On the Picket Line

New Zealand: Sistema workers fight for better pay, conditions

By Felicity Coggan
December 3, 2018

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Thirty workers at Sistema Plastics, members of the E Tu union, held a protest at the factory entrance Oct. 26 against the bosses’ stalling on a better contract. The union’s membership at the factory has grown to 200 of the plant’s 500 workers as their fight over pay and working conditions heats up.

The protesters waved union flags and placards and called out to co-workers driving in and out at shift change.

Sistema, which was bought up by U.S.-based Newell Brands in 2016, makes household plastic containers exported to over 80 countries worldwide.

Workers are scheduled on 12-hour shifts five days a week at minimum wage — $16.50 New Zealand dollars per hour ($10.70) — with no premium pay for overtime. “We have to work these hours to make enough, otherwise we wouldn’t survive,” one worker who didn’t want to give her name told the Militant. She said she often works a 72-hour week. “The only night I get to put my children to bed is Saturday.”

A delegation of workers and union representatives delivered 7,000 letters to the company Oct. 19 demanding workers get higher pay. Workers at the protest told the Militant  how Sistema takes advantage of migrant workers, especially from India and the Philippines, who are on temporary work visas.

Sistema is well-known among workers in Auckland for its poor working conditions. “New staff are leaving as soon as they can,” Sistema worker and union shop steward Sesilia Williams said in an Oct. 25 E Tu press release. “Sometimes they just drive off at the first break, not even telling anyone they’re going.”