Joe Hendren

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Open Country Cheese locks out workers seeking a union agreement

Open Country Cheese, a dairy product manufacturer set up by a couple of former National party cabinet ministers is planning to lock out its 100 staff for the audacity of seeking a collective agreement with basic redundancy and transfer of undertakings protection.

The company is also adopting aggressive public relations stance by telling lies about the wage claims made by the members of the Dairy Workers Union, and is enlisting farmers to make unsubstantiated comments in Open Country press releases, and encouraging them to scab on the workers by doing their jobs while they are locked out. The farmers involved are nothing but a modern version of Massey's Cossacks - the farmers who came to town to break the 1913 Waterfront dispute. The farmers ought to be wary here - the distaste of the towns for their behaviour was one of the drivers behind the formation of the Labour party in 1916.

Nor should the farmers be so ready to support Open Country's outright bullying tactics. One only needs to look at how the supermarkets have treated their suppliers to see how easy the company could later decide to maximise its own profits by pressuring the farmers into accepting lower and lower returns.

Open Country farmer Brendan Barrett claims the Dairy Workers Union approach is “outrageous” given the perilous state of the industry. “How the Union can credibly claim anything other than the status quo is beyond me. Suppliers have just had a 35% pay cut this year, and forecast another 15% drop this year. Our own returns have fallen 50% and yet the Union is demanding huge page increases."

Three days after this Open Country press release, the company increased its advance payment to farmers from $2.90 per kg of milk solids to $3.05, which appears to contradict the attempt at doom and gloom above. Is the timing of this increase really an coincidence?

Over on Red Alert Dairy Workers Union National Secretary James Ritchie outlines the very moderate claims the workers are seeking:
"There is no wage increase on the table. Workers are seeking a collective agreement which protects them from being made temporary or casual at any time. They want a say on how their rosters and hours of work can be changed so their family lives are not disrupted without notice and consultation. They want temp workers to be paid the same rate for the job after 3 months. They want temp workers to be made permanent after 11 months service. They want redundancy compensation if made redundant and they want to be paid for a meal break if they can’t leave the plant. - Most of all they want to be treated as human beings- not a commodity to be tossed aside when no longer required. They want decent jobs."

The Dairy Workers Union have not been involved in a strike for 20 years, so attempts to portray them as a 'radical union' are not going to have any credibility. Faced with a deeply ideological employer it seems Open Country have given the union no other option but to issue notice of strike action. Like the attitude of Infratil towards their bus drivers, the company have grossly overreacted to the situation by imposing a lockout.

Talleys Group, who the Standard have dubbed 'the worst employers in New Zealand' are the largest shareholder in Open Country Dairy, which in turn owns 100% of Open Country Cheese. Andew Talley and former National party cabinet minister Wyatt Creech are on both Open Country boards.

NoRightTurn points out that the actions of the company in imposing the lockout are a prima facie case of illegal undue influence, as employees have a legal right to decide whether to join the union or not. Open Country have demonstrated their ignorance of current industrial law by calling for industrial action to be restricted in the dairy industry, when in fact the industry already is classed as an 'essential industry'. There is no way protecting farmers profits should be treated as essential as firefighters, so NoRightTurn has drafted a bill to correct this error - it would be great if the bill could be drawn from the ballot in the next six weeks...

Please support the cheese workers at Open Country and help beat these ideological corporate bullies.

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At 12:57 am, Blogger Idiot/Savant said...

it would be great if the bill could be drawn from the ballot in the next six weeks...

Someone would have to decide to put it up first. And so far, there have been no takers.

Chickenshits, the lot of them.


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