Friday, 6 March 2015

Why the Meat Workers deserve your attention right now.

Yesterday I went to learn about what our local meat workers are facing at a meeting held by the Meatworkers Union in Ngaruawahia. As you can see above, Andrew Little was there too. And Grant Robertson and Nanaia Mahuta.  Sue Moroney was there earlier. They were there to support a new movement called "Jobs That Count" that will tell the meat worker's stories.

The Affco workers at Horotiu had their collective agreement expire in December 2013. As of December 2014, as a new agreement had not been reached, all the Affco employees went onto individual employment agreements that were the same as their collective. But if you get a job there as of Monday 9th March, due to the last lot of amendments to the Labour laws by the Nats, which went live on Friday 6th March, your individual employment agreement won't be the same as the rest of the workers. 

We also heard of the tactics used by managers at various sites to block unions and workers becoming unionised.  Union organisers are often not allowed on site to meet workers.   Workers are also dropped after 90 days because they've joined the union or are called to the office and intimidated if they want to join the union.  Misdemeanours are collected to fire workers.  Most of this amounts to workplace bullying.  Some union organisers have held onto union membership forms for two years waiting for a worker to get passed 90 days of employment before presenting the forms to ensure that workers still have a job!

Despite numerous court proceeding taken by the union against practices such as above being used by Talleys and Affco, they continue to flout laws about union representation and other employment laws.

That agreement was hard fought for after a lockout by Affco/Talleys three years ago.  The workers were on strike and consequently locked out for three months.  That's a long time with no pay.  Other unions got together and raised $250,000 to see those workers through the time when their money ran out.

Since their last agreement expired in December 2013, there have been ten days of negotiations.  Nothing new was brought to the table until the tenth day by the employers.  These new demands are not necessarily to the benefit of the workers either.

Unfortunately, Talleys has a history of being a difficult employer.  So the pressure needs to be applied to them to meet the law.  During the lockout, that pressure came from the Meat Workers Union, other unions, politicians and from consumers.

On Thursday night, Andrew Little addressed Labour supporters in Hamilton.  He told a story about when he was with the EMPU how they worked together with Fonterra to increase productivity and maintenance of the plant which also had great outcomes for the workers.  Fonterra gained massive advantages from this process, and it goes to show great things happen for business and workers when the business works constructively with unions representing their workers.

Which makes you wonder why corporations are so anti-union....

With the bargaining rules changed there are implications for all workers in New Zealand.  Under the new rules an employer can deem that negotiations have ceased at any point and take the negotiations to mediation or arbitration.  The power lies with the employer and good faith may walk quickly out the door.

What is happening to the meat workers union has implications for all unions and workers in New Zealand. They are about to test the changes to bargaining that went live on Friday.  For other workers, like teachers and nurses, who have their collectives up for renegotiation this year, what happens to the meat workers is vital and needs to be followed closely.  And that is why, as an NZEI member, I attended.

So what can you do?

Firstly, as a union member, be informed about your industries issues and know what the union is doing and how you can help.  Every little bit counts.  Be informed about the issues for other industries and follow what their unions are doing.

Secondly, send Talleys a message about how to treat their workers and Affco workers by not buying any Talleys products.  Talleys sell frozen vegetables, seafood, dairy products like ice cream and meat - keep buying the meat to support the meat workers, but send Talleys a message about how their treat their workers and Affco workers by not purchasing their vegetables, seafood and ice cream.

And finally, google (or click here) Jobs That Count or find them on Facebook.  If you are a meat worker, share your story.  If you aren't, send them a message of support.  And follow the events and issues as they unfold.

And that's my arm on the left in the top photo. 

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