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Staff at Melbourne food plant claim extreme bullying was ignored

Staff at a Melbourne gourmet food manufacturing facility, which provides food for Ikea, Qantas and Costo have allegedly suffered extreme bullying at the plant.

More than half the workers employed at the Glendal Foods factory in the inner-city suburb of Brunswick say they have been bullied for years, and despite informing management and a trade union, the allegations were never followed up, The Age reports.

Of the 38 staff employed at the plant, 18 say they have been bullied by their employer, and one allegedly harmed herself two weeks ago as a result of the treatment.

She was admitted to the Western Hospital as a result and doctors there contacted WorkSafe to become involved.

An investigation is currently being conducted into the incident by the work safety authority.

Another staff member has alleged that a heavy trolley was pushed into her stomach while she was pregnant.

Most of the staff speak little English, and since their concerns have allegedly been ignored, they have decided to go public with their story.

They say the inappropriate treatment has been going on for at least six years.

The workers allege that management at the factory had allowed a senior staff member to regularly yell at them and make sexual and personal comments, tell workers they needed to give 48 hours' notice if they wanted to take sick days and demand staff work overtime on any day, without any notice.

They were also told, when they went from casual to full-time workers, they must ''celebrate'' by buying lunch for the entire workplace, or buying a supervisor a gift.

Employee Hiep Nguyen said when she was given a full-time job with the company, she was instructed to shout the entire factory lunch, because ''it was the rules,” and would face termination if she did not.

''I am a new arrival,” she said through an interpreter.

“I came to Australia legally.

“I work, and pay tax and try to be a good citizen.

“But because I have really limited English, I don't know a lot of rules.

“And for someone who has been here a bit longer than me to make my life really difficult is not fair for me.”

It is also alleged they were banned from making any contact with the company's owner and wages of some employees were withheld for up to eight weeks.

Most of the bullying complaints are against one supervisor, Van Phan, who the staff allege, pressured most of them to pay her 10 per cent of a backpay payment made to them in July after they signed a new workplace agreement.

They apparently had to make the payment in cash, and while Phan wouldn’t discuss the other allegations on Friday, she did say employees who gave her a cut of their backpay had given it as a gift.

''They were happy to do that,'' she said.

When the union became involved in the case, the company asked Van to voluntarily pay back this money, but it is unclear whether this has occurred.

Very few of the Glendal Foods employees were members of the National Union of Workers until August, when Nguyen filed a complaint with the union.

She also contacted the federal government's Fair Work Ombudsman, which referred her to WorkSafe.

Qantas and Ikea have confirmed that Glendal Foods is one of their suppliers,  among their suppliers but would not comment further.

Glendal Foods, which makes samosas, filo pastries, soups, curries and casseroles for its clients, is owned by Melbourne chef Chandra Kanodia, and the staff all allege he was aware of the incidents in the plant, but he ignored it.

He declined to discuss the allegations, but did comment on the fact that WorkSafe is investigating.

''WorkSafe will take care of this; the allegations are going to be sorted out by them,'' he said.

When asked why so many of his staff had complained of bullying, he said: ''They are all union members, are they? That says something, don't you think?''

He later issued a brief statement saying his company was concerned about the matter and taking it very seriously.

National Union of Workers organiser Monique Segan, who has regularly met staff at Glendal Foods since August, said the bullying was some of the most extreme the union has seen.

She also said that raising the issue Glendal Foods had increased problems, pushing the workers to go public with their story.

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