Who Are These People (Out of Eden)
For The workers at The Eden Cannery
Words and Music Pat Drummond and Craig Dawson
Dateline: Eden, NSW


In July 1999, after 50 years of operation, Heinz Watties closed the Eden Tuna cannery, which employed a large percentage of the local workers.

What made this action doubly callous and insensitive , however, was that the cannery had already faced the axe in the early nineties. At that time, however, the locals formed a group called the Workers of Greenseas. Taking on an environmentally freindly image they promoted their product as being dolphin free and the workers developed a range of flavoured tuna products that was to become phenomenally successful for Heinz, The 'Tastetempters' line'

All of this made the cannery more than profitable again, turning an annual profit of $8 million dollars for the global giant. By 1999 the Eden cannery was processing about 4,500 tonnes of product a year; not big by world standards but more than enough to support the coastal village and be a shining example as to how, with innovation and dedication, Australians could hold their own in a changing world. It should have been a recipe for a grateful response from Heinz.

But while the workers had made the cannery profitable again, they didn't make it profitable enough for Heinz Watties, the owner of the Greenseas label, who nonetheless decided in 1999 to close it down, sack the workers who had come up with the 'Tastetempters' idea and move much of the operation to Thailand where they could pay slave labour rates. They then began to ship the product back back to sell in the Australian market.

One of the women workers affected Helen Pickard said to the ABC at the time " We brought out the tempters, the flavoured tuna, and that was to get the place up and running, so we didn't lose it. And it's been running flat-out ever since, and now they've just turned around and said that we're not globally competitive. I'd like to know when that stopped, We only supplied the Australian market anyway, we didn't export. But the Australian public bought our product and that's what kept us going."

Less and less of us are however prepared to put up with the transparently rapacious tactics of such multinationals and many Australians now, quite properly in my opinion, refuse to buy Heinz products. In the NSW south coast town of Eden, one in every eight workers lost their jobs.

Globalisation could be a great benefit to all but, as it is often practised, it is just an excuse for multinationals to return to ther 'robber baron' days and to access labour under conditions that the civilised world abolished a century ago. Even worse these companies then seek to use that economic lever to reduce the standards of living for workers in developed countries like Australia.

I am absolutely committed to the proposition that Free trade agreements must be tied to minimum standards of working conditions and that those companies who refuse to operate under such humane standards should be banned from importing their products into our markets.


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