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Wednesday, 27 November 1996
Page: 6190


Senator CHRIS EVANS(7.32 p.m.) —I rise tonight to speak on a most disturbing and distressing matter brought to my attention by some constituents in Western Australia. Those constituents have provided me with three statutory declarations describing their experiences of working at an abattoir, Hillside Abattoir in Narrogin, Western Australia. To assist the Senate, I have sought the permission of other senators to incorporate those three statutory declarations into Hansard . I seek leave that those statutory declarations be incorporated.

Leave granted.

The documents read as follows

I, Denis Frederick Headland of Bay 29 Narrogin Caravan Park Narrogin in the State of Western Australia do solemnly and sincerely declare that:

1.   I commenced work for Hillside Abattoir at Narrogin about four and a half years ago. I was employed as a class 1 slaughterman. I have worked in the meat industry for 25 years as a slaughterman.

2.   I have been off work since January 1996 on workers compensation with a shoulder problem.

3.   During my employment I have seen the following problems at the works:

3.1   very frequently, every day up to 1015 times each day, sheep fall off the hook into the blood drain. These sheep ought be condemned but are put back on the rail and processed in the normal way. They are difficult to work with because the congealed blood makes it difficult to work on them.

3.2   carcasses often fall off the rail near the chiller. These carcasses are often not retrimmed or rewashed but simply pushed straight into the chiller

3.3   when pigs are stuck they are not given time to die but are put into the pig bath still bleeding and kicking

3.4   the winch used to raise cattle being slaughtered is not greased or cleaned. I have been hit by falling cattle resulting from the hooks on which they are raised breaking

3.5   the beef saw is too big and heavy and the stand on which the worker stands to do the work is unstable

3.6   the electric cable for the beef saw is taped up with insulation tape and is unsafe. The electricity supply to the abattoir has been short circuited on several occasions. I have seen Rex Saunders and Peter Zielke (who are not qualified electricians) carrying out electrical work themselves on quite a few different occasions. I have seen them carrying out electrical work on the beef saw and the stunner. I have seen workers receive electrical shocks from the stunner

3.7   there is inadequate flyscreening so that there are frequently blow flies throughout the inside of the abattoir

3.8   workers with long hair are not required to put their hair up into nets. Often, workers with long hair will wear a cap or net in the same way as a hat is worn with the hair trailing outside the cap or hat. There are no beard masks for those with beards as some have

3.9   when a lamb is born to a ewe on the premises the lamb is taken to the gut bin where it is smashed against the wall or the ground to kill it and then thrown into the gut bin. This was the practice for the entire time of my employment

3.10   where a sheep is unfit for consumption and this is apparent before it goes into the works that sheep is killed by hitting it on the head with a hammer or cutting its throat and the carcass is thrown into a bin near where the trucks unload the sheep into the holding pen. I have seen this done by Peter Zielke and Rex Saunders who is the works manager or foreman. Sometimes this is done quite often and other times not very often because it depends on the condition of the sheep delivered to the works. On other occasions I have seen crippled sheep carried up into the restrainer and then slaughtered and processed as normal

3.11   there is no proper or adequate first aid box. I used to take my own bandaids to work in case I cut myself

And I make this solemn declaration by virtue of Section 106 of the Evidence Act 1906

Declared this 21st day of November 1996 before me

D. Headland

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Commissioner of the Supreme Court for taking of Affidavits.

STATUTORY DECLARATION

I Kenneth James Williams of 58 Fox Street Narrogin in the State of Western Australia do solemnly and sincerely declare that:

1.   I commenced work for Hillside Abattoir at Narrogin in about April 1996. I was employed as a labourer. Prior to this job I had never worked in the meat industry before.

2.   When I commenced employment I was shown how to trim skins which involved cutting off excess skin from the brisket and udder. When that was done the meat was put on a pallet and then taken away by forklift. This work was done in an area outside the abattoir. Apart from being shown how to do the trimming there was minimal training given when I commenced employment. I was briefly shown how to do each job and then just left to it. There was no training or instruction given concerning cleanliness or health procedure.

3.   After about 3 weeks I went inside the abattoir to do the final wash. This involved using a high pressure hose to wash remnants of fleece and dirt off the carcass. I did this job for about one month.

4.   I then went onto final trim. This involves cutting off remnants of fleece, skin, fat, grass seeds or entrails off the carcass before it was chilled. I did this for about 6 weeks. Final trim is done after final wash.

5.   I also worked on the floor. This involved taking off the runners off the gut. In addition I was involved from time to time in making up offal orders.

6.   I did these jobs intermittently depending on who was available to do what job. Altogether I was employed for about 6 months. Most of my time was spent on final trim and final wash.

7.   During my employment I noticed the following problems:

7.1   whilst doing final trim carcasses were presented which had not been washed properly. Sometimes there was excrement on the carcass as well as fleece dirt and the like. This should not occur because the carcass should be quite clean by the time it comes to final trim. Final trim is only to cut off any dirt and the like which cannot be washed off. This problem of dirty carcasses occurred frequently and usually daily.

7.2   carcasses fell off the hook onto the floor whilst being pushed from final wash to final trim. The floor is often dirty with pieces of animal and other dirt lying around. Whilst the floor is washed from time to time it cannot be kept clean all the time. When a carcass falls off the hook it is simply put back on the hook and pushed back to final wash and processed in the normal way thereafter. Carcasses falling off the hook occurred daily and was quite frequent.

7.3   there is inadequate flyscreening so that there are frequently blow flies throughout the inside of the abattoir.

7.4   workers with long hair are not required to put their hair up into nets. Often, workers with long hair will wear a cap or net in the same way as a hat is work with the hair trailing outside the cap or hat.

7.5   the first aid kit is inadequate and not stocked with all the items that I would normally expect. For example I have seen a worker cut his finger. This was treated by cutting the finger off a glove and putting it on the finger which had been cut and then taping it up with insulation tape. I also remember an incident in which an employee could not be taken to hospital because there was no transport. He was taken to hospital by a man who just happened to be at the abattoir collecting offal.

7.6   when a lamb is born to a ewe on the premises the lamb is taken to the gut bin where it is smashed against the wall or the ground to kill it and then thrown into the gut bin. I have seen this done by Wayne Edwards who is an employee of the abattoir. This occurred only occasionally during lambing season. I have seen about 6 lambs killed in this way.

7.7   where a sheep is unfit for consumption and this is apparent before it goes into the works that sheep is killed by hitting it on the head with a hammer and the carcass is thrown into a bin near where the trucks unload the sheep into the holding pen. I have seen this done by Wayne Edwards and Rex Saunders who is the works manager of foreman. Sometimes this is done quite often and other times not very often because it depends on the condition of the sheep delivered to the works.

7.8   when making up offal orders I have seen the gall bladder left on some livers, the gall bladder breaks and this contaminates the whole tray. When this occurs the labourers just take out the gall bladder instead of disposing of the whole contaminated tray.

7.9   the drains which collect the dirt off the floor always have a residue of sludge and dirt and cannot be completely emptied and cleaned from day to day.

And I make this solemn declaration by virtue of Section 106 of the Evidence Act 1906.

Declared this 21st day of November 1996 before me

Commissioner of the Supreme Court for the taking of Affidavits

STATUTORY DECLARATION

I Dene Campbell Miller of 52 Hough Street, Narrogin, in the State of Western Australia do solemnly and sincerely declare that:

1.   I commenced work Hillside Abattoirs at Narrogin now known as Smoothjob on 5 February 1996 as a slaughterman and was terminated on 23 September 1996. The majority of my work was as a sticker and also on the legging table. Before this job I last worked in the meat industry in the Midland abattoirs before it closed down and then for 2 periods of six months at Karnet.

2.   During my employment I have seen the following problems at the works:

2.1   almost all the time the sheep are not kept in the holding pens for 24 hours before being processed. This means the sheet are nervous and very active so that they are difficult to hang up on the rail. They also had full stomachs which makes them very heavy and causes ingesta. I know that the meat works claims sheep are held for 24 hours before processing but this is untrue

2.2   the stun gun is set to 400 volts all the time whereas it should be 200 volts for lamb and 300 volts for mutton

2.3   animals being presented on the conveyor belt for stunning are supposed to be spaced but often they come very quickly and together and I often had to stun a number of animals at one time to prevent the animals from jumping around

2.4   once animals are put on the rail they are supposed to be spaced but the practice was to push them through as quickly as possible. This results in the animals all bunching up together so that they are bleeding over and cross contaminating each other

2.5   sometimes I had to go outside into the pens to push more sheep up for sticking because the stockman wasn't there. This meant that my boots were usually covered with excreta from the yard when I went back inside the works

2.6   there is inadequate flyscreening so that there are frequently blow flies throughout the inside of the abattoir

2.7   the blood drain where I stuck animals continually got blocked. Peter Zielke told me to clean this out by physically clearing it out which involved putting the full length of my arm into the blood and to find the blockage and clear it. I was frequently covered in blood. I was required to use a high pressure hose from outside the works to hose down the sticking area, that hose was usually itself dirty with excreta and blood. Whilst this was done the doors would remain open and blow flies had free access to the works

2.8   I have seen sheep with cancerous growths on the head being put through the works for processing, also sheep with footrot and which are flyblown with large numbers of maggots are put through for processing

2.9   the sterilisation sink does not work properly in that the hot water takes too long to arrive. In addition it is not possible to sterilise the knife between sticking each animal as the sterilisation sink is too far away

2.10   on one occasion the stun gun broke down so the bolt gun was used to kill sheep back down into the conveyor belt where the animals were waiting. A replacement box containing electrical equipment for the stun gun was obtained by Rex Saunders and put on 2 empty milk cartons on the floor. He connected up the machine which was very dangerous because there was a lot of fluid in the immediate area and had the box been knocked over there would have been a short circuit

2.11   sheep are left in the restraining pens and on the conveyor belt during all breaks including lunch and all smoko breaks

2.12   sheep are killed at a fast rate, usually over 100 per hour

2.13   sheep do not have their teeth checked for their age which may result in hogget being passed off as lamb

2.14   I was often required to have sheep on the rail waiting for workers to return from their break so that they could resume work immediately. I was required to fill the rail up and these sheep would often be hung up for up to half an hour waiting for the workers to return

2.15   sheep very often jumped or fell into the blood bath. I was told by Peter Zielke to send those sheep back out to the yard to dry off so I did that but Des Culbertson, floor manager, told me not to bother and just to kill them. As these sheep were wet the stun gun couldn't be used because of risk of electrical shock so Des Culbertson told me just to cut their throats which I did on many occasions

2.16   the legging table is unstable and too high. Management said it was too difficult to modify and so it just stayed the same. The floor around the legging table is often left uncleaned and uncleared which meant the workers were often slipping or falling over whilst walking around that area

2.17   healthy pigs are often held during breaks and during the day and overnight in the suspect pen because it is convenient and saves time. The pen is also used to hold suspect or obviously unfit animals

2.18   cattle often have to be shot a number of times because the bolt gun doesn't work properly all the time. On occasions I have seen cattle shot with a rifle after a number of failed attempts to kill the animal with the bolt gun

2.19   sheep are continually falling off the rail into the blood bath or on the floor. These animals are processed in the normal way by simply putting them back on the rail

2.20   water comes through the roof onto the legging table. This was fixed by Rex Saunders putting an old piece of corrugated iron above us so that the water fell onto the floor and not the workers

2.21   the stun gun continually gives electrical shocks to the operator

2.22   the first aid box is inadequate in that there is practically nothing in it and there are no proper bandages

2.23   there are many areas and practices within the works in which cross contamination between carcasses can and does occur

2.24   Rick Culbertson is a freezer hand who weights the carcasses and puts them into the freezer. He strip bands and puts the Health Department seal on the carcass

2.25   Wayne Edwards has killed new-born lambs by smashing their heads against a concrete pylon

2.26   water constantly leaks onto the floor of the beef chiller from the air conditioner

2.27   there is no lighting in the area where workers sharpen their knives on grinding stones

2.28   the stand for using the electric beef saw is unstable and is unsafe when using the saw. The trigger on the saw often doesn't work. The electric cord for the saw is perished and just taped up with insulation tape. This has resulted in the entire abattoir being short circuited

2.29   carcases fall off the rail between the final wash and the freezers. These carcases are not trimmed off as required but usually put back onto the rail or in the chiller often sometimes without being washed again

And I make this solemn declaration by virtue of Section 106 of the Evidence Act 1906.

Declared this 21 day of November 1996 before me

Commissioner of the Supreme Court

for the taking of Affidavits


Senator CHRIS EVANS —I thank Senator O'Chee, Senator Murray and the chamber generally. These statutory declarations contain claims of extreme cruelty towards animals, extremely unsafe working conditions and the processing of contaminated and unclean meat. All of this appears to be done under an A-plus rating from Ausmeat in its accreditation. So I was most disturbed when I received these approaches from my constituents.

The affidavits they have provided to me describe the slaughter of lambs born to ewes on the premises by having them smashed against a wall, faulty bolt guns that require the animal to be shot many times and sometimes finally finished off with a rifle shot; sheep that have fallen off the hook into the blood drain; sheep, instead of being condemned, being put back onto the rail and processed in the normal way; sheep with footrot which are flyblown with large numbers of maggots being been put through for processing. Those are just a sample of some of the claims made by these persons who have worked at this abattoir.

The claims are quite shocking, and I treat them very seriously, as did my colleague in the Western Australian parliament Kim Chance, who is shadow minister for primary industry. He has raised in general terms these concerns in the state parliament. What has convinced me to raise them today is that these claims have now been corroborated by a number of former employees.

As I say, I have three statutory declarations and those go to corroborate the tenor of the evidence of the original constituent who approached Kim Chance. It is important that these claims are properly and fully investigated. Today they have been referred to state government authorities for investigation. I know that senators, Senator O'Chee in particular, have raised concerns about some of these issues in the past. I think it is an important public policy matter. I do not pretend to have any great expertise in the area, but I was extremely shocked by the allegations made.

There are a number of very important public policy considerations. One is the general health of the community in terms of possible contaminated meat or unclean meat being processed. Secondly, there is the question of workers' safety, and there is a range of concerns raised in the statutory declarations that go to proper safety standards at the abattoir. Thirdly, there is the humane and proper treatment of animals in the process. These statutory declarations raise very serious concerns about all three issues. I find them quite shocking.

I think there is a federal interest in this issue in that I have been informed and have checked to see that this particular abattoir has been given an A-plus rating by Ausmeat. That obviously carries some sort of endorsement that is important to the public. So I think it is essential that the public is reassured that it is an appropriate rating and that they can have confidence about the rating given by Ausmeat.

I am not sure what inspections occur to ensure that that rating is appropriately given. Given that most of the meat at this abattoir is slaughtered for domestic consumption, I am not sure what involvement federal authorities have had. But I want to bring this case to their attention and ask them to investigate to ensure that all proper procedures have been followed and that the Commonwealth is not endorsing or giving accreditation to abattoirs that are perhaps not meeting the very proper standards that must be set.

This obviously raises questions about state inspection standards and the ability of health inspectors at a state level to ensure that complaints raised are dealt with. I know that these complaints have been referred to the state authorities today and, hopefully, the matter will be fully investigated and brought to a proper conclusion.

I also wanted to raise the question of the industrial relations aspects of this issue. These particular workers were employed under contracts with the Hillside Abattoir, trading as Smoothjob Pty Ltd. They were employed under individual contracts. Those contracts provided for this work force—which, as I understand it, is non-unionised—to be employed under contracts of service that provide for termination under one hour's notice. These were permanent, longstanding employees, but they were employed under these sorts of conditions under individual workplace contracts. What has occurred in this instance is that, when a number of these workers raised concerns about both the conditions of the abattoir and the non-payment of proper workers compensation arrangements, their service as casual employees was immediately terminated.

So, from this parliament's point of view—even though we have completed the industrial relations legislation debate just recently—I think it is important that we understand the wider social implications of some of these working conditions. It not only impacts on workers who feel they have no power in their employment situation, because of the casualisation of their workplace and the individual contracts under which they are employed, but also it has a wider ramification for society in terms of our ability to influence work practices and things that will impact on the wider community or consumers.

Because of the lack of power of these individuals to exercise control over their workplace, we may well be in a situation where unsafe meat is being put into homes around Western Australia. So there are flow-on effects from some of these industrial relations issues that go much beyond the industrial relations context and have implications for the whole of society—be it, in this case, as consumers and, in other cases, in other ways.

So I do wish to put these concerns before the Senate today. I think most people will be as distressed and disgusted as I am by the claims. I have taken the precaution of ensuring that these claims have been put into the form of a statutory declaration and have been corroborated by at least three members of the work force. It is not a concern I raise lightly. I think it is important that these concerns are thoroughly investigated. We need to ensure that the quality of meat and the working conditions of workers in our abattoirs are of a proper standard and that proper inspection services are put in place to ensure those standards are maintained.