Saputo is open to holding further talks with unions to bring an end to a long-running strike at a dairy plant in Australia.

Maintenance workers at the site in Burnie, north-west Tasmania, have been in a dispute over wages with the Canada-headquartered dairy giant since last August. They argue pay packets are 21% below equivalent rates on the mainland state of Victoria.

However, Saputo has now been accused by the Australian Manufacturers Workers’ Union (AMWU) of bringing in staff from overseas to fill the gaps. The union said the latest settlement offer of 9.5% is “well short” of what workers are asking for to bring wages to a level playing field with Victoria.

AMWU organiser Michael Wickham accused the company of using “scab labour” instead of offering a better deal with the workers, who Just Food understands number 24.

“Not only have the company flown workers in from Germany and offering blank cheques to local companies to try and cover the strike, they are employing gutter tactics,” Wickham claimed.

According to Gerard Lourey, the operations and supply chain director at Saputo Dairy Australia (SDA), the company has made repeated requests since mid-May to nail down a “bargaining” meeting with the Union.

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“Saputo Dairy Australia is continuing to engage with our valued maintenance workers at Burnie and we remain committed to progressing negotiations in good faith,” Lourey said in a statement provided to Just Food.

“We want to resolve outstanding items with our employees and their representatives in a fair and amicable manner, and we are waiting for state unions to come back to the bargaining table.”

Saputo did not offer comment on the AMWU’s claim of engaging overseas workers.

Earlier in June, when AMWU reported the latest Saputo offer had been rejected, the union also accused the company of a mismatch between skills and wages.

“In addition to the wage disparity, a recent review of workers’ skills and classification resulted in the majority of the maintenance team being assessed at a higher level, meaning that Saputo was in receipt of higher skilled work than it was paying for,” the union said.

“Saputo local management have refused to adopt the outcome of the review it paid for. Adoption of the review’s recommendations would have seen an adjustment to wages, properly compensating these workers for the skills Saputo benefits from.”

Commenting on the wage disparity in April, Wickman said: “We are over being the poor cousin here in Tasmania. We shouldn’t be paid less than the mainland. This is unacceptable.

“Workers at the Burnie factory are more skilled and the site more technical, but the employees just want to be paid like those on the mainland.”

Australia is a market where Saputo has been consolidating operations since 2022 with the sale or closure of plants and downsizing others, while a total of six factories are being shut in the US.

The number of sites has been whittled down to six from 11 in Australia, where Saputo turned to a third-quarter loss in fiscal 2024 linked to an impairment charge before bouncing back to profit in the final quarter.