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Issue #1684      May 13, 2015

Only strong unions can end this exploitation

A Four Corners investigation has uncovered gangs of black market workers run by unscrupulous labour hire contractors operating on farms and in factories around the country. These labour hire contractors prey upon highly vulnerable young foreigners, many with very limited English, who have come to Australia with dreams of working in a fair country.

They’re subjected to brutal working hours, degrading living conditions and the massive underpayment of wages.

The program heard some Baiada workers are on the job for 18 hours per day, seven days a week and are exhausted. Two workers first employed by Baiada earned the $25 an hour award wage, but were then switched to a labour hire company operating within the factory which paid $18.

The program cited wages as low as $13 an hour at another plant. Staff working for a Baiada labour hire sub-contractor said two workers were abused.

This sounds very familiar. Here’s David Whyte describing a National Union of Workers strike at Baida Poultry in 2011:

On a number of visits to the picket line, I listened to numerous horror stories of workers who worked in brutal conditions and risked their lives for as little as $8 an hour.

Their union, the National Union of Workers, estimated that at any one time, at least 10 per cent of staff were absent due to work-related injury. Workers said when their colleague was killed in the [Baiada] chicken packing machine, they had to remove his remains from the machine, hose it down and start up production again within two hours.

Those on the picket line spoke of constant bullying, assaults and sexual harassment by immediate superiors in the plant. Back then, New Ltd columnist Miranda Devine called unions “evil” for campaigning against this kind of exploitation:

“This is the ugly face of the increasingly militant union movement. Cashed-up unions are flexing their muscles, knowing they have a short window of opportunity to entrench power before the Labor government is thrown out.

“… The union’s main complaint is that the company employs contract workers, which means more than half of the workforce does not belong to the union.”

Indeed, the use of labour hire contractors as a shield was a big part of the dispute – as it was again in 2014, when similar allegations arose around Baiada:

“The reasons companies engage temporary international workers through indirect employment is that they can walk away from their legal responsibilities for paying workers compensation insurance, superannuation, public liability and minimum rates of pay,” said the Australasian Meat Industry Employees union..

A 23-year-old woman from Hong Kong who worked at the Baiada chicken processing plant in Beresfield for more than six months said she was paid $11.50 an hour and shared a house with 30 people.

Staff at a labour hire company that short-changed chicken processing workers and forced them to live in overcrowded share accommodation are allegedly operating the same business under a different name after going into liquidation and escaping claims for more than $434,000 in back payments for work at the Baiada chicken processing plant near Newcastle.

The Baiada family have made their fortune in poultry farming, with Baiada Poultry turning over about $1.3 billion revenue in 2013. The firm employs about 2,200 people and is a major supplier to Coles, Woolworths and KFC.

Working Life

Next article – Kojarena Station – Part of global network war preparations

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