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Vets fail to accept resolution to dispute

The National Union of Public Employees, which represents MAF's striking vets, has rejected MAF's generous offer to bring settlement to the export meat dispute, Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton said today.

Mr Sutton said the continuation of the strike was extremely disappointing.

"The union has been reported as claiming it is seeking 10 or 14 per cent.

"The fact is that the union's current demands amount to more than 30 per cent - made up of promotions for many, then ten per cent backdated to March 2000, then four per cent at the end of this year, then re-evaluation of job size of two-thirds of the vets, then paid lunch breaks which add on another six per cent.

Mr Sutton said the union had been reported as claiming there have been no pay increases for ten years.

However, the vets have received three pay increases in the past five and a half years. These increases have totalled more than 9 per cent for some.

Mr Sutton said it was not that MAF did not accept the vets should receive more pay.

"It believes they should. And so has offered eight per cent for the top two-thirds of vets, four per cent for the others, and a one-off payment of $10,000 for all.

"I regard this as particularly generous for a public sector workforce which is already earning an average of 30 per cent more than their equivalent private sector colleagues.

"It is very very difficult to understand why the union thinks it can justify another 30 per cent on top of that."

Mr Sutton said the MAF vets were some of the highest paid public servants in the country, and some of the highest paid workers in the meat industry. They earn an average of more than $80,000 a year. Many earn more than $100,000 a year.

"They have chosen the time of the Easter lamb trade when they can do the most damage possible. And it is costing hundreds of farmers millions of dollars. It is costing the meat industry millions. It is costing thousands of meat workers income they cannot afford to lose. And it is costing rural communities."

Mr Sutton emphasised that it was important for the public to understand that the dispute had been running for 2 ½ years.

‘It was not settled under the old Employment Contracts Act, and the fact that it is not yet settled has nothing to do with the ERA. Even the union’s boss has admitted that it is harder to strike under the ERA than the Employment Contracts Act."

The union position equated to a total percentage increase in the order of 26 - 32%.

The main elements of the MAF offer for the vets are:

- A one-off payment of $10,000 for each vet;

- An eight per cent increase in base salary for the top two thirds of vets, with more senior responsiblities;

- A four per cent increase for the rest;

- The payment of vet association memberships, education costs, medical insurance and medical check-up costs;

- The retaining of penal payments for weekend and shift work;
An immediate promotion for about 40 relievers and circuit vets which would see them receive an extra amount on base salary of between $2000 and $5000 prior to calculation of the eight per cent increase.

Because some vets are concerned that movement from overtime calculated after eight hours a day to overtime calculated after 40 hours a week would cause loss of income, MAF is offering a ‘safety clause’ which guarantees that no one doing the same work pattern will earn less as a result of accepting the agreement.


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