Penrice Soda vows to defend strike-breaker claim
Struggling listed company Penrice Soda is embroiled in fresh drama after allegations it engaged controversial Tasmanian strike-breaker 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 plantiff'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 was designed 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 told Fairfax Media 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 strike-breaker in the 1998 waterfront dispute. He was also engaged on the massive Wonthaggi desalination project to infiltrate its workforce.
Once his role at Wonthaggi was exposed, the project was shut down for a number of days. In a separate legal claim, Mr Townsend claimed his role at Wonthaggi was to replace its entire blue-collar workforce using "rapid deployment" strike-breakers 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 spilled. Shareholders later voted to keep the board.
Mr Townsend said he would not comment on his clients but added: "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."
Mr Roberts said his firm had a "track record of robust industrial harmony" and had not had any disputes of note for 20 years.
"We're not saying it's perfect and we have differences with our unionised workforce at times," he said. "[But] our track record is one of demonstrably working together and achieving industrial harmony."
Mr Roberts said his company did not have any "great need" to reform its workforce and its main focus was on the major business restructure it was undertaking.