Canterbury Meat Packers Rangitikei, which slaughters lamb, is one of five large meat plants in the country owned by ANZCO Foods Ltd., which also owns smaller plants and a cattle feedlot.
The rejected contract, according to union organizer Robbie Magee, included pay cuts of 20 to 30 percent, shift changes that lengthen the workweek, elimination of allowances for cleaning gear at breaks and for night shift, a reduction of pay during mechanical breakdowns, and cuts in severance payments.
Workers have been incredibly generous in their offerthey are prepared to take a 10 percent pay cut, said a press release from the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions.
I believe the company planned this from the beginning of the year, said Trevor Collis, a 53-year-old butcher who stands to lose 30 percent in take home pay and was also told he had to change his shift. I dont think they anticipated us staying out this long or getting this kind of support.
The company told the union in March that it wanted concessions, according to Magee. On October 3, just after the old contract had expired, and after weeks of short pay due to the annual low production season, workers were told they would be locked out if they did not sign the new agreement, he said.
Leading up to the lockout company representatives visited workers at home and held meetings to pressure them to sign, said Magee. Night shift workers laid off over the slow season were offered day shifts at higher wages for signing.
After contacting Canterbury Meat Packers Rangitikei for a statement, a receptionist referred the Militant to a company press release issued November 14. We are asking employees to take these cuts now so that we can ensure the viability of the plant and not have any job losses, it said.
About 190 workers have individually signed the contract, but so far the company has only been able to operate one shift. In New Zealand, nonunion workers can sign contracts as individuals outside of collective agreements with a union. On the second day of the lockout, it was forced to fly meat inspectors in by helicopter when the plants inspectors refused to work.
Police, present every day, are preventing picketers from stopping traffic in and out of the plant. Picketers are handing out leaflets in English and Samoan to workers going in, urging them to join the unions fight for a better contract. They have also leafleted a local farmers market and letterboxes in nearby towns.
I have never been on a picket line and am learning things, said Lovey Jonathan, 59, a butcher at the Canterbury Meat Packers plant for six years. Everyone here is very staunch. I want to be staunch as well because I dont want to work my guts out for less money.
Donations of food and money are coming in, including $1,000 from a fund-raising concert in Auckland. While this reporter was at the picket line, a large tray of hot pies and bottles of flavored milk were dropped off by a local milk vendor.
Workers locked out in New Zealand are eligible for emergency welfare payments, but many spoke of the red tape and snooping they face when applying for these.
On November 10 union members voted 100 percent to reject a slightly revised company offer. Talks with the company are continuing.
Were not just fighting for ourselves, were fighting for the other little plants around here, said Terangi Wroe, 37, a laborer on the slaughter floor. Theyll do the same to them, and if that happens Ill be on their picket line.
Donations to the locked-out workers can be made by online transfer to account number: 38-9007-0894028-08, account name: Disputes Fund.
Baskaran Appu contributed to this article.
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