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Unite Appeal to Erceg Family in Liquor Dispute

Unite Appeal to Erceg family in Independent Liquor dispute

Unite is today releasing a copy of a letter the union sent to the Erceg family last week which appealed to the family to “look after” Independent Liquor employees as requested by the company founder Michael Erceg in his will.

Michael Erceg was killed in a helicopter crash last year and the company which is now owned by his family is up for sale.

However the pay and conditions of work at Independent Liquor are much poorer than those enjoyed by workers at Lion and DB.

Workers took strike action for 9 hours yesterday and picketed the company’s warehouse in Boundary Road, Papakura. Action will be continuing this week.

These workers are taking action in support of their pay claims and in opposition to a culture of bullying, intimidation and harassment of union members at this site.

We have asked the family to act in support of the workers as their jobs are under threat if the company is sold and their redundancy provisions are much poorer than those in place at Lion and DB.

A copy of the letter is attached.

Mike Treen

Auckland Secretary

Background to Dispute (from Unite Media Release 29 October)

The company will shortly be sold for around a billion dollars but the workers will be left out in the cold. The mainly Maori and Pacific Island workforce have poor pay and poor redundancy arrangements relative to other brewery workers. They typically receive $200 to $300 less per week and the company has repeatedly frustrated attempts to negotiate a collective employment agreement with better pay and redundancy.

Company representatives now say they “do not think it will be possible” to negotiate any agreement before the company is sold. This would leave these workers high and dry with poor redundancy arrangements and an uncertain employment future.

“Senior management have deliberately stonewalled negotiations and as union membership at the site has increased (up to 38 out of a target group of 65 workers – despite the intimidation) these senior managers have led a vicious campaign to target union members, driving them off the site or out of the union,” said Mike Treen, Auckland Secretary of Unite.

“The company is well known throughout the union movement for its appalling anti-union practices and its medieval attitude to its workers.”

“We have had to resort to keeping the names of some of members confidential as many have feared reprisals from joining”, said Mike Treen.

In one case a member was so abused for belonging to the union he walked out on a shift because he said he would have hit his manager if he had stayed. He is a father with young children and has now left the company. Other Unite members have been put under heavy pressure to get them to resign from the union or pressure them to resign their jobs.

The pay and conditions at Independent Liquor are one of the key reasons for this company’s huge profitability. For example:

Workers at Lion and DB receive on average 10% more than Independent Liquor workers for performing the same job.

The shift allowances at Lion are typically between $27 and $42 per shift while at DB they range from $24 to $36 per shift. At Independent the range is from $12.50 to $15 per shift.

Overtime rates come in after 40 hours per week or 8 hours per day at Lion and DB but after 45 hours per week at Independent.

Redundancy at Lion and DB is triple the redundancy arrangements at Independent.

The company says that these lower pay rates are rates related to “what is paid in this area”.

Unite utterly rejects the idea that a worker from “South Auckland” should be paid at a lower rate than workers elsewhere when they are doing the same job in the same industry.

This has been a long, very difficult battle by these workers. Tomorrow marks the beginning of a public campaign for justice for them.

LETTER TO ERCEG FAMILY

27 October 2006

Leane Erceg

198 Ponga Road

RD4

Papakura

Dear Ms Erceg,

Employees of Independent Liquor

We are deeply disappointed to have to write to you following our letter of 26 July concerning negotiations for a collective employment agreement for Unite Union members employed at Independent Liquor.

In the intervening time we have endeavoured to negotiate in good faith for such an agreement but the company has stonewalled at every turn and has conducted a campaign of bullying, harassment and intimidation of our members.

From June to August three days were set aside for negotiations but on each occasion the company abandoned the meetings on spurious pretexts and then created further delay by complaining to the Employment Authority that somehow we were in breach of good faith.

The situation deteriorated further when the company’s General Operations Director, Bob Lewis, put out an inaccurate, inflammatory communication to all employees which denigrated the Union and was designed to undermine our ability to represent our members. We are happy to provide a copy of his message and our response if you wish.

This is a flagrant breach of the bargaining agreement which the company signed and which requires both sides to act in good faith and seek common ground in negotiating a collective employment agreement.

There may be other factors relating to the future ownership of the company which drive the company management to act as they have towards negotiations but the outcome is a denial of natural justice for our members.

Last week we sought a way forward by putting to the company a proposal to leave the pay and conditions the same as in the individual contracts currently in place but to improve the redundancy provisions to the level in place at Lion Breweries and Dominion Breweries. You will appreciate that the current situation has a great deal of uncertainty for employees as they await the outcome of the sale process and decisions as to their future employment. Our proposal sought to address these concerns and would have improved their redundancy provisions from the current 4 weeks pay for the first year of service and 2 weeks for each subsequent year to 12 weeks for the first year and two for each subsequent year. We also invited management to consider an ex-gratia payment to each of the employees based on the work they have done to help make the company as profitable as it has become.

The company rejected our proposal outright and suggested continuing to negotiate while at the same time telling us they are “not confident” we can reach agreement before the sale date later this year. It is clear to us the company has no intention whatever of reaching any sort of agreement for our members and will continue to stall and frustrate negotiations.

We are happy to provide more details of this should you be interested. We could for example send you copies of the correspondence which has been exchanged on these matters in the last few months – they will fill a small library.

It is very important you understand that what the workers are asking for is not unreasonable. They are simply trying to negotiate a contract which has the same conditions as those enjoyed by employees at Lion and DB where pay and conditions are vastly superior.

For example:

Workers at Lion and DB receive on average 10% more than Independent Liquor workers for performing the same job.

The shift allowances at Lion are typically between $27 and $42 per shift while at DB they range from $24 to $36 per shift. At Independent the range is from $12.50 to $15per shift.

Overtime rates come in after 40 hours per week or 8 hours per day at Lion and DB but after 45 hours per week at Independent.

A similar situation applies in areas such as meal allowances and long service leave.

The collective contract we are seeking would bring Independent workers into line with other workers and I’m attaching a copy for your interest and we would welcome any feedback you may have.

Your company representatives have told us in negotiations that they pay Independent employees less because their pay is related to rates paid “in this area” and that Lion and DB rates are irrelevant. You will realise this is a nonsense as DB based in Otahuhu which is a similar community to Papakura. In any case we utterly reject the notion that a worker from “South Auckland” should be paid at a lower rate than workers elsewhere when they are doing the same job in the same industry.

Around the trade union movement Independent Liquor has a reputation for being determinedly anti-union and a culture of bullying and intimidation against union members is rampant and has worsened a great deal this year as Unite has doggedly pursued negotiations for our members. Despite this we have had up to 38 members join (out of a target workforce of 65) but this has been eroded by a systematic company campaign. This anti-union culture is led from the top and implemented in a callous and destructive way by managers in the warehouse and production sectors. We have had our members run out of the union and even run off the job. In one case a member was so derided for belonging to the union he walked out on a shift because he said he would have hit his manager if he had stayed. He is a father with young children and has now left the company. Others of our members have been put under heavy pressure to either get them out of the union or force them to resign.

Three unions which were previously involved in trying to represent workers at Independent have been effectively driven off the site. These unions (the Engineers Union, the Northern Distribution Union and the Service and Food Workers Union) will attest to similar tactics that I have outlined here being employed over many years.

As I said in my July letter we hoped the family takes more than a passing interest in the welfare of Independent Liquor employees and the fact they do not enjoy pay and conditions enjoyed by employees in breweries elsewhere and have to put up with a culture of bullying on the worksite.

We are bringing this to your attention in the hope it will cause a rethink by the company and because it is likely that these legitimate concerns of our members will be aired in public in the near future.

Yours sincerely,

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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