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Agribusiness companies hit workers AND farmers!

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Duncan B.

Members of the National Union of Workers employed by Saputo recently had a victory over the Canadian agribusiness giant.

Saputo sought to have NUW members at its fresh milk processing plants in Victoria and NSW on a different EBA to members at other plants.

The fresh milk plants produce the milk sold for $1 per litre at Coles supermarkets, and Saputo was trying to keep its costs down by attacking the conditions of the workers at those plants. The NUW sought parity in rates and other conditions, such as penalty rates and redundancy provisions for these workers.

NUW members voted in favour of a 24 hour strike on November 22nd at the Saputo plants at Laverton North (Vic) and Erskine Park (NSW). The workers received much support from workers at other Saputo plants and from workers at other dairy companies and cold storage sites.

On December 4th the NUW announced that the workers’ action had brought victory, with Saputo agreeing to improvements in overtime payments, penalty rates and other conditions which will give workers a handy boost to their wages. Another victory for workers’ solidarity!

Dairy farmers face the same enemy
Meanwhile, dairy farmers are suffering at the hands of the same dairy processing companies who are so keen to attack workers. Dairy farmers are battling low prices for their products, while facing drought and rising costs for water, stock food and electricity. 

With falling dairy production due to farmers reducing herds or leaving the industry, dairy industry experts and farmer leaders are predicting that Australia will become a net importer of dairy products in the next few years. The United Dairyfarmers of Victoria vice-president recently reduced his own herd by 20% and said dairy farmers “are not prepared to invest in an industry that has no margin and no future growth.”

Recently the ACCC stepped in and reached agreement with Fonterra, Lion, Parmalat and other processors to abolish unfair contract terms from milk supply contracts which the major processors impose on farmers. The ACCC is trying to bring in a mandatory dairy code of conduct to improve contracting practices in the industry.

In 2016, milk processor Murray Goulburn told its suppliers that it would maintain the opening price for milk solids. Dairy farmers who were suppliers to Murray-Goulburn suffered losses when the final milk price fell below the opening price. They were unable to take measures to reduce their exposure to loss or find another buyer for their milk.

Murray Goulburn was later sold to Saputo. Recently the former boss of Murray Goulburn copped a $200,000 penalty for his role in the company’s behaviour.

As Vanguard has so often said, workers and farmers have the same enemies. They must unite to defeat the agribusiness companies, many of which are foreign-owned, that prey on them.


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