Workers as Beneficiaries

There’s been a fair amount of coverage of the role iwi leaders played in ending this year’s 12-week Affco dispute, including that they flexed their economic muscles by reminding Talley’s, Affco’s owner, that Maori own 4.5 million worth of stock and send a good chunk of it to Affco plants for processing. The iwi leaders indicated they could possibly rethink that if the dispute that was having a disproportionate impact on Maori workers (because Maori make up a disproportionate part of Affco’s workforce) wasn’t resolved. Which, at that point, it fairly quickly was.

In an effort to cement that worker/union-iwi relationship, the CTU Runanga organised a hui this past week in Tauranga that was attended by several of the iwi leaders themselves, and the heads of the country’s major unions.

It was a fascinating day for a lot of reasons, but particularly for what it could — emphasis on could — mean for the future. I’m working on a column and longer article on this nascent alliance,  which clearly has the potential to benefit all wage workers (since what helps Maori wage workers is likely to help all wage workers, and Maori leaders were definitely looking at that broader picture). Could it also help start to change the narrative — the narrative CTU president Helen Kelly talked about at the hui that increasingly portrays workers as beneficiaries of benevolent/charitable bosses?

She’s right. We always seem to roll around on our backs like submissive hounds whenever  a business says it’s going to set up and ‘provide jobs’. Yes, workers need jobs, but it would be great to bring a little balance back into the conversation, and stop treating employers as though they are charities and workers as though they’re getting handouts in a food kitchen.

Given that our employment laws stack the deck in favour of employers, it’s no wonder that narrative has taken hold. There’s been some discussion around the traps about what policies, if you could wave a wand and implement some, would be a priority. I’m still working on my list, but an easy place to start (and absolutely free!!) would be to start changing this benefactor/beneficiary story-line when we’re talking about people who work for a living*.


*’People who work for a living’ would include unemployed workers and others receiving assistance from their fellow citizens, i.e. “on benefits”.


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