I visited Moerewa on Tuesday to support the Talleys AFFCO workers. I went to a big meeting of locked out Talleys workers, their families and the community, and then spent some time on the picket outside the Works.
This is where the rubber hits the road, not in John Key’s announcement today of a Super Ministry which is “business facing” and will gulp up the Department of Labour and presumably with it, the Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson.
Talley’s locked out these workers two weeks ago. There are generations of workers involved here : fathers, sons, mothers, daughters. Some I talked to have worked at the Works for more than 40 years. Most are long serving workers. Skilled workers at that. You try wielding a boning knife.
The community is backing the workers. A nice moment was when one of the local nurses came out with her Nurses Organisation banner to stand with the Talleys workers. She, of all people will know the impact this is having on the local community – not just on those who are locked out, but those affected by the downstream economic effect on a small community like Moerewa.
The workers told me they love their jobs and just want to work. One young woman has just bought a house, another is due to have a child in the next couple of months. The lockout is hurting.
The Tally family have a reputation for being anti-union. The meat workers are the only unionised workforce they have to deal with among the 8000 or so employees in their food production businesses. Now it seems they’re hell bent on expunging the union from their meat works as well.
If what the workers told me is true, Talley’s breaks the law with impunity. Sure, there’s a mountain of Employment Authority and Employment Court decisions, but the law is meaningless if someone has enough dough to pay the fine, then do it again, or alternatively, tie the union up in endless litigation.
One story doing the rounds is that an AFFCO manager boasted that “no one ever went to jail breaking employment laws.”
That’s true. Sounds like an invitation to have a closer look at the penalties for serial offenders.
Moerewa is a brave community. No-one was feeling sorry for themselves. Their concern was for each other, their whanau, their jobs and their community.
The Talley family might find these bonds harder to break than they think.
And John Key’s Super Ministry?
Irrelevant and meaningless for 1000 locked out workers in one of our key export industries.