Essential food workers strike in NSW, Victoria

United Workers Union members on strike. Photo: UWU/Facebook

More than 300 essential food workers, employed at six sites in New South Wales and Victoria, are taking strike action for a small pay rise and to stop SunRice from stripping conditions from a new enterprise agreement.

United Workers Union (UWU) members at SunRice, CopRice and Australian Grain Storage (AGS) took 48-hour strike action over February 1–2 to demand wage rises and better conditions and, on February 3, UWU members at these sites endorsed another three days of strike action.

Their industrial action, the first in decades, impacted SunRice’s rice mills, CopRice and AGS businesses in Leeton, Deniliquin and Coleambally in NSW and three sites in Victoria.

Workers are seeking a 4% pay rise — a rise of approximately $1 an hour. SunRice recorded a net profit of $18.3 million, its 2021 annual report stated.

UWU lead organiser Tom Czech said on January 28 that the union’s members have been bargaining for eight months and “will not stand for an agreement that rips away conditions”.

“SunRice … continues to grow and record profits but is refusing modest wage rises for the very workers who have contributed to its successes,” he said.

These essential workers are “deeply concerned” at the corporation’s attempt to strip leave time for volunteer firefighting, for victims of domestic violence as well as time to donate blood from the agreement.

The corporation is “heartless”, Czech said, wanting to strip guaranteed time for workers to play a role in the community.

“The company’s proposed cuts to conditions will have ramifications through the regions. We only have strong communities when we have secure, fair-paid jobs. Casual workers working shift work at SunRice are, in some circumstances, paid less than they would earn if they were engaged under the modern award. This is disgusting.”

UWU wants the company to pay its workers the wages they would receive under the award.

“Through the pandemic, workers have been expected to do countless overtime to cover for staffing shortages and to process bumper harvests. As essential workers, they have kept supermarket shelves stocked with staple goods for communities around the country. The company’s response is an insult, driven by corporate greed,” Czech said.

 [Find out more about the UWU strike action here.]