Jobs in Ballarat could be at risk if European countries flood the Australian market with cheap potato products - workers are taking a stand.
On Friday, workers at McCain's food processing facility in Ballarat will meet to bring more attention to the issue, which could affect potato growers across the district.
The sector has faced a drastic downturn during the Covid-19 pandemic - while production has continued, and retail sales have gone up, sporting grounds have not been buying chips.
That's a massive market - it's understood about a semi-trailer worth of fries is sold at each AFL match, for example.
But there are fears cheaper European potato products, potentially up to 80 per cent below market price, could be dumped in Australia, forcing local competitors to cut prices and potentially jobs.
Each year Australia grows about 1.4 million tonnes of potatoes, with about 100,000 tonnes of processing potatoes grown in the Ballarat region.
READ MORE: Spud farmers dig up bountiful harvest
About 75 per cent of potatoes consumed in Australia are grown in our soil.
AUSVEG, the industry group for vegetable growers, is keeping a close eye on developments.
Chief executive James Whiteside said while the organisation is not associated with the demonstration on Friday, it's important to send the message to decision makers in government.
"We're watching it closely, and engaging with the government to make sure the mechanisms available are fully understood and utilised," he said.
"If (the cheap products) come into Australia, it will put at risk domestic processing, and growing potatoes for domestic processing."
He added local supply chains should be a priority, given the near-collapse of global systems during the pandemic.
That's echoed by one of the organisers of Friday's demonstration - Australian Manufacturing Workers Union McCain delegate Ross Kenna said he hoped the demonstration, at 11am, would get the message out to the broader public as well as politicians.
"The pandemic's shown the holes we've got in our manufacturing and distribution systems, and we have to make sure we protect our local industries that are up and running," he said.
"Our whole economy is under stress, the last thing we need is subsidised foreign french fries being dumped."
Mr Kenna has worked at the Ballarat facility for 17 years, and said more than 600 people are employed in various roles, but if the industry takes a hit, suppliers and contractors would also be affected.
"Our national secretary has drafted a letter to the prime minister, officially outlining the AMWU's request that they block anything if the Europeans do try to dump (cheap fries)," he said.
"Friday is about showing not only the Ballarat community, but also the workforce, that unions and MPs are on side, and we want to do our best to ensure this massive industry is kept in Ballarat and keeps producing local french fries.
"We manufacture the best fries in the world, I'm hopeful we'll be around for a long time to come."
McCain was contacted for comment.
- with Hayley Elg
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