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Sludge Report #50 - Industrial Disease

In this edition: Industrial Disease

NOTE: Authors of this report will be anonymous and wide ranging, and occasionally finely balanced. Indeed you are invited to contribute: The format is as a reporters notebook. It will be published as and when material is available. C.D. Sludge can be contacted at The Sludge Report is available as a free email service..Click HERE - to subscribe...

Sludge Report #50

Industrial Disease

Hey, the world is about to fall on our heads. Oh no! MAF Vets are going to go on strike, putting at threat our precious $1.4 billion meat industry @#@!

The vets aspirations of “platinum plated salaries” are the problem says Federated Farmers Tony St Clair. (Sludge wonders how much he gets paid.)

Ring up a dozen or so lawyers. Throw the book at them. Hell we’re so angry, says St Clair, we might just release the list of names and addresses of these gold mining troublemakers to cockies.

Hold up a minute but.

Since when did threatening to strike suddenly become the equivalent of treason in New Zealand?

Lets just have a quick look at the facts. The rural sector in NZ is booming. Last year’s meat season was pretty good for stock prices, and weather, and this year the cockies are receiving 30% more for lambs than they did last year. On top of that they have more lambs to sell.

Meanwhile we have a meat industry in which the workers on the killing lines have suffered nearly a decade of erosion of their pay and conditions. Meat processing plants have been closed down all over the country and the "bad old days" when killing chains were regularly closed down by industrial action are fast becoming a dim and distant memory.

In this particular case the MAF vets want a 14% rise pay rise. And at first glance this seems a lot.

But when you consider that they haven’t had a pay rise in a decade, that they are highly trained professionals, that they have to work round the clock, that they are expected to work considerable amounts of overtime and that meat works are not the nicest places to work, then, perhaps, the demand is not so unreasonable.

The cost of this, they say, would be somewhere between $1 and $2 million annually.

These self same vets have turned down an offer of a 4% pay rise from MAF.

Meanwhile there are hints that MAF management might be willing to wear an 8% rise at a pinch.

And so MAF management it seems are willing to cough up around $800,000 a year to keep the vets on the job, just not roughly twice that sum.

Meanwhile estimates of the possible cost of a strike at this “ultra sensitive” pre-easter processing time range between $10 million a week for one company to $175 million in total.

The vets are due to commence their strike action tonight.

They say they are happy to call off the strike if there is evidence that MAF management are prepared to negotiate in the same ball park.

In the circumstances it does seem a little irrational for the industry to risk losing its rag, reputation and possibly hundreds of millions for the sake of $800,000. Why not just pay the vets closer to what they want?

But in the background of course there are the big meat companies who fear that if the vets get a pay rise, then, hey, everybody will want one.

But again, if the question of equity is allowed into the equation for a second or two - and if the hysteria is temporarily suspended - then it doesn’t take long to come to conclude that just maybe it is time to pass on some of the benefits of this primary sector boom to the hard working souls on the killing chains.

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