Red Alert

Archive for the ‘workers rights’ Category

Standing Up For Workers

Posted by on August 2nd, 2013

More than 12,000 submissions have been received by the clerk of the Transport & Industrial Relations Select Committee on changes to labour laws – and they’re still counting. Some will be from employers, but the vast bulk are from workers who are justifiably worried. The proposed changes are being spun by Minister of Labour Simon Bridges as being “a series of minor amendments to improve it, to, I think, yes, even up the balance somewhat for employers, because I think we did go too far in the favour of unions.But I think it’s nevertheless moderate, pragmatic law change.”

These changes to our workplace laws are far from moderate. They will have a chilling effect on the right of workers to join together in collective bargaining, already seriously weakened in the 1990′s and not recovered since. The gap between Australian and Kiwi wages has grown, income inequality is the largest ever with the gap between rich and poor as bad as any nation’s. It’s well known (and acknowledged by the IMF, OECD and numerous commentators on low wages and inequality) that where collective bargaining declines, so do wages and conditions for everyone.

The Select Committee will be very busy in the next few months hearing from submitters.  Hearings start on the 22 August.

If you want up to date information, please like and share Labour’s Facebook page – Standing Up For Workers. We will provide up to date information about the select committee hearings, meetings and rallies, what people are saying and how the National Party is trying to spin what are very significant law changes that will have an impact on everyone – workers, families, kids, communities and Kiwis everywhere.


Touchstone

Posted by on July 17th, 2013

This week is Youth Parliament, where young people (16 to 18) selected by MPs experience two days of parliamentary life.

My Youth MP this year is Peniata Junior Endemann, who hit the news about a year ago, along with his mum, Emma Endemann, with their stories about why a Living Wage matters.

At 16 Peniata was already working 25 hours a week on $13.85 an hour to help keep his siblings in school and help provide the basic necessities for his family.

Peniata is studying at Edgewater College.  He’s into economics, sports, family, church and a bit of politics.  While he will do well at school, he has to think about his next steps : how he continues to support his family, and that probably means getting a job, not going to University.

At 18, he’s still working after school as a cleaner. So are his mum and sister.  All are paid near minimum wage.  All work for a contractor that changed hands recently, and both have been affected by breaches of Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act, which the government wants to water down.

Peniata will be speaking in the legislative debate today on the Mock Bill, which proposes to reduce the voting age from 18 to 16, among other things.  Unfortunately, youth parliament won’t be televised, but I will post his speech when I am able.  Peniata could tell us all a thing or two about how the decisions of parliamentarians affect he and his family.

I’m proud he’s going to have the chance.

Time to listen up.

 

 


As long as you cut the tree right you won’t die

Posted by on July 12th, 2013

So, says Minister of Labour, Simon Bridges, who continues to insist that his updated Approved Code of Practice for Forest Operations (ACoP)  has all the answers and if workers, employers and contractors just follow it, forestry will no longer be a dangerous industry.

Problem with that is that Simon developed the ACoP without asking the people who actually have to do the work and whose families continue to worry whenever their beloved husbands, sons, brothers and uncles go off to work.

It follows the previous ACoP which was signed off by the Hon Max Bradford (shudder) in 1999, and also developed without involvement with workers, unions or communities. Both are full of good advice about how to cut trees, safety gear, working with equipment and machinery etc. Both are voluntary, non-binding codes which state that :

An approved code does not have the same legal force as a regulation, and failure to comply with a code of practice is not, of itself, an offence”

Both ignore the underlying issue in this industry of the impact of the deregulation of the labour market in the early 1990′s when work time and rest breaks requirements were gutted.  The 2013 ACoP says :

Worker Health

Working hours shall be agreed (my emphasis) so as to provide all workers

  • adequate opportunity to manage fatigue, including regular rest breaks
, a meal break
, a daily or nightly sleep period.

The 1999 ACoP says :

General Health :

Working hours shall be arranged so as to provide adequate opportunity for rest periods, which shall include:

  • Short breaks during work hours, Sufficient breaks for meals, Daily or nightly rest.

So, in 1999 it was “arranged”  and in 2013 it is “agreed”.

Neither are strong. Both ignore the reality that limits on working hours in this highly dangerous industry don’t exist.

You can’t tell me that long working hours, pressure to deliver on piece rates or low pay, working in bad weather on dangerous terrain, in the dark, with exhausted workers is safe.

But Simon Bridges prefers to ignore that. He says he has all the answers. The answer is his updated non-binding voluntary code of practice that he continues to flaunt in parliament – oh and to cut any requirement to have rest and meal breaks for all workers.

Open your ears Mr Bridges and agree to the growing calls for an independent inquiry into this industry before more workers die.


And so it begins

Posted by on June 6th, 2013


“The fact is that a lot of bad things happen to people at work in NZ”

Posted by on May 5th, 2013

That’s a direct quote from the report of the hard hitting and comprehensive Independent Taskforce on Health and Safety, which was released last week.

And here’s another :

Labour market liberalisation in the 1980s and 1990s resulted in a sustained fall in union membership and growth in casual, part-time and short-term employment relationships. This has had enduring implications for the capacity of workers and representatives to engage with employers in managing workplace hazards, and presents ongoing challenges for the regulatory framework. It is likely that this factor influenced omissions from the HSE Act, including the failure to establish a tripartite body and to set obligations requiring employers to have formal worker-participation systems.

The Independent Taskforce members (made up of business, community and union representatives) have done an excellent job. Their report is very challenging, not least for the government, who say they will respond in June.

The report calls for tripartite involvement in the new health and safety agency and proper recognition of the role of unions and worker participation.  It says there needs to be stronger rights for workers who raise health and safety concerns and protection for vulnerable workers, including new workers and those in precarious work.

I’m waiting for Simon Bridges to admit his labour law amendments, announced just a few days before are incompatible with the recommendations of the Health and Safety Taskforce.  The government’s proposed changes to labour law essentially rebadge the Employment Contract Act changes from last century and they will exacerbate the problems identified by the Taskforce. They are even as petty as cutting rest and meal breaks and letting an employer decide if and when they can be taken.  How does that help health and safety?

It’s time to join the dots Simon.

Workers’ rights and health and safety at work go hand in hand. We all agree our workplace death and injury toll is a disgrace.

Please don’t make it worse.

 


Cutting pay Nat style #2

Posted by on April 29th, 2013

Simon Bridges will try to soothe the path of his Employment Relations Amendment bill by saying it’s about fairness and flexibility. Anyone who opposes will be portrayed as unreasonable and unbalanced.

When things get rocky, he will try to portray the Labour Party as being in the pockets of unions and unions as backwards-looking organisations. It wouldn’t surprise me if we heard more about North Korea and Polish shipyards!

Cutting workers’ pay is easy if you follow the MO of Mr Bridges and the National Government’s new legislation.

1. Increase the minimum wage by the barest of margins ($5.60 a week or 14 cents an hour in real terms since 2009).
2. Make workers vulnerable in their first 90 days of employment, so they don’t raise issues or concerns and have no bargaining power if they want the job.
3. Allow employers to refuse to settle a collective agreement – and the standards that extend to other workers are reduced as well.
4. Pay new workers less than the rate in any collective agreement so pay and conditions are undermined.
5. Enable employers to opt out of industry agreements (MECAs) so they can undercut competitors by paying lower wages – and drive down wages overall.
6. Tax workers if they work to rule rather than carrying on giving the free overtime.
6. Open up competition to small, under resourced competitors by removing rights for vulnerable workers to be transferred in contracting out.

If standards set by collective agreements are lowered, that will affect hundreds of thousands of workers, not just union members. Take for example, four weeks annual leave. That became law under the Labour Alliance government, because unions had bargained it into collective agreements for enough union members to justify extending it to all workers under the Holidays Act. Without that happening, workers would still be sitting on three weeks annual leave.

There will be a lot said in the coming months as Simon Bridges tries to justify these changes, but he shouldn’t assume people are stupid enough to buy his claims that the changes will lift productivity and help businesses grow.

We know they won’t because we’ve done this before under the National Government of the 1990′s. Thanks to similar employment law reforms, the gap between New Zealand wages and those of Australian workers widened and today it is more than 30%.

Watch out New Zealanders.

Paycuts are coming your way.


Cutting pay 101 Nat style

Posted by on April 26th, 2013

New Minister Simon Bridges has done what his predecessor Kate Wilkinson failed to do and that’s to get legislation before Parliament that will cut workers pay.

In doing so, he’s following the directions of his boss John Key who said ages ago he would love to see wages drop.

The legislation Simon Bridges announced today is unnecessary, and fiddles while Rome burns.  It returns to the old Nat ideology : when all else fails have a go at the workers. It’s the old formula dressed up in the language of reasonableness and flexibility.

Many will think this won’t affect them. Next post I will tell you how it will.


Dear Sir Peter and Fran

Posted by on February 26th, 2013

“Thank you for your email of 4 October 2010 raising issues of actors work permits and possible amendments to the Commerce Act 1986 and the Employment Relations Act 2000 (ERA).

Having considered the possibility of amendments to the ERA or Commerce Act carefully, our view, following extensive consultation with the Crown Law Office, is that, for the reasons set out below, it would not be appropriate to recommend such amendments.

“…….In our view, the relevant legislative provisions provide sufficient clarity such that no legislative amendments are required.”

Hon Gerry Brownlee

Hon Christopher Finlayson

This was the government’s position in mid-October 2010.  But by the end of the month, they had caved into demands to change our employment legislation to exclude film and video workers from their right to challenge the status of their employment.

The government released more information on this sorry saga today after being told they had to by the Ombudsman. It makes for fascinating reading.  Put to one side the florid and over the top language about the union and the MEAA union leader, Simon Whipp that has attracted some media comment.

Read the documents and see for yourself the hand New Zealanders were dealt by a weak government, not prepared to stand up for all of us.


About Part 6A again

Posted by on December 2nd, 2012

Part 6A in the Employment Relations Act means little to most people, but it means a lot for thousands of cleaners, catering workers, orderlies and laundry workers, whose jobs are prone to repetitive contracting out.

After a two year review, the government’s announcement last month that Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act would be limited to workplaces with more than 20 workers sent me looking for why this decision had been made.

The OIA documents I obtained showed that the Government ignored warnings about excluding SMEs from the Department of Labour and Sapere Consultancy, who was contracted by the government earlier this year to determine a “cost benefit analysis.”  The idea of excluding SMEs was not covered in earlier papers going right back to 2010, but this year a May 18 Aide Memoire from the Minister asked the department :

Would it be possible to exempt small businesses from Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act 2000?

Both Sapere Research and the Department of Labour criticised the idea of excluding SME’s from Part 6A.  Sapere considered this as a possible amendment to Part 6A of the Act but commented that:

“..From what we heard from interviews and found with our subsequent analysis, it seems likely that restricting the special protections to only large employers would be counter-productive and lead to even more perverse outcomes than the current arrangements. This is because it would result in transfer situations where one party had to be compliant and the other did not, leading in all likelihood to a breakdown in the exercising of the provisions at all.

The Department of Labour also concluded it would be ‘‘counter-productive and lead to even more perverse outcomes than the current arrangements’’.

This option was flagged a couple of times in later reports but did not make it into the last of three Cabinet Policy Papers which were presented in or around early September. Then in late September DOL (now MoBIE) was asked to again look into the option of excluding SME’s.  They stated that this would reduce compliance costs for SME’s but would add a layer of complexity to Part 6A. They noted that large employers would be undercut by smaller ones in bidding for contracts.

A later paper by MoBIE outlines the plan to prevent large companies from creating smaller entities, by establishing a “test of independence” which they warned would “add another layer of complexity and uncertainty to this process”.

So, there will be a new provision in the Employment Relations Act which removes the rights of more than 6000 workers, adds more complexity and cost to business and will doubtless end up in expensive litigation.

There’s been a campaign from Crest Clean over the year, aided and abetted by others, including Rodney Hide who wrote two articles for the NBR slamming Part 6A. And you don’t have to look far in CrestClean to find a National Party stalwart.

There are interests here that have persuaded the government to go beyond sensible and workable change. That’s not unusual for this lot, but I know who will pay the price for it.

 


A hundred deaths and $3.5bl a year and finally, Williamson admits we have a problem….

Posted by on November 6th, 2012

The scale of the unsafe building practices revealed in a recent clampdown raises serious questions about why Maurice Williamson and his National-ACT Government have continued with such a nonchalant approach for so long.

The NZ Herald reported on November 2nd that since July, more than 400 actions have been taken against 760 construction sites for not complying with guidelines on safe working at height. Inspectors shut down 215 of the sites, and issued more than 160 written warnings requiring immediate remedial action.

While Building & Construction Minister Maurice Williamson finally admits there is a problem, this Government has had four years in office, and in the meantime, we’ve had an average of 100 deaths a year, with workplace injuries and fatalities reportedly costing New Zealand about $3.5 billion annually.

Translate that into the devastation caused to builders and their families, the lost productivity and the additional costs to ACC; these are not the standards we would expect of a developed nation.  Why should we accept that our construction workers are twice as likely to be killed or injured on the job, compared to workers on a site in the United Kingdom?

At the heart of the problem is this ‘hands off’ approach by a Government that imagines the market will sort somehow out its own problems.

It hasn’t worked in the mining industry, and it’s not working in the construction industry.

Labour believes we have to get back to having equal opportunities for all Kiwis; we do not accept that lowering our health and safety performance for some sectors is necessary for economic recovery.

With the Christchurch rebuild starting and the Government  now at least talking about the Auckland housing crisis, keeping workers safe must become a recognised priority for all parties involved.

 

 


Employment law changes – 6A just part of it

Posted by on October 31st, 2012

Some people seem to think the government has cleverly covered up its employment law changes with its announcement on Part 6A yesterday.

I guess I was assuming people would remember the rest of the changes on employment law were revealed way back in May this year, when a cabinet paper dropped off the back of a truck and the Minister of Labour was forced to confirm the government’s plans – that’s after saying I was making it all up first!  The changes will impact on the pay and conditions of hundreds of thousands of workers whose wages and conditions are set by union agreements – whether or not they join the union. They will contribute to the growing income inequality gap and add to our abysmal child poverty record.

They are the actions of a government that thinks that picking on the workers and unions and driving wages down is the answer to our economic woes.

Here’s a summary of the changes I did back in May.

We have yet to see legislation – but there will be strong opposition from me and Labour.

And for the record - Labour will repeal these changes – I didn’t think I needed to say it, but apparently I do.

 


About Part 6A

Posted by on October 27th, 2012

We’ve known since May how the government plans to cut wages further when a leaked Cabinet paper forced the Minister of Labour to announce their proposals to weaken collective bargaining laws.

But since then, there’s been delay after delay, and while most of the government’s proposed employment law changes have been settled for some time now, Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act, the important provision that provides protection to vulnerable workers in situations of employer change has gone back and forth to Cabinet.  It looks like we will see the Government’s decision pretty soon ; Cabinet is due to consider the final paper, which includes Part 6A and Kate Wilkinson confirmed last week that the changes will be introduced before Xmas.

Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act was hard won and I hope won’t be lightly pushed aside by the government.

In 1999,  members of the Service and Food Workers Union began a campaign called “Contract Workers Count” out of concern for those employed by private contractors in public hospitals, commercial cleaning, catering, security and rest homes. Over the previous ten years, these low paid workers had suffered multiple changes of contractors and each time, their jobs were up for grabs and their hours and wages reduced as the competitive pressure in these industries landed on the wage costs.

Five years later, the Labour government passed Part 6A into law which enables ”vulnerable employees” to follow their work if it is transferred to a new employer, (where the business is sold or their employer loses a contract to another employer). The affected workers in this situation can elect to transfer their employment to the new employer, taking their current terms and conditions, service and accrued entitlements with them.

Undoubtedly, there’s been some disputes over part 6A, but the Courts have sorted that out – although obviously not to the satisfaction of some companies, who would rather see the return to the dog eat dog approach of competitive tendering of the past.

The most important thing to remember is that part 6A applies to a particularly vulnerable group of workers.  They are not well paid; many are on minimum wage or just above.  Take Parliament’s cleaners. Parliamentary Services is going through a re-tendering process right now and is under pressure to cut costs. Without the right to transfer to a new contractor that Part 6A provides, John Key’s cleaner could be sacked and replaced with someone else employed on fewer hours and less pay.

However, I fear that the decisions around Part 6A will not be good news.

I live in hope that the government will not succumb to pressure and take their ideology out on the cleaners, kitchen workers and other vulnerable workers of our land.

Contract Workers still Count.


Be Careful Who You Quote

Posted by on October 25th, 2012

In a desperate bid to find a reason to oppose my bill to extend paid parental leave to 6 months, Business NZ rolled up to the select committee citing the opinion of Member of the European Parliament as evidence that employers in NZ might stop employing women of “child-bearing” age.

“Absurd legislation such as this closes the door on opportunities for young women and consigns them to a role as second class citizens, trapped at home by stupid legislators,” said the un-named MEP in Business NZs submission.

A quick google search revealed him to be Godfrey Bloom from the UK Independence Party.

Turns out, Godfrey has a lot to say about women.

“No self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age.” For example. Closely followed by:

“I just dont think (women) clean behind the fridge enough” and “I am here to represent Yorkshire women who always have dinner on the table when you get home.”

And Godfrey also has something to say about NZ. Wikipedia reports that he was filmed in 2009, congratulating the French for bombing the Rainbow Warrior.

My advise to Business NZ is simple. Don’t make assertions that denigrate both women and NZ employers and use an MEP of questionable repute to justify your position.

Its a very bad look and the issue deserves better treatment than that.


A bill to protect younger workers

Posted by on October 22nd, 2012

It is a little ironic that the day before the government passed its first reading of the Minimum Wage bill that cuts young workers’ pay, my bill, (Employment Relations (Protection of Young Workers) Amendment Bill)  was drawn from the ballot.

I’m pleased that this bill will get a hearing, because it’s about protecting young workers under 16. It will provide that young workers aged 15 cannot be employed as self employed contractors and must instead be employed under the Employment Relations Act as employees.

The most obvious example is leaflet and newspaper deliveries. Caritas did some work on this a few years back and highlighted the issues of low pay, health and safety risks and children being subjected to unfair contracting.  Here’s some examples of the contracts for leaflet deliverers they came across :

Contract A: “The parties acknowledge that this agreement is entered into by both parties on the basis that the Deliverer is an independent Contractor and that the Deliverer is not an agent or employee of the Company….The Contractor is an independent Contractor and as such is free…to select the Contractor’s own means and methods of performing the services and, subject to the delivery window requested by [Company], the hours during which the Contractor will perform those services.”

Contract B: “You are employed by [Company] under a contract for services, which means that you are an independent contractor.  This contract does not therefore create an employment relationship between you and [Company].”

Contract C: “All Distributors are Independent Contractors and therefore are required to file an IR3 at the end of each year.”

Contract D: “The Contractor is an independent Contractor and as such is free (in addition to the Contractor’s freedom to engage sub-contractors and others to use carrying equipment…) to select the Contractor’s own means and methods of performing the services…The Contractor shall bear all costs and expenses incurred by the Contractor in connection with the performance of the services.

Based on a crude assessment of their data, Caritas estimated that most of the pay rates fell somewhere between $1.67 and $6.25 per hour.

There has been a long tradition in New Zealand of young people delivering newspapers and leaflets. No problem with that. But expecting young people to understand commercial law, pay their own tax and ACC and take on the responsibilities of contractors under Commercial Law is not fair.

We need to ensure young workers are treated fairly under employment law, with rights to personal grievance, written agreements, sick leave, holidays and other employment entitlements.

It’s important to note my bill doesn’t apply to young workers providing work for individual householders, such as lawnmowing, babysitting and so on.

The bill is a basic measure to improve children’s overall working conditions and something I hope the Parliament will take seriously.


Thank you to NZ’s workers

Posted by on October 22nd, 2012

Today, on Labour Day I want to acknowledge the contribution New Zealand’s workers make to our country.  They are often the forgotten part of the economic equation, but without workers, no business and no public service could get ahead.

There used to be a time when each generation was proud to say that their kids would be better off than their parents at work and the effort of unions in collective organisation and bargaining was about ensuring the gains won by our forebears were not lost.

I can’t say that today.

The 8 hour day and 40 hour week is regarded by many as an anachronism, benefits like overtime and weekend rates are considered out of the ark and the National Government narrative is that employers and business are providing a generous service by taking workers on, and they should just be grateful to have a job.

We subsidise low wages through working for families, we pay employers to take on young minimum wage workers they can sack after 90 days and then we blame people when they struggle to make ends meet.

In the 112th year of celebrating Labour Day as the day to recognise the contribution of New Zealand’s workers and the progress made in workers’ rights, we must remember it’s been another tough year for New Zealand workers, with thousands of layoffs, rising costs, stagnant wages and attacks on employment rights. The Government has launched an attacked on our young workers this week and further employment legislation is in the pipeline that will drive down wages for everyone.

One of the worst industrial disputes seen since the 1990s, the Ports of Auckland is still unsettled.  The weeks of wages lost to Talleys AFFCO workers , their families and their communities in a bitter lockout to try to cut their pay and job security has taken a huge toll on poor rural communities and we’ve even seen low paid rest home workers on the picket line struggling for a pittance of a pay increase.

My message to New Zealand workers this Labour Day is that Labour appreciates your hard work and contribution, we are on your side and we have real plans to improve your working lives when this government is thrown out.

And enjoy the day.  The government can’t take that away from us.

 


The contractor trap – more flexibility, no rights

Posted by on October 14th, 2012

This was published on the Radiolive website on 5 October.

There’s an old Kiwi maxim: a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, but that doesn’t ring true for many thousands of Kiwi workers.

For the past three decades there has been a steady growth in what is described internationally as non-standard work, including temporary workers, casual and labour hire workers and a substantial increase in the use of independent and dependent contracting.

Some contractors are highly skilled, entrepreneurial individuals, who are able to extract a significant premium for their efforts outside traditional employment.

However, for many, the opportunities of earning a secure and stable income are remote. Their classification as contractors effectively gives them no rights to the minimum protections provided for those classed as employees under New Zealand Law. For these workers the employment relationship, with its rights and obligations, under current law has become meaningless.

Look around you. Many fast food delivery workers, truck drivers, couriers, construction workers, caregivers, security guards, cleaners, telemarketing workers, forestry workers, even actors and musicians are contractors.

While Labour is pushing for the minimum wage to be $15 an hour, these workers have no guaranteed minimum wage.

While we enjoy our Christmas breaks, these workers have no paid holidays.

If we are treated unfairly at work, we can challenge our treatment under the law, but contractors have no such right.

If we want to join a union and bargain for a collective agreement, we are guaranteed that right, but that’s prohibited under competition laws for contractors.

Over the past few years many contractors have been in touch with me to talk about their situation. When Telecom announced that its two biggest network Engineering contractors, Transfield and Downer EDI had lost their contracts for the Northland and Auckland network to a new company, Visionstream, 700 skilled lines engineers were told if they wanted work they would have to move from being employees to contractors.

These workers were powerless. If they wanted a job they had to give up secure income and employee protections, buy their own vans and equipment and take all of the risks of the job on themselves. Many did. And they’re now struggling.

Some horrific stories from truck drivers hit the headlines. They had mortgaged their houses to buy the rig, and then the companies they were contracted to slashed hundred of dollars off their weekly pay claiming the drivers were overpaid. They showed me the figures; many are earning below minimum wage. Every week sometimes dies on the road through a truck related injury. We respond with ever-stricter safety laws, but does anyone ever think that the drivers are speeding, cutting maintenance, working over legal hours because that’s the only way they can make a living as owner-drivers?

Courier drivers are in a similar situation. As vehicle drivers have been converted from employees to contractors, courier drivers have been required to provide their own vehicle, pay for vehicle maintenance, insurance registration, and other running costs.

New Zealand is not alone in this phenomenan. Studies are taking place around the world and some governments have implemented new legislation to regulate dependent and independent contracting.

In this dog-eat-dog world of increasing competition, firms often turn to contracting as a means of avoiding the costs of employing someone directly. Others do it in a cynical attempt to avoid labour laws.

The International Labour Organisation has dedicated many conference discussions to finding a solution, saying that the protection of (all) workers “is at the heart of the ILO’s mandate and all workers, regardless of employment status, should work in conditions of decency and dignity.”

While Labour accepts there are advantages for businesses in different contracting arrangements and for that matter, advantages for some highly skilled workers, these must be balanced against the fundamental rights of fairness and equality.

There is a lot of discussion and thought required on this topic. But in the end, Labour doesn’t believe that it is the Kiwi way for the “law of the jungle” to prevail.

If we fail to regulate the growing incidences of independent and dependent contracting, we expose growing legions of workers to having no rights at all.

And in doing so, we make every other job that relies on the foundations of the employment relationship vulnerable to unacceptable competition.


Some things are bigger than politics

Posted by on September 16th, 2012

The Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson has been coming under fire in some quarters for not pushing through changes to employment laws – the people who think all National needs to do is smash unions and everything will be back to its rightful place in the world.

Labour will mount strong opposition to any changes to the Employment Relations Act that undermine collective bargaining and wage setting. The already signalled employment law changes are designed to undermine the role of unions as standard setters for hundreds of thousands of New Zealand wage and salary earners – whether they are union members or not. Simply put, it will help drive wages lower.

Many reports about growing inequality, including those from the OECD and IMF, acknowledge the decline of collective bargaining and unions as a contributor to the growing gap between rich and poor. Labour will stand up for unions as the internationally recognised partner in collective bargaining, because there is no other proven method or system to help working people receive decent wages, safe working conditions, or a voice on the job.

But I want to give credit to Kate Wilkinson who believes that tackling our awful death and injury toll in the workplace goes beyond politics and there should be cross party work on it. Labour agrees and has taken up her offer to be consulted about the Independent Taskforce on Health and Safety. The Taskforce’s consultation document was released today.

The deaths of 29 miners at Pike River and subsequent industrial disasters have shocked us all. The memories of those who died at work demand we work together to ensure that these kind of losses never happens again – no matter who the government is. 100 workers die every year in New Zealand’s workplaces and this is one workplace statistic we beat Australia at  - to our shame.

There will be areas where Labour will disagree and we will say so. We will have differences about workplace rights and their interface with health and safety. We cannot expect people to speak out about dangerous work practices if they are on a 90 day trial, for example.

And I’m sure that saying nice things about the Minister won’t help her with the puerile campaign from CrestClean and their supporters.

But some things, such as tackling our appalling record of  workers dying or being injured on the job every week, are just more important than politics.


Hey, this is my job!

Posted by on September 6th, 2012

I find this website having a go at the Minister of Labour pretty ironic. I thought that was my job!

Crest Clean have been whinging for some time now about Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act, which requires them to employ the existing cleaners if they take over a cleaning contract. There’s been a couple of court cases, and more pending, I’m told. They’ve been on a letter writing crusade to all MPs and endeavoured to get support from other Cleaning Services Companies. The Minister was supposed to review Part 6A by the end of 2010, so she’s been a bit slack in reporting back to parliament.

There will be changes to part 6A in the Employment Relations Amendment Bill which is due to be tabled sometime this year, but I don’t believe the changes will satisfy Crest Clean. This website is yet another self serving go from Crest Clean to change the law in their favour – you can see on the website how busy they’ve been. I hope the Minister takes no notice.

Love the pic though.


New Zealand’s Wisconsin?

Posted by on September 3rd, 2012

The government is quietly making a move on collective bargaining in the State Sector. The State Sector and Public Finance Reform Bill, tabled in parliament last week, has a provision that has many speculating that this government is intending to implement its own version of the Wisconsin assault on collective bargaining in the public sector.

In a new provision under the bill, “workforce policy matters”, including the government’s “expectations” for pay and conditions, will be issued by Order in Council, which means they will be legally binding. This will allow the government to jump over any collective bargaining and good faith process and dictate pay and conditions.  It will undermine collective bargaining in the State and diminish the employment rights of thousands of workers.

So why?

HIgh levels of union density in the State Sector, as compared to the Private Sector has an impact in setting pay and conditions overall. The government’s keenness to reduce government expenditure in the State makes collective bargaining and union membership an obvious target for implementing employment policies aimed at reducing the influence on the overall labour market.

These changes, along with the government’s amendments to collective bargaining for all workers will enable employers to pay new workers less; and that’s the clear intention.

Every New Zealander needs to be concerned about these changes.  They might look like they only affect unionised workers, but they will affect everyone.

Wages are already too low in New Zealand.  Take away collective bargaining and further weaken unions, then the only thing left to fall back on is a reliance on the market and good old trickle down.

And has that worked?

I don’t think so.

 


Awarded more than $8000 when she was sacked for bad breath

Posted by on August 27th, 2012

I promised to provide an update on real-life struggles and challenges the NZ workforce was experiencing on the ground under present conditions. Did you hear about the Auckland beautician who refused to work on clients and had complaints about her bad breath? What appears to be trivial on the surface was actually quite substantial when the Employment Relations Authority dug into the case. Her employer made suggestions to the beautician that she should perhaps chew mints or receive some assistance from a dentist.

Later she was told by her employer, “If you don’t attend these clients, don’t come back tomorrow”. She managed her workload and left according to her planned departure time, and when she returned the next day, she felt she may have been fired, then asked for a formal letter of termination, and got it.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) said that the employer had other options available to him, such as he could have suspended the employee on pay while an investigation was carried out, or conduct a formal meeting into the incident.

In any case the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) awarded her $8022.45 in wages and compensation.

NB: Just pointing  to this case to show how important it is for employers to treat their staff with respect.