The AMIEU has had some recent success in securing employment opportunities for workers in the Mareeba area. Mareeba Poultry, operated by the Baiada group, has been a source of ongoing complaints by locals unable to secure work there. There was no shortage of available work, but the company had preferred to engage temporary (417 ‘backpacker visa’) workers through labour hire arrangements. The employer claimed, implausibly, that either locals did not want work in the factory, or were ‘not suitable’ for the industry.
The AMIEU put those claims to the test by advertising and holding a meeting at Mareeba racecourse. Grassroots work by union shed officials - in particular, AMIEU Shed Secretary Fred Brunjes - resulted in an excellent turnout at the rally. More than 200 locals attended, and were addressed by AMIEU officials and QCU General Secretary, Ros McLennan. The Union collected details from 120 locals wanting to work at Baiada, and presented them to the employer.
The impressive groundswell of local activity has prompted a backdown from the employer. The company has agreed to genuinely consider all applicants, and to employ local labour directly, on EBA rates, rather than through labour hire arrangements. The union and the company have committed to monitor the situation at Mareeba to ensure local residents are not being excluded.
This was a minor victory in the overall scheme of things, but an important one for people in Mareeba and surrounding areas. Employment opportunities in regional communities are limited enough already, without being further limited by widespread use of temporary overseas labour. In organising around such issues, however, it is important to ensure that communities are not distracted by those who seek to generate or manipulate hostility towards foreign workers. Instead, the focus must be placed squarely upon a federal government that refuses to properly regulate the use of temporary migrant labour, and employers who seek to exploit vulnerable workers.