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Vol. 75/No. 44      December 5, 2011

Poultry workers strike
in southeast Australia
LAVERTON, Australia—To chants of “No more $10! No more cash-in-hand!” workers held the picket line strong at Baiada Poultry’s plant in this Melbourne suburb.

Some 206 members of the National Union of Workers have been on strike since November 9 after contract negotiations with the company broke down, according to Gabriel Auyen, an NUW delegate who has worked at the plant for seven years.

The unionists are fighting the expansion of nonunion subcontract hiring and substandard wages paid in cash for a growing layer of 430 workers there. There are four tiers of employment—permanent, company casuals, agency casuals, and “contract” workers—which serves to divide workers and drive down wages and conditions.

About 244 workers are employed directly by Baiada, 84 percent of whom are union members, mostly permanent. Approximately 180 others are either considered “casual” (temporary) or cash-in-hand “contractors” who have no job protection, benefits, holiday pay or unemployment compensation when they are laid off.

So-called casual workers are legally supposed to be paid at least 20 percent over the minimum wage of $15.51. But “contract” workers at Baiada, mostly young Indian immigrants on student visas, are paid $10 per hour in cash by company-hired contractors.

Baiada did not return the Militant’s calls to explain its position.

Strikers say they are also fighting against speedup and for safer working conditions. Several placards on the picket line read “R.I.P. Sarel Singh.” In August 2010, Singh, a 34-year-old contract worker cleaning an unfamiliar area alone late at night, was caught by a moving line and decapitated. Bosses instructed him to clean a machine in operation moving at top speed. The company had the area “cleaned with hot water, then within three to four hours the line was back up,” said Auyen. “No humanity, no compassion.”

Baiada is the biggest poultry meat supplier in Australia. The plant here is its largest. The workforce is majority female immigrants from Africa, Asia and eastern Europe. With the help of other working people and youth, they have successfully defended their 24-hour picket line from antiunion attacks by the company, courts, cops and security guards.

On November 11 Baiada won an injunction from the Victorian Supreme Court against union officials’ direct participation in the workers’ picket line. Later, as many as 80 cops unsuccessfully tried to remove about 130 people sitting in front of the gate. The police could not move the Vietnamese women workers especially and were forced to back off, strikers explained.

On November 13 volunteer organizer Dave Kerin announced to the assembled pickets that workers at the Adelaide plant in South Australia were refusing overtime in support of their strike. Baiada retaliated, he said, by sacking 40 casual workers there.
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On the Picket Line  
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