Industry spotlight: Manufacturing

  • E tū has more than 7000 members working in manufacturing and food production.
  • Manufacturing is an important contributor to Aotearoa’s economy, accounting for 11% of our GDP.
  • It employs approximately 239,800 workers, which is around 10% of the working population.
  • Food, beverage, and tobacco manufacturing are the largest contributors to the industry’s output, at around 30%.
  • Food product manufacturing is also the largest employer in the industry, providing work for approximately 79,200 workers.
  • Transport equipment, machinery, and equipment manufacturing, makes up about 20% of the sector, with more than 32,000 workers in machinery and equipment manufacturing. Fabricated metal product manufacturing follows closely behind with more than 27,000 workers.
  • The manufacturing sector is also a key export, accounting for more than 60% of products we sent offshore.

Growing up in the Wattie’s family

Tai Wharepapa

I’ve been a delegate at Wattie’s for over 30 years. I’ve always worked at Wattie’s and all my nine siblings (bar one) worked there too. We are from a big family that came from the rural countryside to the city, so realistically, us kids all had to work.

“It started as a seasonal job from around age 15. They had hours that were suitable for students, so a lot of us used to go from high school to Wattie’s over the Christmas holidays. I did belt work, inspecting the fruit as it came onto the line for quality. Sometimes I was on the pear line – I’d stand there and put pears into the machine to be peeled. We also did cleaning and hosing floors.

“After high school, I lived away in the South Island and in Wellington but eventually came home back to Hastings and got a job back at Wattie’s. Now I work in ‘Complex Recipes’ and I’m what you call a ‘kettle cook’. We make the big soups that go over to Australia, Japan – all export quality soups go through Complex.

“In terms of being a delegate, I’ve had some pretty good teachers. When I was 15 and first started working there, we had this group of old ladies who were truly leaders in their own right. They’d take you under their wing and train you to be a good worker. You loved the environment because it was family orientated and everybody looked after you. When I went back to Wattie’s, I also had good role models, like the lead delegate, Moko, who trained me at the time.

“Fairness is important to me. Everything has to be open and transparent, otherwise I will open it and make it transparent – to me that’s what being in the union is all about.”

Issues in manufacturing

Campaigning for a Just Transition

Workers in the manufacturing industry are particularly susceptible to changes in their industry like increasing automation, industrial and technological changes, and climate change adaptations to lower carbon-emissions and reliance on non-renewable energy sources.

This means manufacturing workers can be at risk of losing their jobs and experiencing “wage scarring” – which is when wages are cut because workers being made redundant feel pressured to take whatever job comes along just to pay the bills, rather than find work that’s better for them.

E tū campaigns for a “Just Transition” for workers affected by change outside their control, including through consultation clauses in collective agreements and other arrangements to support them to transition to new work as their industry changes.

Ethnic discrimination

Māori and Pacific peoples are employed in the manufacturing sector in large numbers, often in low-paying and low-skilled roles rather than in professional and management positions. Bias and discrimination in and outside of companies continues to play an important role in this. The Pacific and Māori pay gaps highlight the urgent need to improve wages in the sector to combat ethnicity-based inequality.

Action ramps up at Fisher & Paykel Healthcare

The Fisher & Paykel workforce at their Biennial Membership Meeting

Fisher & Paykel is one of Aotearoa’s best-known and enduring manufacturing companies. Established in 1934 as an importer of refrigerators, washing machines, and radios, Fisher & Paykel quickly moved into domestic manufacturing and expanded to produce more electronic products, including healthcare equipment from the 1960s.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare split off from the main company in 2001, and has become a dominant international player, particularly in producing respiratory and acute care technology.

While the company has had a long history as a good employer, with good relationships with our union, E tū members at the Auckland manufacturing site have started taking industrial action after a sub-standard offer. The company has proposed getting rid of overtime for working on weekends, shift pattern changes that would reduce overtime payments further, and a pay rise that doesn’t meet the shortfall these changes would create.

Fisher & Paykel members picketing for a better deal

E tū delegate and engineer Chris Burton has worked for Fisher & Paykel for 38 years, and says the company’s latest approach doesn’t match up with their history and reputation.

“It’s a real shame that one of New Zealand’s greatest companies is behaving like this,” Chris says.

“They have got a long history of doing the right thing, and over the years I have been able to do well myself, but that’s not a luxury many of my colleagues are afforded.

“There used to be a culture of lifting people up through development opportunities, and proper investment in staff. We trained a lot of people. But they now have some ugly agendas and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare just aren’t doing that to the extent they should be.

“There are over 3,000 people at the Auckland site. We should expect a company like this to give something back to the wider community, and not just tokenism.”

Chris says the people worst affected by the proposed deal are those who are doing it hardest.

“They are playing on people’s hardship. I think it’s extremely cheeky to come to us with something like this while many are in financial stress, with rents, mortgages, fuel, and everything else getting so much more expensive.

“The reality is that a majority of the staff on lower wages are women. They claim to pay attention to diversity and inclusion – here’s a real opportunity to put their money where their mouth is and show the rest of the country how to get real results in closing the gender pay gap.”

Chris says it’s particularly disappointing that the company is taking this approach given it is a highly profitable business.

“We were one of the few New Zealand businesses that did well during the pandemic, due to the increased demand for healthcare products. When you are posting record profits year after year and then you come calling for the lowest paid people in the organisation to take the biggest hit, that’s not good enough.”