As Talley’s influence increased so did anti-union activity, according to Meatworkers organiser Roger Middlemass. “It was like a cold front arriving.”
He accuses Affco of a string of anti-union acts, including encouraging workers not to sign with the union and of banning the union from posting notices, including its financial statements, in plants.
“It is Dickensian,” he says. “This is not even last century stuff, it’s the century before.”
One example, he says, is the inclusion in the disputed contract of a clause that talks of making union members redundant on the grounds of irreconcilable differences between them and the employer, or them and other workers, or when “the interests of the employer would be best served by terminating the union member’s employment, not withstanding that the union member has not been guilty of any conduct or omission that would justify dismissal on the grounds of misconduct or poor performance”.
“It means that the employer can just say it’s in my interest that you don’t work for me any more. And you can’t take it to court because you’ve not been dismissed, you’ve been made redundant,” Middlemass says. “The word draconian isn’t strong enough to describe this.”
Affco operations manager Rowan Ogg says this clause is “reasonably standard” and that he has it in his employment contract.
Assuming it has been correctly reported, then I have to say the union has a very reasonable case here. An irreconciliable differences clause is not reasonably standard. The only place I knew which has them is Parliament, because it is impossible for an MPs office to function if the MP doesn’t have total trust in their staffer/s. But this clause probably wouldn’t even stand up in court, which is why there is always a payout of three or more months with it, if triggered. And often, another job found for the staffer with another MP.
That clause basically does ask meat workers to surrender their employment rights, and allow AFFCO to fire them for no substantive reason. Now I’m in favour of trial periods where you can do that as it is always a risk how a new employee works out. But I would not sign a contract like that if I worked at AFFCO.
If reported correctly, the clause also seems confused. Positions are made redundant, not people. You can not have a clause saying you are made redundant if we decide we do not like you.
I am no fan of the tactics of the Meatworkers Union. But that does not mean that they are wrong in refusing to sign the proposed contract. I would not sign a contract like that if I was a meat worker.