24 Oct 2017

'All the people on the floor just get beat down every day'

5:03 pm on 24 October 2017

Dozens of workers from Fletcher Building businesses walked off the job this morning after pay negotiations with the country's biggest construction company stalled.

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Workers strike outside the Fletcher Building headquarters. Photo: RNZ / Nita Blake-Persen

Workers at Firth Concrete, Laminex, Mico Bathrooms and Winstones Aggregates picketed outside the Fletcher Building headquarters in Auckland, as well as outside worksites in the upper North Island.

First Union secretary for manufacturing Jared Abbott said around 100 workers in total were striking, as they had not been given a fair pay rise and negotiations with the parent company had come to a halt.

There were plenty of supportive toots for the 25 or so workers gathered outside the company's Penrose headquarters today, but no one from Fletchers was willing to come out and speak to them.

It's been a rocky few months for the company. In August major project losses, delays and asset writedowns plunged profits by 80 percent from $462 million to $94 million in the year to June.

The slump in profit had been signalled, when Fletcher disclosed it would book hefty losses on two major projects, believed to be the Christchurch justice precinct and Auckland's international convention centre.

But First Union secretary for manufacturing Jared Abbott said while the company's profits had dropped, the workers had still performed and they deserved a pay increase.

"Essentially the workers are quite frustrated, some have been negotiating since February, quite a few since May, and they've got to the point where they want to send a message to the company to get back to the table and resolve some of the outstanding issues."

He said some workers were only seeking a 3 percent wage increase, while others were looking for a $4 pay boost to bring them into line with others in the industry.

Mr Abbott said despite negotiations going on for months, Fletcher Building had only sat down with them for negotiations for an hour.

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Lee-jay Kukutai Photo: RNZ / Nita Blake-Persen

Lee-jay Kukutai was among those picketing today and said he and his co-workers needed better pay.

"Some of them are still stuck on the minimum wage or just above the minimum wage, a couple of the boys are still a bit tight lip about what they're getting, I think they're a bit embarrassed too."

Mr Kukutai said the work culture at Fletcher Building was the worst he had experienced.

"I've worked with people from down the line, all the different Fletcher outfits and they all say the same thing.

"Everyone separates themselves and all the people on the floor just get beat down every day."

Fletcher Building said it highly valued its nearly 10,000 employees and was expecting fewer than 45 people from three of its businesses to strike.

The construction giant today announced it had suspended trading in its shares ahead of tomorrow's annual general meeting.

It's expected to announce its profit outlook, and a review of last year's loss making projects.

The company will also reveal who its new chief executive will be.

Workers who were picketing today will also converge on the meeting tomorrow to again raise their concerns with the company.

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