Red Alert

Posts Tagged ‘workers rights’

“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.

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.


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.

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.

Crimestoppers – a new minimum wage enforcer?

Posted by on August 27th, 2012

One of the issues highlighted by the recent stories on migrant worker exploitation was a reluctance to complain about breaches of employment law because of fear around visa issues.

Examples are international students working in excess of their allowed hours of 20 hours a week and those here on work visas that are tied to the business, so they are effectively bonded to that employer – even if they are being paid less than the legal minimum wage.

How does Immigration NZ deal with migrant workers who want to complain about breaches of NZ employment law and minimum wage, but are fearful about the consequences.

They refer you to Crimestoppers and there seems to be no other way to complain. Immigration NZ advertises Crimestoppers up front under  “Report Immigration Fraud“.  You can either fill out an online complaint form which apparently goes to the on line site in the UK or ring their call centre, which is also in the UK.

Crimestoppers is also used by the Police, and probably very effectively, but is this the best alternative for migrant workers, who want to complain about breaches of minimum wage, but who are worried about being stung over their visa?

I’m not sure. Would be interested in your views.

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.

Planet Reality

Posted by on July 23rd, 2012

When the National Party talks about Planet Labour, they think they are being very funny. Actually, I believe they’re the ones living on another planet, and it’s certainly not Planet Reality.

I just met a couple of great women who know Planet Reality. They are caregivers in an aged care facility, which includes a dementia unit, some with years of service. Most of them are on minimum wage.

They and their fellow workers were on strike three days last week to get a collective agreement. They haven’t had one since the Home was sold by the Baptists to a private owner in 1997.

They want a pay scale that recognises their experience, skill and service, that isn’t dependent on minimum wage movements or the will of the boss. They want a way to ensure that taxpayer funded increases are passed onto the workers when they are intended to be.

They’ve been bargaining with their employer since last October. They’ve been in mediated bargaining since February. They’ve done everything they can under the law to get their employer to agree to a new agreement and they will do more – at least while they still can.

The government’s going to change the law so employers don’t have to keep bargaining. When they’ve had enough, they can say, that’s it, had enough, bargaining over. Bad luck. Back onto your individual contracts where you belong.

Minister Wilkinson tries to soft soap this by saying this change will return the law to how it was under Labour until 2004. But the law was changed because some employers were “surface bargaining” – going through the motions until they could pull the plug by saying bargaining was concluded.

I know this doesn’t mean much to a lot of people. It certainly means nothing to those who don’t understand the realities of low wage workers and how hard it is to get a collective agreement settled when your employer doesn’t want a union on the job, because it’s a whole lot easier to have all the power.

I just hope these women get a deal before Wilkinson manages to get the law changes before parliament.

Let it be known everywhere

Posted by on May 15th, 2012

Last week, a couple of papers fell off the back of a truck which were of particular interest to Kiwi workers. They outlined the government’s changes to labour laws and gave the Department of Labour’s assessment and warnings about the consequences of the government’s changes.

I thought the Minister of Labour would get the hint that Labour knew more than she was telling when I asked her a question in the House last Wednesday. Then in my speech on Tau Henare’s strike ballot bill I outlined the stupidity of her government’s proposals in regard to pay reductions for partial strikes – and she was in the House listening.

So I was gobsmacked that when the papers were revealed in the Dompost, Kate Wilkinson suggested that I had made them up. Later that day, the government was forced to come clean and made the announcements I knew were coming.

The changes will systematically take apart our labour relations framework, part by part and clause by clause. Our employment law will still be called the Employment Relations Act, but the worst provisions of that most draconian of employment laws from the 1990’s, the Employment Contracts Act will replace much of it. They will do nothing to address the most volatile industrial relations environment we’ve seen in NZ in years, and will definitely do nothing to increase wages and provide decent work.

The government is couching their plans in the Crosby Textor language of “choice, balance, flexibility” and are described as “minor” by the PM John Key.

That’s rubbish. We’ve got a wages crisis in New Zealand and that’s because our employment relations system isn’t working to ensure fairness for working people. The government’s changes will make this worse.

Last week, when we were debating Tau Henare’s secret ballots for strikes bill (which has now passed and will soon become law), National Party MPs indulged themselves in an outburst of the “free at last” quote from Martin Luther King.

Well, that great man died in Memphis when he was attending a struggle for the right of public workers to have a union and to collectively bargain.

King declared : “Let it be known everywhere, that along with wages and all of the other securities that you are struggling for, you are also struggling for the right to organise and be recognised.” The key issues for the Memphis strikers were their demands that the City of Memphis grant collective bargaining rights and the collection of union fees.

I’m taking bets on how many National MPs stand up and quote Martin Luther King on collective bargaining and workers rights when these miserable changes come to the Parliament.

And let it be known everywhere : Labour will oppose these changes vigorously and determinedly.


Posted by on April 2nd, 2012

One of the jobs of an opposition MP is to ask questions.  It’s in the public interest to find out what our government is planning, but that’s not how the Minister of Labour sees it.  So I thought you should see just how transparent and accountable our Ministers are with the latest series of non-answers from Kate Wilkinson :

Question: Does the Minister intend to implement the National Party policy allowing employers to opt out of negotiations for a multi-employer collective agreement; if so, when will she introduce legislation to implement that change?

Answer Text: I intend to implement all policies in National’s Employment Relations manifesto in due course.

Question: Does the Minister intend to implement the National Party policy enabling employers to apply partial pay reductions for partial strikes or situations of low-level industrial action; if so, when will she introduce legislation to implement that change?

Answer Text: I intend to implement all policies in National’s Employment Relations manifesto in due course.

Question : Does the Minister intend to implement the National Party policy removing the requirement that non-union members are employed under a collective agreement for their first 30-days; if so, when will she introduce legislation to implement that change?

Answer Text: I intend to implement all policies in National’s Employment Relations manifesto in due course.

Question: Does the Minister intend to implement the National Party policy removing the requirement to conclude collective bargaining; if so, when will she introduce legislation to implement that change?

Answer Text: Guess what ? (To the tune of “Altogether Now) : I intend to implement all policies in National’s Employment Relations manifesto in due course.

Well, I guess we know that the Minister intends to implement all policies in National’s Employment Relations manifesto in due course. I’m sure the 1000 plus locked out workers at Talleys AFFCO will be comforted by these answers, along with the Oceania workers who are still taking action to get something resembling a cost of living increase. I know Kate Wilkinson’s under threat by the takeover of her department by the “business facing” ambitions of Steven Joyce, so I thought she might be asserting herself at the moment.

So please. Can I have a little more?

Sleepover bill nearly there

Posted by on September 27th, 2011

Labour supported the “Sleepover Wages (Settlement) Bill’  tonight to select committee, in a truncated process that will see the bill reported back to the House next week and hopefully finalised.

We’ve been pushing this issue all year and we’re pleased the government has finally reached a settlement with the unions and caregivers.

I want to acknowledge the hard work and commitment of the disability support workers and their unions. I’m delighted that years of a dragged out process, including three court cases and the threat of a Supreme Court case is coming to an end.

I’m particularly pleased that the government has seen sense and not tried to legislate the Court decisions away.

Backpay is coming. It’s well deserved. But having said that, I want to acknowledge the generosity of these workers, who through their unions, are accepting a 50% settlement of backpay and a drawn out process toward being paid minimum wage.

The settlement is great.  But the contribution of the workers is even greater.

Something else happened this week

Posted by on September 9th, 2011

With all the excitement around the Rugby World Cup it may have slipped your notice that the long battle by Disability Support workers to be paid minimum wage for “sleepover” shifts looks like it might come to an end by Christmas – if the government gets its act together.

The government, IHC and the unions have reached a compromise deal, which will see the full minimum hourly rate paid for sleepovers by December 2012.

50% of the backpay owed will be paid eight weeks after the government legislates, which will need to happen to enable a variation of the Court’s decision and the very reasonable position taken by the unions of enabling the minimum wage to increase over a period of time.

I’m pleased that after a drawn-out process lasting five years and workers jumping through the hoops and appeals in three Courts, Tony Ryall has finally decided to get the matter settled. I’m also intensely relieved that the government has shelved any idea of amending the Minimum Wage Act to avoid these payments. This would have had an impact on tens of thousands of workers.

The only note of concern is that Minister Ryall is saying legislation won’t be passed before the election.  If that happens, there is no trigger for the backpay to be paid and workers will have to wait a lot longer. There’s no reason settlement legislation can’t happen in the next three sitting weeks.

After all, the government managed to ram through significant changes under urgency that removed rights for a whole category of workers so they could please Warner Bros. They can please the nearly 4,000 workers who have made a claim by getting the legislation through the House asap.  Labour will co-operate with the government so these workers can be paid.

Well done to Service & Food Workers Union and PSA for hanging in there.  You’ve done your members proud.

Toe in the water

Posted by on June 5th, 2011

Never thought I would find myself agreeing with Bill Ralston – or at least hardly ever, but his column in this week’s Listener, where he says that ‘most of what Human Resources departments do is ludicrous” caught my eye.

Ralston says that

HR people are the new corporate shamans, weaving their spells to improve business outputs to the detriment of any real humantity

He describes some  HR tools – psychometric testing for new employees, the setting of KPIs, the annual employee engagement survey, and most insultingly of all – the “exit interview” – even where a worker has been sacked.

I don’t want to denigrate HR people. It’s important to have competent and capable Employment Relations practitioners among firms and unions.

But the worst mistake HR people make is thinking that they are the voice for their employees.  They’re not and that’s where I think this whole fad has gone horribly wrong.

Someone I met recently observed that he had just attended a conference with 1200 employment lawyers and HR specialists. This intrigued me.

When I first started working as a rookie union organiser in the late 1980’s, disputes were negotiated between hands-on lay people. It would have been hard to find 120 employment law specialists and HR people, let alone the thousands that are out there today.

Ironically, the National Government’s Employment Contracts Act (ECA), which lasted a decade in the 1990’s, was designed to bring so-called freedom and individual choice to the workplace contributed to this.  It spawned a whole new growth industry.

It promoted individualism over collectivism and a “contractual relationship”; it was regulation-lite with words like “freedom” and “choice” prominent in the ideological language of the time (sound familiar?). What regulation there was shifted from collective to individual workplace relationships and a deliberate undermining of unions as representatives of working people.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin…..

Posted by on March 12th, 2011

I know it’s a long way from New Zealand and our sorrow about Christchurch – and now Japan.

But dramatic events have been taking place in Wisconsin, USA – so radical to democracy, we need to take notice.

After weeks of the Democrats avoiding a vote in the Wisconsin State Assembly, Governor Scott Walker and the Republican dominated Senate have used a legislative manouvre to pass a bill that will strip public sector workers of their fundamental international and human rights.  The bill is based on the scapegoating of public servants we are seeing around the world.   Somehow public sector workers are to blame for the economic meltdown and burgeoning deficits and they must be punished.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has  insisted that stripping the rights of public sector workers is essential to resolve the state’s budget deficit—and rammed through anti-union measures that take away the rights to collective bargaining for public sector workers.

It all happened so quickly and undemocratically  : a special conference committee that hadn’t existed just a few hours earlier called into session, and a brief statement from the Republican chairman that basically boiled down to “We’re allowed to do what we’re about to do.”

Apparently, it was over in seconds.

No discussion. No debate.

Other US States are endeavouring to follow Scott Walker’s approach.

Wisconsinites are stunned and outraged. Thousands have descended upon the Capitol. There will now be big efforts to recall all of the Republicans who voted in favour of this outrageous breach of fundamental rights.

While Libya and the Middle East are also in the news and causing real concern, we need to be aware that in the so-called” free world”, serious attacks on democratic decision making and the fundamental right of workers to join together and bargain with their employer are occurring.

It’s a trend that is extremely worrying.  It’s a deliberate attack on public sector unions, who, in countries like the USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand have much higher levels of union membership and collective bargaining than the private sector.

We’ve seen a milder (but no less offensive) version of the rhetoric here – “bloated public services,” “backroom office staff,” “bureaucrats” etc.  We better take heed of the lessons of the US and what buying into this kind of blame this can lead to.

Contracting – how to avoid rights

Posted by on February 7th, 2011

In January, a courier driver was killed in Taranaki, and many of his workmates went public saying that the industry is so squeezed the drivers have no choice but to work long hours and take risks on the roads. Even some owners of the industry agree that the lack of standards in their industry and dog-eat-dog competitive tendering make the industry unsafe and unsustainable.

Many companies are using contracting to avoid labour rights and it’s worth it to them. They have few obligations to the worker, the contractors can’t associate together and collectively bargain without flouting NZ competition law, they get no paid holidays, sick leave, public holiday pay or minimum wage. If the job is lost, the worker takes all the risk and consequences.

The most recent examples are the Pike River Mine contractors, whose families faced not only the loss of their loved one, but also the loss of all money owed to the contractor and his employees – and the workers in the film and video production industries, who, thanks to the government’s panic over the Hobbit, now don’t even have the right to contest whether they are contractors or employees under the law.

One courier driver I talked with told me that he started the process of going to Court to argue he and his workmates were employees, not contractors.  Many thousands of lawyer’s fees later, he got an agreement in mediation to have an in-house disputes process and a representation clause in their contracts, which was soon shelved by the company.  He couldn’t afford to take it further, even although the company dictates the runs which can require working up to seven days a week, badges their vans so they can’t be used for other work, impose 12 month contracts with no right of renewal and regularly changes or reduces the rates.

There was a very good article by lawyer Helen White last week in the NZ Herald, entitled “employers finding ways around job law”.   She says that

Our society is failing to protect those who need it because it is not recognising the use of a particular breed of “contractor” – those who are not truly independent but who often contract to work exclusively for a single enterprise and finance their equipment through the company they are contracted to.  In actually, suh contractors are far less “dependent” than employees because they stand to lose more if terminated.

Sure, many contractors are happily independent and don’t want it any other way.  I’m not concerned about them.

But I am concerned that many companies and even government enterprises are increasingly contracting workers to avoid employment rights and ultimately, this undermines fundamental protections for all workers.

Unfairness on its way

Posted by on November 23rd, 2010

The government’s third and final reading of Employment Relations Bill (No 2) and Holidays Amendment Bill, which went through the House today means that unfair employment laws are on their way.

The government pushed through the final stages of two pieces of legislation that attack the rights of wage and salary earners. Both of these bills will impact on health and safety and the rights to challenge the decisions of employers in unjustified dismissals. They will inevitably reduce protections for all workers.

Labour strongly opposed both bills all through the process, along with thousands of submitters and 22,000 workers who marched, rallied and campaigned against them, but National ignored all opposition.

The only small ray of hope in the debate was that the Maori Party changed its mind and voted against the Holidays Amendment Bill.  Good on them. 

But the National Party couldn’t even do the third reading justice.  Their members gave pitiful 3 minutes speeches parroting the government lines – which I thought was a disgrace.

I question whether today was an appropriate day to consider these bills, given the awful situation at Pike River Coal Mine.  I don’t think the government gave any thought to the connection between the birth of the Labour Party and the role that miners have played in improving rights for all NZ workers.  It certainly wouldn’t have considered that many of the miners on the West Coast are members of the EPMU and one of the missing men is an EPMU delegate.

Unfortunately, all workers will soon be facing the consequences of reduced rights. A sad day all round.

Labour Day or Halloween?

Posted by on October 25th, 2010

It’s leading up to Halloween in Ottawa and the kids are already out on the streets in some pretty impressive costumes. Older kids have painted their faces black or ash grey with dripping faux blood and are parading about the town. While I feel irritated that Halloween was imported to NZ as another commercial opportunity to cash in on, I am amused that an ancient pre-Christian rite has become mainstream.

labor-dayMeanwhile it’s Labour Day in New Zealand. Now I do care about that and what it stands for.

I hope while people are enjoying the day off (at least those who get a day off) will remember that Labour Day is about Samuel Parnell’s struggle for an eight-hour working day.

Irony is there’s no longer any eight hour day regulation in NZ anymore (apart from an old reference in the Minimum Wage Age that a truck could be driven through.

In fact there is almost no NZ regulation around working hours, apart from the meals and rest breaks legislation, which National is in the process of decimating and paid leave laws, which are also under attack.

Canada celebrates Labo(u)r Day in September.  It goes back to 1872, when the Toronto Trades Assembly organised Canada’s first significant demonstration for worker’s rights to demand the release of the 24 leaders of the Toronto Typographical Union who were imprisoned for striking to campaign for a nine-hour working day.

Difference is that like  most other developed countries, Canada still has working time regulation including an 8 hour day, with provisions for flexibility and extended hours provided overtime is paid.  Mealbreaks apply after five hours and there are prescribed periods of rest between shifts. Workers must receive at least 24 consecutive hours off work in each work week, or at least 48 consecutive hours off work in every period of two consecutive work weeks.

So I’m happy to give Halloween a miss (if I can hide) and celebrate the day that reminds us that workers’ rights issues are still out there and needing attention.

Gimme a break

Posted by on September 25th, 2010

The Rest and Meal breaks amendment bill was reported back to Parliament yesterday from the Transport & Industrial Relations Select Committee.

What a joke.

The NACTs might as well have just repealed Labour’s 2008 Act, because their Bill all but guts it.

Why is having a break enshrined in law such a big deal for the government?  Surely the right to rest and meal breaks is pretty basic?

I was on the select committee that heard evidence in Labour’s 2008 Act and then National’s 2010 bill.  Having decent and safe work in New Zealand is something a first world country like ours shouldn’t be afraid of, but apparently that’s just too hard.

So, the Government is ploughing ahead with a Bill that means employers can refuse breaks. There can be ‘compensatory measures’,  but goodness knows what that means, because the Bill remains murky about that. I see another bonanza coming for lawyers.

I can’t understand why any government would want to promote a law that could require workers to work for nothing. I thought slavery had been abolished.

Gimme a break.

Pansy on message (not)

Posted by on September 9th, 2010

Pansy Wong was answering questions for the Minister of Labour today in the House. I hope Kate wasn’t listening because she will be tearing her hair out. Pansy confirmed that the government is considering changes to collective bargaining and refused to rule out either a move to contracting out of personal grievances or the reintroduction of a youth minimum wage. We haven’t even begun the select committee submission process on the current proposed law changes to the Employment Relations and Holidays Act – and now Pansy has let the cat out of the bag about the next round of draconian law change wage and salary earners can expect from the NACTs.