E tū organising

Members face Fletchers’ fallout

Members at Fletcher Construction will soon be job-hunting after the company’s near-billion dollar loss and its decision to mothball its Building and Interiors division once all current projects are finished.

E tū has many members at Fletchers, but few in this division, which is a symptom of what’s gone wrong. “At one big project, the only Fletchers’ guys on site are managers. The rest are all subcontractors,” says one member.

“Usually there’s a fixed budget and there’s where we lose our money – they only price for half the job.”

E tu’s view is the industry is overly dependent on subcontractors, which has helped drive up costs.

Our member, who won’t be named because he will soon be job hunting, says a key concern is subcontractors don’t fully price work. Instead, they take “the cream of the work, but fail to complete awkward stuff they can’t make money on.

“You’ve got a fixed budget and there’s where we lose money – they only price for half the job. We come in at the end to fix everything up after they’ve walked away,” he says, which blows out the budget.

In the case of the Justice Precinct in Christchurch, our members say much of it was built twice; once with mistakes and a second time to correct them.

E tū wants firms to hire more permanent workers, provide secure jobs and train apprentices, including locals and qualifying migrants, which would help resolve major skills shortages.

Instead, worksites typically involve an army of subbies, labour hire workers and in some cases, undocumented migrant labour sourced illegally.

Our migrant members say it is now hard to find stable jobs with wages high enough to qualify for residency.

“We came here going through the right process and pay all the fees and hope one day we can get our family to settle,” says one member from a labour hire company. “But with this kind of situation how do we win?”

Planning begins for Metals meetings

Planning is underway ahead of mass meetings for members covered by the Metal and Manufacturing Collective Agreement, known as “the Metals.”

The current document expires on 30 June with the meetings scheduled in May.

The agreement, which is a Multi Employer Collective Agreement, or MECA, covers more than 600 workers at over 80 companies and is the country’s leading manufacturing agreement.

Members meet in 2016 to discuss claims for the Metals agreement. Meetings this year are in the planning stages.

“Employers like it because it’s a minimum wage document – it means they can pay the minimum rate,” says delegate Ken Wilkins of Piersons in Christchurch who has been on the bargaining team since 2005.

Ken says it also keeps a floor under wages and conditions, and of course, many employers pay more. Ken says he also expects rates will rise in the wake of the lift in the minimum wage on 1 April.

Recruitment surges at Sistema

This year we’ve hit the ground running with our campaign at Sistema. Our delegate numbers have grown from 4 to twelve delegates, and membership continues to grow despite high staff turnover.

“I never thought about becoming a delegate,” says new delegate, Sesilia Williams, “but because my colleagues asked me to step up, I said “why not”? I want to support them with their issues and motivate them to get involved in making our workplace better.”

Helping drive membership growth are health and safety issues at the plant. This includes heat caused by the plastics’ manufacturing process and made worse by a sizzling summer. One member who is heavily pregnant almost fainted at work because of it.

That galvanised hundreds of workers to sign a petition demanding management take urgent action. Delegates presented this to management when they raised several other issues.

Meanwhile, this increased activity has made people more confident about joining the union. Before, they were nervous; now they come up and ask to join.

Sistema delegates, Luke Sanglap and Sesilia Williams

As the campaign grows, Sistema workers will be looking to the wider community for support. Delegates have already started mapping links between their colleagues and the wider community, for instance churches and rugby clubs.

The number one priority at the moment is to grow the union on the site in numbers and leaders. As the delegates grow more confident, and start winning victories that becomes easier.

Back pay sought in LSG Skychefs case

LSG Skychefs is seeking leave to appeal a court decision which found two of its long-term labour hire workers should be considered direct employees of the global airline catering company.

The two members, Kamlesh Prasad and Liutofaga Tulai, worked for LSG Skychefs for years, but because they were labour hire workers they were paid less than directly employed workers. They also had periods when they received no holiday pay, sick leave or Kiwisaver entitlements and even had to pay their own ACC cover.

The union successfully argued in the Employment Court that the workers’ real employer was LSG Sky Chefs.

The application for leave to appeal is due to be heard in June. If the original ruling is upheld, the union will be lodging a back pay claim for Kamlesh and Liutofaga and many other workers. Kamlesh has since found a new job, and Liutofaga has a new baby!

Kamlesh told E tū and You: “I am very happy that we won the case. Now we need to flight to get our money that is owing to us. It is a very important victory.”

Meanwhile, the union is working with other labour hire workers at LSG Skychefs, to ensure they know their rights in the event the Court of Appeal upholds the Employment Court ruling.

End of an era as Cadbury closes

Our thanks and best wishes go to our E tū members at Cadbury in Dunedin which closed on 29 March.

Once the plant employed close to 400 workers. Today, only maintenance engineers remain on-site, dismantling what’s left of the machinery. The rest has been shipped to Australia where Mondelez, Cadbury’s owner, has moved production.

E tū Cadbury delegate, Teresa Gooch

Cadbury Sub-Branch Vice President, Teresa Gooch documented the shut-down in the photos below.

Speaking just days before the closure, Teresa told E tū and You it was tough working those last months, especially once work began to pull the place apart.

“It was something some of us thought we wanted to do, but we didn’t realise the end would be so hard, not having your friends there, it’s just not the same. It’s really not ‘the factory’ any more.

“There’s quite a few Aussie contractors pulling the place down and it’s been pretty hard to watch them do that,” she says.

Cadbury was very much a big family, and Teresa remains adamant the closure is a mistake.

“It’s just heartbreaking – they’ve destroyed a good, family-oriented business in Dunedin.”

Teresa and her fellow delegate, Jason Welch have also thanked the union for its support and work on their behalf in the wake of the closure decision.

“It’s been really good, really helpful,” says Jason who has also watched with sadness as the factory shut down. Jason has a new job but he remains critical of the closure.

“When you think of the history, the tradition and the chance to have a job, and a good job, which it gave people, it’s sad.”

We’d like to thank Teresa, Jason and our other Cadbury delegates and members, who made this site so special for our union.

Dayshift crew working on the final production run of Pineapple Lumps

Members working on the final production run of caramilk

Settlement close for Silver Fern Farms

Takapau members on the Silver Fern Farms picket line

Last minute hiccups delayed the ratification of the Silver Fern Farms’ collective agreement (CA), reached after further bargaining talks in February.

The deal was reached after strike action by 19 members at SFF’s Takapau plant, following an initial, miserable pay offer, which was withdrawn in the wake of the strike.

Delegate Brendan Illsley, says members had been trying to settle their agreement for more than a year.

“We were getting further and further behind everyone else, basically every other tradesman around the country. We’re not paid that well around this area anyway,” says Brendan.

The final deal is a good one for Takapau members, as well as our members at SFF’s other four plants. A key win is the company agreeing to the same expiry date for all five Collective Agreements.

The offer includes:

  • back pay of 1.5% from November 2016 to November 2017, for Takapau members, whose CA failed to settle over the period
  • a 1% pay rise for the next 6 months for Takapau members, as they aligned their CA with SFF four other sites
  • a 2% wage rise from 31 March 2018 to 31 March 2019
  • a new 40 cents per hour tool allowance and an additional 40 cents per hour for those already getting the existing allowance.

The total pay rise is close to 4% and Brendan says the strike was definitely worth it.

“I think it made the company wake up and realise we meant what we were saying. I don’t think we would have got anywhere without it.”

Brendan says he’s hopeful the pay rise will help slow the high turnover of skilled tradespeople at the plant.

Workers singing about Chorus subbies

A young worker fired by a Chorus subcontractor has been left without a job and with his working visa in jeopardy.

“He fired me,” says the member of his former boss. “He just said you’re no longer part of the company. I didn’t get any payment for the one month of work I did for him.”

The worker is one of many who have joined E tū after being badly treated by Chorus subcontractors installing ultrafast broadband.

The Government ordered an inquiry into Chorus subcontractors just before Christmas, after reports of labour abuses by subcontractors, including not paying so-called “volunteers”.

Problems include illegal pay deductions, the underpayment of wages or no payment for so-called ‘volunteers’, as well as health and safety breaches, no annual leave and sick leave, and inadequate equipment.

Like our member who lost his job, many are migrants and need the work to maintain their working visa status.

The union is putting these members in touch with the Government investigation team so they can tell their stories and reveal the true scale of abuses in this industry.

Roster win for Nexans’ members

When New Plymouth cable maker, Nexans decided to reinstate a 24/7 4-on, 4-off roster to replace Monday to Friday shifts, delegate Rodney Johns and his team of four were keen. It would mean a 20 percent pay rise, because they’d gain an allowance they lost when the weekday roster was introduced.

But they didn’t like the 6 o’clock start times. It limited time with their families and caused fatigue. They wanted to start at 7 o’clock instead.

Nexans delegate, Rodney Johns

“We know that is a better, healthier shift for us,” says Rodney. “Even though it sounds small, only one hour, it had a big impact on family life. When you walk in at 6am, you’re tiptoeing around, trying not to wake people. When you walk in at 7am, you’re getting people up and you are there for breakfast. And getting up at 5 in the morning wasn’t fun!”

Management said a different start time could disrupt production. So Rodney and his work mates decided to find solutions to get what they wanted. Rodney met regularly with management to discuss their concerns about operational “flow”, supervisor’s cover and so on.

Then the four members resolved each issue, working in their breaks and through texts and phone calls. “We all agreed on the 7 o’clock start, so we wrote the proposal, got it on E tū letter-head and mailed it to management,” he says.

As well as solutions, their proposal promoted the benefits of a change, including improved morale from happy families, minimised fatigue, and production benefits.

They also had a precedent. Nexans agreed to a shift change in 2016, after members made a convincing case for this. And Nexans also agreed at bargaining last year to genuinely consider different start times where this was unanimously supported.

This gave Rodney and his team hope. Sure enough, late last month management agreed to the proposal and the new roster began just after Easter.

“I was stoked! Just relieved,” says Rodney. “It’s what we needed just to make life that much easier. It made our work environment so much happier.”

Rodney pays tribute to his union and the skills he’s learned through training and on the job experience as a delegate.

“We wouldn’t have had the confidence to do it without that,” he says. “You’ve got the clauses in your contract to use; you’ve got the law to use; you’ve got the tools that E tū provides, and the education; it’s just putting it all together I guess and doing it.”

Home Support: push to resolve issues

The union is working with fed-up members at the country’s biggest home support provider, Auckland-based Geneva. Members say Geneva can’t manage guaranteed hours, with many working in conditions tantamount to zero hour contracts.

They are also concerned about their clients, many of whom report waiting for carers who fail to turn up.

“It just seems there’s something terribly wrong with the whole way it’s working at Geneva,” says delegate, Shannon Crowley.

Members at Access and Enliven report similar issues.

“Equal pay has lifted pay rates and that’s great,but people tell me they’ve lost so many hours, then they don’t hear from anyone until three weeks are up and they legally lose them,” says South Canterbury delegate, Jenny Stewart.

Members also query new requirements to log on using cellphones. They say if phones are required, then providers should pay for them as well as the data charges.