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Vol. 75/No. 38      October 24, 2011

Paprika workers in
New Zealand fight layoffs
WARKWORTH, New Zealand—“We won something instead of nothing,” said Botau Retire, union delegate for the Northern Amalgamated Workers Union, referring to a fight here against layoffs at Southern Paprika.

The workers accepted a deal in which 13 would be laid off, but will be rehired in November as permanent seasonal workers for five to nine months each year. All will receive severance payments.

Southern Paprika employs nearly 70 people in this small town, an hour’s drive north of Auckland. The company grows, grades and packs capsicum, mainly for export to Japan. Most of the workers are immigrants from the South Pacific islands of Kiribati and Tuvalu.

Retire, 22, has worked for Southern Paprika for two and a half years. Last year in response to discrepancies in bonus payments and abusive treatment, he decided to join a union. A Google search brought up the Amalgamated Workers Union and he joined online. A further 25 joined after an open meeting organized by the union at the plant, though numbers have dropped since under company intimidation. Ten of those who will be laid off are union members.

Workers also were angered by a text message received on a company cellphone earlier this year. It said, “The best Christmas present I could have would be a black man swinging from a tree.” No one was ever held responsible for the incident.

Workers planned their fight through meetings at the plant open to both union and nonunion workers and at a public meeting in town September 14, organized together with the local Kiribati community.

Puna Tokia, 29, who was laid off, said he doesn’t feel secure under the new arrangement. There is no money to send back to his family in Kiribati and he is worried the redundancy money (unemployment payments) will run out before he goes back to work. “It seems unfair—just because we joined the union,” he said.

Baskaran Appu contributed to this article.
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