March 5, 2022
From The Militant

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Workers at the CHEP pallet company’s Service Center here have their picket line up 24 hours daily, with trucks and cars honking in support on this busy industrial road. The workers, members of FIRST Union, walked off the job Feb. 17, after an earlier one-day strike failed to get the wage raise they’re demanding.

The plant employs around 40 workers, repairing pallets and washing crates and bins used for produce. It is barely operating with a tiny handful of agency and nonunion workers.

The workers’ starting rate is 20 New Zealand dollars ($13.48) per hour, the legal minimum wage in New Zealand. The union is asking for NZ$22.75.

“We have to win a pay increase,“ striker Sio La’auli Ailepata told the Militant on the picket line Feb. 18. “This strike shouldn’t be for nothing.” He pointed to the rising prices at the gas pump and supermarket. If you add in the cost of housing, he said, there’s virtually nothing left over without working overtime.

“I worked seven days a week last year when it was busy,” said Maggie, who asked that her last name not be used. “Then when it got quiet, they sent us home and tried to force us to use up our sick leave and annual holidays.” The union is also asking for an increase in premium rates for overtime from time and a half to double time on Sundays. The consumer price index rose 5.9% last year, ahead of workers’ pay raises.

Truck drivers have mostly refused to cross the picket line, workers say. On one occasion, police stationed themselves across the entrance, hands on Tasers, and “persuaded” a couple of trucks to enter the site.

In a press release Feb. 18, FIRST Union noted, “This week, members of Unite Union in the UK are holding a rally at CHEP UK’s Trafford Park site after a 3-month dispute in which strike action has been consistent.”

To contact the workers, email Mark Muller, FIRST Union Secretary for Transport, Logistics and Manufacturing, at [email protected].