Drum says Freedom Foods is following the law

By Alana Christensen

Federal Member for Murray Damian Drum has slammed allegations more than 50 Freedom Foods employees have been wrongfully employed under skilled work visas, labelling the claims ‘‘callous’’ and ‘‘unscrupulous’’.

The National Union of Workers along with Federal Labor MPs made the claims during an announcement in front of the company’s Pactum Dairy processing plant in Shepparton on Thursday.

Shadow Assistant Workplace Relations Minister Lisa Chester said they believed the workers were employed as mechanical engineers, yet the roles done at the plant were anything but.

‘‘There is a shortage of skilled mechanical engineers in this country and it appears that the company is using that as an excuse to bring in workers, to not emply them in that role and to pay them less,’’ she said on Thursday last week.

Mr Drum said he first met with the union two years ago and when an attempt was made to meet with him again this year, he was forced to reschedule.

He said when he attempted to set a new time for the appointment, the union declined to meet with him.

Mr Drum said he had spoken with Freedom Foods twice — once following the initial union meeting two years ago and again last week — and was confident the company was acting in line with its obligations and the law.

‘‘The fact is we have these high quality and highly technical lines and they require certain skills,’’ Mr Drum said.

‘‘We don’t have the local training here and so we need to bring these specialists to the country.

‘‘There are checks and balances in place.’’

Freedom Foods managing director Rory Macleod said the company took its workplace obligations seriously with respect to all its workers, including those on working visas and accused the union of trying to enmesh them in a political campaign.

‘‘It is very disappointing for all of us at Freedom Foods that the union has promoted these false allegations of underpayment and has been given wage and time data to prove this,’’ he said.

‘‘Freedom will continue to need a highly skilled and dedicated workforce to ensure that it successfully executes its plans for the expansion of the Shepparton facilities.’’

A Fair Work Ombudsman spokesperson said visa holders should be aware that, in line with an agreement with the Department of Home Affairs, they could seek assistance from the Fair Work Ombudsman without fear of their visa being cancelled.

They encouraged any employee seeking assistance to contact the ombusman.