Baiada poultry workers at Laverton, Victoria, members of the National Union of Workers (NUW), began an indefinite strike on Wednesday 9 November for better conditions, a 5 per cent pay rise a year for the next three years, better health and safety conditions and job security.
Despite threats and intimidation by the Baiada management, the poultry workers have established a 24 hour picket line. Around 292 of the 430 Baiada workers are on strike, a majority of them from migrant backgrounds.
The workers are on insecure contracts and casualisation undermines their ability to assert their rights. Of the entire workforce, 40 per cent of the workers are paid either cash in-hand, as contractors, or employed as casuals from labour hire firms. Some of the Baiada workers told Solidarity that some workers are paid $10-11 an hour, well below the minimum wage. Workers have also not been paid for overtime.
Baiada is massively profitable
The Baiada family’s wealth was estimated at $495 million by BRW magazine in June 2011. The company enjoys 35 per cent of the poultry market and its revenue in 2009-2010 totalled $1,195 million. The company also recently took over its major competitor, Bartter.
Conditions at the factory are shocking. Baiada Poultry has subjected workers to unsafe and dangerous working conditions. Last year Sarel Singh, who was only 34, was decapitated whilst cleaning a fast-moving poultry machine. Not only did workers have to clean up Sarel’s remains, they were forced to work overtime in order to make up for the time lost in cleaning. The Worksafe Victoria report confirmed that the machine was operating at top speed, of 183 birds a minute, and Baiada Poultry had contravened the Health and Safety Occupation Act.
The Baiada workers are currently bargaining for a new agreement. The previous agreement expired on July 31 2011. The company is refusing to convert casual workers to permanent employment.
Worker hurt on the picket line
On Wednesday, workers and supporters blocked access to any incoming trucks, chanting into the early hours of the morning, “Nothing in, nothing out”. Early Thursday morning, a security guard attempted to drive his car through the picket line, breaking one poultry worker’s arm. It was later revealed that Baida management told him to ram the workers and that the company would pay for any damage to his car.
What you can do
Baiada workers need support from unions and the community.
Join the 24 hour picket line – bring a delegation from your workplace to show your support. 17 Pipe Road, Laverton North.
Pass a resolution at your union branch meeting supporting the striking NUW workers. Send to NUW VIC – 833 Bourke St, Docklands 3008.