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Issue #1539      14 March 2012

Food processing issues confronted

Food workers from across the country descended on Canberra earlier this month to urge federal parliamentarians to take action on the issues threatening Australia’s food processing industry.

Gippsland Food Company process worker Jenny James said the group of Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) delegates had raised the topics of the supermarket duopoly, unfair trade barriers and weak food labelling laws.

“Many of them (politicians) have been receptive and have listened to what we’ve had to say. Our meeting with Senator Gavin Marshall was particularly good.

“He has promised he would take up our issues with the Prime Minister. I think he recognises more needs to be done by the government for manufacturing workers.”

Ms James said she was particularly passionate about Australia’s weak food labelling laws (food manufactured and processed overseas can be labelled as “Made in Australia” if packaged here).

“I’m a mother and I’d like to think the food I was buying my children was made in Australia. I do a lot of quality assessment at work. When it comes to food processed overseas we don’t know the standard or quality of food, yet it’s often labelled ‘Made in Australia’.”

She said many of the politicians were aware of the issues, including the anti-competitive practices of the Australian supermarket duopoly, but ‘seemed too scared to do something.

“We’ve made a number of practical suggestions, including the idea of giving the ACCC more powers to tackle the practices of the duopoly. Some have committed to taking our suggestions on board.”

The group, including workers representing Mars Confectionery Ballarat, Simplot Ulverstone, Heinz Echuca and Cerebos in Sydney have highlighted the consequences of not confronting the issues.

AMWU National Food and Confectionery Division secretary Jennifer Dowell said the union was now keen to engage in a dialogue with the community.

“This isn’t just about the future of food processing; it’s about jobs in food production, packaging and printing, logistics and maintenance. We’d like to raise further awareness about what’s at stake here.

“We’ve had some very constructive meetings and some undertakings of support from representatives of all political parties. But now we need to capitalise on this campaign and see some concrete changes.”  

Next article – Action call at Canberra rally

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