Around 1,400 dairy workers in Australia are set to strike for 48 hours from Wednesday (18 October) over wage increases and improved working conditions.

The strike action, based in the state of Victoria, will be targeting dairy giants Saputo, Fonterra, Peter’s Ice Cream and Lactalis.

The United Workers Union (UWU) said the companies had refused to offer “fair wages” and improved working conditions “amid rising living costs”.

“Workers don’t make this decision lightly,” said Tim Kennedy, national secretary of UWU.

“Dairy workers have been dedicated, especially during the pandemic, with some even agreeing to wage offers as low as 1.5% to support their companies. But with the soaring cost-of-living, they believe it’s time for change,” he added.

“They’re not even asking for a wage increase that matches inflation, just 5% or so that gets them a little closer to being able to keep up with skyrocketing costs.”

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The striking workers are also seeking “personal leave accommodating their 12-hour shift pattern”, community service leave for aiding in natural disasters and community consultation clauses ensuring corporate accountability to local communities.

The UWU statement added that New Zealand’s Fonterra “grew their profits by 170%” to NZ$1.6bn ($946m) in the 2023 financial year, but the workers are yet to see the benefits.

Saputo sites in Allansford, Cobram, Leongatha, Kiewa and Laverton will see a total of 869 employees striking, the union said. Peter’s Ice Cream will have 205 taking action, Lactalis’ Longwarry site 22 while Fonterra will have 322 across three sites.

Kennedy added: “This is more than a wage tug-of-war; it’s about safeguarding the heartbeat of our regional communities.”

Just Food contacted the four dairy companies for comment.

Gerard Lourey, Saputo Dairy Australia (SDA)’s director of operations, said: “SDA remains committed to continuing negotiations in good faith to reach an agreement for our valued workers and our intent is to resolve outstanding items with union representatives amicably and swiftly.

“We are focused on collecting and processing every litre of milk possible and are working collaboratively with farmers and industry to ensure we have a home for suppliers’ milk during the industrial action.

“We are also actioning contingency measures to minimise business disruptions and keeping our customers, business partners and farmer suppliers updated on any temporary impacts they may experience.”