Positive sign but permanent fix required in sugar dispute 

CANEGROWERS has welcomed a temporary suspension of strike action by Wilmar mill workers that has allowed crushing to begin at three Burdekin sugar mills.

However, with the company responsible for crushing around 50% of Queensland’s sugarcane, the ongoing dispute could derail the 2024 harvest season unless a permanent agreement is reached, CANEGROWERS Chairman Owen Menkens said.

“Obviously we’re extremely glad to see crushing get underway at these three mills, but it’s worth noting that this is only a postponement of strike action. If the parties fail to reach an agreement, we may well see crushing grind to a halt again,” Mr Menkens said.

CANEGROWERS has been working directly with the districts involved to ensure grower concerns are heard and addressed.

“We have written to and been in direct communication with Wilmar and the unions and we are analysing the potential economic cost to growers should the dispute cause further significant delays that would lengthen the crushing season,” Mr Menkens said.

“We have made it clear that we support the right of workers to be represented by their unions in negotiations, and also that the industry needs a commercially viable milling sector. But both sides need to always consider the livelihoods of others in the community and the industry who are not party to their dispute.

“Unfortunately, if this situation is not resolved, thousands of growers will be affected. And not just growers, there will be a flow-on effect to the entire industry and the regional communities it supports.

“Tens of thousands of ordinary people who have no part in this dispute and no power to end it, will nevertheless have to deal with the consequences.

“The later the crush goes, the more likely it is to run into the wet season, which makes harvesting difficult and lowers the sugar content of the cane so much that it becomes uneconomical to crush.

“And it’s not only this season that will be impacted. Growers will have a shorter window to plant next year’s crop, and late harvested ratooning cane will have less time to grow, resulting in a smaller crop next year.

“The impact could be long-term and highly damaging for the industry, so we need this dispute resolved now.”

/Public Release. View in full here.