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Voting begins on wage freeze

Tuesday, 7th January, 2014

By Andrew Robertson

Mine workers have already started voting on Perilya’s controversial wage freeze proposal.

The CFMEU said yesterday a handful of workers had voted early in the secret ballot which will determine whether employees forego a four per cent wage rise.

The struggling mining company, which posted a $24 million half year loss, flagged the idea in a letter to workers in November, telling them it needed to cut costs.

The proposal, which would save Perilya almost $2m in the first year, affects over 300 workers employed under a three-year enterprise agreement struck in 2012.

Unionists met at the Trades Hall yesterday to discuss the proposal for a final time ahead of voting which starts on Thursday and continues until Friday next week. 

An outcome is expected to be known soon after. 

If a majority agree to the wage freeze it will be the first time a local mines agreement has been varied after its ratification as a result of a ballot of workers.

Mr Braes said the fact fewer people turned up to yesterday’s and Friday’s meetings compared to earlier gatherings, was not surprising.

People were now better informed about the proposal and many had probably made up their mind about which way they would vote, he said.

But the proposal was still dividing workers, according to Mr Braes, who has refused to take a position on the plan. 

“The union can’t and shouldn’t (make a recommendation to workers). 

“It’s not a union (proposal) ... it’s a proposal Perilya put forward so I believe it’s up to Perilya.”

The company’s refusal to rule out redundancies, even in the event workers agree to the freeze, was a big hurdle for some workers, he said. 

Mr Braes, who will act as a scrutineer along with Perilya’s HR manager, said voting would take place at the Southern operations during the morning and evening change of shift.

Two nights would also be spent at the Potosi mine conducting the ballot. 

Mr Braes said a few workers employed at Potosi mine voted early because they were going on leave. 

Miners will vote on two motions; the first seeking approval to vary the current agreement and the second approval for the wage freeze.

“There’s still two separate resolutions (employees) have to vote on but they will be on the same sheet,” Mr Braes said.

Each voting sheet, which will be initialled by both scrutineers, will then be placed in a locked box.

Mr Braes said counting would begin on Friday week, immediately after the final lot of shift workers voted.

Concerns expressed by some unionists that a donkey vote could be counted as a vote in favour of the proposal were unfounded. 

“If a voting slip goes in and it says ‘save the whale’ it will not be counted,” Mr Braes said.

While workers had to be given every opportunity to be able to take part in the ballot, Mr Braes said they did not have to vote.

Perilya had previously indicated that, if the proposal is rejected, workers would be back-paid their four per cent increase, which is due on the first full pay period of this month.   

But the company has since given an undertaking it would pay the increase when it fell due.

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