The Open Country Cheese dispute is getting nastier by the day. The workers began their eight-day strike last week. The Talley’s and National Party-linked company responded by bringing in strike-busters (farmers, apparently) to take the workers’ place, which is illegal.
On Saturday, one of these untrained strike-breakers allowed polluted sludge from the factory to flow into the Waikato river, creating a major environmental problem. Open Country, ridiculously, is blaming this on the striking workers, who can’t even get on the site. Police are investigating.
Yesterday, the Dairy Workers Union announced they had won an urgent hearing for this Friday on the legality of Open Country using these strike-breakers. The workers called off their strike until after the hearing, saying that if the factory was going to be operated regardless, they may as well be the ones doing the work.
The workers wanted to go back to work. The company responded by locking the workers out this morning.
Open Country might also be breaching the law with this lock-out. Under the law, 14 days’ notice of strike or lock out must be given in essential industries (which includes dairy, thanks to Muldoon). The workers gave 14 days’ notice of their strike. The company gave 14 days notice of their six-week lock-out starting on the 24th but there was no notice of this lock-out starting today.
Remember, this dispute is not about pay, it’s just about working conditions and hours. Yet the rabidly anti-union company seems to be willing to go to any lengths to try to break the workers. In typical Talley’s style, the company is willing to bend and break the law to get its way.
Several National Party MPs (possibly still including John Key) have interests in the Dairy Investment Fund, which part owns Open Country, and Kaimai Cheese, which is tied to the company and operates on the same site. It is time for them to rein in the company. It is unacceptable a company to operate in this bulling manner and as if the law doesn’t apply to them, all the more so when MPs have a pecuniary interest in it.