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Vol. 75/No. 46      December 19, 2011

New Zealand: Locked-out
meat workers win support
MARTON, New Zealand—Five firefighters from the nearby city of Whanganui joined the early morning picket here Nov. 29 to show support for 100 meat workers locked out since Oct. 19 by Canterbury Meat Packers Rangitikei. The workers, members of the New Zealand Meat Workers Union, are resisting company demands for up to 20 percent pay cuts, shift changes and eliminating allowances for cleaning gear at breaks and for night shift.

The previous day workers rejected a new offer from the company by a 64-3 margin, union organizer Robbie Magge told the Militant.

“The only movement from the company’s last offer is that they are offering to give back 2.5 percent of the pay cut in April 2013 rather than 2 percent in October 2013,” said Helen Kelly, president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, in a press release. “The workers have offered to sacrifice 10 percent of their pay despite their average annual income being only around $45,000 [US$34,500].”

Plant manager Darryl Mackenzie told the Wanganui Chronicle Nov. 3 the cuts were necessary for the plant’s viability because it faces difficulties sourcing stock. The lamb crop this year is the second smallest since 1956. The company did not return calls from the Militant.

Bosses are operating the plant with nonunion workers who have signed the contract. Magee estimates they are processing less than 75 percent of its normal tally. Most lamb plants around New Zealand are not yet in full seasonal production because of the stock shortage. A small second shift has just begun.

The company stopped the kill for a day Nov. 17, in anticipation of an expanded picket line. Fifty Meat Workers Union participants attending a national conference joined the 200-strong picket, along with 15 members of the Maritime Union.

On Nov. 24, 40 Firefighter union delegates joined the picket during their national conference.

The Maritime Union has donated $14,000. The Firefighters have given $5,000. Workers are organizing “bucket runs” to collect money in local towns, said TeRangi Wroe, 37, a laborer on the slaughter floor.

The strikers have begun to reach out for support internationally. On Nov. 20, Amanda Chase, who works in the plant’s boning room, flew to London to speak at the Unite union’s national meat workers conference.

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions has announced fund-raising pickets at McDonald’s around the country Dec. 3. The parent company of Canterbury Meat Packers, ANZCO Foods, supplies meat patties to McDonald’s.

“It’s going to be hard from here,” said Trevor Collins, 53, a butcher at the plant, “with Christmas, people will come under pressure from families.” He noted that the newspapers had a “general reluctance to print anything factual.” When he goes to the supermarket in his union T-shirt, people think he is on strike for a pay rise, he said.

Despite being locked out for six weeks, workers remain determined. “We’re never going to take back what we’ve lost now,” said Tim Minchin, 51, a boner. “If we go back we’ll lose even more.”

Donations to the locked-out workers can be made by online transfer to account number: 38-9007-0894028-08, account name: Disputes Fund.

Annalucia Vermunt contributed to this article.
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