Pay docked for observance
Unions expressed outrage yesterday over an employer who docked workers’ pay after they observed two minutes’ silence in honor of 29 miners killed in a colliery explosion. The mark of respect for victims of last month’s Pike River mine disaster was held on Dec. 2, with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key leading the silent tribute at the beginning of a national memorial service. Businesses and schools around the country paused for the occasion, but Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said about 170 workers at a North Island meatworks later found their pay had been docked. “It’s extraordinary,” she said. “I’ve never heard of anything like it. The whole country stopped, our office stopped, it’s hard to imagine someone would dock pay over something like that.” Kelly described the actions of employers at the Silver Fern Farms plant in Te Aroha as “disrespectful, offensive and mean.” She said the amount of pay at stake was trifling, the workers reportedly lost less than NZ$1.60 (US$1.19) each, but the principle of being able to pay respects without being penalized was important.
Waistlines affect funerals
Expanding waistlines are creating a weighty problem for funeral directors, who cannot fit cadavers in their crematories and have resorted to selling double burial plots, reports said yesterday. Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand president Tony Garing said the size of the standard coffin had increased as obesity rates soared. “Caskets are getting wider to accommodate people, so it is the width that is the issue,” he told new agency NZPA, adding the standard coffin was now 58cm at the shoulder, up from 48cm. Noelene Mudgway, manager of Auckland’s Manukau Memorial Gardens, said cremation was not an option for some families saying their last farewell to a supersized loved one. Mudgway said the cemetery tried to accommodate large coffins by burying them in plots at the end of a row, where they would not encroach on other graves, but she said the solution sometimes involved selling families two adjoining plots, each 1.2m wide, at a cost of NZ$2,520 (US$1,865) each.
Government battles nature
China plans to step up a weather-manipulation program that has stirred debate about tinkering with Mother Nature, state media said yesterday. Zheng Guoguang (鄭國光), director of the China Meteorological Administration, said chronic water shortages in parts of the country will worsen in the decades ahead and “thus we need to control the weather,” Xinhua news agency reported. China last year began to set aside a special budget for weather-control activities and spending grew 19 percent in the first 10 months of this year to US$114 million, the report said. Such activities will be expanded to combat extreme weather such as droughts, “explore airborne water resources, improve the ecological environment” and secure stable water supplies for cities, industry and agriculture, Xinhua said, citing the administration’s plans.
Ship sinks; dozens missing
Rescuers pulled two Vietnamese fishermen to safety yesterday, one day after their vessel sank in the South China Sea, but 25 others were still missing, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported. Strong winds caused the Vietnam-flagged vessel, the Phu Tan, to capsize and sink on Thursday, about 185km west of the city of Sanya on China’s Hainan Island, the agency said earlier.