Just over a year ago, the NZ Meat Workers Union launched a new campaign for Job Security in the Meat Industry called Jobs that Count. This was a positive campaign where NZMWU union members sought to add their voice to how our number two export industry could succeed.
They also wanted dialogue about better recognition of their skills and commitment, along with the all important issue of job security.
Meat Workers aren't asking for a lot with Jobs that Count.
Like all workers, they want to know the work they do is valued and appreciated. It's not rocket science. Successful companies know this means recognising skills, listening to workers ideas, not being afraid to work with the union with fair collective agreements and proactively working with staff to ensure better safety at work.
A year ago, meat workers told their stories about the hundreds of years of experience and skill they have in the Meat Industry, how they are proud of what they do, and the generations of their families who have worked in the Freezing Works in their mostly, smaller, rural communities.
In launching Jobs that Count, meat workers warned of a race to the bottom where the cost of labour and wages becomes the competition, rather than quality, safety and productivity.
A CHALLENGE TO THE INDUSTRY
Changes in the Meat Industry are making it harder for workers to earn a living. Structural changes to the industry means more casualisation and undermining of long established rights, including recognition of skill and service.
Jobs that Count is a challenge to all players in the industry. Meat Workers believe that a largely, rurally based industry, where generations of families have contributed needs the involvement and respect of those who do the work.
HOW MUCH HAS CHANGED?
In the past year, there's been a lot of talk around changes in the Meat Industry. The Meat Industry Excellence group proposed changes to the industry structure based on the co-operative model by farmers, similar to Fonterra. That fell over when Silver Fern Farms responded to a debt crisis by bringing in foreign investment at a level unprecedented in the meat industry. Meanwhile, the government sat on its hands and said it was up to the industry to come up with solutions.
AFFCO Talleys embarked on yet another war with its workers, where the main motivation appears to be destroying the involvement of their union, the NZ Meat Workers Union. This has resulted in major litigation and wasted resources in union busting that has distracted the whole industry.
Meanwhile other issues, such as health & safety gained more attention. To his credit, at least one company CEO embarked on a determined attempt to eliminate all hazards with a no blame culture. But others didn't. Accidents of meat workers continue apace, with the meat industry having the worst statistics in the manufacturing sector.
The Meat Industry Association engaged with the meat workers union around the issue of immigration of Halal Slaughtermen. That's a start, but having a voice means genuine involvement, not just on the issues that suit the industry.
As we head into 2016, nearly 200 workers at AFFCO Talley Wairoa who were unlawfully locked out are still not back at work despite a court ruling on 18 November. Two union delegates at AFFCO Rangiuru have been sacked. Talley's describes the "Jobs that Count" branded tshirts as intimidating and offensive and seeks to punish any workers who turn up to work wearing them. There is major litigation on a range of fronts, with Talley's South Pacific Meats in the South Island, the Meat Workers Union application to have the terms and conditions of the collective agreement for AFFCO Talleys fixed by the court because of their undermining of the union -and Talley's application to appeal the decision of the full bench of the Employment Court in November 2015.
Some big agreements are up for negotiation this year outside of Talley's. While all eyes have been on Talley's in the media, there are thousands of other Meat Workers union members throughout the county to whom Jobs that Count is just as important.
The big test for other Meat Companies is whether they are prepared to stand up to the Talley's model and demonstrate that there is a better way to succeed, as envisioned by the Jobs that Count campaign a year ago.
Thank you to all who support our campaign for fairness for freezing workers. There's a lot more work to do.