Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bad faith from the Meat Workers' Union?

The AFFCO/Meat Workers' Union dispute has been ongoing for a while now, but it probably hasn't engendered as much publicity as the Ports of Auckland/MUNZ stoush.

We're not completely sure why AFFCO, now owned by Talleys locked out members of the Meat Workers' Union, and why the union members went on strike in retaliation. We do know however that the dispute isn't doing either side a lot of good, and that a resolution would be universally welcomed. And that's why this media release on Scoop piqued our interest:

Meat Workers Union Shows Bad Faith Around Mediation
Affco is concerned that the Meat Workers Union has again showed bad faith around mediation breaking confidentiality on the talks and misleading its members over the dispute.
The Union this week showed its disrespect for the mediation by breaching its undertaking to the Labour Department’s Mediator that details of discussions be kept confidential.
The Employment Relations Authority yesterday confirmed that the parties will now enter the facilitation process. The facilitation process takes place in private. During facilitation, bargaining continues and employers and employees are not prevented from using strikes and lockouts.
Affco is of the view that it is too early for facilitation, but it also did not oppose the Union’s application for it.
Rowan Ogg said Affco had laid the foundation for constructive mediation this week by presenting an offer over the weekend to restart all striking workers if the Union ended its strike action and engage in meaningful mediation during the return to work. The Union rejected that offer.
“Part of the requirement was that the Union lift their strike action, which they have not done. Notwithstanding this Affco withdrew the lockout on 300 employees enabling them to return to work yesterday morning.” 

Now leaving aside the fact that this is a media release by one of the parties to the dispute, it does indeed seem strange that the union has refused to lift its strike action if it wants its members to get back to work. It seems to us that the union still wants to play hard-ball.

But wait; there's more. Point by point, AFFCO resonds to union claims:

Claims & Facts:
The Meat Workers Union has made a number of incorrect and misleading claims in its statement yesterday regarding the dispute. These are set out below, along with the facts:
Union claim:“The news [re facilitation] has come at good time for struggling families who say they were given false hope that the company's plan to partially lift the lockout would end the dispute.”
The company made the offer to progressively unlock employees in an attempt to meet the objectives of bothparties, for Affco that is to ensure meaningful bargaining occurs on claims to enhance the chance of a resolution, and for the Union, their wish for all their members to be unlocked over a known timeframe.
Union Claim:
“First Affco locked out 1,000 workers and their families after only 10 hours of face to face negotiations, then they told us they only came to mediation becausethey were legally required to, then they cancelled a mediation session and now they've tabled a completely new document.”
Negotiations commenced mid November, the lockout occurred at the end of February, the company had conceded about half of its claims; the Union had conceded none of theirs.
The mediation was postponed, as a result of the union placing court action on conflicting dates.
The document is not new, but combines the existing agreement, the company’s claims and the site documents, which the Union has had for 18 months.
Union Claim:
Mr Eastlake says the partial lifting of the lockout for 300 Affco workers today “is not a gesture of good will, but a gesture of production needs.”
The offer to unlock covered all workers, not 300 as asserted by Mr Eastlake. Had the union abided by the offer, the total workforce would have been back in work within three weeks.
Union Claim:
Workers were devastated when Affco wouldn't guarantee it would lift the lockout for everyone at yesterday's mediation. The company could actually extend the suffering for those families that are still locked out if the company get the workers back it sorely needs to meet the cull cow season, which is now in full swing."
Over the weekend Affco offered to unlock all of the employees over a known time frame, the Union rejected this offer.

On the basis of the information disclosed by AFFCO, it does indeed seem that the Meat Workers' Union is acting in a bad-faith way, to the detriment of the members who are without both work and income at the moment. This is one dispute which needs to be settled; we know it's having a significant effect in Wanganui. 

One would hope that both parties to the dispute could, as they say in the classics, get their sh*t together so that the employer can start processing to capacity, and so that the workers can start earning an income again. Any protraction of this dispute does nothing positive for either party, or for their local communities.


Robert Winter said...

"Now leaving aside the fact that this is a media release by one of the parties to the dispute"!!! When you are talking of the inveterately anti-union Talleys, in a dispute that is purely and simply about a Victorian desire for managerial control by an antediluvian management, "leaving aside" is difficult to do.

Note that the CTU has a fact-sheet that drives a tank through the Talley case.

Keeping Stock said...

Perhaps "leaving aside" was a poor choice of words on my part Robert. "Bearing in mind" might have fitted the bill better.

Keeping Stock said...

And I'd be as suspicious of a CTU "fact-sheet" as you would be of the AFFCO one Robert. I suspect that the truth will lie somewhere between the two.

Anonymous said...

just to add a few points to your report here, The lifting of the lockout was a seen by the MWU as unfair, unreasonable and unsafe. Affco said they would lift the lock out on all staff but refused to put it in writing and would not give a definite time frame to return all employees to work. Those that were unlocked were found to be done so unlawfully as they were not going back to work under their original terms and conditions as set out in the CEA agreement, instead they were expeected to work under the IEA terms and conditions but recieve 5.3% less pay.

when writing your next article on this dispute may I suggest you not omit half of the facts to paint either party in a bad light. those workers just want their old agreement re-signed, they want to retain the job security that every other worker within the meat processing industry has the benefit of.