Pampas Pastry workers in West Footscray have reached day 14 of an indefinite strike for better pay and job security. The majority migrant workforce, who produce a range of baked goods for Helga’s and Bakers Delight, are out in force against Pampas management and parent company Goodman Fielder, which has an annual revenue of $1.1 billion.

For most of the workers, this is the first time they have been on strike. Only some remember the last time there was industrial action at Pampas 20 years ago, when production workers, cleaners, warehouse workers and even mechanics fought together. 

The workers have knocked back the company’s four percent pay offer and are instead fighting for a six percent annual wage increase for the next two years. In a time of rising inflation and cost of living pressures, even a six percent pay increase would represent a decline in real wages.

“The cost of everything is going up, but our wages aren’t,” a union delegate told Red Flag. He is paying an extra $400 to $500 a month on his mortgage because of rising interest rates, but the pay offer would only translate into an additional $40 per week.

Workers are also fighting casualisation. Many are unable to get permanent positions, and the company has outsourced some casual labour to an agency that pays lower wages. Casuals employed by the agency are on $26 an hour compared to $33 per hour for those employed directly by the company. One worker has been a casual for more than seven years with no indication of permanency in the future. “Management are on $150,000 a year, and they don’t care about the casuals,” one worker said to Red Flag.

Almost all of the 80-strong workforce has walked out. On the first day of the strike, only two workers, a few cleaners and management were still inside. This success is down to strong levels of unionisation in the factory, itself in part a result of a drive to sign up new members over the last six months. More than 95 percent of workers are now in the union, despite 30 percent of the workforce being agency casuals.

Management have responded to the strike with heavy-handed tactics designed to intimidate and demoralise the workers. They have called out firefighters to investigate a barrel fire that workers were maintaining on the picket line outside the factory gates, hoping this would lead to the assembly being broken up. When this didn’t work, they door-knocked locals encouraging them to call the police on the strikers. $100 vouchers were included as an incentive, many of which were handed back by locals in disgust, while other were donated to the strikers.

Production has been effectively paralysed during what is the busiest period of the year in the food industry. The workers have committed to staying out for as long as it takes to win a better deal. Some have been employed by Pampas for more than 30 years and say conditions have consistently become worse during that time. Now, they feel they have no choice but to fight.