Both employer and union to blame

December 17th, 2010 at 10:43 am by David Farrar

Anna Leask at the Herald reported:

Staff at a North Island freezing works had their pay cut for the official two-minute silence to remember the 29 miners killed in the mine.

My reaction upon reading this first paragraph was to do a post lashing out at the employer as a bad employer who should be ashamed of themselves. Bad employers piss me off, because they make life hard for all the other employers.

But upon reading the full story, it is more nuanced. The employer is not without blame, but neitehr is the union. In fact the poor employees are the victims in a struggle between the two.

Staff at the Te Aroha plant lost two cattle each from their daily quota – the equivalent of between 98c and $1.60 for each worker – after downing tools.

Staff are paid for each beast they process, and have a daily quota of 280 cattle.

It takes about 63 seconds to skin, gut and bone an animal.

Depending on their experience, workers are paid between 49c and 80c for each beast processed.

So my thought was why not just pay them for the two extra beasts, or alternatively just carry on working until 5.02 pm.

Silver Fern Farms chief executive Keith Cooper said all workers were encouraged to observe the two-minute silence.

He said the local branch of the approached Silver Fern Farms in support of observing the memorial silence.

“As the meat workers are remunerated on the basis of throughput, Silver Fern Farms offered the union the opportunity for workers to process the missed two animals at the end of day as overtime.

“However the union declined the offer as a gesture of solidarity with Silver Fern Farms as an employer and in the spirit of comradeship with the West Coast workers.”

So the union refused to allow the workers to gain the money back.

When asked why Silver Fern Farms didn’t just pay the workers for the two cattle, a spokeswoman for Mr Cooper said it “just wasn’t an issue at the time”.

Well, it was still a dumb call. Yes you may be peeved at the union for refusing permission to work until 5.02 pm, but why not be a good employer and not punish the staff for doing the very decent thing of observing two minutes silence.

Union president Mike Nahu said the local union representative declined the overtime offer because the union did not want their tribute to the miners to be based on money.

He said workers had a clause in their contract saying they could have extra time at the end of a shift to process any remaining beasts.

“We chose not to make up the loss. It wasn’t about the money, it was about respect. They could have very well made it up, but that wasn’t the issue.”

He could not say if the local union representative explained the decision to all workers before the stoppage.

He said no one had approached the union to complain, but accepted some workers might not be happy with the decision to forgo the remaining beasts.

Basically both the union and the employer have crapped on the workers.  They have both put their desire not to give in to the other over doing the right thing.

However at the end of the day, Silver Fern should have done the right thing and paid them for two extra beasts. If I was on the board of Silver Fern, I’d want to know who made that decision, and hold them accountable for it.

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39 Responses to “Both employer and union to blame”

  1. Chris Doms (14 comments) says:

    Petty and pathetic. Those words describe both the Herald article and the employer/union position.

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  2. Nick R (522 comments) says:

    I agree this should have been a no-brainer for Silver Fern. Obviously they didn’t stop to think what this would look like when the media got their hands on it. But I can’t quite grasp why the Union would not have encouraged staff to work extra time at the end of the shift if theywanted to make up the time. Dumb all round really.

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  3. PaulL (5,449 comments) says:

    Disagree somewhat. If you have a pay system that works per beast, it’d be a lot of work to manually pay 2 extra beasts per worker. I doubt it even crossed anyone’s mind to do so. I doubt they finish at exactly 5pm anyway on a normal day, so how could you tell if people made it up or didn’t? Sounds like they work until the yards are empty either way.

    In short, sounds like a storm in a teacup. Who is actually upset?

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  4. Nookin (3,562 comments) says:

    Well said DPF. Exactly what I posted earlier on GD.

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  5. BeaB (2,164 comments) says:

    It reminds me of the secondary teachers who go on strike but still expect to be paid.
    In this case, the union clearly thought part of their act of respect was to forgo the $2 they would have earned and therefore rejected the employer’s offer to make it up.
    The only people who look bad in this are the whingers who went to the media and the Herald for making a front page splash of it in a sensationalist effort to heap shame on the blameless employer and union.

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  6. malcolm (1,952 comments) says:

    The wording is misleading. From my reading, they are paid a piece-rate. Some days they do more cattle, some days they do less. There pay was not ‘cut’, it was calculated based on the number of cattle processed, just like any other day.

    Also the journalist is an idiot: “It takes about 63 seconds to skin, gut and bone an animal.” Yeah, and Henry Ford’s Rouge factory could make a Model T Ford in 1 minute. Oh wait..

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  7. OTGO (579 comments) says:

    They didn’t make tally that day so they only get paid for what they did. I don’t see what all the fuss is about. The Herald is such a shit paper trying to talk up this sort of sensation. It’s this sort of small minded reporting that keeps NZ where it is in the world. Stuck in an irrelevant South Pacific backwater.

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  8. eszett (2,450 comments) says:

    Indeed, PaulL, it’s mostly easier said than done. While it may seem reasonable to say just pay the two beast that they didn’t process, yet I am sure there is some reconciliation that match the number of beasts processed to the number paid. I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t.

    Maybe they could have dropped the quota by 2 for just that day, but who knows how much work that may have been on the IT side.

    All in all in is truly a storm in a tea cup. I somehow suspect that the union just used this as a good opportunity to paint the employers as greed bastards.

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  9. anonymouse (705 comments) says:

    The question that springs to mind is this,

    Why has this only become an issue at Te Aroha?, presumably SFF and the Union had a Nation-wide policy on this issue, so has this become an issue only because the Te Aroha plant was subsequently destroyed?

    Given that the employment appears to be based on a piece-rate system, I am assuming that the rest of the meat workers in the country accept that they will eventually get paid for the lost production through the rest of the season, ( as the animals will eventually have to go through the plant at some point in the season)

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  10. ben (2,279 comments) says:

    I’ll blame the union. They wreck everything else, let’s not assume they’ll be breaking a strong trend now.

    Oh, its not about the money, Mr Unionist? Except it is, it always is. The entire article is about the $1.60. It’s only about the money in union land.

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  11. ben (2,279 comments) says:

    The issue only arises because they are paid on an output basis. Nobody’s docking $1.60 for people on a flat salary. Would it kill the unions to honour the contract they signed up to, rather than expect exceptions to be made, and at all times in their favour?

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  12. MT_Tinman (3,316 comments) says:

    Basically both the union and the employer have crapped on the workers. They have both put their desire not to give in to the other over doing the right thing.

    No, no one has been “crapped on” at all.

    This is simply a union inspired slime beat-up filling in on a slow news day.

    The workers are paid for what they do and they were paid for what they did.

    End of story!

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  13. PaulL (5,449 comments) says:

    Anonymouse, this was a very good point:

    as the animals will eventually have to go through the plant at some point in the seaso

    So nobody got paid any less, sooner or later all the beasts got / will get processed. It isn’t like there are now 100 animals that will be left in the pens at the end of the week. Should have seen that up front.

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  14. david (2,194 comments) says:

    There is a deafeniing silence from the apologists for the left on this one. We can only assume that silence indicates agreement with the sentiments expressed.

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  15. malcolm (1,952 comments) says:

    ..sooner or later all the beasts got / will get processed.

    Not necessarily. There is competition between the processors and those two cattle will displace two cattle from tomorrow, which will displace two cattle from the day after, and so one. It’s a bit like the barber saying “never mind the drunk on my doorstep scaring away my customers – they’ll need to have that haircut eventually”.

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  16. Viking2 (11,673 comments) says:

    some points.
    The union created the problem by creating a bullshit excuse to stop people working. Called intimidation. The employees’ did not need to stop work and if they did it was not the companies responsibility to pay.
    People can run their own 2 minutes silence if they want. No reason to do this at work. They can go to church or some more spiritual place.

    What DPF posts is typical socialist bullshit. Where the hell does he think the money comes from? Oh that’s right the 350 million we borrow each week. SF Farms have been bordering broke for years, just the stuff to finish them off, which wouldn’t necessarily be bad anyway.
    People die every day. Will we have a 2 minutes silence at the end of the year forthe 360 or so that get killed on the roads, or the men and women who take their own lives because of the appalling financial management of NZ and its barrons. Are they going to do one tomorrow for the 50 or so drowned at Xmas Island or the 30 miners killed inChina. FFS this wailing and nashing of teeth is making NZ’s days like a fulltime on going tangi.
    Of course Key started it off with his trip back home after a helicopter accident. If he can do it so can the unions.

    Clearly the weeping crying socialists haven’t left the beehive at all.
    Grow up and get a life, this is life.

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  17. side show bob (3,410 comments) says:

    The poor buggers who work in these places deserve every cent they get, I know I couldn’t handle it. I generally like my animals alive. Anyhow when it’s all said and done I think you will find that the farmer pays for it all in the end. Sure the meatworks add value but the list of levies and charges on cattle slaughtering would make Len Brown blush.

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  18. Murray (8,803 comments) says:

    They’re on a peice rate not an hourly rate.

    This is entirely a non-story.

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  19. scrubone (3,097 comments) says:

    SFF came up with a solution that worked for everyone. The union did not.

    So how did this become a “evil company” story?

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  20. Jimbob (641 comments) says:

    It is widely known in the rural sector that Silver Fern Farms, formally PPCS, are a*seholes. I do not know anybody who likes these pricks, and is one of the reasons why the meat industry is in a pickle. They had to rebrand their business because the PPCS brand had no value, in fact the mention of the name usually brought out expletives only Red could understand.
    I do not trust unions at the best of times, but I am on their side with this one.

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  21. John Q Public (14 comments) says:

    You can skin, gut, and break down a cattle beast in 63 secs? I doubt you could do a sheep in that time.

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  22. John Q Public (14 comments) says:

    ……unless you’d been doing a lot of time in D block…..

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  23. KiwiGreg (3,278 comments) says:

    “However at the end of the day, Silver Fern should have done the right thing and paid them for two extra beasts. If I was on the board of Silver Fern, I’d want to know who made that decision, and hold them accountable for it.”

    And if I was a shareholder I’d be calling for your job.

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  24. peterwn (3,333 comments) says:

    The employees should have offered to work one minute past time with usual pay maintained ie the employees and employer sharing the ‘burden’ of the honourable act.

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  25. tankyman (116 comments) says:

    Its 2 minutes of time. The fact that the unions got involved about it being added to the end of the day is shocking.

    There could be an entire system linked to the ‘count of cattle’ thus its not just a matter of adding 2 per staff member at the end of the day.

    Still – people that quibble over doing 2 minutes work extra at the end of the day are always going to be the ones at the bottom of the pile.

    So – I dont blame the employer in the slightest (they have seemed to do everything right) – I blame the union and the stupid assed people who are too lazy to keep going for an extra 2 mins at the end of the day.

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  26. jinpy (226 comments) says:

    I can’t imagine what its like to do all that to 280 animals five days a week… they must dream in red.

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  27. Dazzaman (1,082 comments) says:

    2 minutes…what’s that, half a cup of coffee? Bah humbug.

    Crikey, the hierarchy are bloody tight though. Any reasonable person would have just let a couple of minutes slide….or am I not as bloody minded about getting my 2 cents worth, or 2 min’s worth, of blood from the stone?

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  28. PaulL (5,449 comments) says:

    Dazzaman, you’re missing the point. The whole pay system is set up to pay per beast processed, on a piece work basis. There’s no concept of letting a couple of minutes slide, the system isn’t on an hourly basis. And they were pretty clear that the staff normally work until the pens are empty, which can mean a few minutes beyond the end of shift. So it seems to me that there was no actual loss of pay at all, just a couple minutes extra work. Storm in a teacup, and clear indication that we need something interesting happening in this country for the media to report on.

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  29. Dazzaman (1,082 comments) says:

    John Q Public (9) Says:
    December 17th, 2010 at 2:40 pm
    You can skin, gut, and break down a cattle beast in 63 secs? I doubt you could do a sheep in that time.

    They’re pretty efficient in the works these days. I dunno if we ever quartered them that quickly but you’ve got some pretty heavy duty gear at the business end of the chain. Being in the boning room, things were sliced, diced, wrapped and boxed really quickly.

    Killing sheep on the farm, that’s a quick operation. Has to be, harder to get the skin off when they go cold. LOL

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  30. Dazzaman (1,082 comments) says:

    Who cares what the pay structure is, it’s called MEAN. But you’re right, it’s a bit of a beat up.

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  31. PaulL (5,449 comments) says:

    Dazzaman – the pay structure is what drives the ability to let things slide. If I pay someone by the hour, it’s easy to let a few minutes slide – in fact it’d be harder to dock them. If I pay them per beast processed, it’s pretty tricky to pay them for some beasts that they didn’t process. I suspect nobody thought to hard about it – rather than being mean. They agreed to the stoppage, everyone was fine. The fact that means each worker did 1-2 fewer beasts, and got paid $1-$3 less for the day, was just an automatic consequence of the pay structure.

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  32. Ed Snack (1,940 comments) says:

    Yep, a dishonest beat-up. You do piece work, that’s how you’re paid. The correct approach is to say (as SFF did), lets work the extra time to complete the number. Absolute bullshit that the workers were deprived of anything, the editor who approved that headline is probably very happy with the publicity it generated, but is is a thoroughly dishonest headline. I’m not sure what the equivalent value of each beast is to SFF, but somehow SFF should simply do that money ?

    Anyway, complaining about loss of money completely devalues the gesture. Hey, I’ll give 2 minutes silence for the miners, but not if it costs me $1.60. Some respect.

    Probably hardly worth explaining to the deadhead who wrote the story, but they process one animal per 63 seconds, not a whole animal in 63 seconds. It probably takes 10 minutes + (depends on the chain speed) to go from slaughter to the carcass chiller. Each worker does a specific task on the chain and spends an average of 63 seconds per beast.

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  33. Dazzaman (1,082 comments) says:

    What part of “it’s a bit of a beat up.” don’t you understand Paul. I agree…

    I couldn’t care less about the pay structure, though I do agree they could have done a little extra at the end of the day. FFS, much ado about 2 minutes!

    Yep, Ed that’s right. Even in the old days it was a pretty rapid process…though with a lot more workers on the chain.

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  34. PaulL (5,449 comments) says:

    The bit where you said:

    Who cares what the pay structure is, it’s called MEAN

    But we’re agreed it’s a beatup.

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  35. Viking2 (11,673 comments) says:

    That’s what you get when you have unions that can control workplaces. It ain’t about the Pike fellows at all, its about the unions dictating to management and the workers in an attempt to control the workplace. Had SFF refused then the unions would without doubt caused more mayhem and strife. Fuck don’t any of you people know any history of these bastards.
    This sort of interfering shit used to happen a dozen times a week in the works once upon a time. People like Middlemass and many others used to decide each night which works they would go to the next day to cause trouble.
    He did it once to often at Patea and despite a plethora of warnings to stop or the works would close, the union and the workers chose to ignore them and place got shut down. Patea is still a wasteland.

    This is just a resurgence of the same crap because we have a National Govt. One which is too weak to get rid of the union power. Bring back Bill Birch.

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  36. Johnboy (17,043 comments) says:

    “You can skin, gut, and break down a cattle beast in 63 secs? I doubt you could do a sheep in that time.”

    :)

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  37. Dazzaman (1,082 comments) says:

    # PaulL (3,708) Says:
    December 17th, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    The bit where you said:

    Who cares what the pay structure is, it’s called MEAN

    But we’re agreed it’s a beatup.

    Happy now?

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  38. PaulL (5,449 comments) says:

    Are you? You asked a question, I answered.

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  39. bc (1,395 comments) says:

    BeaB: “It reminds me of the secondary teachers who go on strike but still expect to be paid.”

    WRONG (But hey, who needs to have facts when you are showing your prejudices)

    PPTA has informed their members everytime they took industrial action that they should expect to have their pay deducted. And yes I have the evidence to prove it, before you dig a deeper hole for yourself (refer to the PPTA advise newsletters to members called “The Negotiator”).

    Back to the post from DPF: Agree totally. what a mess all round, but especially the employeer who come across as very mean spirited – you would think they would realise it would be a PR disaster.

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