Strikes bring bitter harvest for Hardy

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The Independent Online

Australian winery workers are threatening a lengthy strike that could hurt supplies of some of the country's best-known wines.

Staff at the Stanley Winery near Mildura, in Victoria, south east Australia, staged a 24-hour strike last week over pay and conditions and are now understood to be threatening an eight-week strike.

The Stanley Winery, which crushed over 100,000 tons of grapes in 2004, is part of Australian group Hardy Wine, which makes Hardys and Banrock, among others. It is owned by US drinks giant Constellation.

Bruce Rowe, group operations manager at Hardy Wine, was locked in meetings with unions throughout Friday as management tried to stave off the threatened action.

However, a Constellation spokesman said the company would not cave in at any price. "The management in Australia is working to resolve this, but from what I have seen of the situation, it has to be reasonable."

The Australian Workers' Union said it decided to strike after four months of negotiations foundered. The company is believed to be offering a 10 per cent pay rise, whereas the union wants a 15 per cent rise over three years.

The timing is particularly bad as it is at the peak of the region's vintage, and could affect supply. But the Constellation spokesman insisted consumers would not go short: "There's an ample supply - it's not as if people will go to the store and the shelves will be empty."

Australian wines have become intensely popular in recent years. A survey by Merrill Lynch found that Californian wines had lost market share in the US, which tends to favour domestic brands, as drinkers opted for imported wines instead. Australian wines showed particularly strong growth during 2005.