Penrice accused of spying on staff

Struggling listed company Penrice Soda is embroiled in a fresh drama after allegations it engaged controversial Tasmanian strikebreaker Bruce Townsend to spy on and infiltrate its staff.

Struggling listed company Penrice Soda is embroiled in a fresh drama after allegations it engaged controversial Tasmanian strikebreaker Bruce Townsend to spy on and infiltrate its staff.

Documents filed in the Tasmanian Supreme Court by a company linked to Mr Townsend allege he was engaged by Penrice for the "surreptitious infiltration of the plaintiff's employees and sub-contractors" at its Adelaide factory.

Operatives of Mr Townsend would pretend to be employees of Penrice, the statement of claim said, and be used for the "gathering of industrial intelligence" and the "dissemination of that intelligence" to Penrice.

The deal was known as The Daisy Project Agreement and aimed to help Penrice reduce "the size of its union-based paid workforce". The claim is seeking $112,082 from Penrice for unpaid fees and costs.

Penrice Soda chief executive Guy Roberts said his company would "strenuously defend" the claim but would make its defence in the courts. "That's about where it starts and finishes at the moment," he said.

Mr Townsend, who has spent time in jail on theft-related offences, is a controversial figure who was a strikebreaker in the 1998 waterfront dispute. He was also engaged on the Wonthaggi desalination project to infiltrate its workforce.

Once his role at Wonthaggi was exposed, the project was shut down for days. In a separate legal claim, Mr Townsend claimed his role at Wonthaggi was to replace its entire blue-collar workforce using "rapid deployment" strikebreakers in the event of industrial unrest.

Penrice has been weighed down by financial problems and losses. It was the first listed company to have two strikes against its remuneration report recorded, and as a result had its board spilt. Shareholders later voted to keep the board.

Mr Townsend said he would not comment on his clients but said: "I can confirm that everything in the statement of claim is true and correct and I'm very disappointed that we've had to take this action, particularly as we not only met but we exceeded what the client requested of us."

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