Red Alert

Archive for the ‘Right to strike’ Category

Free at last?

Posted by on May 11th, 2012

This week, National MPs indulged themselves with a bit of union bashing during their support for Tau Henare’s Employment Relations (Secret Relations Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bil.

The worst comments were from Tau Henare and other National MPs, who insisted on quoting Martin Luther King saying “Free at Last, Thank God Almighty we are Free at Last.”

How embarrassing to compare a petty little bill, that has nothing to do with freedom, freedom of choice, or more importantly, freedom of association with that great defender of civil rights and equality, Martin Luther King.

Tau Henare and his other acolytes, including Jami-Lee Ross, made speeches that would have made Bill Birch of the 1990s National Party proud.

The prejudice is awful. The consequences for New Zealand workers are dire when you add everything up.

This week, I found out a whole lot more about the government’s intention to roll back worker rights and collective bargaining. (I’ll have more to say on this).

The Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson, is due to make her annual junket to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva in June. So far, she’s been able to bask in some of the glory from the former Labour government and New Zealand’s place as a respected member of the ILO.  We had moved on from the shame in the 1990s when a special Rappateur was sent to New Zealand to investigate NZ’s breaches of core labour standards.  New Zealand were pariahs in the international labour community then, aligned with third world countries who think workers should be grateful to have jobs. We might be joining them again soon.

I am  wondering how the Minister of Labour will justify Tau Henare’s bill, which on its own, is irrelevant in the scale of issues facing New Zealand workers, but in the bigger picture, will require an explanation of how her government’s changes to collective bargaining and strikes will help advance the rights of New Zealand working people and our place in the world.

Think about this : if the influence of unions is removed altogether in NZ, what will happen to wages, to standards, to fairness?

Would we still have a minimum wage?  Would we have ever moved to four weeks annual leave?

Would there even be a discussion about health and safety?

Or are you willing to leave it up to the Tau Henares and Jami-lee Ross’s of the world?


Secret ballots and lockouts

Posted by on March 22nd, 2012

Auckland needs its Port to be working at full capacity again and yesterday I thought we might be getting there.

After Employment Court Judge Barrie Travis issued his minute late yesterday, it seemed like the damaging dispute could be settled, through a return to good faith bargaining and mediation processes under our employment law. 

Today we have the strange situation where the Ports workers want to go back to work, but apparently PoAL won’t let them. 

PoAL has issued notices of indefinite lockout which came less than 24 hours after they agreed with the Employment Court to resume good faith negotiations. 

But that notice doesn’t take effect until 14 days after the notice was issued. The workers are lawfully able to return to work in the meantime and I understand this was their intention.  If the Ports management prevent them, it will be an unlawful lockout.

Perhaps it was coincidence, but last night we debated the final committee stages of Tau Henare’s Secret Ballot for Strikes bill.  The Bill would require unions to conduct secret ballots wherever strike action was being considered. Most unions already do this, but there are real problems with this bill, which I won’t go into too much here.

Tau’s argument was that this was democratic. OK. But why should only one party to the employment relationship have to be democratic?  I proposed an amendment that would have provided more balance to the bill, which would have required shareholders to conduct a secret ballot before a lockout. 

So, in the case of the Ports of Auckland Ltd, the shareholders would have had to hold a ballot before the lockout notices were issued.  That would have been interesting indeed.

But of course the National Party and its cronies voted the amendment down, along with others that would have made the bill more workable.

Like so many things in the employment relationship, National believes that things should only go one way – and that’s definitely not in favour of workers.


Now it’s aged care workers

Posted by on February 29th, 2012

Tomorrow morning 1500 nurses, health care assistants and support staff employed by the 20 facilities in the Oceania chain of Aged Care Facilities are striking.  Some of the residents they care for will join them in the protest.

Caregivers do magnificent work caring for members of our families as they get older and less able to look out for themselves. But they are underpaid and undervalued.  I know.  I was privileged to be a Rest Homes organiser and advocate before I became an MP and I have nothing but admiration for the work that aged care workers do and the commitment they make.

This isn’t an easy job. Looking after older people in aged care facilities requires skill and intensive responsibility for people with enormous support needs.

There’s been a change from “mum and dad” owned rest homes or Religious and Welfare homes, where older people could have a sedate and dignified retirement, to “ageing in place”  where older people stay in their homes with support from Home Support Services.  I support this approach, but it means our aged care facilities have been taken by corporate interests, looking to cash in our growing population.  Oceania is a private equity firm, whose parent company is Macquarie Global Infrastructure.

While much of New Zealand’s aged care support comes from our health budget - funded by you and me, corporates are shipping off the profits to their overseas shareholders.

I also know how much former Labour Ministers did to try to address the problem of low pay in this burgeoning industry, and how much it was resisted by the industry.  They seem to be more interested in discussing their return on investment rather than the terrible state of the workforce and the crises that keep occurring through low-paid workers caring for very vulnerable old people.

Some Oceania workers are paid as little as $13.61 an hour.  They shouldn’t have to strike.

But that’s all they can do.


Strike breaking unlawful

Posted by on March 11th, 2011

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.