Beer strike threatens Christmas cheers

BEER could be in short supply this Christmas season with Tooheys workers launching strike action yesterday.

The festive season supply of some of the most popular beers in NSW  – including Tooheys New, Extra Dry, Old, XXXX Gold, Hahn products, White Stag as well as international labels Heineken and Becks – could be hit by the pay dispute.

Brewery technicians at the beer giant’s western Sydney factory will begin a week of strike action aimed at starving the amount of beer the company can supply over the peak summer period.

The factory, which has been at the Lidcombe site since 1978, produces all of Tooheys’ beer – about 3.3 million hectolitres each year.

Brewery technicians make up 84 of about 1100 of the brewery’s workers but oversee the recipes and ingredients.

The technicians are calling for a 4.5 per cent pay rise and say a 3 per cent offer from Tooheys’ parent company Lion Nathan is unfair.

“We always considered striking to be an absolute last resort but, unfortunately, Lion Nathan has left us with no choice,” said Tara Moriarty, of the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union.

Lion Nathan yesterday denied the strike would restrict supplies over summer.

“There will be no disruption to supply,” a spokesman said.

But workers said prolonged strikes had the potential to damage the beer producer, which controlled 43 per cent of the NSW market in 2007.

The strike comes at arguably the worst time of year for Lion Nathan, when the factory workers traditionally switch from a five- to a seven-day overtime roster to produce enough beer to meet the summer demand.

Under the strike, workers are refusing to work weekends and will only work a five-day roster.

On Friday, there will be a 24-hour strike before a decision is made on whether to continue the action.

“Our members certainly don’t want to upset the beer-drinking public in the lead-up to summer and Christmas, but unfortunately we were left with no real choice,” Ms Moriarty said.

On Thursday, Lion Nathan applied to Fair Work Australia to stop the workers taking “unprotected action”.

FWA Commissioner Collin Thatcher granted an interim order which runs out on Tuesday. But the action was deemed to be “protected” due to the way it was organised.

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