The Uniting Church is calling on Baiada to improve its labour standards after new allegations surfaced of exploitation of overseas workers.
Baiada is Australia’s largest chicken supplier, generating more than one billion dollars annually. It produces Lilydale Select and Steggles chickens for supermarket and fast-food chains including Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, McDonald and KFC.
According to Fairfax Media, workers at Baiada plants are told to work extra hours after the end of their shifts. During these extra hours, they are paid according to the number of chickens they process.
Earlier this year, Baiada was the subject of an inquiry by the Fair Work Ombudsman which found that workers were paid as little as $11.50 an hour. Some worked for as long as 19 hours a day. They were also forced to live in small houses with up to 20 other workers.
The Ombudsman found that Baiada was using a network of labour hire companies registered at false addresses and produced incomplete or fabricated records. Baiada was also referred to the Australian Tax Office due to suspicions of tax avoidance.
Dr Mark Zirnsak, director of the synod’s Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit, said the Uniting Church worked with a private investigator to determine whether Baiada followed through on its promise to improve labour standards.
“What we found was that Baiada is using at least two new labour hire companies,” Dr Zirnsak told Fairfax Media.
“There are now allegations again of violations of the Fair Work Act by at least one of these labour hire companies.”
Dr Zirnsak expressed disappointment at Baiada for continuing to deal with labour hire companies involved in unscrupulous practices.
“We are asking Baiada to clean up its act, to use reputable labour hire companies and to be transparent so that there is clarity that the Fair Work Act is being properly carried out,” he said.
“The migrant workers they are bringing in overseas should be treated in accordance with Australian law and there needs to be clarity that they are paying the taxes they should be paying.”
The JIM unit is calling on federal Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan, to set up a licensing system for labour hire companies. Dr Zirnsak believes this can help offset workplace abuses taking place in Australia and provide greater protection for overseas workers.
“Part of the problem that’s occurred in places like Baiada is a lack of action by the federal government,” Dr Zirnsak explained.
“We think there needs to be a licensing system for labour hire companies that will ensure that they are reputable and that the people running them don’t have a criminal record. These companies should be required to pay a bond so that, should they shut up shop, migrant workers are not left out-of-pocket.
“We also need to see that when migrants are brought in, they are supported either by unions or other non-government organisations so they have somewhere to go if they aren’t being treated in accordance with Australian law.”
Image by Garth Jones.