WA meatworkers' union defends workers from overseas

Brendon Jowett
Reprinted from Socialist Alternative

The daily grind of work is bad enough, but imagine a workplace surrounded by barbed wire and flood lights, with security cameras everywhere, even in the locker rooms and at work stations. Add to this a complete tobacco ban and workers needing permission to leave their work stations. This is what workers at an abattoir 35km from Albany, WA face every day.

When Howard introduced the 457 visa program, a labour shortage could be immediately found - few Australian workers would tolerate these conditions. Workers on 457 visas pay tax yet have no access to social welfare. They are threatened with deportation if they speak up about poor pay and conditions or talk about joining a union.

At this abattoir, run by the notoriously anti-union Fletcher International, a worker has even been sacked for smoking in the car park! Despite this the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU) ran a successful campaign to unionise the majority of these workers. This had to be done in secret outside the workplace. The workers established a leadership body and held regular meetings disguised as social events. A group of five workers, described by the union as "undercover union delegates", had been vocal about the poor wages and conditions and were spotted by the bosses' goons at one of these meetings. They were later made redundant and paid out 10 weeks wages.

Applications for unfair/unlawful dismissals have been lodged. New jobs have been found for these workers, but bureaucratic red tape means it will be months before they can take them up. They have no current income and cannot access welfare or unemployment benefits. Current conditions on their visas forbid them from working elsewhere. The union has put out a call to support these workers and their families while they wait for this process. You can assist these workers and their families by logging onto the union's website at http://wa.amieu.net/ and following the links.

Brendon is a delegate in the AMIEU.