A group of mothers today will launch a court challenge against their sackings from a Victorian mushroom farm after they refused to sign up to a 25% pay cut under the Federal Government’s individual contracts, Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs).

The Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) will lodge a case in the Federal Court in
Melbourne today, alleging that the dismissal of the six women last week by
Merbein Mushroom Investments near Mildura was unlawful under Section 298K of the
Workplace Relations Act.

The six women were the only members of Merbein’s workforce of about 45 who
refused to sign the individual contracts. The new contracts cut their pay by an
average of around $150 per week, or more than 25%. The AWAs replace hourly pay
rates with a “piece” rate of 55 cents for each kilogram of mushrooms picked by
the workers.

Some of the women have worked for the company as mushroom pickers for nearly
eight years, but were classified as “casuals” and have received less than $1,000
in termination pay.

AWU National Secretary Bill Shorten said that similar cases would become more
common under the Howard Government’s plans to promote individual contracts and
cut Award conditions, being debated by Federal Cabinet today.

“It will be much easier for companies to impose pay cuts and to sack people
for not signing individual contracts when the Howard Government abolishes basic
workplace protections after it gains control of the Senate on July 1,” Mr
Shorten said.

“Nearly all the sacked women have children to support. They are hard-working
mothers in a difficult industry with serious occupational health and safety
issues. Their only ‘crime’ was to refuse to sign an individual contract.
Everyone else who signed the contracts kept their jobs, but have suffered
significant pay cuts.”

The women were told to sign the individual contracts last month after the AWU
successfully included the company’s workers in a “Common Rule” Award (the
Horticultural Industry Award) to replace minimal conditions imposed by the
former Kennett State Government. After refusing to sign the contracts, the women
were dismissed last Wednesday (Feb 16).

EDITORS/PRODUCERS: 11.30am today (Tue Feb 22) interview and picture
opportunity with three of the sacked women & children and Mr Shorten,
outside the Federal Court entrance courtyard, corner William & La Trobe
Streets, Melbourne, 3000.

For more information call AWU National Secretary Bill Shorten 0419 105 263
or AWU National Media Officer Jeremy Vermeesch 0431 942 977