In the last 20 years, there has been a shift in the importance of Unions in New Zealand. The introduction of the 1991 Employment Contracts Act and the following Employment Relations Act 2000 allowed employees and employers the freedom to negotiate in a Good Faith Bargaining environment without the involvement of the Government. And therefore the unions and collective agreements were no longer mandatory to guarantee good work conditions. This year, a big example of Employment Relations involving Union and employers disagreements is the AFFCO plants lockout. Since February 2012, 1250 union members have been involved in 6 AFFCO plants lockouts due to disputes between New Zealand Meat Workers Union (NZMWU) and AFFCO. The disagreement finally ended in late May with an arrangement between the parties. This case study will use the Employment Relations theories to explain the relevance of the dispute between a fast growing company and the union trying to protect its member’s rights in the current employment environment.
Earlier this year the media spotlight turned to the dispute between AFFCO, a meat processing organisation and the New Zealand Meat Workers Union. It brought up a radical side of unionism that does not reflect the majority of Union activities in New Zealand. Who are the parties involved? And what is the conflict that caused grief to employees and employers really about? On one side of this dispute is AFFCO, a meat processing organization owned by the Talley’s family since 2001. In 1936 a Yugoslav immigrant, Ivan Talijancich, opened a fish shop in Motueka and bought a boat to supply it. His sons, Peter and Michael, took over the business when he died in 1964. Since then the business has grown and the family is now worth $300 million and Talley’s Group owns: eight meat plants in New Zealand (AFFCO), four fish processing plants, vegetable farms, 53% majority of milk processor Open Country, Ice-cream factory in Motueka and the Rutherford Hotel in Nelson1. On the other side of the dispute is the New Zealand Meat Workers Union. The NZMWU was created in 1971 in an attempt to form a National Union to support meat workers and related trades. In the 1990s, however, another union was formed in the North Island, the Meat and Related Trades Workers Union of Aotearoa (MUA), allowing workers the freedom to choose between the two different unions. In 2005 a decision was made to disband all the members from MUA to NZMWU forming one single union to represent meat workers over the entire country. Since then sacrifices were made by its members through strikes and negotiations to achieve the good working conditions of today2. In February this year the meat processor AFFCO locked out more than 760 unionised employees in 5 of its North Island plants over a contract dispute3. Some unionised workers were kept in some strategic operational areas while the more radical union members were locked out. The union claimed that the lockout was illegal and it was an attempt by AFFCO to break the collectivism and reduce workers memberships, they accused the Talley’s family of being anti-unionism. In March AFFCO announced that all the union members that were still engaged at work would get paid holidays over Easter as long as they did not participate on strikes planned by the union. The lockout continued over the Easter Holidays. After the holidays all the unionised workers that were still allowed in the plants, including workers from the other unaffected AFFCO plants went on a 5 day strike. In May 2012 the Employment Court put the dispute under investigation in an attempt to end the 3 month lockout. The dispute finally ended late May when AFFCO and the New Zealand Meat Workers Union implemented a new collective agreement. Overall, the dispute over a new collective agreement lasted for 12 weeks with both parties unwilling to give up their power of negotiation. AFFCO had offered a pay rise of 4.3 per cent over the following two...
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