The following article updates on an earlier post on this blog in which we reprinted a September 7 press release by the Northern Amalgamated Workers Union.
On the 28th of September SPL (Warkworth) and Northern AWUNZ Union signed an agreement brokered through the Department of Labour to settle their dispute over the 13 workers made redundant on 4 October. All 13 of the workers made redundant will receive offers of permanent seasonal employment of 5-9 months per year starting on 7 November. This offer is in addition to the affected workers being given 2 weeks pay in lieu of notice, and redundancy pay of 4 weeks for the first year of service, plus 2 weeks for each subsequent year of service. The Labour Dept was satisfied that the outcome meant that the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers were no longer displacing Permanent Resident workers.
The deal was unanimously endorsed at a meeting of the affected workers, and the union considers the outcome to be the best one achievable in the circumstances. The union understands that all of its affected members will be taking up the Company’s offer of permanent seasonal employment in November. The RSE workers will also benefit: the union was told by the company that the small increase above the minimum wage it negotiated in April will also be paid to the RSE workers who arrive next month.
The Union and the local Kiribati community had launched a lively campaign in response to the redundancies. A meeting attended by about 40 I-Kiribati workers was held in Warkworth on 14 September. Mana leader Hone Harawiri spoke, urging the workers and Kiribati community to push forward the struggle themselves. Harawira had also done a lot of work behind the scenes to get the Dept of Labour along to the meeting and getting them to force the company to participate in mediation. The star of the show was Mana activist Jesse Pene, who turned up, complete with a ceremonial fighting staff, and proceeded to give a rousing speech about how he was part of a militant struggle against redundancies by construction workers at the Aotea centre back in the day. He urged the workers to take strike action to defeat the redundancies and finished by appealing to those workers with residency to party vote Mana. His korero was greeted by rapturous applause by the I-Kiribati.
The negotiated deal represents a partial victory for the workers, considering the odds they were up against (i.e. workers from one of the poorest countries on earth versus a boss who is personal friends with John Key and Lockwood Smith). Union Organiser Mike Kyriazopoulos commented: “This proves that if you do nothing, you get nothing; but if you put up a fight – as we did – you can win something for the workers.”