The Court of Appeal’s overturning of an Employment Court ruling that the use of strike breakers during the 2009 dispute between the Dairy Workers Union and the Talley’s company, Open Country Cheese is welcome, even if it comes too late for the workers who were involved in that dispute.
The intention of s97 of the Employment Relations Act is to ensure that workers can take lawful strike action without being starved into submission by a company being able to operate with replacement labour. The right to strike has long been regarded as a fundamental protection for workers, for obvious reasons. In the absence of a right to strike workers have no protection against the inherently unequal bargaining power of employers. Firm anti strike breaking measures are needed.
The Court of Appeal has clearly restated the right of workers to take strike action and was equally clear that s86 of the Employment Relations Act prohibits employers from engaging strike breakers in an attempt to break the strike.
It’s just a pity that this decision came too late to enable a fair outcome for workers who were seeking the right to organise a union collective at Open Country Cheese. The actions of Open Country Cheese at the time were appalling, with intentionally intimidating actions, including locking out the workers.
However, it’s better late than never. I am pleased that the Court has upheld the intention of the law so that workers and employers are clear about their rights and obligations when industrial action takes place.
It’s really hard for workers to access collective bargaining, particularly where their employer is determined to defeat them. This will be looked at again as we develop Labour’s employment relations policy for the election.