Some slave labour with your free range chicken?

Baiada PoultryAnybody that viewed the recent 4 Corners ‘Slaving Away’
report (4 May, 2015) would have been absolutely appalled, as I was, at what
they learned.

 

Reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna lifted the lid on sham
labour-hire contractors (to classify those operators exposed by 4 Corners as
‘labour-hire firms’ insults the vast majority of the industry who pride
themselves on doing the right thing by their workforce).

 

Recent migrants and working holiday makers were the
main victims of these fraudsters who supply casual labour to a host of
Australia’s largest fruit, vegetable and meat producers, who in turn supply
Australia’s largest supermarket chains.

 

These sham operators pay their workers below award wages,
no penalty or overtime loadings and make no superannuation contributions. As 4
Corners showed, some of these workers, mainly migrant women with poor language
skills, are also subjected to verbal, physical and even sexual abuse.

 

As Meldrum-Hanna showed, unions know about these
abuses, parliamentarians know about the abuses, yet nothing seems to be done to
stop these outrageous practices.

 

What if one of the Prime Minister’s daughters had
been a victim; do you think something would be done?

 

The responses by most of the companies named in the
report as benefiting, cost-wise, from these practices was quite pathetic. You
can read them on the 4 Corners website.

 

As a customer of Aussie Farmers Direct, I was heartened to see how
seriously they took the allegations. AFD sought assurances from the supplier of
their chicken meat, which was one of the firms named in the 4 Corners report
(Baiada). As a result of this action AFD issued a statement, that read in
part:

 

‘Baiada has been supplying us with Lilydale Free Range
chicken in Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia, so we contacted
them for their side of the story. At this stage, the response from Baiada does
not address the key allegations to our satisfaction.

 

Aussie Farmers Direct has therefore decided to stop
buying Lilydale Free Range chicken immediately and to remove it from our offer
and customers’ orders by this weekend.

 

We understand that none of the supermarket grocery
chains are taking such action and will continue to sell chicken products
supplied by Baiada. We believe our customers expect better and that is why we
are taking this course of action.’

 

Retailers and consumers need to stand up to unfair and
illegal work practices, because if we don’t, then who will?

 

I was also very happy to see the RCSA get on the front
foot with this very important issue.

 

Here’s some of the action the RCSA has taken:

 

1. RCSA released a statement in advance of the Four
Corners story which clearly stated that RCSA and its members are appalled by
the actions of a few unscrupulous labour-hire contractors.

 

2. RCSA President spoke to Fairfax Radio and Smart
Company on Tuesday morning and provided RCSA view and commentary.

 

3. RCSA released a statement on Tuesday 5th May
calling for a coordinated national response to ‘rub out’ sham labour-hire
contractors and also included in the statement initial advice about the
Prescribed Industry Code and the planned consultation as a means of staking an
RCSA claim in the discussion about an ongoing response.

 

4. RCSA President has placed calls with Victorian
Attorney General, Martin Pakula and George Robinson from the National Union of
Workers (who appeared on the Four Corners program) and RCSA are coordinating
their communications.

 

5. RCSA has also written to: a) Senator the Hon
Michaelia Cash, Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection b)
John Rau MP, South Australia Attorney General c) The CEOs of leading food
retailers and d) The CEOs of industry associations in the agriculture sector.
RCSA will also, over the coming days, write to all CEOs of a broader number
industry associations and peak bodies.

 

6. The RCSA President, Robert van Stokrom (FRCSA) and
CEO (Steve Granland) had an initial meeting with Kelly O’Dwyer, Parliamentary
Secretary to Treasurer, to provide an initial brief on the Prescribed Industry
Code project. Further meetings will occur with Senator the Hon Eric Abetz,
Minister for Employment and the Hon Josh Frydenberg, Assistant Treasurer.

 

The recruitment industry, especially the temporary and
labour-hire sub-sectors, is one that has built its success and reputation on
the high standards of its members’ behavior. Treating its workers both legally
and fair should be, and largely has been, the minimum benchmark of operation.

 

Any employment services operator, RCSA member or not,
who falls below this standard should be exposed, shamed and have the full force
of the law applied to them. No exceptions.

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