Picket line becomes scene of celebration
About $1.5 million in wages was sucked from workers and their families before the deadlock in the 12-week industrial dispute at Affco's Horotiu plant was broken yesterday.
More than 100 workers have been locked out without pay since collective contract negotiations broke down in February and up to 140 have been on strike for the past five weeks.
But the tense atmosphere evaporated yesterday with the announcement that iwi pressure had helped broker a deal between the Talley family, Affco and the union.
Workers were put back on minimum pay, pending ratification of the draft collective from more than 1000 union members across seven other New Zealand meat processing plants.
The corner of Horotiu Rd and State Highway 1 morphed from vocal picket line to a celebratory last lunch of chops, eggs and white bread yesterday morning.
Motorists were still tooting and waving their support, but the anti-Talley slogans had been replaced with ear-to-ear grins.
Among the workers was born-and-bred Ngaruawahia resident Henry Rewha.
His wife was so happy at the deal she gave him a kiss, he said with a grin.
"It's all we ever wanted, just to get back to work."
Without iwi intervention he doubts whether the deal would have been reached.
"When they came in it made us feel better. That was all we needed – someone up there to say our side of the story."
But he's confident union members will ratify the decision on Friday because, "if [union executives] are happy with it, we're happy with it."
Union president Mike Nahu said the settlement secured the members' core issue concerns.
It retains protection of wages and employment security and ensures workers continue to have their terms and conditions set by a union-negotiated agreement.
Union rep in Horotiu, Robert Tukere, has worked at the plant for 30 years and now earns his wage as a bandsaw operator on the boning floor.
Mr Tukere said the workers had never got to know each other on the job because they worked in different departments and areas with varied smoko times.
"As this dispute has proved, I think it has brought us together more closely than anybody realises – I think that's happened through all the plants of Affco.
"If this happens again, we'll be out here again – it's as simple as that."
Waikato Tainui executive chair Tom Roa said the economic and political power of a united Iwi Leaders Forum was instrumental in brokering the deal.
"It is a great day for the workers and their whanau, who have suffered so much and we congratulate Talley's in recognising their responsibilities."