Category: Engineering, Infrastructure, and Extractions

Unions welcome a new model for employing staff in the water sector

Members of AWUNZ, E tū, and the PSA have endorsed a multi-union, multi-employer collective agreement that will help improve water services, overcome critical staff shortages, and ensure decent workplaces for everyone working in the industry.

“This is a historic opportunity to work collaboratively with the incoming government to build a workforce that will improve public health,” says Blake Monkley, AWUNZ lead organiser.

“This collective agreement provides career pathways that can attract people to an industry that desperately needs to attract and develop a skilled workforce.”

“Events including widespread flooding, the recent cryptosporidiosis outbreak in Queenstown and sink holes in Auckland show an industry in crisis,” says Ian Gordon, PSA National Sector Lead.

“To respond to this crisis, the country needs a skilled, sustainable water workforce. Without the provisions of this agreement, the industry will keep losing skilled workers it already has and won’t be able to recruit and develop new ones. This agreement is a huge victory for workers and Aotearoa.”

The benefits for workers are clear. “A national employment framework will create clear career paths that will draw people to the industry and keep them there. It will allow the industry to focus on training and developing staff across the industry instead of in isolated pockets,” says Amy Hansen from E tū.

“While negotiating this agreement, it has become increasingly apparent how damaging a fractured approach to employment relations has been to retaining and developing the workforce we need.

“The incoming government needs to recognise how essential the provisions of this agreement are, and it needs to treat workers justly as well, no matter what happens with the water reforms.”

The Amalgamated Workers Union NZ (AWUNZ), E tū, and the Public Service Association Te Pūkenga Here Tikanga Mahi (PSA) represent workers across water management, including technicians, engineers, electricians, administrators, fitters, reticulation workers water, and wastewater treatment operators, local and central government officials, and more.

For two years, the unions worked with members and non-members in the workforce, and the Department of Internal Affairs, to find best path forward. The membership of all three unions have now endorsed this approach by supporting the proposed agreement.

Some useful numbers

  • There is currently a shortage of skilled staff with vacancy rates sitting at approximately 15% across the industry
  • Economic analysis projects that the industry will need 6,000 to 9,000 jobs over the next 30 years.
  • Unions in the sector represent approximately 1850 employees across a wide range of occupations.
  • There are currently 87 collective agreements covering impacted workers with a wide range of different conditions.


For more information please contact Hamish McCracken (AWUNZ)
Phone: 0212885609

New funding to reduce carbon emissions positive for industry, union says

E tū and members working at the New Zealand Steel mill in Glenbrook have welcomed the Government’s offer to contribute funding for a new electric furnace to halve coal use at the site.

On Sunday, the Government announced it would be partially funding up to $140 million to reduce carbon emissions at Glenbrook, by replacing an existing steelmaking furnace and two of its four coal-fuelled furnaces with the electric one.

It means half of the steel produced at the site would be made using electricity to recycle scrap metal, rather than producing new steel using coal and iron sands.

Site delegate Lester Udy says the announcement signals “exciting times” for workers and the company.

“New Zealand Steel contributes a lot to our communities and the area in general,” he says.

“Covid illustrated the importance of having industry in New Zealand, and a lot of other businesses benefit from the fact that we produce our own steel here.

Lester says the move represents a solid strategy for reducing carbon emissions in the steel industry and is a positive step for all industry. But workers still need to be at the forefront, he says.

“The transition also needs to be a Just Transition for workers. It’s about finding new and different ways of production, while at the same time making sure workers keep their jobs.”

E tū Negotiation Specialist Joe Gallagher says the announcement is “huge” for the workforce and local community.

“Jobs at the Glenbrook steel mill are high value jobs and critical to the community, so it’s really important that we support steel made in here in Aotearoa.

“The Government’s announcement is about protecting our local steel-making industry for the future by assisting in the transition to lower carbon steel production.

“It means that we’ll keep business here, rather than pushing it offshore.”

Joe says the funding could be a blueprint for other industries to transform to a low carbon model, which will mean they remain viable as the businesses transform in response to climate change.

However, he says a Just Transition for workers will be needed, including reskilling or upskilling, so they are able to take on the new roles required as technology at the site changes.

This also includes working with suppliers and other businesses who will inevitably be affected.

“We need to work with Government, the company, and workers, to create a Just Transition process that can be modified and adapted for other industries, so we are not able to only protect valuable industry but workers and their communities as well.”

South Island timber workers strike for decent living wages

Workers at a large Nelson timber processing plant made the snap decision to strike today to fight for decent pay that is locally competitive and will attract and retain staff at the sawmill.

Around 60 E tū and FIRST Union members at South Pine in Nelson are striking in their bid to secure a decent pay rise for the next 12 months.

E- tū and FIRST Union say the company’s current offer is unacceptable in the face of extraordinarily high living costs and wage rates offered by other companies in the industry.

“Over the last three years, workers’ wages have lost significant ground against other local employers and have not kept up with the pace of inflation,” said Paul Watson, FIRST Union Southern Region Secretary.

“With inflation now running at 7.3 %, members need to see wages paid at a significantly higher level than the 6.25% offered by the employer over the next 12 months.”

E tū Organiser Garth Elliot said that many workers and experienced trades staff had left the firm to take up higher paid jobs.

“The company itself has admitted it is struggling to hire new staff,” said Mr Elliot.

“Start rates should be at least at the new Living Wage, and we need pay parity for trades staff such as fitters, engineers and saw doctors in order to be more competitive with comparable roles at other timber processing companies.”

A union member who wished to remain anonymous said that they didn’t feel like their loyalty to the company had been recognised.

“The market is booming. The company needs to pay workers a wage that reflects their skills and dedication,” they said.

“There are some people who have been at the company for up to 20 years and barely earn above minimum wage. The current offer shows no respect, particularly for long-serving members.”

“It’s a last resort to go on strike,” said another union member. “People are feeling very frustrated – we feel like we’ve been given the run around.”

“We’re the busiest we’ve ever been, and the company has done very well over the last three years. We’re working hard to meet market demand but we’re not getting recognised for it.”

South Pine members are currently striking and picketing from 11am on Monday 25th July outside their company premises at 67 Quarantine Rd, Nelson.


For more information and comment:
Garth Elliot (E tū Organiser), 027 590 0084

Paul Watson (FIRST Union Southern Regional Secretary) 021 618 395

‘Just Transition’ plan essential as refinery closure vote passes

E tū strongly advocates for a Just Transition in the face of a shareholder vote in favour of closing the oil refinery to create an import-only terminal at Marsden Point.

Around 300 workers who are directly employed and several hundred contractors will likely lose their jobs or be affected when their workforce is downsized to just 60 workers, when the refinery becomes a storage facility for imported refined oil.

E tū organiser Annie Tothill says the situation at Marsden Point is similar to Taranaki and Tiwai and a Just Transition proposition is needed in this region.

“The vote by shareholders to close the refinery comes as a blow for a region where unemployment is already high. There’s also the flow-on effect to other local businesses and contractors, which will be significant.

“Marsden Point is facing the same issue as other towns built around manufacturing hubs, and there needs to be a plan to deal with any kind of transition,” she says.

Annie says the carbon footprint of importing refined oil, as well as the impact that closure will have on the country’s fuel security, are also important aspects to consider.

“If we are serious about securing a future for workers and our transition to a carbon-neutral society, then we absolutely need a Just Transition plan for Northland.

“It would require a commitment from shareholders, local and central Government to that transition plan, to manufacture alternative energies with a lower carbon footprint.”

Annie says local Government will also need to review the current resource consent as part of any future Just Transition proposal.

“The resource consent granted to Refining NZ in 2020 for a further 35 years does not seem to be in keeping with the goal of a carbon-neutral society.”

A final decision about the closure will be made by the board in September.


For more information and comment:
Annie Tothill, 027 573 4934

‘Sense of mourning’ as Norske Skog mill set to close

Workers at Norske Skog’s Tasman Mill now know they’ll be losing their jobs in little over a month’s time.

On Wednesday afternoon, workers were told the mill will be stopping production from the end of June, with most taking redundancy from 16 July once a clean-up has been completed at the site.

The closure affects about 160 workers, including more than 30 E tū members who work in maintenance.

Delegate and E tū industry spokesperson Bruce Habgood says while there’s relief from some workers that there is more clarity around what their future holds, the sense of loss is real.

“There’s a strong sense of mourning that the mill is shutting down – it’s been a big part of the town’s history for several generations and is the reason Kawerau township was built in the first place.

“While the mill now isn’t the huge employer it used to be, there’s many other businesses that have been created to support it – and they may really suffer ‘death by a thousand cuts’ once the mill’s gone.”

Bruce says the closure highlights the importance of workers being unionised, so that they have access to collective agreements that contain redundancy provisions and protections.

“Some of the workers at the mill are of an age and skillset that means they aren’t so employable anymore and might never work again. We also really need businesses to have their own transition plans going forward so that workers have choices and alternatives.”

Outplacement services will be available to workers, but E tū will be looking at how to formally recognise workers’ skills gained on the job so they can take up other employment opportunities, Bruce says.

E tū organiser Raymond Wheeler says E tū will also be discussing re-skilling and training opportunities for all mill workers.

Having a ‘Just Transition’ plan in place is crucial to ensuring workers have a future when businesses close, and this includes provisions such as social insurance as the Government proposed in Budget 2021, he says.

“A Just Transition is vital, both now and for future generations to come, and is a concept which the Climate Change Commission has recognised is key in transitioning to a low-carbon future.

“We also need to continue to progress the Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) for the forestry and wood processing sector and see what can be done to bring more of the manufacturing supply chain back to Aotearoa New Zealand.”


For more information and comment:
Raymond Wheeler, 027 597 5404

Whakatāne Mill to stay open under new owner

Whakatāne Mill will stay open with the sale to the new owner now finalised.

The mill, one of the largest employers in the region, has been bought by The Smurfit Consortium with the buyout announced on Monday.

More than 150 people are employed at the mill, which is long established for producing folding box board and has been running since the 1930s.

Longstanding E tū delegate for 20 years at the site, Robert de Raat, says most are pleased the mill will not be closing.

“There are families where three or four generations have worked at the mill, and people want to see this employment opportunity stay for their kids.”

E tū organiser for Whakatāne Mill, Fiona McQueen, says there’s a sense of relief the months of uncertainty have come to an end.

“People wanted the doors to stay open so that jobs could remain in this community, and we have worked with the company to make sure there’s good outcomes and benefits for all involved.”

Assistant National Secretary for E tū Annie Newman says although the mill’s future is now secure, the upheaval in many industries, due to factors such as globalisation and climate change, highlights the need for a national strategy around the concept of a ‘Just Transition’ for workers.

“We need to ensure the future of work is about decent jobs and income stability – making sure people are prepared for change and have the opportunities to upskill and retrain when needed.

“Their voices also need to be at the heart of creating the solutions that will guide their working futures.”


Weeks of uncertainty ahead for Kawerau Mill workers

Workers at Kawerau’s pulp and paper mill are facing weeks of uncertainty as their employer, Norske Skog, have commenced with a consultation process about the future of the mill, including potential closure.

More than 150 workers, including 30 E tū members, are affected by the proposal, which was announced on Wednesday afternoon.

E tū Engineering, Infrastructure and Extractions Industry Council Convenor and site delegate Bruce Habgood says in the wake of the proposal, there is “lots and lots of uncertainty” for members.

“There’s simply lots of uncertainty – until we can get around the table and have some meaningful conversation with the company.

“At this stage there are no guarantees, and a lot of people are in limbo.”

Bruce says although many workers don’t live in the Kawerau township itself, any potential closure would inevitably have a further-reaching effect on other local businesses and suppliers.

“The future of work and manufacturing is the issue here – the situation shows how vital industry transformation is and to ensure a Just Transition for all affected workers.”

E tū organiser at the Kawerau Mill Raymond Wheeler says while the consultation has started, as it is still in the very early stages, the union cannot draw any conclusions on potential outcomes as details have not been fully disclosed.

“Our priority is supporting our members – we are there to support both them and the community during the consultation period.”

The consultation is expected to run for two weeks.


For more information and comment:
Raymond Wheeler, 027 597 5404

Whakatāne Mill confirms closure but opportunities remain

The closure of Whakatāne Mill has been confirmed, with over 150 skilled operational workers being made redundant after 85 years of operations.

FIRST Union and E tū say that while vital the impact on the local community will be significant, there is still a chance for a new buyer to repurpose the existing plant and secure crucial infrastructure in New Zealand’s forestry supply chain.

“There are many options for refitting the existing assets to continue manufacturing pulp and paper products,” said Jared Abbott, FIRST Union Secretary for Transport, Logistics and Finance.

“We are inviting potential buyers to ask for our assistance to get the support needed to make the most of the existing skills and infrastructure available.

“There are opportunities in the industry and there is an important role for Government to play in securing the wood supply chain and increasing our manufacturing capacity.”

E tū spokesperson Raymond Wheeler says the announcement of the closure is “devastating” for local industry, including businesses such as scaffolding and engineering.

“We’ve just had the economic impact of the Whakaari (White Island) eruption and COVID-19 on Whakatāne’s tourism industry to contend with, and now the region has been dealt this blow. It’s an enormous hit to the regions and to the eastern Bay of Plenty.”

Raymond says job opportunities in the area are limited, and emphasises the urgency around the Government’s work on an Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) for the forestry and wood processing sector, if local manufacturing is to survive.


For more information and comment:
Jared Abbott, 021 617 131

Raymond Wheeler, 027 597 5404

Smelter extension brings certainty to Tiwai workers and community

Tiwai workers and the Southland community will now have time to plan a proper transition with the future of the Rio Tinto smelter secured for the next four years.

On January 14, it was announced that the smelter’s owner, Rio Tinto, has signed a contract with electricity provider Meridian Energy to keep the operation open until the end of 2024.

Originally, the company had proposed to close the smelter at the end of its contract in August, potentially impacting around 1000 workers and putting many local businesses and suppliers at risk.

Delegate Owen Evans says the majority of Tiwai workers are “quite happy with the decision” about the contract extension.

“For those with big mortgages and families, it’s been a relief for them. For younger ones, it removes the panic of having to search for a job immediately,” he says.

“Workers can stay at Tiwai in the interim and have the time to upskill to other roles they may want to do in future.”

The announcement is positive for many others in the community too, Owen says.

“A lot of people – for example, those in operations, suppliers, or food places – also rely on Tiwai.”

Owen says since the closure was first proposed, it’s been a struggle to attract new workers, with many leaving the company.

He says he hopes that will change thanks to the certainty the new contract provides.

Joe Gallagher, a negotiation specialist at E tū, says the news is a “win” for workers, the union and the community to enable a ‘Just Transition’.

“Four years gives everyone a lot of time to make choices about the future – whether that’s training, looking at different industries.

“Now people have a chance to put together a plan. It’s an opportunity for all parties, including the union, to put a frame around how things will look in 2024 and beyond.”

Since the proposed closure was announced last year, E tū has called on the company and the Government for a Just Transition to make sure the impact of switching to low-carbon or alternative industries doesn’t fall disproportionately on workers and their communities.

Joe says now there’s a new opportunity to set an example of a Just Transition model.

“We can make it the gold standard for what might help other communities to deal with this same question,” he says.


For more information and comment:
Joe Gallagher, 027 591 0015