Food workers take action for a wage rise, protect meal breaks

McCormick workers at a community picket on March 4. Photo: Jacob Andrewartha

After five years of trying to negotiate a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA), workers at McCormick Foods Australia walked out the gate on February 25.

The workers, members of the United Workers Union, have set up a community picket and are receiving heaps of support. McCormick Foods is a subsidiary of Canadian-based parent company McCormick & Co. It makes Keens curry powder, Aeroplane Jelly and sauces for KFC, Red Rooster, Hungry Jacks and McDonalds. It has not raised workers’ pay for 5 years and wants to strip back hard-won conditions. The last EBA ended in 2016.

secretary Susie Allison said on February 26 that the workers are on a below average wage. "Our members worked every day during the pandemic to ensure McCormick could continue to provide food products to restaurants and supermarkets. In return McCormick is now offering these essential workers no pay rise and slashing their conditions. How’s that fair?"

They are striking for a 3% annual wage increase, no cuts to penalty rates or working conditions.

Every time the workers have attempted to negotiate a new one, the boss put forward “zero per cent” pay rise on the table and told the union to take it or leave it. Workers told Green Left that the management changed not long before their EBA ran out and the new management is more aggressive.

They said the company was just being “greedy” as they were producing the company’s wealth, and like many food supply companies, during the COVID-19 pandemic, they made big profits. Even before the pandemic, McCormick reported $123 million revenue for December 2019, with its profit rising 40% a year over the previous four years.

The workers made sacrifices during the pandemic, working 12 hours a day, only to be “rewarded” by the company refusing a pay rise. It also wants to cut shift penalties, overtime loading and meal breaks from 30 minutes to 20 minutes — giving workers time to walk to the canteen and back to their work station, but not enough time to eat. Many of the workers on strike have worked for McCormicks for long periods of time.

Workers who I spoke to told me that they had been there for between 19-25 years and a number work with their partners, sons or daughters.

[The workers appreciate picket line visits at 63-71 Fairbank Road, Clayton South, Melbourne.]