A specialist arborist who works for InfraCore joined strike action today and says he is ''embarrassed to admit it'' but ''I'm struggling to feed my kids''.

Father-of-four Murray Davies, who had been on the job for nearly 18 years, was the only income earner for his family.

He was living day to day and said ''it's not something you talk about at work as there are worse off than me here''.

Davies was fearful about the future and said he tried not to take the stress home.

Advertisement

It was the first time he had been in a strike and would lose four hours of pay, but in his view, workers were being replaced with ''the new and the desperate''.

About 80 InfraCore workers were joined by supporters outside the main entrance of Rotorua Lakes Council at 9.30am today.

First Union organiser Phil Graham called for mayor Steve Chadwick to acknowledge the crowd over a loud speaker and talk to the people.

Protesters chanted ''we have the power, workers' rights and we will fight'' and sang ''we will not be moved''.

At 9.49am an InfraCore employee of more than 50 years collapsed and was attended to by two police officers before being taken to hospital by ambulance - and later discharged.

Graham said the man was one of the 27 employees who could be facing a pay cut.

Graham said InfraCore paid its workers $16.58 to just over $22 and it had tried to negotiate a bottom line offer of 2.5 per cent rise for a 12-month term.

''These people need money because they are struggling, there is hardship.

Advertisement

''In the last two negotiations we have had, where we have renewed the contracts they have got very minimal increases and the last one was a one off payment.''

InfraCore workers and supporters take strike action and protest outside council. Photo/Stephen Parker
InfraCore workers and supporters take strike action and protest outside council. Photo/Stephen Parker

The collective agreement had run out in July and workers had voted to go on strike via a secret ballot on Monday morning.

''Workers made it quite clear they were frustrated and angry. They have had enough with this management as they are always wanting to take, take, take.''

''We are talking about some people taking $5500 to $6000 per annum pay cut ...now with the Government's $20 proposal with the minimum wage for 2020 they are going to have to wake up.''

A mediation was set for Wednesday next week, he said.

InfraCore said in a statement: "While there is common ground over some matters, such as the level of increase for the bottom pay grades, the parties are not in agreement over what should happen in other areas, such as higher pay grades. In these areas the business is seeking to make targeted adjustments to remunerate roles in line with market rates. Both parties, following months of bargaining, have now indicated they have hit their bottom-line positions."

It also said the company's lowest minimum starting base pay rate is $16.58/hr, but the vast majority of staff were paid a higher base wage.

The current collective wage structure also included a range of allowances, and added on average just under a further $1/hr to the average employees' pay rates over a year.

There were a significant number of InfraCore's waged staff who, before any overtime, earn in excess of $25/hr on average over a year.

Mayor Chadwick, meanwhile, said she was not aware InfraCore workers were outside the council but she would not have gone down because they were in an industrial process.

''I understand they were on strike action so there is no way. I have been in unions and in my day there is no way anyone would have demanded a political leader go down...in the middle of a strike.''

Chief executive Geoff Williams said the matter was being dealt with by InfraCore and ''for a long time now the council and our community have actually been asking the question are we getting the most effective and efficient service possible?''

It was his understanding that InfraCore was finding it hard winning work from the private sector.

''This raises for the community an important issue. The ratepayers should have a right to ensure that our services are as efficient and cost effective as possible and InfraCore is saying they need make some change to be as competitive as what the private sector is.''

Background
November 2: 27 InfraCore staff are asked to reduce their pay to market rates to allow the company to be more competitive, grow and pay other staff members more.
* InfraCore employs the city's parks, water, civil works and nursery staff, is in pay negotiations with its 150 staff.
* Chief executive Tim Hammond said the staff's pay rates were "out of kilter" with market rates and if something wasn't done to address them the "wheels will come off" the business.