Despite Fair Work Australia putting in place an injunction banning National Union of Workers (NUW) officials from taking part in the Baiada poultry workers’ picket line, workers and community supporters were able to hold off an attempt by riot police to break the picket late on November 11.
One man’s legs were crushed when about 80 police charged the picket. He was taken to hospital with a suspected broken leg.
NUW members at Baiada Poultry in Laverton North voted to begin indefinite strike action on November 9 and instigated a picket line around the chicken processing plant.
The workers are striking for better conditions and job security, claiming that many jobs have been replaced by cash-in-hand workers receiving substandard wages.
On November 11, Fair Work Australia banned union officials from staffing the picket line. Community supporters have been encouraged to attend at Pipe Road, Laverton North to support the workers in their dispute.
On the first night of the dispute, a security guard injured one striker when he drove his car into the picket line. This provoked a scuffle with the picketers, who claim the guard was specifically sent by management to attack the picket.
On November 11, the company set up a temporary processing facility at another site, in the hope that the workers wouldn’t be able to sustain a picket at both sites.
Two workers have been killed on the job in six years. Baiada achieved notoriety late last year when a worker was dragged into a machine that he was cleaning and decapitated. The machine had not been turned off.
Another worker on a Baiada chicken farm was killed in 2005 when he was crushed by a pile of pallets. An unlicensed and untrained 16-year-old was operating the forklift and dropped the pallets on the worker.
NUW delegate Dragi Surbevski said: "We have voted to take strike action. We will be doing this because we want to make sure that when we work at Baiada, we all get treated with respect. We work side by side with contractors who don’t even get pay slips let alone the minimum wage or superannuation.”
The NUW says about “244 workers are directly employed at Baiada Poultry. The NUW currently has 206 members. There is also a large number of workers employed as cash-in-hand, contract and labour-hire workers, which takes the actual number of regular workers up to approximately 430.
"The NUW has had regular contact with contractors and cash-in-hand workers but has struggled to represent them because they lack basic collective bargaining rights enjoyed by other workers in Australia.
"The company wants to take away any form of meaningful protections in terms of minimum site rates and conversion to permanent employment. The NUW log of claims includes the regulation of contracting on site, access to direct employment for workers and site rates of pay.”
The NUW has launched an online campaign "better jobs 4 better chicken" where people can sign to show their support for the campaigns of chicken processing workers for a better deal.
Supporters are needed at the Baiada workers’ picket line at 17 Pipe Road, Laverton.
Photos below of the Baiada Poultry picket by Jody Betzien.