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Unions slam Sunshine Sugar for moving meeting to asbestos mill

Paul Lister - Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Unions have slammed Sunshine Sugar for moving a meeting about a new enterprise bargaining agreement from their Ballina head office to the asbestos-laden Broadwater Mill, which is the focus of concerns around worker and public safety.

Sunshine Sugar management has refused a written request by union representatives to change the location of the meeting due to be held at the Broadwater Mill tomorrow, despite the company’s own asbestos expert identifying the site as being high risk and ordering the workshop and stores area be urgently decontaminated.

Officials from the Electrical Trades Union and the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union said they have been left with no choice but to boycott the meeting over concerns that union representatives and workers could be exposed to asbestos if it takes place at the mill.

The unions accused Sunshine Sugar management of unreasonably refusing to relocate the meeting to an alternate venue, saying they believed management were trying to make a point given recent concerns about asbestos contamination at the mill.

The scheduled meeting relates to negotiations for a new enterprise bargaining agreement that governs the wages, conditions, and workplace rights of employees at Sunshine Sugar’s three mills in northern NSW.

“These meetings are normally held at Sunshine Sugar’s head office in Ballina, but for some reason management are insisting that tomorrow’s meeting be held at the Broadwater Mill,” ETU secretary Dave McKinley said.

“We are extremely concerned that by attending this meeting, union representatives and workers may be exposed to asbestos fibres given the company’s own asbestos testing confirmed the location of asbestos in various parts of the mill and recommended the isolation and decontamination of the workshop and stores area.

“We have made a reasonable request — in writing — to move this meeting to a safe alternate location, but management are digging their heals in and refusing to budge.”

CFMEU secretary Brian Parker said the unions were keen to get on with the planned negotiations, but not if it meant putting people’s health at risk within the asbestos-laden mill.

“We believe this facility still poses a significant risk, and we’re simply not willing to allow the health and safety of our officials and the negotiating committee to be compromised,” he said.

“All we are asking for is that management agree to hold tomorrow’s meeting in their Ballina office, which is where all prior EBA meetings have been held, rather than playing this silly game.”

Unions are currently exploring legal options in relation to the approach taken by Sunshine Sugar management towards the EBA negotiations and their refusal of a reasonable written request to move the meeting.