Godfrey Hirst workers ‘anxious and frustrated’ as they take strike action over pay

Apitialefaga Robin Tuiletufuga works the overnight shift as a yarn spinner at Godfrey Hirst’s carpet wool factory in Lower Hutt.

It is a highly skilled job, involving mastery of multiple complex machines – but after four years in the job, his hourly pay is barely above minimum wage. He could earn more stacking shelves in a supermarket.

“In November last year, they [supermarket workers] automatically had $26 an hour. I don’t say this in a bad way, but that work, anyone can come and do it. But our work, you cannot. It’s a specialised job.”

Some of his colleagues who have worked there for decades were paid less than staff hired this year, whom they were having to teach, he said.

The hours suit him, because they allow him to take his four children to school in the morning when he gets home and pick them up after he sleeps. Yet the low pay – eaten away by inflation – makes it tough to feed a family.

After seven months of dragged out negotiations, the company grudgingly raised its offer from 1 percent to 3.5 percent “with a $500 bonus if you signed straight away”.

But after doing the maths, he decided against it.

“I thought, wait, that can’t be right – 3.5 percent, that’s only 80 cents. I said to the guys, ‘I can’t even buy bread for my kids for 80c.'”

Apitialefaga is Robin Tuiletufuga’s high chief title in Samoa.

“There’s a few of us here that are chiefs in our villages back home, but here, we’re all equal, we all stand together.”

FIRST Union members, who make up more than half of the plant’s 150 personnel, walked off the job at 8am on Friday for 24 hours. Union organiser Richie Morris said it was the first time workers at the Lower Hutt facility had voted for strike action.

“After seven months of failed negotiations, workers are really anxious and frustrated with Godfrey Hirst’s glacially slow approach to pay talks, and they’re seeking fair wage increases above the rising cost of living,” he said.

“After an ill-fated lockout of striking union members in Auckland in 2019, it appears Godfrey Hirst have learned nothing and still consider wage negotiations with long-serving staff to be an inconvenience rather than a chance to reward workers for their labour in growing the business.”

Godfrey Hirst strike - Apitialefaga Robin Tuiletufuga

Godfrey Hirst is owned by global corporation Mohawk Industries, which claims to have made $US11.1 billion ($NZ18.1b) in sales last year.

Tina Faitele, who has worked there 40 years, said when the company was sold to Godrey Hirst in 2006 – after Feltex went into receivership – it immediately scrapped higher rates for overtime hours.

“It used to be good money. We need [it] to be fair because we work hard for the production and the pay we get is not enough. Things are going up, but why our pay is going down?”

Godfrey Hirst has been approached for comment.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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