Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Baiada Attacks Workers AND Farmers

By Duncan B. 

Poultry processor Baiada announced late last year that it was closing its Victorian operations. This left 16 chicken farmers without supply contract and limited options to find other uses for their huge chicken sheds. 100 workers are also without jobs with the closure of Baiada’s Laverton North plant. A company spokesman blamed “marketing conditions” for the need to consolidate Baiada’s national processing operations.

Baiada has been involved in a price war with its rival Ingham’s. Fears have been expressed in the industry that chickens will be the “new $1 milk” as Coles and Woolworths are cutting the cost of roast chickens sold in their supermarkets.

Baiada is a privately-owned Australian company whose operations include poultry broiler and breeder farms, hatcheries, processing plants, feed milling and protein recovery. It operates in NSW, Vic and SA and employs about 2200 workers. Baiada supplies chickens under the Lilydale and Steggles brands to all the major supermarkets, and fast food companies such as Mc Donalds, KFC, Red Rooster, and Pizza Hut.

Baiada has been in trouble repeatedly in recent years.  For example, in 2010, the Fair Work Ombudsman investigated allegations that a Baiada company, Adelaide Poultry, was underpaying its workers. The company was found to have contravened workplace laws and was subjected to an “enforceable undertaking” made under the “Fair Work” Act.

In 2011 the ACCC commenced federal court action against Baiada  alleging misleading and deceptive conduct  and making misleading representations that meat chickens were “free to roam around in large barns.” In 2013, Baiada was hit with $400,000 in penalties over this case.

In 2015, Baiada was in the news again over allegations that migrant workers supplied by labour hire companies were being exploited in Baiada factories. The Fair Work Ombudsman found that the company was paying workers on holiday “417 class” working visas about half the lawful minimum wage and that they worked up to 18 hours a day without paid overtime. The workers were paid in cash and forced to live in sub-standard housing. Baiada agreed to repay up to $500,000 in wages that the contractors failed to pay workers, even though it did not directly employ them.

This brings us to Baiada’s latest attack on its workers. In March this year, Baiada announced plans to reduce the wages to the award rate for new casual employees taken on through labour-hire firms. These workers would be paid about $25 an hour rather than the union-negotiated rate of over $38 per hour. About 40% of Baiada’s casual staff are contract employees, so there are substantial savings to be made for the company. Baiada originally tried to impose the wage cuts on all of its casual staff, but backed down in the face of union opposition. 

Companies such as Baiada are able to reduce wages by exploiting a loophole through the use of labour-hire companies which allows them to get around the union-agreed site rate. This creates a “second class” of workers who receive up to 40% less than the worker next to them for doing the same job.

Murray Goulburn to Close Factories

Dairy co-operative Murray Goulburn has announced that it will close dairy factories in Rochester and Kiewa (Vic) and Edith Creek (Tas), with an expected loss of 360 jobs. Murray Goulburn has suffered a 20% reduction in milk supply since it reduced the farm gate price to its suppliers last year.

The actions of these two agribusiness companies once again demonstrates that there is a firm basis for unity between farmers and the workers who process agricultural products in the dairy factories, mills and food companies.

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