A resolution in the long running Affco dispute is close at hand, following talks over the weekend.
After a three-month lockout, more than 1000 workers at all eight North Island freezing works will return to the job.
An agreement has also been reached to withdraw or suspend all legal action until the final details are agreed.
In a joint statement the parties say they have reached a provisional agreement on a core document and are working through site-specific details.
An Employment Court hearing began last week after the union challenged the validity of the lockout and that has since been adjourned.
The involvement of the Iwi Leaders Group (ILG) appears to have broken the deadlock. Earlier this month Nga Puhi leader Sonny Tau urged Maori farmers to stop supplying AFFCO. The suggestion was endorsed by other Maori leaders, most significantly Pita Sharples. However, what seems to have forced the company’s back down was a threat - apparently from Waikato-Tainui - that Maori would open a rival meat processing plant. The Talley family, eager to protect their market share, appear to have caved at the threat.
This illustrates the growing importance of iwi, in particular the ILG, in the New Zealand economy. The move also reinforces the group’s political power. With assets well in excess of $1b, iwi are in a position to leverage business with economic threats. This is certainly true in the case of AFFCO, a medium sized business, as Maori control between 10 and 15 percent of the country’s sheep and beef stock. It’s unclear, however, whether iwi could leverage larger companies like Fletcher Building.
Full credit to the ILG for falling behind the Maori whanau affected. Estimates suggest Maori make up more than 60% of AFFCO’s workforce. Aside from lobbying AFFCO for resolution, Tainui and Ngati Kahungungu also provided food parcels for the families of locked out workers. Tom Roa has, from what I’ve seen, played an integral part and kudos to him. Roa succeeded Tuku Morgan as the head of Te Arataura (Tainui’s executive committee).
Maybe this signals an ideological shift in the ILG. I’ve been critical in the past and maybe it’s time to revisit my conclusions, but that’s a post for another day. For now, kudos to the ILG and hopefully the workers are back on the job soon.