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Suppliers Rally Around Open Country As Union Seeks Huge Wage Rise

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Suppliers Rally Around Open Country As Union Seeks Huge Wage Rise

Open Country Cheese suppliers are vowing to keep "milk flowing" in response to union threats to strike at the Waharoa factory near Matamata.

The Dairy Workers Union, after initially seeking a 46% wage increase for the Waharoa site, has now issued strike notice to plant management after talks broke down last week. The Union is now seeking labour increases that total over 15% including paid meal breaks, redundancy payments and wage increases of up to 25% for some site workers.

Open Country supplier Brendan Barrett says the Dairy Workers Union approach is "outrageous" given the perilous state of the industry.

"How the Union can credibly claim anything other than the status quo is beyond me. Suppliers have just had a 35% pay cut this year, and forecast another 15% drop this year. Our own returns have fallen 50% and yet the Union is demanding huge page increases.

"Most people I interview for farm work are just rapt to be offered a job right now.

"I take my hat off to Open Country for standing up to the Union. Too often the industry gives in to strike threats and unrealistic claims and when they do that they sell farmers and New Zealand's competitiveness down the drain".

Open Country's Waharoa factory employs approximately 100 staff.

"Good on them, they have a great reputation as a local employer and have been for five years since they started at Waharoa," says Barrett. "The only thing that's changed in five years is the Union has been on site the last eight weeks and look where we are now.

"We will keep the plant going - nobody wants spilt milk and no one can afford spilt milk - the company or us. This year we need every drop.

"We have share milkers and farm hands all ready to step in and keep our milk being processed. In fact I'm quite looking forward to a week of later starts - makes a nice change from 4am in the dairy shed."

Matamata farmer Henk Smit says, "It's obvious the Dairy Workers Union are using the onset of peak milk in a few weeks time to extort a settlement. The timing of this strike notice is no coincidence.

"I find it an insult to the 138,000 unemployed people currently looking for employment in New Zealand.

"Open Country has been pretty up front - we all know that their cost structure affects their ability to pay suppliers. They need to be as productive and competitive as they can and we as suppliers partner them to do just that.

"We will assist them in any way we can. We have no interest in being backed into a corner or spilling milk as a result of Union tactics. We are happy to help out if needed - right now the industry needs to club together more than ever".

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