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Rotongaro chicken workers' wages now well ahead of the flock - First Union

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

FIRST Union and Cobb Vantress New Zealand (CVNZ) have settled a collective agreement that will see workers’ starting wages at the chicken farm and hatchery in Rotongaro increase by 17%, to a minimum of $24.50 per hour; $1.75 above the current Living Wage. With average wages in the poultry industry around $20-$22.50 per hour, the new deal puts these workers amongst the highest paid.

"The contract also includes time-and-a-quarter on weekends, a 4% employer contribution to KiwiSaver and health insurance, making the overall package quite competitive," said Jax Oldham, FIRST Union Organiser.

CVNZ consulted directly with the local community, which is predominantly Māori, about what they needed to do to attract workers to their complex, located between Auckland and Hamilton. They also engaged with the Ministry of Social Development.

"This stands in contrast to other employers in similar circumstances who have instead focused on lobbying the Government to re-open the border," said Ms Oldham.

"When we learned that only 7% of Waikato Māori earn more than $50,000 a year, we realised we could make a real difference to the community we operate in by lifting wages for our own employees," said Susan Bramley, CVNZ Human Resource Manager.

"It certainly wasn't just a tick-box exercise," said Ms Oldham. "They genuinely wanted to know what was holding people back from working there and then did what needed to be done."

"Our members are over the moon about their new agreement and it serves to make them feel more valued and loyal to the company."

CVNZ General Manager Jimmy Milesh Chand Bahadur said that "CVNZ is a high quality, automated poultry environment. To achieve, we need employees who are dedicated to the operation and, importantly, the care of our poultry birds. The hourly rates and penals for weekend work recognise the contribution and value of our people."

FIRST Union members are in the process of ratifying the new collective agreement, just in time for Christmas. Tedrena Bhana, a FIRST Union delegate at the company, says the pay bump will make a real difference to the workers’ lives. "I can’t wait to spoil my kids this Christmas! It has been a really hard year for them and the rest of us, so this is a very happy turn of events."

"Many employers are struggling to attract workers right now, with borders closed and low unemployment," said Ms Oldham. "Some experts are even predicting a ‘Great Resignation’ is on the way."

"With COVID-19 and recent immigration changes, it has been very challenging to find the talent and skills in the labour market required to grow our business," said Steve Shelley, CVNZ Production Manager.

"Agreements like the CVNZ one that recognise people’s hard work during the pandemic are vital in retaining and attracting a skilled workforce and bouncing back together as quickly as possible," said Ms Oldham.

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