The bi-annual Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union Federal Council was recently held in Townsville, from Monday 8th September through to Friday 12th September 2008.
All branches provided comprehensive reports on their branch operations, finances and membership.
Queensland Branch Secretary, Russell Carr as part of his report informed council that their branch had hired a Brazilian meatworker to assist the branch in organising and recruiting at abattoirs that have a high number of Brazilian
guest workers under 457 Visas.
Graham Bird, Secretary Victorian Branch reported that Swift Australia had purchased the Victorian arm of Tasman Meats which covered plants at Yarrawonga, Cobram and Brooklyn. The branch is confident of negotiating collective agreements for all sites.
Grant Courtney, Secretary Tasmanian Branch thanked the New South Wales Branch for assisting the Tasmanian Branch in being able to appoint a part time organiser, which has lead to an increase in membership and better financial position for the branch.
Graham Smith, South Australian Branch Secretary reported that after 8 years of battling, the branch has finally concluded an agreement for Teys Brothers, Narracoorte.
Graham Haynes, Western Australia Branch Secretary reported on the disastrous effects live sheep exports have had on that state with the closure of 51 registered abattoirs over the past 21 years.
The Hon Tony Burke MP, Minister for Agriculture was invited to address Council, broadly outlining developments in the portfolio since the labor Party assumed government. Following the change of government after the last Federal election, it was indicative of the former government's attitude that the stakeholder lists did not include any employee representatives. The Minister is in the process of changing this state of affairs.
The Minister indicated he was prepared to deal with the Union frankly and openly, and acknowledged that there would inevitably be points of difference, and in particular with the live export issue. The Minister summarised other areas that he thought would be of mutual interest, including the availability of Q-Fever vaccine, and improvement of market access (to which the Minister has devoted considerable time). The Minister indicated that he is relaxed in his dealings with the RSPCA but has more difficulty dealing with animal rights groups that fundamentally object to making use of animals at all.
The minister also acknowledged that there would be some areas which overlapped with the Workplace Relations, and that he would be happy to pass on information to the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard (also Minister for Workplace Relations) if desired.
Comrade Bird noted that the Union has been fighting the live export trade for some 30 years. However, there was also other problems facing the Union and the industry. In particular, there are issues with the fresh pork trade, with plants closing due to imports coming in from Canada and Denmark. The Union should be placed in the stakeholder loop for consultation in respect of grants to the meat industry. Under the coalition government, the Union has witnessed grants being made to the worst elements of the industry. Union involvement in a number of various boards has been eliminated by the former conservative government, and the present one should examine restoring Union representation to such bodies.
Comrade Carr welcomed the opportunity for frank discussion with the Minister, and requested the Minister engage with the Union in the future in a discussion about the hard economics of the live export trade.
Comrade Haynes also indicated a willingness to analyse the economic realities of the live export trade. He expressed the view that a closer analysis will demonstrate the falsity of the claims made in respect of the live export issue. The economic value of the live export trade is much less than that claimed by its proponents.
Comrade Courtney informed the Council that during recent travels in the Kimberley region, he noted that there were no abattoirs, despite the fact that local graziers would prefer not to have to transport their cattle long distances.
There was a largely unemployed indigenous community which would benefit greatly from investment in a local abattoir.
Given the time restraints on his present visit to the Federal Council, the Minister agreed to meet with a delegation from the Union to have discussions foreshadowed by Council members. The Minister requested that such matters be raised by contacting Martin Breen, and informing him that the Minister has asked he be a liaison with the AMIEU. The Minister was particularly interested in efforts that could be made to bring full time work to indigenous communities, as it would add another layer to the tone which began this year (ie with Aboriginal reconciliation).
Other matters debated at Council;
- 457 Visa guest workers and 417 back packer visa holders and the impact they were having on employment in our industry with Council resolving that we pursue our concerns with the relevant ministers.
- Occupational Health and Safety and its effect on workers with the Federal Governments move to nationalise through Harmonisation of OH&S.
- Vocational education and training and the continued support of MINTRAC.
- Meat Industry Labour Agreement with amendments to current Queensland Labour Agreement.
The final matter I wish to touch on are the results of the elections for the following positions;
AMIEU Federal Secretary - Brian Crawford
AMIEU Federal President - Grant Courtney
AMIEU Federal Vice President - Patricia Fernandez
On behalf of the NSW Branch I wish to congratulate Brian, Grant and Patricia and also thank the outgoing Federal Secretary, Graham Bird and Federal President, Kath Evans.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish all our members and their families a very merry and safe Christmas and New Year.