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Issue #1474      29 September 2010

Lilydale – free-range chickens, caged workers

Outraged unionists and community members gathered in front of Adelaide Poultry’s chicken processing factory on Friday after a sacking lifted the lid on a host of anti-worker practices at the plant. Anyuon Mabior was shown the gate recently after he complained about a racist email exchanged by supervisors at the plant. Initially, he was assured the matter would be investigated but was later urged to sign a statement withdrawing his claim. He refused and was promptly sacked. Anyoun’s case has become the focus of a national campaign by his union, the National Union of Workers (NUW).

Adelaide Poultry supplies the well-known Lilydale brand of free-range chicken to major supermarkets. Its reassuring green label would suggest an enlightened management, an exception to the generally woeful conditions for workers in the industry. Not so. Workers at the Wingfield plant are reportedly engaged as contractors, responsible for their own tax, superannuation, insurance and other “business” obligations. That would be hard enough for anybody to administer but most of Adelaide Poultry’s factory workers are recent migrants, often with limited English.

Anyuon is an Australian citizen of Sudanese background. He addressed last Friday’s protest and spoke of an atmosphere of fear inside the factory. Workers are told not to join their union or even speak to officials who have sought to have a word with workers outside the gates. He emphasised that all Australian workers must have the same rights to join their union and to organise for decent treatment in the workplace.

NUW South Australian lead organiser Dave Garland reported that messages of solidarity have been rolling in from around the country and around the world. A message from the union of poultry workers in Thailand was read out. The International Union Of Food – representing 375 food industry unions in 122 countries – has sent an open letter to Adelaide Poultry.

In his letter, regional secretary of the IUF Ma Wei Pin said:

“At a time when the public around the world is deeply concerned about infectious diseases and illnesses linked to the poultry industry such as avian influenza and salmonella, it is outrageous that major poultry processors/producers in Australia, Thailand and other countries continue to suppress workers’ rights in order to perpetuate unsafe working conditions.”

The tactics of the company were on display during the peaceful protest. A siren was left blaring on a pallet inside the plant so that the speeches would not be audible to the workers inside. The end of the shift was set back so that workers would not walk out and see the crowd gathered in support of their basic rights.

Dave Garland reminded protestors that the gathering outside the plant was just the beginning of the campaign to get justice for workers at Adelaide Poultry. He urged people to go to the union’s website at www.nuw.org.au to get updates and to put their hand up to assist future actions.

Anyuon’s case has shocked the community. In the lead up to the protest, local media showed a sympathetic interest in developments. Labor state member for Taylor, Leesa Vlahos, addressed the crowd at Wingfield as did Labor’s federal member for Hindmarsh, Steve Georganas. Adelaide’s Sudanese community was well represented at the protest. 

Next article – Unions debate climate change action

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