Don Franks The Spark April 2009
On its website, fishing company Sealord boasts of its responsible environmental practice:
”We are committed to harvesting the seas[sic] resources in a sustainable way and this is one of the key points of our company environmental policy. We have secure access to about 19 percent of New Zealand’s quota and have alliances or joint ventures in other countries. Wherever we operate we promote the adoption of sustainable fishing practices. In New Zealand waters we work with other fish quota holders, through fisheries management companies, to improve and monitor fishing standards, carry out research on fish stocks and find ways to reduce bycatch of mammals.”
Sealord isn’t committed to employment sustainability. The company intends cutting 180 land-based jobs in Nelson and is not ruling out the closure of its plant there.
The Service and Food workers union estimates that a total of 500 workers could lose their jobs. The union notes that at a time when unity and collective cooperation between unions, employers and the Government is making headlines, Sealord have demanded that their employees must accept a reduction in wages to increase profits or face dismissal.
”Sealord intends to lay off around 160 staff immediately, and have indicated to us that they may close the processing plant in the near future unless staff agree to what is effectively a $70 a week cut in wages across the board.” says Neville Donaldson, SFWU Assistant National Secretary. Sealord have demanded that workers increase the company profits by $1.8 million through wage and condition cuts.” ”If staff don’t agree to the proposed cut in wages and conditions within the three week consultation process, Sealord management have advised us that the board may take an option to close the processing facility in Nelson which currently employs over 500 workers.”
The company plans to process fish on factory ships out at sea.
Sealord’s announcement came within days of the National government initiated “Jobs Summit”, where Sealord was represented. Prime Minister John Key has done much theoretical speculating about job losses recently. When faced with a real issue, he had no help to offer.
“I think in the case of Sealords they’re actually restructuring their business.” said Key.
“One thing we have to be realistic about is the recession will ultimately drive some of those changes, it’s not to say we’re not hugely sympathetic to those who have lost their job, we understand that there will be change,” Mr Key told TV3′s Sunrise.
On 21/ 3/ 09, more than 200 people turned out to support the redundant workers at a jobs rally in Nelson.
They marched up Trafalgar St carrying banners reading: “Put People First”, and chanted: “What do we want? To keep our job.” and “There’s no need for corporate greed”.
The rally was organised by the Service and Food Workers Union .
Other workers in the region have also been hit. Nelson Pine will lay off 60 workers on April 9, and 100 night shift workers at Alliance Group’s Stoke plant had their season finish two months earlier than last year.
The SFWU has nearly 4000 signatures on a petition calling on Sealord to reconsider its redundancies, and it used the rally to collect more signatures.
The petition will be presented to the company next week.
Sealord day shift worker Susie Falloon said she joined the march to show Nelsonians that Sealord was cutting their wages and overtime.
“It’s not fair on us and the company is thinking only of its money and its product,” she said.
That comment sums up the essence of the problem. Expansion of company profitability comes before every social consideration. Sealord is owned jointly by Nippon Suisan Kaisha of Japan and Maori tribes via Aotearoa Fisheries. The fact of Maori tribe ownership has been of no benefit to the many Maori Sealord workers about to be sacked.
Under the capitalist economic system we currently live in, all Sealord’s attacks on workers’ jobs are entirely legal. As long as we accept this state of affairs, legal assaults on workers living will continue; future generations of workers will be doomed to suffer forced unemployment. A necessary part of union fightback against redundancies is questioning, rejecting and working to replace the capitalist system.