Staff in Porirua laid off with just $1000

Last updated 01:01 24/11/2008

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A Porirua factory has shed three long-serving workers, who leave with redundancy payments of just $1000 to feed their families.

Kiwi Plastic Company, which makes plastic bags for supermarkets, laid off its three night-shift workers, and union members, Aki Tuangalu, Tiaina Tavita and Nofo Wright. The night shift last Monday was their last.

Mr Tuangalu, 40, a father of five, had worked at the factory for 16 years, Mr Tavita, 44, for 12 years and Mr Wright for eight.

Mr Tuangalu said the union had spent six years trying to lift him off the minimum wage and include a redundancy deal in the workers' contracts, which would have seen him leave with about $11,000.

"I know that factory better than my wife, I think. I feel like I built this place. There's no words to explain it. I've got a massive headache. You just feel unappreciated."

Mr Tavita's wife is on a waiting list for heart surgery and they have three preschool children. His most pressing concern was paying the rent on his Housing New Zealand home.

"I don't know how I'm going to look after my kids. Since I first came to this country [in 1987], I've never been on a benefit."

Employment lawyer Andrew Scott-Howman said 15 years ago most contracts had "some element of redundancy compensation" but now, because employers were not obliged to offer it, most did not.

"The employer's not in any breach of anything that I can see but, from a moral perspective, a lot of Kiwis would say that doesn't sound like a fair go."

Managing director Angelus Tay blamed the global slump and increased material costs. "I feel very sorry for the people. I try to tell them if things improve we will try to get them back."

The trio were entitled to one week's notice of job loss, three weeks' pay - they get about $550 a week before tax - and holiday pay.

The $1000 was not part of their contract and, over the years, he had used his own money to help his employees through financial problems, he said.

"If I can, I would have given them more, but I can't."

A tearful Mary Tuangalu said she was angry the company had not taken the workers' long service into account. "They've put their heart and soul into it. They have families now [and] we're coming into Christmas. "

Porirua Deputy Mayor Litea Ah Hoi said she would help to fast-track the men into benefits under a joint council and Social Development Ministry scheme.

The company had "taken 16 years of Aki's life ... To be offering $1000 for 16 years of service is absolutely disgusting."

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- The Dominion Post

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