Affco to Lock Out New Zealand Meatworkers Indefinitely

Published: 10:06AM Sunday February 26, 2012 Source: ONE News

The union representing 762 meat workers set to be locked out by their employer is calling for a mediation session to resolve the issue.

The Meat Workers Union and Affco have been at loggerheads over the past 18 months over a collective employment agreement.

The two parties have been negotiating a new agreement for the past three months. But on Friday the union was sent a lockout notice and named 762 workers who will be locked out of five Affco plants indefinitely across the North Island unless they agree to company's latest employment offer.

The union said today it has requested a mediation session with Affco on Tuesday to avoid the lockout.

Meat Workers Union secretary Dave Eastlake said the company is trying to "starve workers" into accepting major changes to its collective employment agreement, giving the company total flexibility in its terms of employment.

"Our members will be shocked that this company, now wholly owned by the Talley family, has taken such a cruel and unnecessary step in order to get exactly what it wants in their employment agreement," he said in a statement on Friday.

But Affco said in a statement that the company wants employment agreements similar to those its competitors enjoy.

"The company is fighting as to who manages Affco. Essentially it is a struggle over management control".

"We cannot and will not accept the productivity destroying arrangements proposed by the Union. Most of our competition do not have to contend with such restrictions."

"The company has listed a number of issues, including the company's right to determine with flexibility the setting of manning and process line speeds, as well as dispute resolutions, drug testing, and the training of new and existing employees.

Affco said it has offered a 2.3% increase to current paid rates for year one and a further 2.0% for year two, "if agreement is reached without dispute and adherence to those provisions which are enjoyed by the majority of Affco's competitors".

Lockout "appalling"

The Green Party is calling meat-processing company Affco's plan to lockout 762 workers from five sites "an appalling reaction to its disagreement regarding workers' rights".

Green Party industrial relations spokesperson Denise Roche says that Talley's Group Limited, which owns Affco, has an awful record of mistreating workers and could not be trusted to negotiate a collective employment contract in good faith.

"The workers shouldn't have to accept the casualisation of their jobs for Talley's to agree to the collective employment contracts," Roche said.

She said Talley's demands included forcing staff into working with flexible rosters and shift hours, and having no guarantee of work.

"It's appalling that such a profitable company is using its might to bully low-paid staff into accepting such unreasonable terms of employment.

"Imagine what it's like living day-by-day not knowing whether you can make enough money to feed your family."

The Greens Pary says that Talley's last year recorded $21 million net profit.

Labour's spokesperson for labour issues Darien Fenton said the lockout notice was "another indication of worsening industrial relations" in New Zealand.      

'Locking out the entire workforce across the country is extreme," Fenton said.

"This brutal tactic has already seen 100 CMP Meat workers forced to take cuts to pay and conditions last year.

"There appears to be a growing determination among some employers to casualise and deunionise their workplaces, as we are seeing at the Ports of Auckland."

Ports and its workers are expected to meet for a fresh round of talks next Thursday and Friday.

Around 300 Maritime Union members began a three week strike at the container terminal on Friday.

Under the proposal the port would make employees redundant and hire workers through new stevedoring contracting companies.