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Gordon Campbell Fonterra, Affco and Todd Barclay

Gordon Campbell on the sense of entitlement shared by Fonterra, Affco and Todd Barclay

Fonterra’s explanation for its behavior towards the small firms it engages – it has reportedly asked its suppliers to reduce their charges in order ‘to boost efficiency’ – is the sort of behavior you'd expect from Tony Soprano. As in : we sent around Silvio and a couple of the boys and suggested that it would be in their best interest to reconsider their charges…

Fonterra has extended by two months the time it takes to pay suppliers, from 30 to 90 days, saying that matches what it does in other countries. It has also asked them to cut their charges, which it says is about boosting efficiency.

Yes, that’s exactly what we don’t want to see: our biggest multinational subjecting New Zealand firms to the same practices that Fonterra can get away with in Sri Lanka or Malawi. And using its market dominance to pay its own bills at a pace that forces small local suppliers (ie, electricians and the like) to function as a bank extending a line of credit to the dairy industrial behometh. ‘Too Big To Fail’ has become, in effect, ‘Too Big To Pay Its Bills On Time’.

Incidentally, this is a prelude to what we can expect from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal – whereby our exporters will increasingly come to treat local firms and local workers with the same ‘race to the bottom’ business practices, wages and conditions that they have honed in the likes of Vietnam, or Peru.

Not that employers such as Affco seem to require any schooling in bringing Third World business practices to bear on New Zealand workers. In defiance of court rulings made only a week ago, Affco has reportedly begun to target union officials for dismissal, while replacing them with inexperienced workers it has induced to sign individual contracts. No doubt, this attempt at union busting is also meant to ‘boost efficiency’.

The lay-offs come a week after the Employment Relations Authority ordered workers in dispute with the company be reinstated. They included Rangiuru union shed secretary Roberta "Bertie" Ratu, who said all the experienced workers laid off were union members.

Veteran workers would normally be laid off last, but instead this time have gone first, in apparent defiance of court rulings giving senior employees special status, the union said. Affco was instead taking on inexperienced workers who agreed to individual contracts, the union said.

Meanwhile National’s youngest MP Todd Barclay is asking for the taxpayer’s indulgence. Evidently he wants to be that rarity – someone being paid $156,136 plus perks to learn on the job about how to treat his staff properly. (No 90 days trial and down the road if you fail to perform for this little lad.) Reportedly, the problems rife among staff in the Clutha-Southland electorate office include claims that Barclay made a secret recording.

Barclay has also apologised for releasing to the mainstream media the private letter of resignation that was written by his former electorate secretary.

Somehow, the releasing of confidential staff information for your own advantage had not struck him beforehand as being an obviously wrong thing to do. This same person, with the same flawed judgement skills, is now helping to make the laws that affect all of us. For now though, Prime Minister John Key is standing by his man. Just electorate business as usual, people come and go, nothing of concern, move on.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing – from Fonterra to Affco to Barclay – has become the new norm in the workplace. Those in positions of power demand one standard of behaviour from everyone else, while tolerating a different level of performance among themselves. Incompetence rises, and protects its own.

Tony Abbott, Slapper

Talking of workplace behaviours… It feels odd to be defending Tony Abbott but the evidence of his alleged affair with his former chief of staff Peta Credlin seems incredibly flimsy.

Supposedly, one person felt moved to confront Abbott about the ‘perception’ of an affair and he not only denied it but refused to “move on” Credlin and/or sack her! What gall, what evident lack of political nous. Really? Someone else once saw Abbott slap Credlin on the bottom. (Which is creepy and outrageous, but – given how Australian male bosses routinely behave towards their female employees, is not conclusive evidence of an affair, and doesn’t usually result in calls for the female employee to be sacked.)

It looks like the old double standard, whereby any woman who gains a position of real power will (a) be fiercely resented on principle and (b) assumed to have slept her way into the job. Men who have held the chief of staff post in previous Australian governments of course, have never been known to tread on anyone’s toes and have never been regarded as indispensable to their boss:

"Did anyone in the real world care that I was a tough operator?" Ms Credlin asked. "I've never claimed that I got it right every time, but you don't survive 16 years in one of the toughest working environments around if you're not up to the job or don't have a good reputation," she said.

Can The Can

Back to Fonterra, and its dubious practices. Basically, Fonterra gets away with not paying its bills on time because it can. Suzi Quatro had it right on that one:

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