Watching hundreds of AFFCO meat workers’ children opening what may be the only gifts many of them receive this Christmas, will be an abiding memory for Jacinda Ardern.
Jacinda had the job of delivering 200 presents to Wairoa after Labour MPs and colleagues pulled out all the stops to provide presents for children of AFFCO Talleys workers facing a grim Christmas due to the long-running employment dispute.
The initiative came about after Meat Workers’ Union campaign director Darien Fenton accompanied a group of workers to Parliament in November to share first-hand the impact the dispute has had on their families and community.
“There were very moving accounts about what they are experiencing,” said Jacinda. “What came across very strongly was how tough it is on the children and how it would be difficult to give them a Christmas.
“Wairoa is in Meka Whaitiri’s Ikaroa-Rāwhiti constituency and she has been doing amazing work on this, but, on hearing their personal stories, we all looked at one another and said: ‘What can we do for the children?’
“Meka began canvassing Labour colleagues and before long everyone was pitching in with Christmas gifts. We had a huge variety. Andrew Little bought Star Wars toys – on his son’s advice.
“They were all delivered to my office and lots of people volunteered for wrapping duty. I spent several days working while surrounded by a mountain of presents.”
Jacinda was attending an event in Gisborne so offered to deliver the gifts in person – to a Christmas party the Wairoa workers had organised for the children.
“There were about 200 children,” she said. “I was in a back room helping out and came out to see a sea of children either all happily playing with their new toys or sitting waiting patiently for Santa to call their names. It was just lovely to do something for the kids and, for the parents, it was a sign of solidarity, that we are standing alongside them.”
The workers still face considerable ongoing hardship, despite last month’s historic Employment Court ruling that AFFCO Talleys had acted in bad faith and undermined the union during contract talks.
Darien Fenton has told media that, since then, workers on contracts have been bullied by supervisors and treated unfairly compared to non-union members.
She said this included 170 workers currently locked out in Wairoa are only being offered night shifts.
“It is an ongoing and ugly dispute,” said Jacinda. “When you go to Wairoa and see the effect this is having on people’s lives, it demonstrates all too clearly the outcome of the watering down of legislation we have seen from this government.”