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Issue #1768      March 8, 2017


Workers at the Lactalis/Parmalat dairy factory in Echuca (Victoria) have been locked out since January 18. Parmalat is majority-owned by the French-based Lactalis which bought the plant from Fonterra in February 2016. Negotiations to renew the enterprise agreement began in July. The company proposed a nine percent wage increase over the next three years for existing workers on condition that all newly-hired workers would be paid 20 percent less than existing employees. Union members at the plant unanimously rejected the proposal and announced a four-hour strike. The company responded by shutting down operations, locking out the workers and declaring the site would not reopen until the dispute was resolved. The workers are maintaining a round-the-clock protest camp outside the factory. They are getting a strong community support. During the recent heatwave when temperatures soared above 40 degrees, the company cut off access to water at the camp site. A local water carrier provided a water tanker for maintaining essential needs at the protest camp.

Unions NSW is calling for a royal commission on wage theft. A number of wide-spread rip-offs were revealed with high-profile businesses – such as Domino’s Pizza, Pizza Hut, 7-Eleven, Caltex and other fast food and café businesses for underpaying wages. Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey said “wages are being ‘stolen’ from employees expected to work many hours of unpaid overtime”… “Exploitation and wage theft is rampant across the service sector … As a society we cannot sit back and watch as our world of work is atomised and our rights scattered to the wind”.

Fairness in Religion in Schools (FIRIS) is a parents’ group that successfully put an end to church-run classes from public school class time in Victoria. Victorian Minister for Education announced that Special Religious Education (SRE) was to be eliminated from school hours and treated as an after-school elective. It was replaced with an in-school class about the major religions, secular humanism and ethics, taught by class teachers. In NSW many parents were horrified to learn that SRE classes were not run or regulated by the Department of Education. “I believe that any program which requires the suspension of the department’s own policy and curriculum should not operate in public schools” one of the parents said. The department kept no central record on the number of students or schools that participated in SRE. It neither authorised nor oversaw the material taught. Religious providers authorise their own content and self-certify once a year that they are teaching with appropriate materials. In that regard it should be noted that in 2016 Queensland government reviewed the “Connect” materials used by several Christian faith groups to teach SPE and found it contained inappropriate material “including content that may encourage undesirable child safe behaviours, such as the keeping and intentional hiding of secrets and the formation of ‘special friendships’ with adults”.

Next article – Culture & Life – Cross-border crimes – Open Letter

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