Affco, which is owned by the wealthy Talley family, have announced they have locked out union members at their Affco freezing works after they encountered resistance to new provisions to their collective contracts from the Meat Workers’ Union who object to the pay and working conditions being put forward by Affco management.
Management and union negotiators have been wrangling over proposed new pay and working conditions for the last eighteen months with Affco management announcing that it was not going to let the union dictate how the company ran its business. On Wednesday, February 29th, 2011, Affco locked out a total of 760 union workers at their five meat works that they will be indefinitely locked out until they sign their new contracts, a situation that is widely predicted to cause great hardship in communities already hit hard by unemployment, especially in small towns like Moerewa where the Meat Workers’ Union represents 122 workers or nearly 70% of Affco’s work force and 8% of its population of 1460.
The lockout is expected to adversely impact on local businesses as most workers spend their money in the town. Meat Workers’ Union Secretary, Laurie Nankivell, adds that the Affco meat works is the largest employer by far in the town and the lockout will also impact upon the wider community as most families are reliant on the one income from the meat works.
The impact on the community in Moerewa isn’t just going to hit the families of the workers who have been locked out. The principal of Moerewa School, Keri Milne-Ihimaera, remarked that "When there's uncertainty or stress in families, children are affected by that and the Affco lockout will certainly cause both of things to occur…. Maybe children may not have as much food in the house as they might usually have, or maybe it's going to be stationery items they might need that would not usually be a problem."
Roger Middlemass, President of the Meat Workers’ Union, states the issue isn’t so much about the 4.3% pay increase being offered to the workers but about the conditions including concerns about the setting of manning and process line speeds, random drug-testing procedures, training employees and operational parameters for processing lines when new technology was introduced.
Affco spokesman and operations director Rowen Ogg stated there had been nine challenges filed with the Employment Court contesting their management and operations procedures and claimed the dispute was a battle for control of the meat works with the union was seeking to increase its power and impose restrictions that most of their competitors didn’t have to contend with.
The claims made by the management of Affco would be laughable in today’s employment climate where employers can, and do, routinely ride roughshod over the rights of workers, especially new workers covered by the 90 day “hire and fire at will” law, with the full support of the right-wing bourgeoisie media and the National-led government who continue to bring up the bogeyman of “cloth cap unionism” to garner support for the scabs and bourgeoisie.
To make matters worse, the company has stated that "We have a significant number of our staff who have signed individual employment agreements, and plants will continue to operate." This is just corporate-speak meaning they have hired scab labour to break the union and to smash worker solidarity by sewing seeds of bitterness and distrust amongst the workers.
These sorts of lockouts are nothing unusual and have been used by Affco to bully workers into signing individual contracts that undermine union and worker solidarity and hard fought working conditions. Last year CMP locked out 100 workers from their Marton meat works for four months, reducing workers to beggars who had to rely on benefits and church charity to put food on their tables. Now it is the turn of union workers in Moerewa, Feilding, Auckland and Whanganui’s Imlay plant to be locked out.
In recent days workers have also come under attack at the Port of Auckland where workers are also being faced with union bashing contracts and punitive pay and working conditions on their new contracts.
Now, more than ever, workers need to rally together in solidarity to fight these attacks on their fellow unionised workers because this isn’t about greedy workers demanding too much money and supposedly “gold plated” working conditions. It is about workers losing the right to be part of a union that represents their interests and losing the pay and conditions that have been hard won by workers in the past which are slowly being eaten away by union bashing legislation passed within the last twenty-odd years and employers resorting to increasingly thuggish and bullying behaviour from the capitalists as they try to hold onto their power within the workplace at any cost.
In the longer run only a socialist society will bring about the end of the exploitation and oppression of the working classes of New Zealand, including our meat workers but, in the meantime, we have to support workers' organisations, including the trade unions and the Labour Party, and fight to turn them into the militant worker organisation they should be so the the capitalists can’t play workers off against one another and smash the hard won b working conditions of the meat workers, the watersiders and the public servants.
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