By Jason Om
Updated Thu 17 Oct 2013, 8:22am AEDT
A company supplying foreign labour to one of Australia’s biggest chicken producers has been accused of illegal underpayments and making employees work up to 16 hours a day.
Former and current employees at the Baiada chicken factory near Newcastle say they have been paid half the legal minimum in cash and without any pay slips.
The workers concerned are supplied to Baiada by labor hire firm Pham Poultry.
Steve and Kelly came from China on working holiday visas and were hired by Pham Poultry to work on the Baiada packaging line at Beresfield.
The legal minimum for chicken processing for casuals is around $20 an hour. But they say they were paid a flat rate of $12.50 an hour for men and $11.50 an hour for women.
Kelly is potentially owed $7,000 in backpay for 11 weeks work.
“If I can get back the extra money I want to have, because this is my pay,” she told Lateline.
Steve and Kelly say they worked six days a week, sometimes up to 16 hours a day.
“[The] first time I think I can handle it,” Steve said.
“But after a few days we need overtime to work, like 16 hours and then I feel ‘oh my god’, it’s just like horrible.”
Concerns over accommodation which housed up to 30 people
The former workers say they paid $100 a week to live in houses that could take up to 30 people each.
That is potentially $3,000 in rent for one house.
Rooms were converted into dormitories and makeshift kitchens and Kelly says her room had six bunks for 12 women.
“It’s very dirty in the house. You have got mice, ants,” she said.
The workers were warned to call the police if they ever saw outsiders at the properties.
Earlier this year, the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union complained to Baiada about Pham Poultry.
The union represents 700 workers at the Beresfield plant and estimates there is an extra temporary foreign workforce made up of 300 people.
AMIEU branch secretary Grant Courtney has written to Baiada complaining that underpaid workers are probably owed $160,000 a month in backpay.
Direct employees ‘paid in line with the industry award’
“Clearly it’s not Australian. That’s not the Australian way of doing things,” he said.
Pham Poultry director Binh Nguyen has described the allegations of cut-price wages and excessive hours as “bullshit”.
He says his direct employees are paid in line with the industry award.
Baiada says its contractors must comply with workplace laws and it conducts checks to reinforce those obligations.
Baiada managing director Simon Camilleri declined to be interviewed.
Baiada has become one of Australia’s most powerful chicken companies, raking in $1.3 billion dollars a year under the Steggles and free range Lilydale brands.
The company has a chequered industrial history marked by allegations of breaches, strikes and workplace deaths.
In 2010, the Fairwork Ombudsman secured $5,000 in backpay for a group of Chinese workers hired by a labour firm to work at Baiada Beresfield.
Recently, the Federal Court found Baiada had deceived consumers over “free to roam” labelling.
Comments are closed.