Strike threatens chicken supply

CHICKEN supplies to Coles supermarkets and other outlets are under threat after a major supplier suspended its contracts with Victorian farmers in response to a week-long strike.

Baiada Poultry’s Laverton North site has been subject to a strike and picket line since last Wednesday as workers pushed for improved conditions and job security. Baiada has tried to maintain supply by sending chickens to its Adelaide plant or to rival processors in Melbourne.

But the continuing blockade – which the company has tried to have stopped in the Supreme Court – is now causing major problems for Baiada, one of Australia’s biggest chicken producers. A Baiada representative said the delivery contracts of about 70 Victorian farmers had been suspended, a move that affects the vast bulk of its supply in Victoria. Baiada owns brands Steggles and Lilydale chicken.

Farmers will be badly hit by the move and a Victorian Farmers Federation spokesman said it was in ”discussions with Baiada to clarify the suspension”.

National Union of Workers state secretary Tim Kennedy said there had been little progress in talks. ”The company seems more focused on hurting its workers, now hurting its farmers and the customers at Coles.” The union said nearly half the workforce at Laverton North was engaged as contractors, cash-in-hand workers or from labour-hire firms with some paid below minimum wage.

Baiada said it rejected claims of underpayment and said that despite a Supreme Court injunction, the picket line continued.

Police unsuccessfully tried to clear the picket last Friday and a makeshift camp with dozens of protesters was still in place yesterday, while non-NUW Baiada workers rallied against the strike at Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Werribee office.

Some Coles stores have already apologised to customers for not having chicken in stock due to the industrial action.

A Coles spokesman said contingency measures were in place to ”ensure we maintain stock levels of chicken in our stores” during the dispute. There had not been ”any significant stock issues to this point”. A spokesman for KFC said that it would be able to source chickens from other suppliers. Baiada also supplies Aldi and Nandos, among others.

One migrant worker at the picket, who asked not to be named, said the workers would continue the strike for as long as it took.

”We not give up until they respect us,” she said.

The worker said that in recent years there had been a massive increase in cash-in-hand workers at Laverton North. She said some workers were paid 15¢ a kilogram to cut chicken wings.

Meanwhile, the issue in dispute at Baiada, which centres on attempts to restrict the use of contractors, will be challenged in the Federal Court.This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 老域名.

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