Following the shocking images of unsanitary conditions inside a Victorian factory of poultry company Baiada, workers have finally made progress on pay and conditions for workers.
Workers at the plant in Laverton North have been engaged in industrial action for 13 days, with a round-the-clock picket line.
The workers were striking for better pay and working conditions, but mostly stopped work to bring attention to the death of a colleague who was killed due to unsafe work practises.
Sarel Singh was killed by decapitation when he was cleaning a chicken packing machine, and colleagues have reportedly said management would not allow him to turn of the machine for a short period to clean it.
Even after Singh’s death, colleagues say, there was no time for grieving or remembering their lost team member, as they were told to hose down the machine and restart work within two hours.
Workers at the picket also claimed management would engage in constant bullying, sexual harassment and assaults on factory staff.
The company has now agreed to a new enterprise bargaining agreement to improve pay and conditions, after previously saying it would not agree to any more than a 3 per cent increase in wages for permanent staff.
It refused to even discuss pay and conditions with casual contract staff, and many were paid as little as $8 per hour, Green Left Weekly reports.
The company also attempted to keep delivery drivers from engaging in the bargaining.
The drivers have not received a pay rise in five years.
Under the new agreements, drivers are now covered by the bargaining agreement and they will receive injury rate pay of 100 per cent, significantly more than the 80 per cent Baiada wanted to give them.
The rest of the workers will receive an 8 per cent increase in pay over two years, and contract and casual workers will now receive the same pay as permanent staff.
Union delegates will be allowed to undertake 200 hours of paid union training per year and will be permitted to assist other chicken processing plants with no impact on pay.
National Union of Workers (NUW) Victorian state secretary Tim Kennedy said the outcome was even better than hoped, and could not have been done without the combined effort of so many people.
NUW organiser for the site, Godfrey Moase, said at the victory celebration that the decision might begin a positive overhaul to workplace relations in Australia.
“Let’s hope that this is the start of something for the labor movement in this country, because we desperately need to move forward if we’re to keep up any kind of progress like this, because one thing’s for sure, if that’s going to happen, we can’t stay where we are now,” he said.
NUW delegate Abdul Rahman told supporters the dispute has “changed the culture at Baiada,” and “workers regard themselves differently” because they had stood up to the company.
Image: Green Left Weekly