CONCERNS over a strike causing possible blood plasma shortages in New Zealand have led plasma and vaccines firm CSL to take three unions to the national industrial umpire this morning, seeking to invoke little-used laws that allow the suspension or termination of a strike if it endangers lives.

Unions had already put overtime bans in place and have taken 24-hour strikes as part of lawful industrial actions. But this week they stepped up work bans on processing blood for international destinations – to pressure CSL to resolve the dispute that began in April.

CSL has now warned that the industrial action could soon endanger people’s health.

Under the Fair Work Act, industrial action can be stopped by Fair Work Australia if it threatens to endanger the life, health or welfare of the population, or part of it.

”The unions’ tactics left us with no choice but to make an application to Fair Work Australia to stop the industrial action,” said Sharon McHale, senior director of public affairs at CSL.

She said the company could not reach an agreement with the three unions – the National Union of Workers, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Community and Public Sector Union – that processing of NZ plasma should resume.

”Plasma products take nine to 10 weeks to process, test and release. Based on New Zealand’s current inventory levels, we must start processing their plasma by the end of next week at the latest to avoid product shortages for patients,” she said.

But the unions say their action does not endanger lives, and want CSL to resume negotiations.

The AMWU’s Charlie Pandolfo said he doubted CSL would succeed at Fair Work, arguing that it would be premature given that New Zealand Blood Services is believed to have four months of stockpiles. And the CPSU’s Sam McCrone said the quickest way to get an agreement was to return to the negotiating table.

The unions say staff discontent at CSL is growing, while job insecurity has increased and that management pay exceeds wage rises for other staff.

CSL has offered a 10.75 per cent wage rise over three years. Last week it withdrew an $800 sign-on bonus after staff voted down a proposed agreement.

Unions want a 5 to 6 per cent wage rise for each of three years. An agreement would cover about 1700 of CSL’s 1800-strong Australian workforce.

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