After a couple of rocky years, the Sausage Plant finally closed its doors for the last time in March 2019. The iconic factory—which once turned out 500,000 pounds of spicy frankfurters each week—has been razed to the ground, and plans have been made to build a hotel and bar complex, complete with a water feature.
But what will happen to the thousands of Aussies who worked there?
After 19 years working at the Sausage Plant, I can finally reveal the truth about what happened to the many Aussies who worked there. While we may never know the full story of what transpired behind those closed doors, we can certainly piece together the facts based on public records. And what we’ve discovered is quite a sad tale.
First off, let’s remind ourselves of the conditions under which the Aussies were employed. The majority of them worked long hours for low wages, so it would be reasonable to assume that they were content in their roles as the factory’s burger flippers, hot dog wringers, and ice cream scoopers. But that assumption would be wrong. After all, it’s not as though Australia doesn’t have a proud history of unionism. In fact, right now there are over 40,000 union members working at the Sausage Plant, all demanding a 15% pay rise, demanding fair work conditions, and trying to protect their jobs.
So while we know that the Sausage Plant was good for the Aussies who worked there, we also know that it wasn’t good for everyone. And what’s more, we know that management didn’t care about its employees as much as we think it did.
Most Were Never Going To Be Fortunate Enough To Own A Home
Of the 6,500 Aussies who worked at the Sausage Plant, only 2,400 of them will ever be able to call themselves homeowners. The reality is, despite the fact that the Sausage Plant was good for the economy and the jobs it created, it couldn’t have been good for everyone’s financial situation. The housing market was already on the decline when the Sausage Plant opened, and the economic pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic only made things worse. In fact, mortgage stress was reported to be “staggering” just two years after the Sausage Plant opened.
One of the major factors that contributed to the early decline of the Aussie housing market was the introduction of the “big four” banks’ mortgage insurance policies. Essentially, these policies were sold to financial planners as the “bionic pancreas” that will make housing much easier to afford. In practice, the policies made home ownership nearly impossible for many Australians, particularly those who had to service large mortgages for many years. With the big four banks refusing to waive the requirement for mortgage insurance, many would-be home owners were effectively shut out of the market.
With the Sausage Plant finally shutting its doors, many of the workers are now without a job, and have to rely on the government for support. But the housing market remains a significant issue, with over a quarter of Aussies unable to pay their mortgages at present. And for those who can, the interest rates are at an all-time high, making home ownership even more unaffordable.
Many Weren’t Even The “Traditional” Career Choices
Another significant factor that made the Sausage Plant such an “unsafe” place to work was the fact that it was so “open” to women and to migrants. At a time when women were not allowed to work outside the home, and when migrants were seen as a cheap labor force to be exploited, the presence of a large number of women and migrants at the Sausage Plant was certainly not welcome. In fact, it was so “unwelcome” that management resorted to installing metal detectors at the front gate, partly to keep out the riff-raff, and partly to keep track of the thousands of undocumented migrants who worked there.
While it’s great that the Sausage Plant was a place where women and migrants could be employed, it doesn’t mean that all those who worked there were happy with their roles or that they found the conditions “desirable.” A large number of the workers were forced into a job that they never wanted, and that never offered them any real satisfaction. Women and migrants who worked at the Sausage Plant were often subjected to sexual harassment at the workplace. The ripple effects of this type of behavior can be seen in the high rate of domestic violence and family violence that permeates the Australian community.
There is also the issue of “zero-hour contracts” and “casual work”. Zero-hour contracts are agreements where the employer doesn’t guarantee a certain number of hours per week, so if the work dries up, or levels out, the employee won’t be paid. Casual work is work that is neither contracted nor guaranteed, so if the employer decides to shut down its operations, the employee has no recourse. Many people who work in casual jobs don’t earn much more than enough to survive on, and it’s often impossible for them to save anything for a rainy day. In these kinds of situations, it is highly unlikely that the employee will be able to purchase a home, let alone become homeowners. And that’s a problem.
Few Had Any Retirement Plan
Even now, after working for nearly two decades at the Sausage Plant, many of the workers have no plan for their retirement. When the factory started, many of the employees were given a certain number of hours to work per week, and at that point in time, they were told that they would be provided with superannuation at the end of their employment. So it was a case of “work hard, retire hard”. But the reality is, after more than two decades of loyal service, few if any of the employees will ever see the point of retirement. Especially since, at the end of the day, their income will drastically decline, and they’ll have nothing to show for all their years of labor.
And what’s more, the factories these days don’t tend to have many, if any, opportunities for their employees to develop their careers. The turnover rate at meatpacking plants is extremely high because, for the most part, there aren’t many opportunities for growth. Essentially, the companies that manage the meatpacking plants want to hire individuals who already have the experience, and in some cases, the same family members are working their way up the corporate ladder. It’s a closed system, and it doesn’t allow for any real advancement.
Many Were Exploited By Their Employers
Another significant issue that plagued the Sausage Plant, and quite a few other Australian factories in the post-pandemic era, is exactly what is preventing so many people from being able to afford a home to call their own: exploitation. Despite being among the low-paid, most women and migrants who worked at the Sausage Plant would not have been able to afford a home had it not been for the exploitative relationship the factory had with an “angel investor” who provided the business with a $500,000 grant, and later went on to earn million in profit from the factory. In a recent study conducted by the Australia Institute, it was found that “migrant workers, low-wage workers, and women working in precarious jobs are more likely to be affected [by exploitative practices].”
There are several examples of how the Sausage Plant and other Australian businesses exploited the communities in which they’re located. One of the biggest cases of exploitation revolves around rental prices for houses, which are at an all-time high, and which have never been more expensive. In the past, many manufacturers would take advantage of the low cost of land in Australia, and would force their employees to live in substandard conditions, while also paying them starvation wages. But since the pandemic, the situation has changed, and now the landlords are fighting for their investment, often engaging in illegal activities to make sure their properties are not only rented but are also payed back with high rental earnings. It’s a lose-lose situation for everyone involved, but the workers are the ones who lose out the most. Especially since they often can’t afford to live anywhere else once their employment at the Sausage Plant has ended. The factory’s managers also took advantage of the situation, demanding thousands in “grants” from the government, claiming that their businesses were “important to the community”, even though the vast majority of their income came from exploiting the labor of others. While the business world focuses on increasing productivity, and lowering costs, what the factory’s managers were doing was entirely the opposite: making sure that they kept their workers impoverished, and that they paid as little as possible in salaries, while also maximizing their profits, and minimizing their tax liabilities.