‘We want a commitment for our town’: Dairy workers to strike in Bendigo to protect dairy industry jobs and improve wages
140 dairy processing workers at Lactalis’s Bendigo plant will begin indefinite strike action this morning. The workers, who are members of the United Workers Union (UWU), have worked throughout the Covid lockdown to ensure ongoing supply of fresh milk and dairy products to Victoria. Now they’re fighting for a decent wage that reflects their role as essential workers and starts to close the pay gap with other Lactalis sites.
Workers are also fighting for secure long-term jobs in Bendigo. They want a commitment from Lactalis – one of the world’s biggest Dairy Companies – that if the company decides to leave the Bendigo site, the factory will not be “mothballed”, but open to expressions of interest from other interested Dairy operators.
Over the last decade there have been several cases of large Dairy operators mothballing their sites and refusing to sell to other Dairy companies as a way to prevent competition.[i] This type of industrial sabotage is devastating for regional towns and the dairy industry – with hundreds of good secure jobs leaving the town and companies walking away from the communities that built their brands into the globally celebrated fresh milk products that make companies profitable.
Workers in Bendigo are saying no, and they are standing up for their community.
“Workers at Lactalis in Bendigo make up some of the essential workers that have kept going through the Covid lockdown to keep fresh milk products on our supermarket shelves. They need to be respected for that. They are looking for a fair wage increase after doing their bit to ensure this company’s ongoing profits,” said UWU Organiser Tom Czech.
“Lactalis has form when it comes to playing one group of workers off another. Workers at Bendigo have heard threats many times that the company will shut Bendigo if their wages are the same or higher than other Lactalis workers. But workers are sick of the threats and want to close the gap of wage disparity with other sites owned by the same company,” Mr Czech said.
With ongoing threats to shutting the factory, workers are demanding a guarantee from Lactalis to ensure dairy jobs can continue in the future if they walk away from Bendigo. “We want a commitment for our town”, said UWU Delegate David Bish, who has worked at the site for 10 years.
“If they do shut us down, we want to know they will let this site live again if another Dairy company wants to take it on,” Mr Bish said. “There are generations of families that have worked at this site, raised families, contributed to this town. There are farmers that rely on this site to get their milk processed. If Lactalis wants to walk away from that, fine – but don’t ruin our future in the process. That’s the commitment we are seeking.”
Products made at the Lactalis Bendigo site include: Paul Milk custard and sour cream, Farmhouse and Farmhouse Gold premium brands, Ice Break ice coffee, Zymil lactose free milk, Vaalia Yoghurt and Macro Organic.
WHEN: 12am 5 November
WHERE: Lactalis, 93 Bannister St, North Bendigo VIC 3550