Collaborative problem solving, supported by the Commission, has helped turn around a business and keep manufacturing and jobs in Australia.

Orora Fibre Packaging supplies a range of corrugated cardboard boxes, packaging and displays to brands across Australia. But it was facing a crisis. The business was facing financial challenges which had the potential to significantly impact its workforce in Australia.

Drastic changes were needed to keep local manufacturing and jobs. But the company and union did not have the relationship or processes in place to constructively discuss options. Their relationship was adversarial and combative, reflecting the many years where neither side had trusted the other. This was evidenced by the number of disputes that had been referred to the Commission.

Today things are very different. There has not been an industrial dispute referred to the Commission in over 18 months. With some timely assistance from the Commission and expert facilitation by a consultant, the company, workforce and their union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU), have adopted a new approach based on collaborative problem solving. They found the common ground of wanting to keep manufacturing and jobs in Australia, which helped them develop a relationship based around goodwill.

The Commission’s role was informal. There was no ongoing file and no formal matter was ever lodged. Instead, the company was aware of the Commission’s New Approaches initiatives promoting cooperative and productive workplaces. They worked with President Ross, Deputy President Booth and Commissioner Roe to support their new relationship.

On a number of occasions Commission Members facilitated a candid dialogue between the union, the company and its consultants where the situation of the business was laid bare. The parties met in joint conferences with the Members, but also used the individual Members as sounding boards during difficult moments. This latter role was particularly useful during the finalisation of an enterprise agreement and during a tricky period when there was the possibility of industrial action over an issue that was external to the company.

Assisted by this informal process a new approach has been developed based on openness, trust and collaboration. It is still a work in progress that depends heavily on the goodwill of the parties. But industrial disputes are now part of the parties’ history, while the business has moved onto a more sound financial footing. The business has been turned around and there has been a significant improvement in productive performance.

AMWU Print Division National Secretary Lorraine Cassin agrees with Group General Manager of Orora Fibre Packaging Rick Woods when he describes the change as one of the most rewarding initiatives he has been involved in, calling it a victory for collaboration. They both say that it could not have been achieved without the assistance of the Commission, which they say acted impartially as conscience for both sides.