Workers employed at the Echuca (Vic) yoghurt and dessert plant of dairy processor Parmalat recently returned to work after a two month long lock-out at the plant.
The workers who are members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Electrical Trade Union were locked out on January 18th. Parmalat locked the 60 workers out in response to union plans for protected industrial action. Workers camped outside the gate during the lockout.
The dispute was over the terms of a new workplace agreement. The company offered a 3% wage rise in exchange for slashing the hourly rate of new employees by $8 an hour. This was totally unacceptable.
In March workers accepted an agreement that includes wage rises, improved redundancy provisions and mandatory consultation by the company if contractors are engaged.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said when hailing the huge win for the Parmalat workers, “Following on from the win by CUB workers last year, there is a clear warning to big business that they should stop trying to undermine or attack workers and instead work with unions to ensure fair and mutually beneficial outcomes.”
Parmalat is Italian-based but owned by French company Lactalis, the world’s largest dairy products group. Parmalat’s brands include Pauls, Vaalia and Oak.
Parmalat doesn’t just attack its employees. They also attack the conditions of their dairy farmer suppliers. In February, Parmalat wrote to its suppliers in Victoria, the NSW Riverina and South Australia, advising a cut in the farm gate price from $6.32 per kg of milk solids to $6.09 per kg.
Farmers criticised the company, wanting to know how Parmalat could blame lower global prices for a downturn in price for a domestic processor. One farmer said the move would cost his business $100,000 over the next six months.
The fact that these agri-business multinationals attack both workers and farmers shows that there is a strong basis for unity in the face of attacks on the living standards of workers and farmers.