Editorial: Return to work or just leave

By Scott Inglis - editor Bay of Plenty Times


There are few things nastier than an industrial dispute.

They can be festering wounds that take ages to heal. They can rip apart workplaces, pitting management against staff and workers against their peers. Friendships can end, and working relationships can take months, even years, to recover - if they recover at all.

Picket lines are particular flash points. Staff who choose to work, run the gauntlet past strikers fighting for what they see are their rights and fair working conditions.

These strikers seek solidarity, and in their eyes have a sense of power as they stand united and defiant.

But things can turn ugly, even violent.

Each dispute will have its own distinct driving factors but in my view, there are common threads such as management and union staff wanting different things, having different philosophies, and a struggle over who actually has the power in the workplace.

Each side has its own agenda and priorities. Each is suspicious of the other.

Put these two sides in a room and each will have different versions of what the argument is about and who said what and when.

A case in point in the Western Bay is the current Talley's versus Meat Workers Union dispute at Rangiuru.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

Staff there, and at other plants across the country, have been on strike for seven weeks and hundreds have been locked out.

Our features writer Carly Gibbs explores the issue in today's Inside Story section.

Talley's has offered workers a 4.3 per cent pay rise over two years but only if a new collective agreement is signed without dispute.

The company says it wants a clear, modern, flexible collective agreement that is not subject to continued legal challenges.

The company says it is not pushing for a reduction in conditions but rather the dispute is about adhering to dispute processes, the introduction of new technology, operational flexibility, training and having a meaningful drugs-testing policy and regime.

It claims the union is digging in because of dwindling union membership at Affco sites. It also says it is fighting over who manages the company and wants to draw a line on union influence in the workplace.

But the union and its staff also put a strong case forward, likening the dispute to a David versus Goliath battle.

It says the company is trying to force major changes to the agreement, giving the company total flexibility in its terms of employment.

It says there is already flexibility but it is difficult to encompass this in an agreement.

The union also says that before Talley's bought Affco operations, contracts were simply renewed with pay rises but the new owner is wanting to do things differently. It is fighting for a contract built up during half a century.

This is complex. Each of us has only our labour to sell and unionised workers on collective agreements have the right to negotiate and strike within the law. Companies can have enormous power and sometimes some misuse this power. Some workers would find this overwhelming and daunting.

But I have problems with the current scenario at Rangiuru.

Yes, the workers are free to strike - but at what cost?

These workers have been without pay for seven weeks, and I struggle with it being at the expense of children, and people's obligations to their families and organisations.

I am shocked at what I have read over recent weeks.

There are striking workers unable to pay child support, their mortgage and then having to borrow more money.

People might argue this is still their business, but strikers claiming the emergency benefit through Work and Income and relying on the community foodbank make it a matter of public interest.

I am outraged that as a hard-working taxpayer I am helping bankroll strikers at Rangiuru who choose not to work and then ask for a handout.

There are unemployed people who would leap at the chance to have one of these jobs.

These people could choose to work and accept the fact that Talley's owns these meat plants, not the union.

This company has the right to run things as it sees fit, as long as it's within the law.

If people don't like it, they should find new jobs.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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