Slaughterhouses are like petri dishes that incubate diseases, and a flame is just waiting to arrive. There are several factors that have a stake. First, hiring and employment issues. The Australian Lamb Company (ALC) slaughterhouse does not directly hire workers. Instead, he created a separate company, Australian Lamb Lamb Labour Hire. Out of a total of 700 workers, many workers have temporary visas, which seems to fill the skills gap, but in reality, most are unskilled. Many of these workers are Sudanese. Conditions are harsh, so fluctuations are high, but temporary visa workers have limited opportunities. Their company contract includes a mix of temporary visas, casual, part-time and permanent workers. The agreement contains a clause that allows for non-union “individual flexibility agreements”, as well as a provision for “sponsored employees”, which sets a different salary structure for holders of temporary visas, with the rates covered by the Migration Act. Overtime is common, but the sponsored employee clause does not provide for penalties, but only a flat annualized rate of pay. The union, the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU), rejected the sponsored employee clause, but the Fair Work Commission allowed it.
Second, the working conditions themselves are an important factor that allows the virus to spread easily. Despite recent technologies, butcher shops are still very laborious, and with the repetitive nature of working on a mobile chain and conveyor, it results in injuries such as injuries caused by repeated loads, carpal tunnels, rotator cuffs, spinal injuries, and serious knife and machine injuries (sometimes fatal). The nature of shiftwork means dozens of people leave and arrive every day at the same time, making it almost impossible to distance themselves socially, according to Victorian Secretary of State Paul Conway of AMIEU, who spoke to the ABC last week. Whole families work in the same factory, which means that when you get sick, “it`s just a domino effect,” he says. It is customary to train and test potential staff online with multiple choice questions and only in English. Unsupervised tests can be easily completed by someone else, as the company would know. Surrounded by dairy farms, Colac is a semi-rural town located 80 kilometres from Geelong in Victoria. The city itself is a kind of industrial center with a slaughterhouse, a water treatment plant, a dairy and a wooden farm. It is also a place where many seniors in the area live in its five senior care centers. It is politically conservative, a secure liberal seat at the national level and divided into two federal seats, one held by Labor and the other by Liberal Education Minister Dan Tehan. Liz Ross is a socialist activist and historian. She is the author of several books, most recently Stuff the Accord! Pay Up!, available from Red Flag Books.
It is an accusation against the authorities – governmental, federal, local and private – that all these workers, wherever they worked, were not immediately put on payments from JobKeeper or JobSeeker as soon as the virus hit, or at least were regularly tested, isolated or hospitalized safely, with paid pandemic leave insurance, job security and full wages. Neoliberal profit-taking has once again won over the health and well-being of workers, and the result has been disastrous for the people of Colac. Many casual workers and migrant workers faced the very real prospect of no jobs, no income, when they were outrageously denied both JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments by a federal government that praises the hero of neoliberalism, former British Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher. . . .