Strike against brutal, precarious conditions at Australia's largest poultry producer, supplier to one of Australia’s biggest supermarket chains
Members of the IUF-affiliated National Union of Workers (NUW) have been out on indefinite strike since November 9 at the Baiada Poultry plant in Laverton, Victoria. The key issue in the strike is the company's massive recourse to precarious labour and the refusal to pay comparable wages to non-permanent workers.
Of the approximately 430 workers regularly working at the plant, only 284 are directly employed by Baiada. The rest are on various forms of precarious contracts: "contractors" in name only, workers allegedly dispatched by shadowy agencies and a group paid directly in cash. The majority are Asian and African migrants, of these a large number are international students, and all are highly vulnerable to employer pressure and blackmail.
Attempts to bargain a new contract since the previous one expired at the end of July have produced only an offer for a non-union agreement which would place no restrictions on precarious employment and entrench inequality and discrimination. The company proposal would, for example have certain categories of casual workers earning up to AUD 8,000 per year less compared with a permanent worker. The threat to permanent jobs is obvious. Accountable regulation of non-permanent jobs is one of the union's key demands.
Abusive employment has resulted in two fatal work accidents at Baiada facilities over the past 6 years. In 2005, a worker on a Baiada farm was crushed to death as a consequence of a forklift being operated by an unlicensed 16-year old. Last year, an immigrant contract worker was decapitated when told to clean a line moving at full speed - 183 birds per minute (Ethical chicken, caged workers).
The union has received strong support from the ACTU and from community and migrant rights groups, who have joined the union on the picket line and in support actions.
Baiada Poultry is Australia's leading poultry company with some 35% market share, set to grow higher this year following the takeover of major competitor Bartter.
Baiada is the primary supplier of chickens to Coles supermarkets, one of the largest supermarket chains in Australia. Despite the extensive claims in the Coles Ethical Sourcing Policy regarding respect for worker rights and decent working conditions, Coles has ignored the brutal working conditions, illegal employment practices and massive rights violations in Baiada's factories and still buys 80% of its fresh chicken from Baiada.
The strike will be a tough one. Only fifteen minutes after it began, a security guard attempted to drive through picket lines. On the evening of November 11, police ordered to break the picket had to turn back in the face of determined workers and their community supporters.
You can support their struggle by sending a protest message to retail giant Coles, the largest buyer of fresh chicken from Baiada, calling on the company to abide by its Ethical Sourcing Code. Use the form below to tell Coles they have a responsibility to act so that "workers shall be treated with dignity and respect" at Baiada - click here to send a message to the company.