Union comes into bat for Levin meat plant staff

01:43, Jan 31 2009

The Meat Workers Union has "picked up the cause" of suspended workers at Levin Meats and will provide legal representation at employer meetings this week.

Last Thursday, 27 workers staged a sit-in protest in their tea room over low wages and refused to work before police intervened.

About 27 workers from the site's cutting room, which processes and packages lamb carcasses, were suspended until further notice.

Levin Meats Limited is a processing and export meat company on Hokio Beach Road, in an industrial area near the township. A workforce of about 240 process lamb, mutton, hogget, and beef products.

The site is non-unionised because employees aren't given an option to join, workers said.

Only 18 workers remain suspended; the remainder have gone back to work, union southern area organiser Eric Mischefski said.

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"We recognise what's happening to these people - it's happened to some of our members in the past."

Acceptance of current work conditions and pay became "ingrained" in some people, Mr Mischefski said.

Most of the remaining suspended staff were earning less than the adult minimum wage of $12, he said.

Main issues to hammer out this week will be recovery of lost wages and resumption of employment, Mr Mischefski said.

Union support was provided unconditionally, which meant there was no obligation on employees to join the union, he said.

Industrial relations were usually volatile and confrontational, but increasingly less so at unionised sites, Mr Michefski said.

"Exposure" of poor pay and working conditions was the only way to better the site, he said.

Site manager Steve Painter declined to comment about the situation except to say the company would issue a press statement in "due course".

Manawatu Standard