EPMU wins for Tiwai workers

Written By: - Date published: 6:55 pm, May 17th, 2014 - 33 comments
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News today that NZAS appeal against the EPMU’s claim for contract shift payments at Tiwai Point has failed is another well-deserved win for workers. True to form, the company is bleating that it might cost it $20million. That would be a drop in the bucket compared to what workers have lost there since Rio Tinto moved aggressively to de-unionise the site in 1990 after the introduction of the Employment Contracts Act. They then used the same union-busting approach with individual contracts to attack mine workers in Australia.

The DomPost reports that the EPMU now has 64 members at the smelter. This will be a tribute to the hard work of organiser Trevor Hobbs who has battled away as the union’s Southland organiser for many years.

I recall as a green negotiator being very happy to have the benefit of fitter’s delegate Trevor’s encyclopedic knowledge when we were negotiating the Freezing Industry Tradesmen’s Award in the days of the Labour Relations Act in the late 1980’s, bringing seven different awards into one industry agreement – not an easy task. The other thing I remember from that experience was that the companies hated each other even more than they hated the unions – a problem that bedevils the meat industry to this day.

Thoughtful as usual, Trevor’s comment was that he was pleased for the workers, and that more should join the union as there were many other issues to sort out.

33 comments on “EPMU wins for Tiwai workers”

  1. Blue 1

    Yes this is good news. It shows that the Governments investment to save those jobs was worthwhile, despite the shrieking we observed against it.

    • Lanthanide 1.1

      Blue, the government’s contribution guaranteed the plant would be open for, I believe, an additional 12 months longer than the prevailing contract already stipulated. Of course the government and oblivious media did not report that particular detail. Therefore it worked out to be $30M for 12 months of operation. This to a company that reported a profit of $3.7B last year.

      Maybe you don’t have a problem giving cash to very wealthy multi-national companies?

      • Blue 1.1.1

        I don’t have a problem with Government preserving jobs in skilled industries. I don’t have a problem with the downstream jobs it saves either. Perhaps you could tell the workers of Southland are not worthy of assistance in your opinion.

        • tricledrown

          You should call yourself red then.
          So on top of the $30 million the govt gave riotinto to keep tiwar open till after the election the govt subsidized riotinto through reducing the cost of power by $476 million as well.
          $500 million subsidy to a massively profitable corporate bully.
          Just to keep southland voting National.
          While the rest of us pay a lot more for power.
          Blow me away blue/red.

          • Blue

            Just to keep Southlanders in work FIFY.

            • Molly

              Just to keep Southlanders in work “…in these particular precarious jobs, in this particular polluting industry, for this particular bullying and already profitable company”. FIFY.

            • Colonial Viper

              Just to keep Southlanders in work FIFY.

              The owners Rio Tinto made $4B in global profits last year and the NZ tax payer is subsidising that directly. It’s an appalling strain of corporate welfare, but I’m not surprised that you are all for it.

    • Naturesong 1.2

      The government did not pay off Tiwai Point in order to save jobs according to Bill English.
      Additionally, as part of the deal, Tiwai gets to halve their obligated wind-down period when they eventually shut the doors – pretty sure that alone would have been worth more than $30 million to the region.

      Given that Tiwai will eventually close (much sooner now thanks to National), the $30 million would have been much better spent on regional development initiatives.

      But they didn’t do any of that. Because the deal was all about making sure that New Zealanders kept paying 10% – 14% more for their power than they would if Tiwai closed.

      • Lanthanide 1.2.1

        Only 10-14%? Got any reference for that? I would’ve thought it would make a bigger dent than that in prices.

        • Naturesong

          From University of Auckland, Energy Centre; Tiwai Smelter Energy Centre Analysis

          We find that when the smelter is removed there is a significant drop in the wholesale price of electricity across the country.
          Figure 1 shows how electricity prices fall across the country.
          At the Tiwai node where the smelter is located the price of electricity falls by 18.4% over the course of the year. Whilst at the main population centres in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch prices fall by 5.4%, 9.0% and 15.0% respectively.
          These price reductions occur despite the extra line losses that would occur from having to transmit energy further up the country.

          Unfortunately I cannot find the original published, and came across this linked in Gareth Morgans blog post about Why You Should be Worried About Labour/Greens Electricity Proposal
          I don’t agree with Gareths opinion on this, or the Greens / Labour proposal and would have rather seen the power companies back under public ownership, restructured as utilities and pricing returned to a cost plus model.

          There is also the alternative put forward by Tim Hunter as Chalkie that Tiwai would not have closed, and that Key, Ryall and English were simply taken for a ride, the taxpayers having paid for their political pride.

          If you google about you can see 10% bandied about at around the time this was in the press, but I’ve not been able to locate the sources of the 10% figure used.
          With Tiwai consuming 13%-14% of the national electricity supply, a 10% average reduction in price seems a reasonable estimate (my truthiness detector is flashing now)

  2. Bruce 2

    It might cost the company 20 million because they will pass the union win onto non-unionised employees as well. Bad anti-union employers have got away with this union busting behaviour for way too long. The company could have done the right thing in the first place and complied with the law.
    Stuff has kindly implied the win puts the future of the business in doubt – the usual tory parrot to smear trade unions as greedy and counter productive for businesses.


  3. Philj 3

    Great news for Tiwai, such a generous offer to pay out the non union workers as well as those unionists and boost the local economy! Such largesse is rare in multi nationals. Top marks Rio. Your workers really appreciate it and look forward to company loyalty to the Southland region /sarc. Top marks also to the Union for winning this case.

  4. Skinny 4

    A great result well done EPMU!

    Which highlights the point of unionised worksites and the follow on effect for free loaders. Those non unionised workers at Tiwai should do the honourable thing and either join the EPMU or another union covering that site, and or repay fees from the time they signed on as an employee.

    The direct consequences of union busting by Thatcher, Regan, and here in NZ, Ruth Richardson’s ECA have contributed massively to the inequality gap that has taken off like a run away train. Sooner or later the trian will derail or hit the end of the line, either way it’s going to be a train wreck on an epic scale.

    • Zeroque 4.1

      Slightly off topic but freeloading is a problem in most places where there is union membership present. And in my experience with the current employment legislation in place it’s almost impossible to eliminate, or even minimise. Employers pass on the benefits gained by unionised workers from collective bargaining and other activities to non-members and this undermines a unions ability to recruit new members. Employers pass these terms on under the guise of treating all employees equally irrespective of union affiliation status. The sooner we get some better employment law that helps this situation the better.

  5. Tiger Mountain 5

    The aluminium smelter has always been a ratbag operation with the only positive spin off being jobs–and those came at a significant cost to the local environment and community and the rest of us taxpayers and electricity users. Corporate welfare.

    But well done EPMU; potential freeloaders should think hard about Skinny’s suggestion. Most of the countrys workers are freeloaders these days coasting on the efforts of those that remain organised.

    • Lanthanide 5.1

      What damage is there to the local environment from the smelter?

    • Naturesong 5.2

      The flipside is that when the Union gets wins that are not passed onto non-union members they get viciously attacked in the press.

      I wasn’t surprised by Rodney Hide‘s article.
      But was that it also appeared as a general article: Bonus for Parliament’s unionists ‘bizarre’

      I first realised that the Herald prints outright lies when I was a teenager.
      I had witnessed unprovoked police violence on a mass scale from a position of safety, on high ground with a clear view of the entire scene as it played out over a couple of hours.

      When I returned to Auckland, on the front page the event I had witnessed was reported as a band of drunken rioters controlled by police action.
      I still remember the chill I felt when I read the lies in the paper, and the sense of powerlessness I felt over the next few days when I tried to tell people what had really happened, only to be told that I was mistaken / drunk / involved and just trying to excuse my own behaviour.

      I’m a lot older now, but I’m still surprised everytime I see lies printed in the paper.

      • One thing to note about the Parliamentary union staff’s “bizarre” bonus is that negotiating for cash payments instead of across-the-board pay rises is actually fairly common in collective agreement negotiations. It’s funny, you’d expect the parties which pride themselves on “real life business experience” to know that, wouldn’t you?

  6. Tiger Mountain 6

    • Coastal Study, Environment Southland, “Tiwai Pt is Considered to have outstanding natural features”, the problem is visual pollution, the smelter is the “only human element to an otherwise natural landscape”.

    • NZ Aluminium Smelters Ltd, is roughly New Zealand’s third largest point source of greenhouse gas emissions but gets a free pass on ETS. The Ministry for the Environment allocated 437,681 units to NZ Aluminium Smelter Ltd for the 2011 calendar year. That’s 136,996 more units allocated than surrendered or alternatively the units allocated to NZ Aluminium Smelter Ltd exceeded the units surrendered by 146%. So that’s even more excessive than 2010′s 135% over-allocation.
    source: Hot-Topic.co.nz

    • withdrew from partly funding Kakapo recovery programme

    • in 2011 the smelter used 20.6% of all electricity in industry making it the largest individual consumer

    • Jenny 6.1

      Kia ora Tiger

      A unified and principled response to Rio Tinto Zinc, Sumitomo Chemicals and the National Government is what is needed.

      1# The unionists need to engage in an active campaign to trade this victory into getting all other workers or at least the majority of other workers on this site into the union.

      2# Their first priority on achieving majority union coverage is to engage in a fight for a proper redundancy package to help these workers cope with the long announced and pending closure of the plant which is hanging over all their heads.

      3# The redundancy agreement should set as its target, at the very least, the $30 million given by us the taxpayer to the Smelter which the government argued was not a gift to their billionaire mates in the company but to “help these workers”.

      4# To set a precedent for the coal miners and other workers in climate destroying industries also facing closure, the CTU must promise to deliver full economic and industrial support for these workers so that they, and the others that follow them, can get a just transition to jobs that don’t fry the planet.

      5# All other political parties and NGOs that share in common with the unions the interests of the people and the planet and not the polluters and plutocrats interests, should also give their full financial and physical backing to these workers to help them achieve a just transition away from Tiwai and to a better future for themselves their children and their grandchildren.

    • Lanthanide 6.2

      So the only ‘local’ environmental damage is the “visual pollution”, then.

      • Tiger Mountain 6.2.1

        Picky, picky Lanthanide, I never used “damage” I used “cost” as in impact to the environment. Once a natural setting is changed to industrial use there is rarely any going back. Green house emissions impact everyone locally one way or another from adverse weather to financially.

        Also the rocks at the tip of Tiwai Point have been identified as an Important Bird Area, by BirdLife International because they are home to a breeding colony of Stewart Island Shags. There is also the Māori history of the site to delve into as well.

        • Lanthanide

          You’re right, you used cost, not damage. I said damage myself.

          I’m not picking on you or anything, I’m just trying to learn the facts around this smelter. It was my understanding that they weren’t going around digging up aluminium in massive open-cast mines somewhere in Southland, and you have confirmed that they are indeed not doing that.

      • Jenny 6.2.2

        The damage caused by Tiwai is long term and intergenerational, as long as this plant runs it prevents this country from becoming the world’s first example of a fully industrialised country with an electricity grid powered solely by renewables.

        The artificial extension of its life with taxpayer funds, just like the $160 million bail out of Solid Energy is a nonsensical environmental crime against future generations.

        • Lanthanide

          as long as this plant runs it prevents this country from becoming the world’s first example of a fully industrialised country with an electricity grid powered solely by renewables.

          Regardless of whether Tiwai Point is in operation or not, we’re never going to achieve that lofty goal because Iceland has beaten us to it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_sector_in_Iceland

          Unless you’re trying to claim that Iceland is not “fully industrialised”? Note that 71% of their electricity goes towards aluminium production…

          • felix

            Still, you’d be pretty happy with 2nd place wouldn’t you?

            • Lanthanide

              Sure, just surprised Jenny is so into this environmentalism jig but doesn’t bother to do her research first.

          • Jenny

            Well I’ll be!

            Iceland’s electricity is produced almost entirely from renewable energy sources: hydroelectric (70%) and geothermal (30%). Less than 0.2% of electricity generated came from fossil fuels (in this case, fuel oil). In 2012 there was no wind power installed in Iceland. Electricity production increased by 24 MWh/person from 2005 to 2008, an increase of 83%.

            Thanks for that link Lanth,

            It just shows it can be done.

            New Zealand is already 70% there.

            The electricity sector in New Zealand uses mainly renewable energy sources such as hydropower, geothermal power and increasingly wind energy. 73% of energy for electricity generation is from renewable sources, making New Zealand one of the lowest carbon dioxide emitting countries in terms of electricity generation.


            The main stumbling block that stops us from getting to 100% is Tiwai smelter.

            With a super secret super low price for their electricity and massive government subsidies, Tiwai is a huge drain on the economy as well as the grid.

            On top of being a climate crime.

          • Jenny

            Unless you’re trying to claim that Iceland is not “fully industrialised”? Note that 71% of their electricity goes towards aluminium production…

            Great. So instead of aluminium production propping up the fossil fuel industry as it does here it is much more sustainable in Iceland. It seems it should all go there.

            • Lanthanide


              It does show you though, just how insanely energy-intensive aluminium production is. So you can see why effectively building a power plant and running it at a subsidy price is what got the smelter built in the first place.

  7. tricledrown 7

    2 electorates both National if Tiwae closed sooner ie no $500 million election bribe(paddy gowers words).
    1 seat would turn Labour and clutha southlands National majority would leave National with 10 to 20,000 less list votes as well.
    Indefensable corporate welfare and electoral gerrymandering .
    Total cost to taxpayers 500 million dollars!
    Blue what’s your best spin.

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