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Godfrey Hirst workers locked out after demanding living wage

FIRST Union members at Godfrey Hirst Carpets in Wiri, Auckland, have been indefinitely locked out of their jobs at the carpet manufacturing warehouse following a breakdown in negotiations over a starting-out living wage for all staff, FIRST Union said today.

“This is an outrageously heavy-handed move from Godfrey Hirst,” said Jared Abbott, FIRST Union Secretary for Transport, Logistics and Manufacturing. “Locking out workers is both morally repugnant and financially stupid, and it will not intimidate our members.”

“It’s an incendiary response to workers organising together to fight for a living wage; something that most people recognise is essential to give lower-paid workers an income that can sustain themselves and their families.”

Workers delivered a strike notice on behalf of 50 members to Godfrey Hirst’s management today, informing of their plans take industrial action on Friday 4th October and withdraw their labour until the employer returned to the bargaining table in good faith to negotiate a living wage as a starting rate for new employees, including penal rates for overtime and a clear salary progression for workers. Currently, Godfrey Hirst’s management continue to claim that its general combination of wages and entitlements constitutes a living wage; a claim that union members find dishonest.

This afternoon, Godfrey Hirst opted to lock their unionised workforce out of the facility. Members believe the action is intended to bully them into an entrenched power imbalance for any future negotiations. On its website, Godfrey Hirst lauds its “experienced human resources”, but workers onsite feel there have been minimal attempts from management to listen their concerns and find a compromise before taking the dramatic step of locking workers out.

Lovey Thompson, a 68-year-old carpet tufter and FIRST Union head delegate, will be attending the strike tomorrow despite being locked out: “I’ve been in the industry for 40 years and at Godfrey Hirst for the last 9,” she said. “I’ve been through this sort of thing before, but I’m worried for some of my newer colleagues.”

“We have a lot of young workers with young families who haven’t dealt with this kind of behaviour from an employer before – who’s going to fight for them?”

“I might be near the end of my career, but I’m ready to stand up for the next generation.”

In 2017, Godfrey Hirst Group was absorbed by US company Mohawk Industries Inc, leading to its holding company’s biggest profit in six years in New Zealand – a margin that was built from cutting staff costs as well as benefitting from the increasingly productive labour of its workers.

Members at the site believe a living wage is crucial in a climate where these “experienced human resources” have been treated as a baseline cost to be cut rather than experienced professionals whose skills and work have made the Group the leading flooring company in Australia and New Zealand.

“I’m pretty surprised, to be honest,” said Tui Nanai, storeperson and FIRST Union delegate. “I’ve got six kids and a family to support, and I didn’t think they would do this to us – I’ve been there for almost a decade.”

“We’re some of the most experienced staff and we train the new workers, but the managers don’t seem to value us any more, especially since the company was bought out.”

“But I’m going to fight for a living wage – I’m doing it for my kids.”

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