Victoria’s dairy workers on strike for decent wages and conditions

Photo by Emily Bissland/ABC Rural: Saputo's factory workers walked off the job on Wednesday

Contributed by Ben Wilson

workers at the major dairy milk processing factories have walked off and supermarket shelves are starting to empty. Cheese, yoghurt, and ice cream could follow. Victorian farmers are getting just $1 a litre of milk, and many of them don’t know how long they can continue to stay in operation.

Something is obviously wrong in the dairy industry. They have joined tanker drivers already on strike.

Thre main reason why 14,000 workers have joined tanker drivers already are low wages and disappearing jobs, and the anger is aimed at the dominant dairy giant Canadian corporation called Saputo. The other companies affected are Peters Ice Cream and Lectalis. A total of 14 sites across the state are involved.

Part of the problem is that the industry operates through licenses needed to be a dairy farmer, which have been in since 2016. The number of these licenses has decreased by 36 percent since then, and it means that there are fewer but bigger farmers in the shape of corporations. The old-style family farm has almost gone due to mounting costs with smaller herds and the difficulty in getting a licence.

The income for the corporate farmers life has been much better. The price they get has increased from $4.75 per kilogram of milk to $9.20. This translates to going from 36 cents a litre to 70 cents. These farmers are doing well.

Their workers aren’t doing well. Wages are falling further and further behind the rising cost of living, and they are demanding a 5 percent increase per year over the next 3 years. There is frustration among the drivers about proposed shift changes. Including new start of shift times.

All of them also want job security, They are fighting plant closures resulting from the wish of the processors to cut the workforce through the operation of fewer sites. This woold devastate local communities.

The strike is backed by the United Workers Union (UWU). National Secretary Tim Kennedy, says “this is the biggest dairy action in living memory, it’s never happened on this scale.”

The dispute includes the shutting down of sites in Leongatha, Longwarry and Darnum in eastern Victoria and other sites in the east, Warrnambool in the West, Kiewa, Cobden, Tangambalanga, Stanhope and Cobram in the north, and Mulgrave and Laverton in Melbourne.

A lot of milk not being picked up is being dumped by farmers.

corporate farmers can afford to pay decent wages. But the core of the problem is that it is the processing companies and supermarket chains that dominate and take the lion’s share. The difference between what the farmers get and what is paid at the supermarket tells the story. They can afford to pay hat the workers are asking for. Only greed gets in the way.

Justice demands that the industry be investigated to ensure price gauging ends. At the same time, the workers in the industry should not be expected to pay the price. Their effort to get a better deal should be supported.

One way to give this support is to sign the petition. It can be reached through this link.

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