200 across both sites,’’ he said.

The seasonal workforce is also shrinking, according to Mr Hefford.

‘‘This year, you’re looking at a seasonal workforce of 500. Last year it was 750. The year before that, 1000, and before that it was 2000,’’ he said.

The News has tried to verify these figures with Coca-Cola Amatil.

A number of former and current SPC Ardmona workers spoken to for this story did not wish to go on the record, claiming being identified could risk current and future employment.