11 Nov 2015

CTU urges Maori farmers to back meatworkers

7:14 am on 11 November 2015

The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) is urging Maori farmers to withhold their stock from meat processing giant AFFCO in a bid to restart contract talks.

Tina and Daphne on the bridge. Two of the workers holding out against the IEAs.

Tina and Daphne on the bridge - two of the workers holding out against Individual Employment Agreements. Photo: RNZ / John Campbell

Maori farmers own up to 15 percent of all sheep and beef livestock, and the CTU hopes the move will encourage the Talley's-owned company back to the bargaining table.

Listen to John Campbell's First Person interviews with Wairoa meatworkers.

A long running dispute between meat company AFFCO and workers in Wairoa reached the Employment Court last month. A collective contract expired in 2013 and dozens of union members have refused to sign individual contracts.

It has been six weeks since 250 meat workers in Wairoa received a pay cheque; the union argues they have been illegally locked out of work.

Up to 80 percent of AFFCO meat workers are Maori, so Maori CTU vice-president Syd Keepa is calling for action.

"I'd like the iwi and those other Maori meat producers to really focus on whether they can help our people by ... taking away their meat production from Talleys."

The impact of the lockout on workers was big, but it flowed on to the whole community, he said.

"When you're cutting their wages by 100 a week and putting them on individual agreements that they decide when they work and when they don't need you, you know 'turn you off and on', it has a very big impact on the community."

Iwi leaders threatened to make the same call back in 2012, which was pivotal to ending an employment dispute between AFFCO and its staff.

Meat Workers Union spokesperson Darien Fenton welcomed the strategy.

She said Ngati Kahungunu, Ngapuhi and an iwi in Bay of Plenty got behind the meat workers dispute in 2012.

"It was the threat of withholding stock that actually brought Talley's to the table, not anything else."

In 2012, Maori farmers owned up to 7.3 million animals.

Mr Keepa hoped they would wield their power to get AFFCO back to the bargaining table to settle a collective agreement with the Meat Workers' Union.

"What Maori put into the economy is something like $39 billion, so you look at it from that perspective, surely that should wake the AFFCO people up."

AFFCO refused to comment on the move.

The Employment Court is due to release its decision over the two-year dispute between AFFCO and the Meat Workers' Union within a week.

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