BY ALEX BAINBRIDGE
HOBART — Contracted potato growers have accepted an offer by McCain to pay an extra $22 per tonne this year and another $9 per tonne next year for potatoes. This is an important win even though farmers had originally been demanding a $30 increase this year.
The offer was made on August 16 following a two month campaign including an August 1 blockade of the McCain factory in Smithton.
Simplot, the company to which 75% of growers are contracted, resumed negotiations with the farmers immediately after the McCains offer was announced. The farmers have rejected Simplot's previous offer of $30 over three years.
Farmers now expect that Simplot will offer them the same deal as McCain (or better). If not, they have vowed to blockade both Simplot factories in Tasmania.
Organiser of the farmers' campaign, Richard Bovill, told Green Left Weekly that "from a negotiating point of view, it is a reasonable outcome" even though "it was not what we were asking for".
The farmers have not received a pay rise for 10 years and would have needed $60 per tonne to keep up with inflation over the last decade.
The campaign has been a significant development in combined farmer protest. The farmers have won broad public sympathy and displayed tremendous unity across three states.
Ballarat potato farmers have withdrawn a threat to blockade the McCains factory there. Appreciative of the pay rise, they and other Victorian farmers have pledged to protest outside Simplot's corporate offices in Melbourne in support of Tasmanian farmers if necessary.
Bovill told GLW that one expected outcome of this dispute is that McCains and Simplot are less likely to take a belligerent attitude towards negotiations in future.