Claims Freedom Foods workers being exploited

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WHO IS TELLING THE TRUTH?… From left (front), Labor Candidate for the seat of Murray (Nicholls), Bill Lodwick, Shadow Assistant Minister for Workplace Relations, Lisa Chesters, National Union of Workers (NUW) site organiser, Thomas Czech and NUW lead dairy organiser for Victoria, Neil Smith with local dairy processing workers (back) at a media doorstop last week where the union claimed that migrant workers at the Shepparton Freedom Foods plant are being exploited. Photo: Katelyn Morse.
WHO IS TELLING THE TRUTH?… From left (front), Labor Candidate for the seat of Murray (Nicholls), Bill Lodwick, Shadow Assistant Minister for Workplace Relations, Lisa Chesters, National Union of Workers (NUW) site organiser, Thomas Czech and NUW lead dairy organiser for Victoria, Neil Smith with local dairy processing workers (back) at a media doorstop last week where the union claimed that migrant workers at the Shepparton Freedom Foods plant are being exploited. Photo: Katelyn Morse.

CLAIMS are being made that more than 45 migrant workers on skilled visas at Shepparton’s Freedom Foods Group factory are being underpaid and being forced to undertake alternate tasks than the occupations they were hired for. But Freedom Foods is denying the allegations.

According to the National Union of Workers (NUW) workers employed under the skilled worker visa scheme are performing work not covered by the scheme. In addition workers have been systemically underpaid assessed against the Enterprise Agreement that covers the manufacturing work they perform.

If this is the case, the workers are at risk of being deported as the company is every day making them carry out a role that is not in accordance with their visa requirements.

Shadow Assistant Minister for Workplace Relations, Lisa Chesters said, “It appears this company could be breaching immigration and employment law and dividing workers to get an unfair competitive edge, and it’s time their behaviour was called out.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman carried out a review that showed one in four workers were not paid properly or in accordance with their visa requirements.

“Local member for Shepparton Damian Drum MP has been aware of the infringements in November 2017, but has failed to take any solid steps towards holding this key employer in the community to account. He has repeatedly cancelled meetings with union representatives and local workers, where discussions on the future of secure jobs at the site were planned.”

NUW dairy industrial officer, Dominic Melling said, “At the Shepparton factory there are 120 workers covered by the Enterprise Agreement and there are 45 on skilled visas with plans for another 12 to come.

“These workers are coming in as part of the skilled worker scheme under a particular occupation such as a mechanical engineer but when they get in they are made to do operational work.

“Some of these workers are being taught the alternate occupation from scratch on how to operate the machinery, meaning there is no need for Freedom Foods to be asking for skilled workers for these positions.

“We have been informed that the workers at this site are being paid 25 percent less than what is stated in the Enterprise Agreement and we are anticipating the reason behind this is to allow the factory to gain a competitive advantage in the industry.

“None of this is the fault of the workers. They are just caught up in a bad situation and we want to do all we can to help them.”

Freedom Foods Group managing director, Rory Macleod said, “It is bewildering that the NUW would make unfounded and offensive allegations after it signed a new Enterprise Agreement last week with Freedom Foods that had the overwhelming support of the Shepparton workforce and was approved by the Fair Work Commission.

“The fact that the union has tried to enmesh Freedom Foods in what appears to be a wider political campaign will certainly backfire as there is no evidence that the company has underpaid any worker, including those on visas who were part of the Shepparton team that voted for the new agreement.

“Freedom Foods is aware of its employment obligations to all its employees, including these skilled migrants who provide training, guidance and knowledge that is invaluable to their colleagues in Shepparton.”