Tiny Kirk, our former Meat Workers Union General Secretary from 1993 to 2002 passed away peacefully on Wednesday, 23rd October, surrounded by his family.
He was an official for the Canterbury Branch for a number of years before becoming Assistant Secretary to the General Secretary and then was elected to the National General Secretary's role in 1992. Tiny was the General Secretary during the turbulent years of the 1990's, when the then National Government had implemented the Employment Contracts Act - legislation designed to crush unions, cut wages and make collective bargaining all but impossible for most NZ Workers but Tiny led our union through that time, and he was passionate about ensuring that meat workers were able to fight back.
From the Christchurch Press February 2, 2002 : "Union Boss ends challenging career".
"When Tiny Kirk started work for the union, everyone wore a tie. But surveying the rows of photographs lining the New Zealand Meatworkers' Union's meeting room yesterday, the retiring general secretary conceded times had changed. "Look at these men," he said, pointing to a faded picture hanging on the light-soaked wall.
"They're in suits and ties, but a couple of hours before they were up to their elbows in blood. They were the days when no-one would have dared meet the bosses without a tie."
Tiny Kirk had worn a tie for the union since 1965, eight years after starting work as a slaughterman at the Canterbury Frozen Meat plant in Belfast. He was as surprised as his co-workers to be elected plant representative, but that soon became his life's calling. At 30, Mr Kirk was the youngest to hold an elected position. And more than 30 years later, at 67, he has finished the oldest.
"A lot has changed over my time _ we were instrumental in getting three weeks annual leave in 1972 and we were the first union to get equal pay _ but I'll be the first to say not everything has gone for the better. The challenges still come, and there will be more."
Tiny Kirk said the challenges of the 1950s and 1960s were nothing compared with the 1980s. When he started in the union, the major battle was with the master-servant mentality of British plant owners. By the 1980s, it was to keep the plants open at all.
"Things were grim then, and morale was low because of decisions being made in boardrooms that were a world away from the plants. It was a time when 1600 people could be told at 4.30pm not to turn up to work the next day."
Mr Kirk said things got worse under the Employment Contracts Act, with unions being further marginalised and workers being less aware of their rights. But even with the new Employment Relations Act, the challenges remained. "I still believe that workers are worried about their future, and that this won't change until some employers start to recognise the value of their staff.
"I'm sure the closures we've had in the past are just the start. There will be more, but when is in someone else's hands." Mr Kirk said retirement meant he could leave the old scores in the past, to concentrate on settling new scores on the New Brighton club's bowling green. It would also mean losing a tie to the past. For a long time he had seen the union national executive photographs and he was the only one in a tie.
"Well, that's going to change."
Rest In Peace Tiny
Tiny’s funeral service is at :
1.00pm Wednesday 30th October 2019.
John Rhind Funerals
19/15 London Street
Fair Pay Agreements are in the news this week as the CTU calls for progress on this, and media commentaries suggest that there is a developing rift between Labour and unions.
Fair Pay Agreements as Labour Party policy have been fought for by Affiliated Labour Unions since 2014. Originally called Industry Standard Agreements, and driven by Helen Kelly, there was comprehensive policy adopted by the Labour Policy.
Helen Kelly often made the case by comparing the situation of a Four-Square worker in Kaitaia and how difficult it was for her to join a union and become part of collective bargaining under our current (despite amendments) employment legislation.
Since then, there has been a Working Group report led by the former PM Hon Jim Bolger, who has reflected and quite bravely owned up to the impact of the policies his government introduced in the 1990’s with the Employment Contracts Act.
The case was well made out in the Working Group’s report and has been repeated elsewhere, even in the OECD and IMF who have noted that New Zealand has one of the lowest level of collective bargaining in the OECD.
Today a Discussion Paper has been released. It recognises that wages need to be lifted and the economic system is failing workers ; and that Fair Pay Agreements will help fix this.
Predictably, the Business Sector has continuously opposed the idea of improving standards in industries for those who are most likely not to have collective agreements or be able to join unions. They continue to maintain that any improvements that will increase the share of the labour workers provide workers have are “1970s or 1980s.”
The media are of playing this up as a loss for the Labour Party and a rift with Unions. Of course, unions are disappointed that this flagship policy appears to have stalled. Reading between the lines there are two things : first is the Coalition votes and the second is Business Confidence reaction, which gets more headlines than the reality for many workers.
Unions will never give up. We union fighters know it sometimes takes years for unions win, but we do and we have. Think four weeks annual leave, paid parental leave, health and safety, minimum wage.
Fair Pay Agreements are an essential part of a fair economy. It’s just not good enough to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that everyone is better off. They’re not.
The CTU has now launched this campaign to ensure working people's voices are heard in the consultation around the design of Fair Pay Agreements, and to ensure the coalition government gets on with it.
The Employment Relations (Triangular Employment) Bill was last week passed into law in the name of Labour MP Kieran McAnulty with support from Labour, Greens & NZ First. This was a members’ Bill originally drafted by MWU Organising Director Darien Fenton when she was a Labour MP. The final Bill gives the right of workers who are employed by one company, but assigned to another to extend any personal grievance claims to both the controlling company (ie the company they are employed by) and the company that they are sent to work in.Read more
The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) has released an independent report conducted by economic research company BERL into the validity of sector bargaining.
And the findings are clear - there is no economic reason not to implement sector bargaining but many social and individual wellbeing reasons to do so.Read more