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 Pike River 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 Silver Fern Farms 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 Meat Workers Union 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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