Archive for September, 2009

Round One to the Dairy Workers

The struggle by the Dairy Workers Union to achieve a collective employment agreement at the Open Country Cheese factory in Waharoa has taken a small step forward with the Employment Court ruling the company’s lockout of the unionised workers illegal and ordering the company to allow the workers back to work.

Judge Travis ruled that the company could not lock out the union members without a company demand for them to agree to a collective employment agreement.

Given that the Talley’s controlled Open Country Cheese is totally opposed to having a collective agreement it does cause difficulty for OCC if they want to lock out the workers again.

Despite the court victory, however, the battle is not yet over.

From our union’s experience we know that trying to get a collective agreement from a resistant employer is a difficult and protracted experience. It requires patience, a union membership that understands the importance of the struggle, and the ability of the union concerned and the wider union movement to find the points of leverage over the company that are going to make the difference.

We welcome the victory by the Dairy Workers Union and hope that we can report their achievement of a collective employment agreement in the near future.


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Tribute to Sue Bradford

With Green MP Sue Bradford’s announcement that she will be standing down as a Member of Parliament it is timely to note the important role she has played in the House for SFWU members and workers generally.

Sue was very active during the terrible days of the early 1990s when the new National Government slashed benefit levels and stood beside unions (including our own) who fought against the introduction of the Employment Contracts Act.

While it is sometimes very difficult to make the transition between activist and politician Sue did this very well. While she was always very staunch on worker issues she also had the ability to form relationships in parliament to get wider support for legislation that addressed these issues.

Her work around the youth minimum wage legislation, the Holidays Act and her support for the legislation that gave security of employment to cleaners and food catering workers were a tribute to her ability to work across party lines and work out compromises that would get advances up, even if it was not totally what she wanted.

Sue has been a welcome guest at our union conferences and we look forward to developing a new relationship with her as community activist rather than parliamentary politician.

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Cleaners are Worth More

The Union’s Cleaners are Worth More day this week was organised to highlight the ongoing campaign to give more recognition to the workers who work into the small hours of the morning cleaning the buildings in the central of New Zealand’s major cities.

They currently get paid $12.55 an hour and are seeking the $14.62 an hour paid to cleaners in hospitals and schools.

They have rejected the miserable 25 cents an hour extra that the cleaning companies have offered and have taken their case to the public.

They generated a bit of free publicity through Parliament’s Speaker Lockwood Smith refusing to allow Labour MP Darien Fenton to table a sticker with Cleaners are Worth More written on it.

When Lockwood attacked the tabling of the sticker as being “demeaning” I could almost hear all the parliamentary cleaners shouting in unison “If you want to know what demeaning is all about then come and work with us for $12.55 an hour rather than the $100.00 an hour that you are paid.”

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Pressure Telling on Minister of Finance

There was a very interesting commentary piece on the TV3 website by reporter Duncan Garner attacking Finance Minister Bill English about hiring out his Wellington house to Ministerial Services for $950.00 a week so he could live in it.

While Bill says that it is not now owned by him, but by a family trust, and that the rent charged to Ministerial Services has now been cut to $24,000 per annum, there is something about this that stinks to high heaven.

I think what got Duncan Garner going was when Bill English, who is paid an annual salary of $276,000 personally telephoned journalists to berate them about them chasing up this story. He still thinks there is nothing wrong with this rip-off.

The most galling thing for our union members (low paid workers such as cleaners, food service workers, security workers and orderlies) is that Bill is denying them a pay increase this year through the very heavy hand of the state sector bargaining parameters. Hospital cleaners have already been told that there will be no increase without the sign off of a joint ministerial committee that includes the Minister of Finance

I think Bill has lost the plot. He needs to talk to one of our members who clean parliament for $12.55 per hour and find out what it is like to live on these wages. Perhaps then it would realize why so many people get offended when they are told they need to tighten their belts and those who are telling them this are getting fat on the public purse.

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Fighting over the Milk

The news that Open Country Cheeses have been caught pouring sludge from its Waharoa factory into the WaitoaRiver should be no surprise to anyone who has been following the politics of employment relations lately.

Normally the sludge is taken away in tankers to be scattered over farmland but given that the company is in a fight-to-the-death with its unionised workforce a bit of collateral damage through polluted waterways is obviously no major concern.

The dispute at Open Country Cheeses is simply about the boldness of the Dairy Workers Union in thinking that they could unionise and establish a collective employment agreement at a business owned by the Talley family, who have an appalling history of anti-worker behaviour.

The dispute is not even about wages. According to Dairy Workers Union National Secretary James Ritchie they don’t even have a wage claim. He says the unresolved issues are hours of work, roster changes, redundancy and restructuring protection, length of temporary workers service and the ratio of permanent workers to temporary workers.

These are bread-and-butter clauses in union collective agreements, but the Talley family are having none of this and know they have a Government that will give them behind the scenes support.

The escalation of action in Telecom against the conversion of workers to dependant contractors, in the state sector against the Government-imposed wage freeze and in companies such as Open Country Cheeses, who want to keep unions out, signals an important time for unions.

If we are to successfully beat back these attacks we need to take on each of these struggles in a strategic way and look for the widest possible support for the issues that are at stake.

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National Reaffirms State Wage Freeze

National Finance Minister Bill English has again told state sector workers that they won’t be getting a wage increase this year and has told the Sunday Star-Times that thoughts of a pay increase were “out of line with realistic expectations”.

It is okay for Bill English to say that a pay increase for our public hospital cleaners, food service workers and orderlies is unrealistic, but he gets a bigger allowance for his ministerial house than they get in their annual pay packets.

While he says that state sector workers were continuing to enjoy “good times” from the Labour Government pay increases he has no idea from his salary of over $200,000 a year that there are very few “good times” when you are earning $30,000 a year.

Our public hospital members are this week finishing a series of report backs on the negotiation of their collective employment agreements.

They have heard about the refusal of the District Health Boards to pass on the 3.1% increase they have received in Government funding this year. They have also heard that the DHBs refuse to agree to any pay increases because it would be outside the Government bargaining parameters.

Prime Minister John Key received a taste of what state sector workers are feeling when he was greeted by 50 angry firefighters at the opening of a new Auckland fire station at the weekend.

If the Government keeps up their efforts in trying to cut the real wages of state sector workers then there is probably more of this to come.

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SFWU Supports Redundancy Bill

The SFWU has joined a coalition of political parties and community groups to support Labour MP Darien Fenton’s Redundancy Bill.

Darien Fenton, ex-SFWU National Secretary, had her private member’s bill drawn out of the ballot and is already campaigning around support for it being given a first reading and sent to a Select Committee.

The Bill would establish a minimum entitlement for all redundant workers of four week’s notice and compensation of four weeks for the first year of service and two weeks for every year of service after this, up to a maximum of 26 weeks.

While many unionised workers have such conditions in their collective employment agreements hundreds of thousands of workers have nothing.

The amazing line-up of support from Labour, the Greens, the Maori Party, unions and some community groups needs to be built upon not just around this bill, but around other protections for workers suffering under the economic recession.

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