Ice cream fans are turning up the heat on the iconic Streets brand, inundating its Facebook pages with angry comments as unions claim the company's workers may face pay cuts of up to 46 percent under a proposed new pay deal.
Workers at the Streets ice cream factory in the south-west Sydney suburb of Minto are negotiating with Unilever, Streets' parent company, as part of a new enterprise bargaining agreement.
Unilever has lodged an application with the Fair Work Commission for the workers' EBA to be terminated, and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union said the company wanted to move workers onto the award wage and conditions.
This, the union claims, would see pay cut by up to 46 percent, as well as the loss of many other workplace conditions.
"Our estimates are that workers would effectively go from $40.18 to $22.43 an hour, which alongside changes to shifts, would represent an overall annual pay cut of 46 percent," an AMWU spokesman told HuffPost Australia in a statement.
"Workers would also lose a number of important conditions, including reduced levels of overtime, reductions in annual, personal, parental and compassionate leave, weaker redundancy conditions, loss of protections against contractors and labour hire and critically, a change in flexible shift patterns that would reduce leisure time."
The Minto factory, which employs 178 AMWU members, produces ice creams including Magnum, Blue Ribbon, Golden Gaytime, Paddle Pop, Bubble O'Bill, Calippo and Splice.
Workers, the AMWU and Unilever have been in negotiations for 16 months, and workers recently voted against a proposed agreement from the company in opposition to a part-time clause.
In a statement, Unilever disputed the pay cut figures provided by the AMWU, and said it had attempted to negotiate "in good faith".
"We reached an agreed position that was reflected in an amended EBA that was put to the workforce in July but not accepted. After 16 months without an outcome it is now appropriate to seek the assistance of the Fair Work Commission," a Unilever spokesman told HuffPost Australia.
"The suggestion by the union that there is a proposal to reduce any employee's take-home pay by 46 percent has no basis in fact. Having been at the centre of discussions for 16 months the union would be aware of this."
"The decision to make an application to the FWC for termination of the expired EA made after careful consideration of all options to create more flexible working conditions and enhance the competitiveness and viability of the factory in the longer-term, which is ultimately in the best interest of employees and the company.
"The facts are that the costs of production at the Minto site remain high and not competitive when compared with other ice cream manufacturers. That is not a sustainable position."
The AMWU -- which said the Streets dispute threatened to evolve into a situation akin to the action at the Carlton United Brewery facility in Abbottsford where 55 workers picketed for 180 days over working conditions -- has activated its online membership, pushing for supporters to flood the Facebook pages of Streets ice creams with comments.
So many angry comments were left on a recent post on Magnum's Facebook page that the company was forced to add a comment of its own explaining its side of the story and linking to a media statement on the industrial negotiations.
"This company is trying to rip its workers off while posting massive profits, magnum are off my list," wrote one person.
"Keep your EBA or lose customers, simple," said another.
"No more Streets for me. I'll support those who support their workers," read another comment.
The AMWU said it would continue its online campaign against Unilever and Streets.
"This is a new tool in the employers' bargaining shed," Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney told Fairfax Media.
"More and more, we are seeing employers use this tactic whereby they introduce a new enterprise bargaining agreement that they know will be unacceptable to the employees.
"They stretch out bargaining over and over and force the employees to vote down unacceptable agreements and then say 'we can't come to an agreement' and apply to the Fair Work Commission for a termination.
"They are using it as industrial blackmail. You are asked to choose between a pay cut and a worse pay cut."