NUW report contains horror stories from Australian poultry processors

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 2nd April 2012

A report on Australia’s poultry industry, released by the National Union of Workers (NUW), suggests an employment “crisis” in Australia’s poultry industry is having a damaging impact on the quality of products on supermarket shelves.

According to the NUW, while the supermarkets may want Australian consumers to believe they are always buying top quality chicken products, often that is not the case.

The NUW’s report, entitled ‘Better Work 4 Better Chicken’, suggests that pressure from Australia’s leading supermarkets to lower costs is being passed on to suppliers, leading them to compete on labour costs rather than reduce their own profit margins. According to the report, unscrupulous suppliers are then passing this pressure onto the workers on the production line.

Poultry supply chain horror stories

The report contains statements given by workers employed at poultry sites to NUW delegates and organisers as part of the NUW’s site audit.

One poultry site worker is quoted in the report as saying, “Dates are changed on labels – so they are using up to six-day-old chicken which is then dated today’s date. Returned chickens are processed as new chicken when Coles returns chicken it is sent to Aldi and when Aldi returns it, it is sent to Coles.

“This happens every week. Returned tray packs are turned into kebab or marinade and sent back out. I would never buy chicken from Coles or Aldi because of what I have seen.”

Another worker is quoted as saying, “People pick up chicken off the floor and pack it without washing it – these are leading hands and supervisors. The production line is too fast. In the chiller there are chickens lying on the dirty wet floor and on plastic bags. They will all be packed and sent to Coles.”

NUW believes that “current laws undermine standards”

The NUW’s report claims that industrial relations and migration legislation is undermining otherwise rigorous food handling and hygiene procedures inside major poultry plants in Australia.

The report states, “Our current legislation is not robust; provisions set up to protect workers are not properly enforced. There is no punishment of the companies who participate in unlawful and unethical employment practices and this doesn’t only affect underpaid vulnerable workers, it affects the quality of the food we buy in our supermarkets.”

NUW offers recommendations

The NUW’s report offers several recommendations, including a code of conduct which it says should be established between the Australian Chicken Meat Council, major poultry processors, major supermarkets, fast food restaurants, animal welfare organisations, environmental groups and the trade unions that represent workers in the poultry industry.

The NUW also believes there should be tighter regulation of contractors and labour hire companies, restrictions on working hours, and regulations to curb labour out-sourcing.