Cemetery workers have called off some industrial action after a heavy-handed response from management falsely claimed funerals would be threatened as a result of it.


AWU Victorian Secretary Ben Davis said the union would meet the Southern Metropolitan Cemetery Trust (SMCT) today in an attempt to end the dispute over members retaining current conditions in new Enterprise Agreements. The SMCT includes Melbourne, Springvale, Brighton, Cheltenham and Bunurong Cemeteries.


The current offer from the SMCT would see workers at Springvale Cemetery, including grave diggers, funeral supervisors and cremator operators, lose up to 20% of their current pay as a result of the withdrawal of allowances and conditions. In return, there was the offer of a 4% a year increase.


“These workers are in very stressful jobs, and should not be expected to silently accept a deal which asks them to surrender hard-won and very necessary conditions, particularly not when they are already lagging behind industry standards,” Mr Davis said. 


“They are not highly paid but they are very mindful and respectful of the environment in which they are employed, and have no desire to increase the grief they witness among members of the public on a daily basis.”


Protected industrial action last week at Melbourne Cemetery included a four-hour stop work and other minor bans. Suggestions from the SMCT that burials would be delayed could not be justified.


“Every day of the year, cemetery workers are mindful of the impact their actions could have on people at a time of grief,” Mr Davis said.


“The industrial action was taken to send a message to management, not to disrupt grieving families. Any suggestion to the contrary is an insult. If the matter is not resolved, periodic stop work bans will continue, but will not cause funerals to be delayed.”


The SMCT is proposing that the number of RDOs be halved from 26 a year to 13, and that the allowance for working at funerals on weekends and public holidays be abolished, among a raft of other benefits that would be withdrawn.


“I don’t believe anyone could seriously believe this is a fair deal,” Mr Davis said.