Australian Workers Protest Against Threat of European Potato Imports
Factory workers and farmers in Tasmania and Victoria have rallied against the threat of cheap European potato imports. The protests, organized by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), were in response to the potentially devastating dumping of frozen potato chips from the Northern Hemisphere, as coronavirus lockdowns in Europe have created a glut of more than 2.6 million tons of potatoes.
According to abc.net.au, about 100 people attended the rally at the McCain potato-processing factory at Smithton in Tasmania’s northwest, including Deputy Premier and Trade Minister Jeremy Rockliff. He said the state’s manufacturing and potato-farming sectors would be in jeopardy if imports flooded the Australian market.
“We are good spud producers. We need to ensure the workers, the farmers, the contractors that their voice is heard loud and clear in Canberra when it comes to this issue. We have the anti-dumping commission and I’ve reflected these concerns to Canberra that we need to support this industry and its large factories,” he said.
Tasmania is the largest producer of manufactured potato products in Australia, with more than 100 farmers supplying Simplot’s plant at Ulverstone. Northwest potato grower Phil Medwin said he wanted the Federal Government to show more support for their cause.
“We want to see a louder voice. We want to see them have an opinion instead of us having to say it ourselves. There’s not enough being said at the top level,” he said.
In Victoria’s Central Highlands, COVID-19 restrictions limited the size of the rally to 20 people outside the McCain Foods factory at Ballarat. Packing room operator and AMWU delegate Ross Kenna said 400 people were directly employed by the company on site, with another 200 within the business.
“You’re looking at a couple of thousand jobs just for the Ballarat region from this manufacturing line,” he said, adding that the local industry remained financially vulnerable from COVID-19 disruptions.
“We’ve seen a boost in retail sales, but all of our foodservice sales have dropped. There’s no footy grounds buying chips, all of our restaurants aren’t buying chips. I’m worried if we do get subsidized potatoes in from overseas, that supermarkets and wholesale suppliers will buy the cheaper chips and sell them to the market which will put jobs on the line in Victoria and Tasmania.”