Wondering where I’ve been recently? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. Since about Wednesday, I’ve been spending a lot of time on a picket line down in Laverton, in Melbourne’s outer Western Suburbs supporting the Baiada workers in one hell of an inspiring fight not only for a decent standard of living, but for respect and safety in their workplace.
Baiada Poultry is a chicken processing factory that supplies a major percentage of the nation’s chicken including to major supermarkets and fast food outlets, and since last Tuesday, not one chicken has been killed in the Victorian plant. It makes millions, processing something like 180,000 chickens a day when it’s running, but its workforce see hardly any of the profit.
Issues at hand include some of the workforce working for cash in hand wages of as low as $10 an hour, being hired as contractors and having to provide your own WorkCover and Super, and the extremely unsafe work practices. Last year a worker was decapitated after being forced to clean a machine whilst it was still processing chickens. And the racism toward the mostly migrant workforce means that workers have, until now, been under confident about raising these concerns.
But the industrial dispute has seen a real shift in their confidence. And this is the first time I’ve been on an old school picket line, actually blocking trucks for a long, stopping scabs from getting in etc. And on Friday, the police tried to break it up, driving a wedge through hundreds of workers and community supporters to try and get in the scabs, but it was the defiance of the workers, including a group of Vietnamese women, that actually pushed the police back, forcing them to retreat.
The significance of this industrial dispute cannot be overestimated. These workers are not just fighting for themselves, but inspiring other workers on how to win. Since Friday, a crowd of community supporters have constantly been on the picket, swelling to hundreds at crucial times when there are rumours of attempts to break the picket line.
Now the chicken section in supermarkets Coles are short on chicken or empty, citing industrial action as the reason. The action is really hurting Baiada. And we hope to keep it up, calling on more community and union support. Other unions set up scaffolding this morning outside the front gate and unions such as the MUA, NTEU and the ASU have rostered themselves on to send members down to help guard the picket.
I’d urge people in Melbourne or even Victoria, to get down any time to Pipe Road, Laverton, to offer support and soak up some inspiration on how to fight and win.