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News News Pay deal passes test, fails workers
A COLLECTIVE pay deal that would pass the Howard Government's fairness test was yesterday rejected by 300 workers of a South Australian abattoir because it left them financially worse off.

More than 60 per cent of the workforce was understood to have voted against the deal, which the ACTU claims would have left some workers up to $90a week worse off.

ACTU president Sharon Burrow labelled the fairness test a "sham" after it emerged that the Workplace Authority had advised meatworks company Lobethal Australia that the deal would be approved under Work Choices. The deal is understood to be the first that passed the fairness test but left workers worse off, according to an ACTU spokesman.

He said Workplace Authority documents provided by Lobethal Australia showed that the deal had been approved under the fairness test.

Lobethal Australia, owned by Queensland-based T&R Australia, said through a spokesman that it was "disappointed" at the vote, but vowed to go back to the negotiating table.

The company declined to comment on whether it would attempt to move to Australian Workplace Agreements.

The failed pay deal proposed to increase standard working hours from 38 to 40 hours a week, wipe out a 10 per cent loading for periods of downtime due to a lack of stock, and provide a pay increase of 2 per cent.

Meatworker Andrew Whittingham criticised the pay deal as "un-Australian".

"Aren't you supposed to get a pay rise when you renegotiate something like this, isn't that the way Australia works?" he said outside the meatworks in Lobethal, in the Adelaide Hills. "Where has the 38-hour week gone?"

Co-worker Tony Kester, a sawman with 35 years' experience, said the pay deal left skilled workers such as him significantly worse off because it omitted "incentive payments" for processing large quantities of meat.

"I'm a sawman, I risk my hand every day. I see my incentive money as danger money," Mr Kester said. "If they take that away, what is the point of going as fast as we normally do?"

Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey introduced the fairness test in July amid widespread concerns that Work Choices laws could lead to workers becoming worse off.

He denied yesterday that the Lobethal Australia pay deal had passed the formal fairness test process.

"Only if the agreement is approved by the workers will it then go to the Workplace Authority to be checked against the fairness test," Mr Hockey said.

A spokeswoman for Labor's industrial relations spokeswoman Julia Gillard said that under the ALP, workers under collective agreements would be better off.

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