What about the workers?

The Spark October 2010
Philip Fergusson

While the media has emphasised how everyone in Canterbury has pulled together in the aftermath of the quake, workers in a number of businesses have found themselves short of pay, being forced to work straight after the quake when they needed some recovery time and being forced to use up holiday pay. Well, at least until Unite union and local activists from groups like the Workers Party and Beyond Resistance got on their case.

Unite local organiser Matt Jones called for a “Tour of Shame”, a series of pickets for Sunday, September 19 to highlight four particular employers over these kinds of abuses. Two of the four outfits (a Subway store and Readings at the Palms) gave in before the Sunday. In the Subway case, this meant paying out their staff full pay.

Activists therefore only ended up picketing Garden City Bowl, which had refused to pay wages and tried to make staff take annual leave, and First Security, which had forced staff to work in what many of the workers saw as unsafe conditions immediately following the quake.

The pickets made Prime News and TV1 news. A couple of days later, Garden City Bowl paid their workers any hours owed and restored all annual leave.

Another group of workers not too happy at the way they were treated immediately after the quake were Port of Lyttelton employees. About a hundred of those still working the wharves at that time were non-unionised, mainly casuals. Some of the port workers had lost homes, yet crane workers, for instance, were ordered back into potentially dangerous, high positions very quickly. There were aftershocks when some of them were up over 50 feet (16m) high in cranes. One worker told reporter Alan Wood, “We were uneasy about sitting that high up on a wharf that’s just gone through a 7.1 earthquake.”

The Port Company’s chief executive, Peter Davie, claimed, “we didn’t have a major aftershock”, although there had actually been a 5.1 quake within the time period to which he was referring. In response to workers’ complaints, he told Wood, “I guess it’s the old thing. If you walk around your business you’ll probably find a couple of people who want to grumble about everything.”

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