Locked out meat workers upbeat after march

By Laurel Stowell of the Wanganui Chronicle -
Locked-out meat workers have been protesting across the North Island. Photo / NZ Herald
Locked-out meat workers have been protesting across the North Island. Photo / NZ Herald

Workers locked out of Wanganui's Imlay meatworks will not allow lack of income to force their agreement to employer demands, Meat Workers and Related Trades Union Wanganui branch secretary Ashley Cooper says.

"The mood is very upbeat, very positive and prepared to stay out and stick it out."

Most of the Affco Imlay plant's 266 unionised workers were locked out on February 29 and have had no work or wages since.

They and their supporters marched from Wanganui's City Marina to Majestic Square on Saturday morning, singing and chanting and accompanied by a band from Ratana Pa.

Mr Cooper said the march was the biggest he had seen in Wanganui and he had the feeling the workers had been waiting for a chance to make their feelings known.

"A lot of people seem to think we are actually on strike, but we're not.

We're locked out, which is a reverse tactic. They lock you out with no income to get you to agree."

At the square Combined Trades Union president Helen Kelly addressed the marchers about the overall employment situation, and Labour MP Andrew Little and Labour Party candidates Soraya Peke-Mason and Hamish McDouall spoke on the political side.

A welfare system is in place to help locked out workers. Food parcels can be left at 66 Ingestre St between 9am and 1pm.

Workers are also picketing the Imlay plant from Tuesday to Friday.

Union members with specialised skills have not been locked out, because they are needed to keep production going.

They are striking in solidarity with their locked-out colleagues, from Friday last week until this coming Thursday.

The union and Affco owners the Talley family are in a prolonged tussle over working conditions at the Talleys' eight North Island meatworks.

Mr Cooper said their next mediation was tomorrow, and the Employment Relations Authority would be considering whether the lockout was legal on April 23-24.

Last week Affco alleged irregular financial reporting by the union and asked the Serious Fraud Office to investigate. The office said it could find no evidence of fraud.

Mr Cooper said the union was willing to negotiate about work conditions, but not to give the company unfettered rights to change them. It had the impression the Talleys wanted to purge Affco of union influence altogether.

Affco, meanwhile, accuses the union of holding illegal strikes.

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