UPDATED: Striking Baiada workers win

Photo: Benjaminsolah.com
Friday, November 18, 2011

UPDATE, Nov 22: The striking Baiada poultry workers have won their campaign and the company has backed down. The workers won a 4% a year pay rise over 2 years. They also won increased union and delegate rights and increased redundancy payments to 42 week maximum (up from 20 weeks). Workers employed at the Baiada-owned GKK Enterprises poultry factory who were suspended after taking industrial action to support their Victorian colleagues have been reinstated. The new agreement also includes an equal opportunity, site rates for contractors and casuals, arbitration rights at Fair Work Australia and the right for casual employees to convert to permanent employment after six months.

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The main slogan on the Baiada workers’ picket line in Melbourne’s western suburbs is “No more $10! No more cash in hand.”

This is because the Baiada poultry processing plant in Laverton is progressively replacing permanent workers with cash-in-hand workers on $10 an hour. This is well below the minimum wage of $15.51 an hour.

The replacement of permanent workers with contractors, labour hire workers and cash-in-hand sub-contractors is the main reason workers began an indefinite strike on November 9. All permanent workers are members of the National Union of Workers (NUW).

Since the strike began, the workers have come under sustained attack from the media, in particular Murdoch journalist Miranda Devine. The media have focused on an incident on the first night of the picket when a security guard repeatedly drove his car at the picket line.

But the media reported the picketers were violent and intimidating when they tried to remove the keys from the ignition.

There has been little media condemnation of the security guard repeatedly using a car as a battering ram against a crowd of people.

NUW delegate Gabriel Ayuen told Green Left Weekly: “We went on strike because of job security and cash-in-hand [workers]. Baiada sacks permanent people and replaces them with contractors.

“Health and safety is bad for everybody but it is worst for casuals and cash-in-hand workers.

“The worker who was decapitated [last year] was a subcontractor so he wasn’t covered by Baiada for WorkCover.

“We are trying to win a clause in our agreement that if the company uses contractors, they have to be paid more than permanents.”

Ayuen said Baiada’s workplace was not safe.

“They get you to drive the forklift where it is unsafe. If you refuse, they get someone else. If you do drive it and have an accident, they blame you. They don’t stop the machines when people are cleaning them.

“The job where you’re hanging the chicken at the end of the line injures your back and shoulder. Because the machines go so fast, the chickens fall off the machine and hit workers in the head.

“Boners work 10 to 15 hour shifts and have to work fast because they’re paid by the kilo. The boners are all cash-in-hand workers so they’re not covered by compo. When boners cut themselves, management bandages them up and sends them back to do boning. If they continue to bleed, they get bandaged up again and sent back to do boning.

“Jobs that are meant to be done by two or three people are done by one person. Another issue is the heights that people are lifting from, which causes injury.

“The company gets workers to downplay accidents when they report them.

“There’s also psychological injury from bullying and intimidation. As soon as you start working at Baiada, you start thinking about how to get out of there.

“The contractors run shell companies so if someone gets injured they … shut down the company and start another company.”

Ayuen described the intimidation he experienced when he became a delegate. “When I became a delegate, they demoted me, changed my shift and took away my overtime,” he said.

Baiada has tried to introduce a non-union agreement but the workers rejected it.

The workers went straight to an indefinite strike, Ayuen said, “because that’s the only thing that Baiada will listen to”.

Another worker told GLW that it wasn’t until the strike and the picket line began that she realised how much intimidation company management was using against some groups of workers, particularly Vietnamese women workers.

Baiada has allegedly been trying to force the cash-in-hand workers to attack the picket line. In one instance, the picketers were told that some cash-in-hand workers were going to attack picketing workers with their boning knives. In the end, the attack didn’t happen.

On November 16, a small group of cash-in-hand workers were mobilised to protest against the strike outside Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s office. Crikey revealed the two contact people for the protest were former Liberal Party candidates Jason Aldworth and Hamish Jones.

Crikey said many of the cash-in-hand workers at the protest “were reluctant to protest and had to have their arm twisted” to take part.

It appears that senior Liberal Party figures, such as industrial relations spokesperson Eric Abetz, are keen to use the Baiada dispute to attack the Labor government’s Fair Work Act for being “too soft” on industrial action.

During the first week of the strike, poultry farmer Les Peel, from the Victorian Farmers Federation’s Chicken Meat Group, visited the workers.

Peel said poultry farmers in western Victoria had spent $250,000 to fight off Baiada’s attempts to introduce secret individual contracts for poultry farmers in the area. Peel said that the workers had his full support.

At one point, the striking workers feared security guards and scabs were massing to attack the picket line. Later, one of the security guards came to the striking workers and said: “I can’t do this [security] job anymore. You have my full support.”

Workers in Inghams and Steggles have been taking up collections to help sustain the Baiada workers.

In Adelaide, workers for Baiada-owned Adelaide Poultry refused to do overtime. Sixteen of them were immediately suspended from work.

John Camilleri, whose family is worth $495 million, owns Baiada. In 2009, Baiada bought the Bartter-Steggles group, giving the company 35% of the Australian poultry market. Baiada now owns the Lilydale and Steggles brands.

[Donations to Workers Solidarity Network (Baiada Strike) should be deposited to Carboni Workers Club ... BSB: 803226 Acc: 10077. Show your support for the Baiada workers at www.betterjobsbetterchicken.org.au. Visit the picket line at 17 Pipe Road, Laverton.]


What a hopelessly one-sided account of the security guard v picket line. "Repeatedly used the car as a battering ram"? When reading the " when they tried to remove the keys from the ignition." line it almost comes across that the author feels that this was a reasonable, lawful or acceptable course of action.

Baiada's behaviour has been reprehensible and unforgivable, actions such as negligence that lead to the decapitation of a worker (if the accounts I've read are accurate) which would've attracted lengthy prison sentences if an individual was responsible. Why is it necessary to characterise car jacking and repeatedly punching a security worker in the face as a mere overreaction by a journalist? Why is it necessary to introduce the family worth of the owner of Baiada? Is it to capitalise (if you'll excuse the pun) on dislike of wealthy people by your core readership?

The best thing exploited Baiada workers could do, is to ensure that the Socialist , and Green Left stay as far from their genuine plight as possible, before they see the heart of every reasonable person in the country harden against how their employer has treated them.

did you notice that this is green LEFT weekly? this publication is intended to provide a LEFT WING point of view.

personally, i think removing the keys from a car being driven at a picket line is completely reasonable.

where does it say that a security worker was punched in the face at all, let alone repeatedly? perhaps you read it in that well known bastion of objectivity the herald-sun?

it is interesting that you qualify the decapitation of a worker ("if the accounts I've read are accurate"), but have no problems assuming that someone really was punched "repeatedly" in the face.

the personal wealth of the owners of baiada is relevant in the sense that most people will read that and think "they could probably afford to pay their workers the minimum wage".

the best thing baiada workers could do is to ignore people such as yourself. based on your comments above, it seems unlikely you would support anyone going on strike ever, for any reason.

Low paid workers on $10 an hour or the better paid workers at this factory are taking a stand against documented intimidation and lack of regard for workplace safety. It is not often marginalized workers in low paid industries stand up for their workplace rights. I believe the situation at this plant is worse than any of us could imagine. Fool the public when we buy organic Lilydale chickens....Its ethical, environmentally sound..... You can't fool the workers when you are robbing them and their families.

Didn't you see the video clip of the security guard? How could you possibly think this scenario was ok? Are you mad?

I don't believe that workers were paid cash in hand or other illegal tactics. This is a pretty big company, and you don't grow to be sustainably successful if you don't do business in an ethical manner.

This sounds like another bully boy union tactic. If your numbers are low, then you need to work out a better way to attract new members. I think the union is a dying species, and based on all the media reports about the various union strikes recently, I think they are about to become extinct.
How about showing some brains and integrity and look for ways to make the union movement a more contemporary model?

This is a ridiculous situation where dressed chickens were left to rot in the factory, live chickens were left at the side of the road and customers (probably a lot of owner operated businesses) were left to make the best of the situation, jeopardising their livelihood. Shame on the union.

Anonymous> You don't have to think. Go to the place and speak with the workers. Do you believe poor Vietnamese and African workers who cannot speak much English would go on a strike unless they were being treated very badly ? Your comment is just another piece of smear and abuse dished out by the Liberals.

It is quite clear that you have never worked in a factory where a work peer was decapitated, and where you work for ten dollars an hour in poor conditions. Shame on you for thinking that it is okay for a man to violently drivie his car into a passive crowd. If you had it your way, you would allow such work exploitations to continue so that big businesses could make more money. What is more ethical - safe/fair work conditions, or greedy companies exploiting its workers? Get some brains and learn what the union is really about.

What a heap of crap!! This strike was initiated by a union that was being sued by Baiada for Liable after the crap that was stated on an ABC program early this year. The facts were that of the 320 employees 280 voted to return to work and accept the CA that was negotiated, a democratic right for all Australians. However the union did not allow these workers to cross the picket line. A subsequent court order was obtained which was not followed by the union.
So bascially the NUW is not a democratic society nor is it law abiding. But a shelf-serving enitity!!! I have been a member of this union for over 20 years but now I've resigned from this corrupt organisation.

The union movement and to greater extent Australian Labour has lost it way and is solely interested in power and wealth and thus is no different to corporate Australia.

What a sad place to raise our children. Shame, Shame, Shame!!!

As someone who actually went down there and saw what the workers were saying, I find your comment a bit disgusting. Baiada is a company guilty of massive violations of workplace health and safety, and has a long history of smashing any attempt at its employees using their "democratic rights for all Australians".

The strike itself was driven by the membership, not the NUW. The workers forced the NUW to actually *do* something for once in their sorry existence, for you to paint it as the opposite is just disgusting, mate.

Yes, the NUW is a terrible union, with a rotten right-wing leadership. But their interests are in STOPPING strikes, not in keeping them going. They undermined the strike at every point.

They ran the picket line so poorly, that they let 15 trucks through after doing a deal with the boss. Some of the striking workers were actually crying when this happened - they were given no democratic say in this decisions - if they had, the picket line would have been maintained.

They failed to have regular meetings and reportbacks with members. They cancelled four seperate attempts to have a community picket of a site around the corner that was being used to store chooks to help the boss wait out the strike. Their fund-raising was abominable. At one stage, they tried to get the workers to sign over their superannuation to be used if the strike continued to drag on! It was only the fact that a member of the Socialist Party (who happens to speak Vietnamese) was able to explain the situation to some of the Vietnamese workers that the NUW was prevented from doing this. They made no attempt to spread solidarity through the strike via other workplaces - if they had, mate, maybe you wouldn't have such a bloody disgusting attitude toward these brave workers.

Finally, to cap it all off, the NUW called off the picket - yes, they CALLED IT OFF - *before* even signing the agreement with the boss!! Afterwards, because the NUW failed to keep on top of the situation and failed to continue organising workers after the agreement finally was signed, some of the most militant, hardcore striking workers were singled out and fired within a couple of months.

The NUW didn't let the Baiada workers have any democratic say in how the picket was won - if they had, it would have been ten times more militant and ten times shorter. Not because they'd vote to go home early (very few of the striking workers would have supported such a preposterous idea - they knew it would mean their jobs if they didn't win!), but because they would have won much sooner due to their militancy.

The ALP and the NUW are about stopping strikes, dragging them out until workers are exhausted, and making wins for the boss.