AFFCO and Meat Workers Union both holding firm

Getting on for two months into the lock out interspersed with strikes, both sides in this struggle are holding firm. There was a brief moment of hope of some degree of resolution at last week’s mediation, but it appears that after some progress in the morning, it all went downhill in the afternoon with some suggestion the union representatives weren’t all in agreement about what they were after.


At present the meat workers who are union members are in the middle of a seven day strike (or five day depending on your definition of a week) until Friday. However AFFCO says more than half its workforce are on individual employment agreements which means it can continue operating at something close to three quarter capacity.


The next move in the struggle will be next week’sEmployment Courthearing of the union’s application for an injunction to compel AFFCO to lift the lock out. This will clearly be a decisive turning point when AFFCO could either be forced to take the locked out workers back to work under the terms of the present agreement or will be given carte blanche to continue with its strategy.


If there was ever a season for a long disagreement with the union, this is the one for AFFCO to have chosen. The amount of rain, relatively warm temperatures and low sunlight hours mean grass growth has continued in every region in theNorthIslandwith absolutely no possibility of a drought. Livestock flows have been well below peak levels, but the season will have a long tail while numbers gradually catch up with forward projections on the way into winter in July.


AFFCO is obviously resigned to being unable to process at full capacity until either a new core collective agreement is signed or it gains enough non-union workers on IEAs to man the chains fully. The option it clearly doesn’t want is to be ordered by theEmployment Courtto lift the lock out, because this will have solved nothing for the longer term. The outcome will inevitably be a continuation of strikes while the parties start talking or refusing to talk to each other.


Either way, the cost to the company will be expressed in reduced profitability because of lower recovery of fixed overheads and less product to sell. From the human perspective, locked out or striking workers don’t earn anything which causes grief particularly in small communities like Moerewa and Wairoa where AFFCO is the major employer. It also often involves several members of the same family which only adds to the hardship, if all of them are out of work.


This dispute looks as if it could be resolved quite easily with some flexibility, especially on the part of the Meat Workers Union, and I question whether the union is actually representing the best interests of its members by sticking rigidly to historic principles of trade unionism. I understand from AFFCO that the key issues concern length of the day’s shift, seniority and drug testing, which the union appear to consider as non negotiable.


However I am aware of other collective agreements which are currently operating in the industry where these issues are not a problem. For instance at least one agreement acknowledges seniority as the guiding principle for worker lay offs, provided other factors such as skill, competence and attendance records are not an issue.


Unfortunately industrial disputes are never solved by lock outs and strikes and the parties will have to start negotiating constructively before any resolution can occur. AFFCO’s plants are distributed throughout theNorthIslandand at least four different union representatives are involved in the negotiations which is part of the problem.


Until the Meat Workers Union sorts out a more constructive method of engagement with AFFCO, it is unlikely to make progress towards what should be its guiding principle – getting all its members back to work on fair terms and conditions as soon as possible.


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2 Responses to “AFFCO and Meat Workers Union both holding firm”

  1. Rural round-up « Homepaddock Says:

    […] AFFCO and meatworkers both holding firm – Allan Barber: […]

  2. AFFCO and Meat Workers Union both holding firm | It's MeatExportNZ Says:

    […] some suggestion the union representatives weren’t all in agreement about what they were after. Read more… Share this:ShareEmailPrint This entry was posted in In The Office and tagged AFFCO, Allan Barber, […]

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