A National Disgrace: How Thomas Foods Oversees An Illegal Underground Network Of Bullying, Harassment And Exploitation

The Newcastle & Northern NSW Branch is today releasing the findings of a long-term investigation into the shocking underground black market labour network operating in Tamworth, NSW.

The AMIEU believes that Thomas Foods International, one of the largest meat suppliers to Woolworths, Coles and Aldi, is working with the Tamworth Regional Council to supervise an underground system of worker exploitation, intimidation, humiliation and harassment.

In our report, which is now available to download as a PDF, we allege that Thomas Foods International deliberately displaces local Tamworth workers by replacing them with backpacker workers sourced through labour hire agents.

Lies, deception and harassment

These labour hire agents use closed social media groups to lure backpackers to Australia with the promise of a good job. Once the workers have arrived, the labour hire agents force them into illegal, overcrowded, vermin-infested share houses and charge them per-bed rental fees and outrageous $500 bonds.

Backpackers who speak out against these squalid conditions find that their promised work at Thomas Foods has mysteriously evaporated. Meanwhile, workers who “play by the rules” are rewarded with a job at Thomas Foods in Tamworth, working through a labour hire agency who underpays and overworks them.

The situation is even worse for women backpackers, who are viewed as less desirable employees. Some will only be given work at Thomas Foods if they can also guarantee to bring up to three men over with them from their home country. The AMIEU has been provided with testimony that some Thomas Foods supervisors then sexually harass these women and try to pressure them into providing sexual favours.

Our report lays bare the complex network operating in Tamworth, detailing how Thomas Foods happily takes the exploited, overworked backpackers while washing its hands of any legal responsibility by claiming the labour hire agencies are the ones who are at fault. The AMIEU believes that up to 80% of Thomas Foods Tamworth’s workforce are migrant workers on working holiday or 457 visas.

Meanwhile, the Tamworth Regional Council works closely with Thomas Foods to waive environmental fines, delay inspections on illegal share houses, and develop future plans to house even more migrants in Tamworth.

Media are encouraged to read our report (PDF) and to contact us for more information.

Corporations have too much power

“The Tamworth black market labour network is a national disgrace and shows that Australia’s largest corporations are operating with total impunity,” said AMIEU Newcastle & Northern NSW Secretary Grant Courtney.

“New England has a youth unemployment rate of more than double the national average. Thomas Foods is turning a blind eye to local youth who desperately want a job, replacing them with an endless churn of backpacker workers who are exploited, underpaid, and forced to live in appalling, illegal conditions.”

“We’ve spent time walking the streets of Tamworth, and we’ve gathered signatures from hundreds of local kids who are desperate to find work. But instead, Thomas Foods prefers backpackers who it can exploit and overwork.”

“It is an outrage that Australia’s broken laws allow Thomas Foods to get away with this disgusting behaviour, and even more outrageous that the Tamworth Regional Council, who should be looking after local kids, is instead stabbing them in the back.”

“The AMIEU is calling on politicians, particularly New England’s so-called champion Barnaby Joyce, to urgently introduce new legislation that will give local kids preference of employment, and better protect migrant workers who do come to work in Australia.”

“This is not a case of a few bad eggs. The entire system is broken, and regional kids all around Australia are the ones paying the price.”

More information:

Grant Courtney
AMIEU Newcastle & Northern NSW
(02) 4929 5496