Pressure despite ‘flood of potatoes’ on McCain to keep collective bargaining for Tasmanian potato growers

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 29th May 2012

A motion has been tabled in Victorian Parliament to urge vegetable processor McCain Foods Australia to keep collective bargaining in place for potato growers in Tasmania.

McCain has been accused of “abandoning” Tasmanian potato growers by forcing them into a “race to the bottom” through individual contract negotiations to supply its potato chip processing factory in Smithton, in Tasmania.

Justifying its actions, McCain has claimed that cheaper potatoes are “flooding” the market.

The motion also calls on McCain Foods Australia to “respect Tasmanian farmers that have the right to make a decent living from farming and should not be forced to undercut one another in ‘a race to the bottom'”.

The motion will be consider at a meeting of the Victorian Parliament’s Legislative Council on 19 June 2012.

Greens Primary Industry spokesperson Kim Booth MP said that the situation highlighted the dangers of forcing farmers into a commodity trap in which their livelihood depended on an undifferentiated product with wafer-thin margins, or worse.

“Farmers have the right to make a decent living from growing crops, and they should not be forced into a situation where they have to undercut each other in a race to the bottom,” Mr Booth said.

Workers union backs call for collective bargaining

In an unusual alliance, Unions Tasmania is publically supporting the right of potato farmers to collectively bargain to supply their products to McCain in Smithton.

Kevin Harkins, Secretary of Unions Tasmania said, “If the potato producers would like to discuss a negotiating strategy with us we will offer our support and likewise ask for their support when negotiating on behalf of the McCain workers in future agreements.”