Saturday, 4 November 2017

Is Jacinda going to take us back to the future?

Leave a Comment

I used to own a trucking company. Well, that might be a bit of an overstatement; in fact it was only one truck. Even then I only half-owned it; my partner in the venture was Max Stevenson, a rival butcher from down the road. Truth is we didn’t own much of it either; that prerogative went to the finance company.

Anyway, despite being fierce rivals in the retail meat trade, we thought it prudent to combine our talents to jointly own a truck that could deliver carcass’s from the Waingawa freezing works to our two shops in Queen Street. While we were about it we offered the service to all the other butchers in the Wairarapa, most of who responded positively. By combining our surnames we came up with a name for the enterprise, Stevlon, which sounded more like a cosmetic manufacturer rather than a raw meat company, but then on reflection, there are some disturbing similarities.

To deliver meat to other retailers meant we had to apply for a cartage license; a tiresome and costly necessity in those days before transport deregulation. You’re never going to believe this, but our application was opposed by the New Zealand Railways. They challenged all license applications as a matter of course.

A hearing took place in the Masterton County Council boardroom and two high powered, and no doubt highly paid, lawyers from NZR endeavored to have our application dismissed.

It was not lost on the hearing commissioner, genial Carterton lawyer Ian Wollerman, that there was going to be some difficulty in railways picking up the meat at Waingawa and delivering it in the wee small hours to a butcher’s shop in (say) Martinborough, so he granted us our license.

We engaged a driver named Herbie Karaitiana, an excellent employee who’d had many years’ experience driving carcass-meat trucks from Wairarapa to Wellington. Our run only took about three hours a day from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. but conscientious and fastidious Herbie would have spent another hour or so keeping the truck scrupulously clean. The driver’s award at the time however required that we pay our driver a minimum of forty hours a week, which we accepted and factored into our charges.

Everything went along swimmingly until the Drivers Union heard about out little operation and called to see us. All hours worked before 8 a.m., they said, required the driver to be paid at double time rates. We pointed out that this was in fact the only hours our driver worked, but he was being paid for a full forty hours. Sorry said the union (another exaggeration; they never say sorry) but you must pay your driver fifteen hours at double time and the other twenty five hours (remember these were the hours he didn’t work) at the normal hourly rate. We squealed, but they were unsympathetic.

Then they threw another doozy at us. We needed to pay the driver an extra $1.40 per hour “key money.” This expanded to $2.80 per hour on double time of course. The reason for this new imposition, they said, was that he had to carry the keys of all the shops he delivered to, and this was an added responsibility.

We rang the other local trucking companies to see whether this last charge was justified. They said it wasn’t, but the Drivers Union had been trying to instigate it for years. It was clever tactics to pick off a small company with key money and this would create a precedent that they would then bring to the next wage negotiations. It would then be difficult not to have it included in the national award. They pleaded with us not to give in.

I must point out that Herb. Karaitiana did not instigate any of this and during negotiations tried to take our side. He was taken outside by one of the union heavy’s and told to shut up and mind his own business. The end result was that we had to sell the business to an owner-operator who was not bound by union rules. Herbie lost his job.

I tell you all this because it’s becoming clear that our new government is keen to take us back to the days of the crusading unions before the reformation created by the Employment Contracts Act.

The stand-over tactics we endured by NZR lawyers and bully-boy union officers should remain an unsavoury relic of the past.

Max and I often used to contemplate what might have happened if we hadn’t won the day at the license hearings. We had this abiding picture of a locomotive, with a full head of steam, loaded with carcass meat, chugging down Masterton’s main street, heading for our two shops.

“Every man’s occupation should be beneficial to his fellow man as well as profitable to himself. All else is vanity and folly.” - Phineas T. Barnum


Post a Comment