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Vol. 76/No. 12      March 26, 2012

On the Picket Line

Workers fight meat company’s
selective lockout in New Zealand

HOROTIU, New Zealand—A union contract battle between workers and the AFFCO New Zealand Ltd. meat processing company has heated up after the company selectively locked out more than 700 workers at five plants Feb. 29.

Attacking the New Zealand Meat Workers Union while continuing production, the company locked out some union workers at each plant, but not others. Over the last several months the company has also convinced some workers to opt out of the union and sign individual employment agreements.

On March 2, some 1,700 AFFCO workers held a one-day strike to protest the lockout. The company retaliated by locking out more than 200 union members at a sixth plant. The union has organized other short strikes in response.

“They want us to work harder and longer for less money,” said Charlie Scott, a worker and union shop steward at the Horotiu beef processing plant, as he and 200 other workers picketed here March 2. “The company wants a blank check to do what they want.”

Roughly 1,000 workers are now locked out at the six plants. At the same time some 800 union members are still working alongside workers who “jumped ship,” opting out of the union contract, as well as with new hires. Pickets said the company was using the slow season to advance divide-and-rule tactics, but were confident they could win over many new hires who had signed the individual agreements under pressure.

The contract dispute has gone on for 18 months. AFFCO is New Zealand’s fourth-largest meat company. Horotiu union president Don Arnold told the Militant AFFCO is demanding “flexibility” over chain speed and staffing levels, previously set in the contract. “They say they will consult with the union,” he said, “but they want the final say.”

The company has also targeted seniority lists, which ensure that meat workers, who face annual seasonal layoffs, do not suffer discrimination in rehiring. The company tried to eliminate the lists in 2011, Arnold said, but lost a court case filed by the union.

AFFCO’s director of operations, Rowan Ogg, told the Daily Post March 7 that the “dispute is not about pay, it’s about management having the right to manage the plants.”

AFFCO has not responded to requests by the Militant for comment.

Patrick Brown

Packaging workers in UK
protest lockout, seek solidarity

LIVERPOOL, England—“People are coming together through this,” said Deb Collinson, referring to the third week of protests over the lockout of 150 workers at Mayr-Melnhof Packaging here.

Workers organized by the Unite union were locked out Feb. 18 after they organized a series of short strikes protesting the way the company plans to lay off 49 workers and the amount of redundancy (severance) payments.

“They’re manipulating the selection procedure,” Collinson told the Militant, saying that the company was targeting the union. Workers say layoffs should begin with workers who volunteer.

The lead Unite union shop steward, Phil Potter, is one of those the company is laying off. He was part of a recent union delegation to Germany, where Mayr-Melnhof has other plants. “We were well received,” Potter told the Militant. “We spoke at the conference of the German trade union Ver.di, and gave out leaflets at the Mayr-Melnhof factory.”

“The company at first told workers in other MMP plants that the Liverpool workers were damaging the plant and claimed it was closed for ‘health and safety reasons,’” Potter said. “Now they’re saying we are on paid holiday.”

Although the workers are now being paid, “It’s still a lockout,” he said. Workers are picketing 24 hours a day. “We’re concerned the company will move packaging and equipment,” said Potter. “We just want the gates reopened, us back in work and a negotiated settlement.”

Mayr-Melnhof did not return calls from the Militant requesting comment.

Messages of support can be sent to, and contributions to Unite, Attention: Phil Morgan, 2 Chantry Court, Forge Street, Crewe, CW1 2DL, England.

—Pete Clifford

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