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Premier Beehive workers seek living wage

E tu representative Dana Te Whare, in the foreground with Raj Molechan blowing the rally call horn at the Premier Beehive pay protest. PHOTO/KAREN COLTMAN

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Around 75 Premier Beehive employees rotated through their tea breaks on Tuesday to join a roadside pay protest on Moreton Rd, Carterton.

E tu union represents 150 workers at the meat processing factory and organised the protest. Some staff came in early for their night shift to join the picket line.

Union negotiator George Hollinsworth said staff have held other protests but never out the front of the factory.

“They are brave and they are serious,” he said.

The camaraderie among the staff was clear as they checked each other’s watches to be sure not to be away beyond their breaks. Trucks and other drivers tooted in support as they passed by.

Raj Molechan blew the rally call horn loudly and waved the union flag.

He has worked for the company for 11 years and said the team worked during lockdown yet have to fight for a decent wage.

“I risked my life for them.”

Employee of nine years, Karen Sinclair works a 40-hour week. She was primarily protesting for any new collective employment agreement to pay the living wage of $22.10.

“Over a hundred staff here are paid only $18.90 an hour and many of them have worked here for years and years,” Sinclair said. “It’s not fair.

“The only reason I have ever had a pay rise is because I am a union member.

“There is never anything given that is not negotiated and fought for although we are all hard working and loyal staff.”

Nicky Smith has worked for the company for 20 years and gets the minimum wage.

She said it was clear the company had money for new equipment and was growing, but the pay was stuck at the minimum wage.

Premier Beehive’s production volumes over the past 10 years have doubled. It produces more than 13,000 tonnes of product a year, employs more than 360 staff nationally and is the largest employer in Wairarapa.

“We’re not robots, we need to be paid fairly for what we do for the company and acknowledged for our loyalty,” Smith said. “They don’t value us.”

Valu Toasa has worked at the factory for five years and is the ‘breadwinner’ in her family. Her sign was, ‘When do I get to bring home the bacon?’

She is on $18.90 an hour for her work on the production line.

“I like my job and have enough hours, but the pay is not really enough to live on,” Toasa said.

“I never have money left come next pay day.”

Australian company Primo which owned Premier Beehive was sold to JBS Australia for $1.4 billion in 2014. JBS Australia’s parent company is Brazilian based and the largest meat processing company in the southern hemisphere.

Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern opened the $13 million expansion of the plant on November 7, 2019.

“I think the prime minister would be ashamed to know what we actually work for here and that the loyalty we bring is not rewarded,” Sinclair said.

Premier Beehive managing director Dene McKay confirmed the company had not reached agreement with the union.

“We have been progressing through the bargaining process with the union and to date had no success in reaching an agreement,” McKay said.

“We see mediation as an important step to resolving any issues and enter mediation early next week.”

George Hollinsworth was negotiating for the living wage as the starting rate for staff. He was also bargaining to have the company’s own skills table rating system to be included in the new agreement so that the company was held to it.

Part of the negotiation is to get any agreement back paid to March 31 – five months ago.

Mediation over the employment agreement between the union and Premier Beehive was set down with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment for next Tuesday.


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