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National-linked dairy company threatens six week lockout

Written By: - Date published: 12:26 pm, September 11th, 2009 - 31 comments
Categories: workers' rights - Tags: , , , , ,

open-countryThere’s a nasty dispute brewing at Open Country Cheese involving a six week lockout threat, some highly aggressive anti-union PR, calls for the Government to gut labour laws and major links between the company and senior National Party figures. It’s early days yet, but this could be a big one.

Open Country Cheese was founded by former National Party deputy leader Wyatt Creech and the Dairy Investment Fund, which other Nats have interests in, including John Key with a not insubstantial stake of 1.46 million shares. It’s also linked to Kaimai, another company National MPs own shares in.

The major players though, are the infamous Talleys, who are possibly the worst employers in New Zealand. As The Standard has documented, they’re the ones of Hollow Men fame who offered Don Brash $1 million in 2005 through a phoney front group to ‘avoid any declarations of political party funding’, then lent him their helicopter for the campaign. They ran a high profile campaign with National’s Anne Tolley to try and avoid a $1 million contractual obligation to the taxpayer over their ACC bills, and secretly funded Tim Shadbolt’s anti-EFA campaign.

Last year they were fined $110,000 and forced to pay $33,000 reparations for recklessly subjecting eleven workers at their Blenheim plant to carbon monoxide poisoning. And before that they were subject to, and eventually lost, a landmark sexual discrimination case over their refusal to let a woman work as a fish-filleter because she wasn’t a man. Andrew Talley decribed this ruling as ‘pathetic’ and a ‘joke’ and suggested women were better suited to being pole dancers.

Now they’ve got their hands in the dairy industry they’re trying to casualise this workforce by setting up a sham employment agency, turning their workers into low-wage temps and trying to bust the Dairy Workers Union by issuing a six week lockout notice. Anyone who leaves the union will be allowed to return to work.

The company has hired a highly priced PR firm, Lindenberg & Partners of Remuera, to spread misinformation, paint the union (which hasn’t had a strike in 20 years) as militant wreckers and demand the removal of the right to strike in the dairy industry.

To get a taste of their tactics, the company’s PR firm last week issued a press release falsely accusing the union of colluding with Fonterra to try and destroy the company, which they quickly withdrew claiming it was issued in error. They’ve also accused the union of taking ‘wildcat’ strike action despite the fact the union gave two weeks’ notice of their intention to strike.

The company has also claimed workers are demanding a 46% pay rise, which they then revised to 26%, then 15% and are now just hurling insults. The truth is there is no wage claim on the table. This is about workers standing up to an attempt to casualise their work and reduce their job security by standing together through their union.

That’s the core of this dispute, which I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more about in the near future. If it gets to a six week lockout this could be bigger than the Progressive dispute. Given the company’s strong links with the National Party and the Prime Minister’s significant shareholding I’d like to think common sense will prevail before it gets to that stage.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Fun fact: By a quirk of law, cheese is considered an essential industry (Muldoon wrote the list) which is why the Dairy Workers Union and Open Country Cheese had to give the long period of two weeks notice of their respective intentions to strike and lock out.

31 comments on “National-linked dairy company threatens six week lockout ”

  1. Bright Red 1

    I read the dairy workers haven’t had industrial action in 20 years. This is a union that’s generally had pretty good relations with the employers but I think Open Country and it’s backers will soon discover they’re no push over.

    20 years is a long time to build up the strike fund.

    • Swampy 1.1

      There’s always plenty of cash rolling round in many of these unions to build any kind of fund they want,

  2. Fun fact: By a quirk of law, cheese is considered an essential industry (Muldoon wrote the list) which is why the Dairy Workers Union and Open Country Cheese had to give the long period of two weeks notice of their respective intentions to strike and lock out.

    That seems like something someone should do something about.

      • Bright Red 2.1.1

        wow. that’s quick work!

        perhaps as a part of a larger sereis of amendments to the Act though. You know how sensitive Gerry is about the amount of time parliament has to pass legislation 🙂 … that’s why he just has to rush through the supercity bill under urgency

        • Idiot/Savant

          wow. that’s quick work!

          Drafting legislation by copy-paste isn’t hard, and more people should try it.

          perhaps as a part of a larger sereis of amendments to the Act though. You know how sensitive Gerry is about the amount of time parliament has to pass legislation

          Members bills are best kept short and sweet with a single focus (this one breaks that rule by also going after the meat industry). Big bills are easier to bog down. As for time, member’ time – if they are allowed any – is their own, and they can spend it how they like – somthign which inconveniences the government no end…

          • George D

            This National Government has a solution to that. It’s urgency, which I predict will be used to deny a good number of members days to come.

  3. Is there a strike fund and how do we donate?

    • Bright Red 3.1

      they’re not the most technologically adept union. here’s their website http://www.nzdwu.org.nz/ (which doesn’t even have anything on the dispute or their own press releases up) guess you’ld have to email them to ask about helping out…

      The lockout hasn’t started yet because of the 2 week notice period but I reckon if this thing progresses then they’ll get a campaign page going with a donations button etc

  4. felix 4

    Well it shouldn’t come as a surprise – John Key said of the Nats “we would love to see wages drop” (although any suggestion that he actually meant what he said is of course slanderous and insane.)

    That he and other Nats happen to own a company which is doing it’s darnedest to make wages drop is a complete coincidence. In imaginationland they could be any bunch of dairy businessmen – it’s only in this flimsy construct we call “reality” that they happen to be the same ones who went around the country telling employers that they “would love to see wages drop”.

    How you can somehow find a link between what they say and what they do – which admittedly does seem to be entirely the same thing – is completely beyond me.

    Also it can’t be a secret agenda. It’s not even secret. Duh.

  5. Relic 5

    This situation involving potentially sophisiticated union busting really portrays this government as it is,-right wing and anti union to the core. Don’t be fooled by the intitial PR stumbles either. As a greenfield site, from an organising point of view, this will be pyschological warfare as OCC and its campaign trys to intimidate the union members. The workers deserve all possible support.

    The DWU is a solid union that retained high density through the difficult ECA years and participates in Industry Training Organisations, health and safety training and the Centre for High Performance work, it is the opposite of the old ‘union wreckers’ cliche that was really just spin anyway from Muldoons time. Does anyone really imagine Shonkey is going to intervene in a positive manner?

    • Swampy 5.1

      Mate, I grew up in the Muldoon years when it was plain, the unions were campaigning for the Labour government in 1984, mysteriously all the strikes stopped right after the election, before it they continued right up to the day. Later on, I remember Lange being embarrased by the rail union leader who said “it’s Easter weekend, we are going on strike, the travelling public can go to h***”.

      With, in another thread, the boasting that the Maritime Union is going to get involved in illegal sympathy strikes (diverting Telecom shipments) plus their earlier sympathy actions in support of other companies during Labour’s term, who would expect that that nice Mr Key is not going to show a bit of steel and just remind these unions that he and his government have been elected to run the country, and that they have a clear mandate from the electorate to reign in the excesses that Labour perpetuated upon us, the obvious obsequious union patronage being a clear case in point.

  6. the sprout 6

    and let’s not forget the Talley’s involvement in the Peters set-up, and their owndership of Tim Shadbolt.

    they have their fingers in many, many pies, all of which become consequently foetid.

    • felix 6.1

      they have their fingers in many, many pies, all of which become consequently foetid.

      Yeah well that’s dairy products for you.

  7. Hi Eddie,

    Been doing a bit of research on this myself.

    Dairy Investments Fund Ltd was certainly on the parliamentary register of interests under John Key in 2008, but it appears to be missing from the 2009 version.

    Has John Key sold out because he has no confidence in the management? Either that or he has moved the shareholding as a means of avoiding public scrutiny.




    • Tim Ellis 7.1

      Nice piece of digging Mr Hendren but you appear to have missed reports in December regarding Mr Key saying he was setting up a blind trust so that he would have no knowledge of what he invests in and further media reports in January 2009 saying that the blind trust had been established.

      This seems to unwind your theory that Mr Key may have divested shares because of a lack of confidence he might have in management.

      • Pascal's bookie 7.1.1

        That’s right. I’d forgotten about that. Something to do with him telling fibs about his tranzrail shares, for whatever reason.

      • Joe Hendren 7.1.2


        If thats a case why did he not also remove his other interests (such as Earl of Auckland) from the register by putting these into the blind trust? An interest in Haunui Dairy Company (now in liquidation) has also gone from the register between 2008 and 2009.

        Put it this way there are many reasons why Key should have reason to have no confidence in management.

        Even if these shareholdings were placed in the blind trust, its still not a good look that Key is attempting to hide them away from public scrutiny, particularly when they are relevant to public debate.

        It can’t be a blind investment if you already know what you invested in before!

        A simple parliamentary question will sort this one out!

  8. randal 8

    looks like the screacher has got too much inventory due tot he recession so he has just erected a bogus argument to cover up his crummy intentions.

  9. Swampy 9

    This is one of the ways in which it’s become clear that a key priority of the last Labour government was rebuilding its union arm and passing union friendly laws so that we now have a build up of industrial muscle and political belligerence on a scale approaching that of the 1970s and 1980s. This post makes the political aspect of the campaign, particularly with the references to the National party, very plain. It doesn’t happen to mention Labour links within the unions concerned.

    The so called aggressive PR looks balanced to me (a balance to your arguments), as it would tend to once that ideological cast is taken out of the scenario. As it is, this just looks like the Roger Awards, Part xxxxx. The ACC case in particular deserved the court hearing, the case being why or how an employer could be responsible for activities outside of employment that just happened to occur on a piece of land next to their premises. If this was a balanced article there’d be information about how much money flows between the unions and the Labour party wouldn’t there.

    I think you guys need to understand also that outside of your trade union and assorted left wing causes movements no one really cares that much about “The Hollow Men” or Roger Awards or whatever. Just like the Labour government in 2005 tried to bash the exclusive brethren for all it was worth, I don’t think they made much political mileage out of that and must have realised it later as it quietly slipped under the carpet (except for Bradford with her anti smacking bill).

    • RedLogix 9.1

      This is one of the ways in which it’s become clear that a key priority of the last Labour government was rebuilding its union arm and passing union friendly laws so that we now have a build up of industrial muscle and political belligerence on a scale approaching that of the 1970s and 1980s.

      All this in a country where union penetration in the workforce is still less than 20% compared to 76% in Australia. Yeah right.

      In middle of the tightest labour market in decades. Yeah right.

      With many employees salaries and wages frozen this year. Yeah right.

      With a notable trend for corporates to evade their legal obligations as employers by engaging in sham middle-man agencies, making employees buy their own jobs as dependent contractors (a practise IRD recognises as a sham), and generally casualising their workforce wherever possible. Yeah right.

      The so called aggressive PR looks balanced to me.

      PR that was so full of blatant lies that it was hastily withdrawn as ‘issued in error”. Yeah right.

      Hey swampgas, you’re so full of it, you really should keep well back from any naked flames or sources of ignition. (Or not.)

      • Swampy 9.1.1

        20% is a big increase from what it was before.

        The PR is still on scoop, it is not in the archive. It is quite moderate compared to the tone of this post.

        Dependent contracting is not a sham. It is simply that IRD recognises it as employment for tax purposes. I was a dependent contractor for 5 years before I got employed.

        Have a nice day.

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