John Armstrong has a good column on National’s attack on Kiwi workers today. Covering off David Cunliffe’s speech to the CTU, Armstrong talks about the way the Nats have been playing small target on their raft of small employment changes that add up to a serious attack on the wages and rights of all of New Zealand’s workers:
The bill – now before a parliamentary select committee – claims in its explanatory note that it will “help create an environment where employers can grow their business while ensuring the rights of employees are well protected”.
The first part of that statement may be valid. The second is on a par with the double-speak in George Orwell’s 1984.
The bill will enable employers to walk away from collective contract negotiations at whim, thereby putting pressure on workers to sign individual contracts if they are to get any kind of pay rise. Employers will similarly be able to opt out of multi-employer contracts that set minimum conditions for the likes of the nursing profession.
The bill also removes the requirement that the pay and conditions for new staff is in line with any prevailing collective contract for the first 30 days of their employment.
Employers will be able to institute partial pay cuts for limited industrial action. Employers will effectively be able to dictate the timing of meal breaks and rest periods.
The verdict of presumably politically neutral officials in the old Department of Labour, since merged into the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, was that the proposed changes would increase “choice” for employers and reduce it for unions and employees.
The officials further warned that the proposed changes in the industrial relations regime might expose New Zealand to “critical international scrutiny” over meeting its obligations to workers’ rights in international treaties to which it is party.
But these changes aren’t just about unions. As Irish has previously noted:
…the thing is, union deals drag everyone’s wages up. It’s not just the hundreds of thousands of non-union members on union sites that get to enjoy union-cut deals either – the reason people get paid what they do at (non-union) TV3 is because they’re have to stay competitive with (unionised) TVNZ in the wage market. The reason people get paid what they do at non-union mills and factories is because they need to keep their wages close to the wages paid at union mills and factories. And middle-class people with degrees get paid what they do because public sector unions make sure those qualifications maintain their value. Unionised Kiwi workers are constantly pulling other Kiwi workers up with them.
I’d add to that the fact that the Government’s welfare changes are pushing people off benefits without a job to go to. Aside from the human misery this is causing, that creates a pool of desperate workers who will take any job they can get at any price and places further downward pressure across the employment market.
And while this is going on National’s Labour Minister, Simon Bridges, is refusing to be interviewed about the changes at all – let’s hope the media start calling him out on that.
Armstrong claims that the left has “dropped the ball” on this attack on workers. I’d argue that the media has ignored the warnings and protests of the left about the changes. That said, work rights and wage policy is now getting the attention it deserves and will be a battleground issue going into the 2014 election. About bloody time.