26 November 2019

UWU’s Tim Nelthorpe explains why organising Australia’s food supply chain is vital: “[T]he terms of employment on farms are reminiscent of indentured labor. Workers are usually forced into employer-owned accommodation and transport, and rather than obtain their own food, they are required to pay a food bond.” But collective action works, as union member Anh Nguyen explains: “One day, my management were instructing our quality assurance workers to pour chemical products on the lettuce while we were working. We could feel our eyes sting, our throats burn, and we were even vomiting. I decided enough was enough, I went around to ask … my workmates to walk off the job. Then I walked to the middle of the packing shed and shouted, ‘Everyone out!’ The workers followed me to the lunchroom, and the scared manager meekly asked if we would come back to work as normal. I told him if he ever poured chemicals while workers were in the room again, he could expect the same. We will come back to work if there is no harm to our health. We worked out a system to protect our health and safety that day, and four years on, the company still respects the right of our union delegates to decide when it is safe to return to the packing shed after chemicals are poured. This experience showed me that the power to create a permanent change has to come from us and through our collective actions.”