By Joshua O’Sullivan
Talley’s group is one of the most notorious employers known in the union world. The Talley’s family has made it their personal mission to destroy unionism in New Zealand and they are starting with their own companies. Again the employers are in a dispute with their meat workers, trying to force further cuts in workers benefits and pay.
In Rangiuru, an AFFCO processing plant in Te Puke, Bay of Plenty, the bosses have begun an unofficial lockout trying to force union members onto individual contracts with lower pay and longer hours. Workers have been given just a week to sign – meaning that if they do not sign they cannot return to work the next week. These new contracts contain many of the provisions the company has been trying to force through collective bargaining and the lockouts in 2011.
The union has filed legal action in the Employment Court for an injunction to stop the company requiring workers to sign an individual agreement to get a job, on the grounds this is an unlawful lockout. However, the court sided with the company knocking back the injunction to open up the attacks on workers. The new contracts are filthy and are being forced upon workers by holding their jobs over their heads if they don’t sign them.
Helen Kelly, president of the Council of Trade Unions said of the contracts “Their privacy can be invaded when a company wants to look at their medical records, they can be dismissed for raising a matter with a health and safety inspector outside of work that brings the company into disrepute.
“The conditions of the individual agreement are the sort of conditions that you might see in a contract for serfs, not for loyal hardworking workers.”
These new contracts come hot on the heels of media reports from Talley’s AFFCO workers and employment relations authority cases of abuse and lacklustre health and safety standards across the whole of the company. Talley’s AFFCO had to pay out compensation for a worker forced to clean a freezer after a chemical wash resulting in poisoning within 15 minutes. Another worker was awarded $12,000 in compensation after mistreatment by bosses when his arm was sliced open resulting in severe nerve damage. His bosses refused to take him to the emergency department and he had to drive himself. These are just two stories of the 1286 workplace injuries that happened at Talley’s AFFCO plants last year (even conservatively this is 5% of the entire workforce.) During all this the company has been campaigning hard for a loosening of health and safety laws with the National government, whose attempts so far have been stymied by backbenchers under the leadership of Judith Collins complaining that the reforms don’t go far enough.
This is a continuation of the long-term strategy of the Talley’s family towards unions. In 2011 they locked out all their workers nationally trying to force them to take a 25% pay cut, little to no access for the union and force individual agreements – and after a long contested battle with the union. Now the company has new demands. The bosses still want workers to accept $100 a week in cuts and longer hours. These disgusting actions go from the very top, through active campaigning for parliamentary change to management on the processing floor intimidating and abusing union members. In the season start after the lockout leading union members were targeted and were not rehired for the season. Because of the seasonal nature of the work, meat workers are always in danger of not being rehired next season if they bring up any issues.
Even just talking to your local MP can be dangerous for your job as one worker found out when she was threatened after speaking to her local MP about the conditions within the processing plant. In 2012 a worker was bullied and harassed by management, intimidating him while cutting open a heart in front of him. These are just some of the stories to come out of the chop shop of horrors that is Talley’s AFFCO.
The reason that Talley’s AFFCO can even push these individual contracts is because of the new employment laws that came into force in March. Most of us were appalled about the loss of our tea breaks – but much more serious were the changes to union representation and access to worksites. Again these legal changes were championed by AFFCO, and through their actions at the negotiating table have shown that they purposefully delayed these negotiations to take advantage of the new laws.
We need to rally behind the workers at Rangiuru, as this is the thin edge of the wedge that bosses in Aotearoa are driving to smash unions in New Zealand. When they say cutback we say fightback!
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