A UNION says foreign workers at Baiada Poultry’s processing plant in Tamworth are subjected to conditions “akin to slavery”.
The Australasian Meat Industry Employees’ Union (AMIEU) has slammed the industry for its “shameful” exploitation of international employees.
The rebuke comes after a scathing report found workers at Baiada’s three NSW processing sites, including Tamworth, were “not being paid their lawful entitlements”.
The results released this week of an 18-month investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) into Baiada’s labour-hire practices identified widespread breaches of workplace laws.
It found Baiada, which supplies the Lilydale Select and Steggles brands to outlets such as Coles and Woolworths, uses six main contractors to source workers to fill labour shortages.
These temporary employees, who mostly arrive on 417 working holiday visas from Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, are frequently not afforded the same protections as Australians.
The inquiry found evidence of “significant” underpayment, “extremely” long hours of work and “overcrowded and unsafe” worker accommodation.
Ombudsman Natalie James said Baiada had refused to allow inspectors access to its factories to observe work practices and talk to employees about their conditions.
She also said the company, which has a 20 per cent market share of the Australian poultry trade, failed to provide it with any “significant or meaningful” documentation.
“I am deeply concerned by the findings of this inquiry, particularly the behaviour of Baiada – and its contractors who failed to engage with us about serious concerns about compliance with workplace laws on the company’s sites,” she said.
“In my view, Baiada, and others in this supply chain, now need to consider the legal, moral and ethical implications of continuing to operate in a manner that fails to deliver workers their minimum entitlements.”
AMIEU Newcastle and Northern NSW branch secretary Grant Courtney said the union had passed on evidence to the FWO of some people working shifts of up to 27 hours straight.
He said there were cases where labour-hire companies, in both the white and red meat processing industries, withheld pay altogether.
“It’s pretty ordinary how you can treat a fellow human being like that,” he said.
In a statement posted on Baiada’s website yesterday, the company said a “recent internal review” meant “most of the measures that the FWO recommends” are “already in place, or are being initiated, across our business”.
“We were deeply concerned by the reports that came to light detailing workers’ poor treatment at the hands of some contractors,” the statement read.
“At all times we expect that those contractors will conduct their activities in accordance with the relevant legal and ethical standards, and in particular workplace laws or requirements.”