Mon, Jul 25, 2022 1:57 PM

Timber workers strike for better pay


Sara Hollyman

Workers at Nelson timber processing plant South Pine made the snap decision to strike on Monday to fight for pay that is locally competitive and will attract and retain staff at the sawmill.

Around 60 E tū and FIRST Union members at South Pine demonstrated outside their Quarantine Rd site on Monday in their bid to secure a decent pay rise for the next 12 months.

E tū and FIRST Union say the company’s current offer of a 6.25 per cent increase over the next year is unacceptable in the face of extraordinarily high living costs and wage rates offered by other companies in the industry.

“Over the last three years, workers’ wages have lost significant ground against other local employers and have not kept up with the pace of inflation,” says FIRST Union southern region secretary Paul Watson.

“With inflation now running at 7.3 per cent, members need to see wages paid at a significantly higher level than the 6.25 per cent offered by the employer over the next 12 months.”

FIRST Union delegate and machine operator at South Pine, Nick Jenkins says.
He has worked for the company for roughly 13 years and says the past few weeks has “just been going backwards”.

“The biggest problem is there is no recognition for long-service, there’s guys that have been here 15-20 years and they’re earning just above the minimum wage. Those guys are being asked to train new team members who are paid almost the same rate.”

E tū organiser Garth Elliot said that many workers and experienced trades staff had left the firm to take up higher paid jobs.

“The company itself has admitted it is struggling to hire new staff,” he says.

“Start rates should be at least at the new Living Wage, and we need pay parity for trades staff such as fitters, engineers and saw doctors in order to be more competitive with comparable roles at other timber-processing companies.”

Nick starts work at 5.30am and works through till between 4 and 4.30pm and says a typical week would see them working 55 hours+.

He says a lot of the team are doing overtime just to make ends meet and so they’re coming to work because they have no choice, but they’re just not getting what they’re worth.
“We are so short staffed, if someone leaves or gets Covid or something, they all do extra work but nobody gets recognised for it.”

He says the strike would cause a back-up in the supply chain including local Bunnings and Mitre 10 stores, which would have a flow-on effect.

“No one wants this but we’re doing it as a last resort, and it’s only over a 1.5 per cent pay rise.”

A union member who wished to remain anonymous says that they didn’t feel like their loyalty to the company had been recognised.

“”The market is booming. The company needs to pay workers a wage that reflects their skills and dedication,” they say.

“There are some people who have been at the company for up to 20 years and barely earn above minimum wage. The current offer shows no respect, particularly for long-serving members.”

Another union member who wished to remain anonymous says people are feeling very frustrated.

“We feel like we’ve been given the run around. We’re the busiest we’ve ever been, and the company has done very well over the last three years. We’re working hard to meet market demand but we’re not getting recognised for it.”

South Pine general manager Romon Spiers says they are disappointed in the strike action.

“Obviously we’re disappointed, we’re still in the process of good-faithed negotiations.”

He says the processing plant was unable to operate on Monday due to the strike action but added they will be working together with staff to come to a resolution.

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