The Talley’s owned group companies have launched a fight to destroy the meat workers union at the 8 Affco plants they own in the North Island.
The demands the company put on the table would have cut workers pay, increased the working day, gut union protections, and eliminated seniority rights for staff.
The company’s purpose is simple – to boost production and profits at all costs – including the lives and limbs of their workforce, as well as the environment.
Affco is a major player in the meat industry with a billion dollars in revenue annually and 2800 staff.
1000 members of the meat workers union have voted for an initial two day strike on Monday and Tuesday next week to begin the fight back.
Talley’s are determined. They can smell blood. They have a history for taking on unions and beating them. They did it in their South Island fish processing plants as soon as the anti-union Employment Contracts Act came into force after 1990. There were several court cases that found the company had employed unlawful tactics. In fact one case declared the contract the company had imposed was “harsh and oppressive” – one of the only times I am aware of that the court has done so. The company ignored the courts and carried on with its anti-union campaign until their factories were a union free zone.
They have followed this up with the effective deunionisation of its Open Country Cheese plant acquired in 2007 as part of the Affco takeover in a bitter dispute in 2009.
South Pacific Meats with two plants in the South Island was created at the same time as the Affco takeover. Workers were bullied out of the union after the collective agreement expired in 2011. Wages were cut, the line sped up and seniority gutted. The company has been fined $30,000 and $20,000 for its illegal actions blocking access but it doesn’t care. This is peanuts in the bigger game at play. The Meat Workers Union says a majority of the workforce has rejoined the union secretly and they hope to be able to regain a collective agreement.
In 2012 Talley’s locked out 1300 Affco employees for three months in an attempt to starve them into submission. But by that time union members were a minority of the workforce so the company was able to maintain production. A broad solidarity campaign led to the Maori-owned farming enterprises to threaten to withhold stock until a settlement with the mostly Maori workforce was reached.
Over the last three years ACC has paid out $8 million to nearly 5000 Talley’s employees – that’s more than one injury for every worker employed by Talley’s companies. 1286 Talley’s workers were injured on the job last year alone.
This year Talley’s made extremely strong submissions to opposing any union role in the new health and safety law. Sir Peter Talley said he opposed workers electing health and safety representatives as “unreasonable” and that “unscrupulous unions” could use them to “intentionally damage or destroy a business”.
Here is a sample of cases that have made it into the public arena where Talley’s owned companies have killed and maimed in pusuit of their god – profit. It is obvious why the company does not want stronger health and safety laws.
In February 2008 Talley’s were fined $110,000 for carbon monoxide poisening of 11 workers.
Talleys Frozen Foods Ltd has been fined a total of $110,000 after being found guilty of failing to keep its employees safe. This is one of the highest total fines ever imposed under the Health and Safety in Employment Act.
Talleys Frozen Foods was also ordered to pay reparations of $3000 to each of the 11 poisoning victims, a total of $33,000.
The company was today found guilty of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure that 11 employees were not exposed to carbon monoxide fumes when an LPG forklift was used inside its factory on June 19, 2006.
The prosecution was brought by the Department of Labour under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, and was heard in the Blenheim District Court.
The company was found guilty on all 11 charges laid, and was fined $10,000 on each charge – a total of $110,000.
The fines and reparations reflect the seriousness of the circumstances involved in the case, said Department of Labour Deputy Secretary Andrew Annakin.
“This case is a reminder of the dangers of using LPG forklifts – which can produce potentially fatal carbon monoxide gases – in confined spaces. The Department welcomes the court’s decision and encourages all employers to check the safety of their LPG forklift practices.”
“Employers must ensure that all employees are aware of the hazards and risks associated with their work – in this case it took some time before anyone identified that the symptoms they were having were caused by the forklift and carbon monoxide.”
“All forklift drivers should be adequately trained – the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning should be included in training.”
In January 2010 a SPM worker Henry Richmond Kingi severed part of his thumb at work. The company took no action. The Otago Daily Times reported June 5, 2010, that “The plant has been under the spotlight in recent weeks after the Labour Department said it had investigated 19 incidents of serious harm at the plant, including six workers amputating fingers on bandsaws, in the past 18 months.”
The union successfully brought a private prosecution which concluded that the company had failed to provide a safe working environment. But it took two years for the judgements and inevitable appeals by the company to be completed.
In February 2012 a SPM employees arm was nearly severed by a bandsaw.
A South Pacific Meats worker is recovering at Southland Hospital after his arm was nearly severed by a bandsaw early on Saturday morning.
The man’s wife yesterday said her husband was heavily sedated after two surgeries to repair his arm.
She had been notified of the injury soon after it happened by one of her husband’s co-workers, she said.
The saw had gone through the bone at the elbow and was only attached by tissue, muscle, artery and nerve, she said.
He had gone through two operations to repair the arm on Saturday at Southland Hospital and had a blood transfusion on Sunday.
A third operation was a possibility, she said.
“The hope is that he will regain 95 per cent of movement within 18 months.”
Her husband – who had worked for two seasons at South Pacific Meats – would probably never operate a saw again, she said.
She believed the incident was fatigue-related and management had been told of the issue last week, she said.
In May 2012 a Talley’s employed seafarer Cain Adams, a 33-year old father of five, was killed when he fell nearly 7 meters through a hatch. The company was found at fault and fined.
Talleys Group Ltd has been fined $48,000 and ordered to pay $35,000 in reparation to the family of a crewman killed after falling nearly 7m on the vessel Capt MJ Souza in Nelson in May 2012.
The company was sentenced in Nelson District Court today (29 April 2015) after being found guilty in March of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employees after the death of crewman Cain Adams.
The reparations ordered are in addition to a payment of $54,000 already made to the family by the company.
Mr Adams died while working on the Capt MJ Souza after he stepped onto a hatch on the main deck that rotated, causing him to fall nearly 6.9m through another open hatch in the deck below to the floor of the floor of the vessel’s fish well.
Maritime NZ prosecuted Talleys under section 6 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employees while at work.
Following a defended hearing, the company was found guilty in the Nelson District Court on 23 March.
At the time of the accident, several contractors were at work on the vessel, with the hatch on the main deck left vented, or partly open, to allow hoses and cables to pass through it.
In his judgement, District Court Judge Ian Mill said the company “either foresaw the risk but did not take all reasonably practical steps in the circumstances of this case or ought to have foreseen the risk and failed to do so”.
“These practical steps were no more than ones already available but not used because the Captain and crew were lulled into a false sense of security from years of using the same practice without incident and always treating a vented hatch as safe,” Judge Mill said.
Maritime NZ Director Keith Manch said lessons must be learned from the accident.
“This was a tragic incident that could have been avoided through very simple measures,” he said.
“Ships are inherently dangerous working environments and employers must ensure all practicable safety steps are taken to protect their employees when they are on the job. All employees have the right to come home safely from work.
“Our thoughts are very much with the family of Cain Adams, for whom this case will have been extremely difficult, but the whole of the maritime sector must heed the lessons of this case.”
The maximum penalty for breaching section 6 of the Health and Safety Act is a fine of $250,000.
In August 2014 a seafarer on a Talley’s owned boat was killed.
In May 2015 the Employment Relations Authority fined Talley’s $6000 for again failing to provide a safe workplace.
Worker David Brine suffered respiratory problems, vomiting, burning eyes and coughed up blood after cleaning a meat chiller which had been chemically fogged at the Malvern freezing works.
He says he felt poisoned within 15 minutes.
Mr Brine told the Employment Relations Authority he and a colleague complained to their supervisors but were told there was nothing wrong with the chemicals – that the smell was safe and they should go back to work.
Talley’s-owned South Pacific Meats was ordered to pay Brine $6000 for “hurt, humiliation and loss of dignity” because it failed to provide a safe workplace.
In June 2015, Talley’s was ordered to pay $15,000 in total to Alister Doran, another SPM employee who had his arm cut open at work and was left to look after himself.
Mr Doran’s arm will never be the same again. It was sliced open while working on the slaughter board at the Malvern freezing works, which is owned by Talley’s.
His bosses failed to rush him for urgent medical treatment, forcing him to get himself to hospital.
“I went to hospital [and] spent three days in hospital getting my arm reconstructed,” says Mr Doran. “It’s got permanent loss of feeling along the top of my arm and I’ve lost 40 percent of strength in my arm.”
An Employment Relations Authority (ERA) ruling recounts Mr Doran’s boss as saying “he was too busy to deal with the matter”.
“I have always believed it was a personal issue, the reason why I wasn’t given transport,” says Mr Doran.
When he took a personal grievance case against the company, they responded by moving him to a lower-ranked role and dropping his pay.
The ERA ruling called it “an element of punishment” and ordered Talley’s owners South Pacific Meats to pay Doran $12,000 in lost wages and compensation.
“They treated us all like scum,” says Mr Doran.
“I wasn’t treated like a human being. I was treated like a number.”
Sir Peter Talley’s attitude to the environment is expressed in a speech in 2011. “We need a new balanced approach to environmentalism, one that recognises sustainable extraction, and one that recognises a higher ranking of mankind, that should rightfully be placed well above the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees. I, for one, certainly did not fight my way to the top of the food chain to eat vegetables.”
The company also lost a landmark case about equal pay for women. They had refused to allow a woman to become a filleter at their plant. The response of Andrew Talley was to dismiss the decision as a joke. “In any job there are attributes that suggest it will be more likely to be done by either a man or a woman – that doesn’t mean you discriminate,” he said. “There are jobs – pole dancing being one and fish filleting being another – that have a higher predominance of either men or women. The decision is a joke.” The complaint was made in 2002. The 2005 Human Rights Commission ruled in 2005. Talley’s appealed to the High Court which made its judgement in June 2007.
The company was also fined $27,000 in March 2014 for sacking a Christian Pacific worker for wanting to exclude Saturday from compulsory overtime as it violated his churches beliefs. The decision politely suggested the company should provide human rights training to managers.
The labour movement needs to mobilise all its resources to beat back this attack from these reactionary corporate murderers. If they succeed all unionised workplaces will be vulnerable from a determined attack. The Talley’s brand needs to become toxic. No one should buy anything attached to that label. But more importantly pickets of Talley’s sites must be mass pickets with the goal of shutting the plants down on the day of any strike action. Other unions should mobilise members where possible. The communities and Maraes in the towns where the meat plants are located need to be mobilised as well.
It is only by showing real power that the workers who have been pushed out of the union through fear and intimidation can be won back. They are not the enemy but if they cross the picket lines they are helping their enemy as well and it will be rewarded in with overwork, injury and death.
While not as central as it has been in the past the industry remains important to the fortunes of New Zealand capitalism. That is why Talley’s wants to seize control of the wealth producing labour that exists there.
The meat workers union was once the vanguard of the union movement in New Zealand. Strikes by meat workers often established rights that were later won by workers in other industries. Meat workers on occasion challenged government attempts to impose wage controls and beat them back. Again all workers benefited. Not much has been heard of this power in recent times but the workers themselves still have real power when united in struggle. With broad solidarity and support the Affco workers will find ways to liberate the power they need to bring the arrogant Talley’s corporation to its knees.
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