Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1594      May 22, 2013

AMWU supports rally call to preserve fruit industry

Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) fruit processing workers and growers are calling for tougher labelling laws and strong trade action to stem the flood of supermarket imports threatening to destroy their communities.

Anger at the threat of job losses and social breakdown was rife at a protest rally in the Victorian fruit city of Shepparton last week, organised by Lee Luvara, an AMWU delegate at SPC Ardmona, and local woman Teena Knight.

SPC Ardmona, Australia’s largest fruit preserver, has halved its quota orders to fruit growers amid mounting losses as Coles and Woolworths put extreme pressure on the local industry by filling their shelves with cheap foreign produce.

The high Australian dollar has also crippled the fruit export markets.

A crowd of nearly 2,000 locals who fear for their livelihoods as fruit trees are ploughed into the earth supported AMWU and company demands for emergency tariffs on the deluge of Thai, South African and Chinese product.

AMWU Victorian state secretary Steve Dargavel told them the high Australian dollar and currency devaluation by the US, China and Europe to protect their export industries had sent Australia’s competitveness down by 60 percent in recent years.

Mr Dargavel said consumers were being exposed to foreign food products including fruit with lower safety and hygiene standards, due to confusion created by poor labelling laws on what is Australian made and grown.

He said AMWU members from SPC at Shepparton would work with the company, Goulburn Valley community leaders and growers in heading to Canberra to back moves to reform labelling laws and secure tariff protection.

The AMWU has stressed that Country of Origin Labelling must make it clear to consumers not only what ingredients are grown in Australia, but whether the food is processed here under high Australian standards.

The rally also applauded the AMWU’s move to urge the government to increase tariffs or place quotas on imported fruit and canned tomato products as is its right under World Trade rules.

“It’s high time that the government took all available steps under World Trade Organisation rules to protect our regional jobs, just like our trading partners are doing for their industries,” Mr Dargavel said.

SPC Ardmona has asked for the same action. The emergency measure, under WTO Safeguards “critical circumstances” orders, is aimed at giving the besieged industry breathing space while the government conducts a safeguards review into whether permanent protection is justified.

But Mr Dargavel said there was widespread concern the move would fail if the Productivity Commission did the review, as it had decided against helping Australian manufacturers on two previous occasions.

SPC Ardmona’s earnings are believed to have halved in the past few years with parent Coca-Cola Amatil booking $227 million in goodwill writedowns since 2011, when it closed its Mooroopna plant.

Shepparton Mayor Jenny Houlihan urged politicians to assist SPC Ardmona, which had 874 staff and generated $$63 million a year for the local economy, indirectly supporting 2,700 jobs.

AMWU delegate Lee Luvara told the crowd: “SPC Ardmona hurts, we all hurt.”

He said SPC Ardmona had increased training and technology to improve fruit product quality to the exacting standards demanded by the supermarket duopoly.

“Big retailers then allow in product from overseas with questionable quality standards and control,” he said. “Do they (overseas companies) have to jump the same hurdles Australian growers and manufacturers have to in order to get their products on the big retailers’ shelves?”

Mr Lavara lashed out at loose, confusing country-of-origin food labelling and roused the crowd to chant three times: “Toss a tin in your trolley, Australia.”   

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