Sistema workers accuse company of exploitation: 'We are not treated equally'

Not long after her four young children return home from school, Maria Latu gets ready to work the night shift where she makes Sistema plastic containers at the company's warehouse in South Auckland.

When she arrives home the following morning, her children are getting ready to leave for school.

Her employment contract for leading plastics manufacturer Sistema, requires full time production workers like herself to work 60 hours a week at the company's warehouse in Māngere - that doesn't include overtime.

Because of the long hours, she said she barely gets to see her children.

"It's not worth it. It's not fair," said Ms Latu.

"Every day that they come home from school they always ask 'Mummy are you working?' and then when I say yes then you know you get the 'Awww' from them.

"It's heart-breaking but then I have to make them understand that I have to go to work."

Ms Latu is a team leader on the factory floor at Sistema. She gets paid $17 an hour for a role that often sees her in charge of more than 20 staff running eight machines.

Many staff and their union have accused the company of exploiting vulnerable migrant workers and they're speaking out about their desperate need for better pay and working conditions.

While full-time production staff, who make Sistema's plastic containers, are required to work 60 hours a week, according to Ms Latu's contract, part-time workers are required to work 40 hours in a normal working week.

Both Ms Latu and her co-worker Jennifer Talitiga Finau are frustrated over their current working conditions.

Jennifer Talitiga Finau is frustrated over her current working conditions.
Jennifer Talitiga Finau is frustrated over her current working conditions. Source: rnz.co.nz

Ms Finau has worked full-time for Sistema for almost 14 years - and also receives $17 an hour.

"I think that for most of us it's [the] long hours. I really want to [have] less hours and more pay. Because we need to be with our family," Ms Finau said.

They were joined by about a 100 frustrated workers and supporters who attended a recent meeting about the stalled pay talks with Sistema.

The workers said after nine months of negotiations for better wages and an end to their 12 hour days, the company still haven't budged.

Ms Latu claims the company penalises workers who are part of the union.

"The thing is they pay the non - [union] members different from the union members. So as a team leader, I'm on $17 and the non-union ones are on $18.50," Ms Latu said.

"It's not fair because we do the same amount of work every night. We don't know why they're getting more than we are," she said.

"We deserve to be treated equally. We are not treated equally at Sistema."

Union organiser Sunny Seghal said many workers are afraid to join the union and he believes the company takes advantage of migrant workers who won't push back.

"They're from Pacific Islands, they're from Philippines, Indian workers. They have preyed on these vulnerable migrant workers," he said.

"Some of them they don't even know their rights, you know."

Campaign lead organiser Fala Haulangi echoed the same.

Pay talks with Sistema have stalled and workers are frustrated.
Pay talks with Sistema have stalled and workers are frustrated. Source: rnz.co.nz

"I think Sistema's doing that because they find it's cheaper to get the migrant workers and because they are too scared to speak up or to say anything or to rock the boat," Ms Haulangi said.

"So they just go with whatever Sistema tells them."

Ms Haulangi said the legal minimum in working conditions provided by Sistema wasn't enough for the work their employees do.

"Can you imagine, those workers are working 12 hours a day, 60 hours a week. They need more than just five sick leave days [a year]," she said.

"No night shift allowance. The meal allowance has been there at $10 for about 20 years now. So we say it needs to change."

Mr Seghal agreed and added that health and safety conditions for the workers continues to be a major concern.

"When you work 60 hours a week, there is a highly likely chance of you getting injured at work as well, or getting some repetitive injuries," Mr Seghal said.

"There are many people who are on ACC or who were on ACC. So ACC is a common problem there."

"We are worried about the health and safety of these workers because of the long hours. They have no other choice because of the minimum wage."

An image of the blistered hands of a Sistema factory worker has been handed out over the last couple of months around many of Sistema's distributing stores.

The sale of its plastic containers in places like supermarkets and department stores all over the country has led to the products becoming a staple household item in many New Zealand homes.

But the leaflet, which the confronting image is plastered on, is calling for customers to boycott the leading manufacturer's products.

Green party Co-leader Marama Davidson has labelled the treatment of Sistema's South Auckland factory workers 'disgusting' and said it needs to change.

"Got my blood boiling and I'm holding a photo of blistered fingers because this is how hard our workers are having to work but not being treated as human," Ms Davidson said.

"It's not good enough."

She's among several politicians and community leaders who signed a petition to support the workers at the union's recent community meeting.

Ms Davidson said Sistema is stealing from their workers by not paying them what they deserve and she supports the union's call for people to boycott their products.

"New Zealanders are fair people, we understand what's right and what's wrong," Ms Davidson said.

"I think that we need to say to Sistema 'We're going to stop buying your products unless you treat your workers with some respect. Pay them what they deserve."

The company has seen remarkable success since its founder Brendan Lindsey began making his first product line from his garage more than 30 years ago. Now, according to its website, Sistema products are exported to 82 countries around the world.

Mr Lindsey sold Sistema to US company Newell Brands for $660 million in 2016 and while Sistema counts its customers in the millions, Ms Finau said its workers are struggling to meet their basic needs.

"Heaps of people I know buy Sistema. Sistema products are very good products," Ms Finau said.

"That's millions and millions of dollars. But what about workers? What about us?"

In a statement to RNZ, Sistema's CEO Drew Muirhead said the interests of their employees has always been the company's highest priority and claims made by the union about migrant workers were inaccurate and false.

Mr Muirhead said the company would continue to negotiate with the union to ensure that their 700 employees remained firmly employed in New Zealand.

By Indira Stewart

rnz.co.nz

Maria Latu (R) works 60 hours a week as a team leader and is paid $17 an hour.
Maria Latu (R) works 60 hours a week as a team leader and is paid $17 an hour. Source: rnz.co.nz




Winston Peters explains party's support for raising refugee quota

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters says NZ First shared the Labour Party's "aspiration" to increase the refugee quota, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced it will be raised to 1500 today.

The NZ First Party leader's position was in stark contrast to comments made at the start of the month at the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru.

"We never made a commitment to double the refugee quota," Mr Peters told media at the time.

The Deputy PM went on to argue there were other priorities for the Government.

"We've got 50,000 people who are homeless back home, and I can show you parts of the Hokianga and elsewhere, parts of Northland, with people living in degradation.

"We have to fix their lives up as well before we start taking on new obligations of the level that some people would like."

However, while standing next to Ms Ardern during the announcement today he took a much softer line on the refugee issue.

"This is about people not about politics and controversy, the fact is it was put to me in Nauru that the 1500 figure was already there, which it wasn't.

"The Labour Party policy I knew was an aspiration towards that, so was New Zealand First's an aspiration towards that, and I knew the Greens had a higher target," Mr Peters said.

"All I did was put out the plain facts and to say that it was a work in progress and I'm not surprised with the speed at which the progress has taken place.

"This was always on the cards that we'd get it done when we had all the background work done on refugee centres and a host of other things," he continued.

PM Jacinda Ardern made the announcement today. Source: 1 NEWS

New Zealand's refugee quota was previously 1000, after being increased by the National-led Government from 750 in 2016.

The new quota will take effect from July 2020. 

Major points

- There will be six new settlement locations, on top of re-establishing Christchurch as a settlement location.

- Expanding the public housing supply for 150 extra refugee families is expected to cost $32.5 million over three years.

- Budget 2018 included money to build new accommodation blocks at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre  

The NZ First leader said the increase was “always on the cards”. Source: 1 NEWS

TODAY'S
FEATURED STORIES

New Zealand's refugee quota jumps to 1500 per year from July 2020, Government announces

New Zealand’s refugee quota will be raised to 1500, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today. 

It was previously 1000, after being increased by the National-led Government from 750 in 2016.

That's 500 extra people who'll be making New Zealand home annually. Source: 1 NEWS

"It is the right thing to do," said Ms Ardern. 

"It puts New Zealand much more in line with the humanitarian policies of other developed countries."

Deputy PM Winston Peters said the increase was "about people, not about politics and controversy". 

The NZ First leader said the increase was “always on the cards”. Source: 1 NEWS

The new quota will take effect from July 2020. 

Major points

- There will be six new settlement locations, on top of re-establishing Christchurch as a settlement location.

- Expanding the public housing supply for 150 extra refugee families is expected to cost $32.5 million over three years. 

- Budget 2018 included money to build new accommodation blocks at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre 

ONN 1 News at 6 promo image
For more on this story, watch 1 NEWS at 6pm. Source: 1 NEWS

Background

Yesterday, Ms Ardern told media she wanted to see the current quota increased but a sticking point has been the vastly different policy positions of Labour's Government partners. 

Labour pledged to raise the quota to 1500 and the Green Party aimed for a quota of 5000.

Earlier this month NZ First's Winston Peters told media in Nauru that the focus needed to be on New Zealanders struggling at home.

"We have 50,000 people who are homeless back home and I can show you parts of Northland where people are living in degradation," Mr Peters said, while being questioned at the Pacific Islands' Forum.

National's Simon Bridges said yesterday if the refugee quota was lower than 1500 it would be a demonstration of "Winston Peters undermining the Prime Minister".

"If you look at the Prime Minister's rhetoric she's made great play about being a globalist, a progressive with soaring rhetoric on these issues.

"It's all very well to do the photo ops, the international pieces, but when you've got important questions like this back home that... [are] now are up in the air because of a lack of unanimity and cohesion."

PM Jacinda Ardern made the announcement today. Source: 1 NEWS


Don Brash says Massey's Vice Chancellor should consider resigning after email dump

Former National Party leader Don Brash is calling for Massey University's vice-chancellor to consider her position, saying it's "almost untenable".

The university prevented Dr Brash from speaking at its Manawatū campus last month.

He was due to give a speech about his time in politics, but vice-chancellor Jan Thomas cancelled the talk for security reasons.

The university had cited a Facebook post on 3 August that linked to the event page and included the comment "take a gun".

But the former National Party leader is calling on the university's Vice Chancellor to resign. Source: 1 NEWS

Documents obtained under the Official Information Act contain correspondence to and from Ms Thomas in the run-up to the cancellation.

In one email, on 9 July, the vice-chancellor said she did not want a "te tiriti led university to be seen to be endorsing racist behaviours".

On 10 July, Ms Thomas emailed to say she would like to know the options for banning the politics club from holding events on campus.

She said the "racist behaviour of Dr Brash - given te reo is an official language of NZ and we are a tiriti-led university - can't be ignored".

Speaking from China, Dr Brash said he considered Ms Thomas' position almost untenable and told RNZ that he believes she was "totally misleading".

"Quite frankly, I don't know if she can stay in her position."

Dr Brash has previously said he believed it was his views, rather than safety concerns, that led to him being banned from the publicly-funded university.

The documents also contain many emails sent to the university objecting to its cancellation decision.

- By Amy Williams

rnz.co.nz

Massey University vice-chancellor Jan Thomas and Don Brash Source: rnz.co.nz