SYDNEY—Staff from NSW’s food safety testing laboratory walked off the job on April 29 in protest against moves to privatise food safety testing.
About 100 employees from the food testing branch of the Forensic Analytical Science Services (FASS) participated in the strike to express their concerns over plans to axe the branch after the NSW Food Authority did not renew its contract.
The Food Authority is seeking to work with private laboratories, putting the jobs of 17 scientists and technical officers at risk.
Health Services Union NSW Secretary Gerard Hayes says the move to a private tender would compromise the independence of the testing.
“A private operator will have to meet commercial objectives and deadlines. Their primary motivation will always be profit, not public health. Whilst they could be marginally cheaper, do we really want the quality of food testing [to be] based on commerce, rather than the public interest?” Mr Hayes said in a statement.
He also said the move was “just another step” in newly appointed NSW Premier Mike Baird’s plan to privatise the state’s health services.
However, NSW Health Pathology said the current arrangement between NSW Food Authority and FASS was already based on a commercial contract, reported AAP.
The NSW Food Authority works with a range of commercial food testing laboratories and has previously employed 18 approved analysts working in commercial labs.
FASS director Kevin Forward said his decision was based on cost blowouts and the lab’s inability to efficiently compete with the private sector, reported Fairfax.
“The decision also means the NSW Food Authority will be able to benefit from a wider range of expertise that exists in the marketplace,” Mr Forward said.
Jo Di Pietro, a FASS lab worker and union delegate, said the food testing lab is the only one in the country that participated in international norovirus trials. She expressed her concerns with the lack of consideration over quality in the private sector.
“Science is an expensive process and you can’t aim to get any money out of it. I’ve worked in private laboratories and I’m aware of the push to get the work through. There was no consideration for quality,” she said, according to Fairfax.