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Does the National Party really not understand how unions work?

Written By: - Date published: 5:30 pm, April 14th, 2014 - 64 comments
Categories: don brash, Unions, wages - Tags:

This article in the Herald gave me a giggle today. It refers to a cash payment being made to Parliamentary Services staff who are part of their workplace collective employment agreement. Similar cash payments have been denounced by National in the past – when it happened under Labour – and are being denounced by Don Brash now – because it’s happening under National.

The line that’s being run is that this is “bizarre”. That it makes no sense to “incentivise” people to belong to the union. That National have decided, mysteriously, of their own free will, to just randomly “give” more money to union members than to non-union members of staff.

Does Don Brash – and John Weekes of the Herald – actually not understand that this is exactly how union membership works? You get together as a group to bargain collectively with your employer. This means you have more power to get a better deal. And sometimes, this deal involves cash payments – usually because employers, including Parliamentary Services, don’t want to agree to an actual, or sizeable, payrise. (The Parliamentary Services agreement hasn’t included a payrise in six years!)

And yes. It is truly, completely fair that non-union members of staff don’t get the same payment. They’re not part of the union. They don’t take part in the same negotiations as the union members. They don’t have the same leverage as a collective group does.

That’s pretty much the basic, founding principle of unionism. Strength in numbers. Power against the powerful.

Of course, the reason for the outrage is simple: the right do not want word to get out that being a union member works. They’ve put a lot of effort into dividing workers from each other, making us look at our co-workers as enemies, as competition. We’re meant to believe that if we keep to ourselves and work one-on-one with the boss, we’ll get the best deal.

And you know, that probably does work for some people – people who are already in highly-paid, highly-specialised roles. For security guards, cleaners, receptionists? Not so much.

This story is the proof. By joining forces and working together, the union members at Parliamentary Services have got a better deal. And it terrifies people like Don Brash.


64 comments on “Does the National Party really not understand how unions work?”

  1. KINTO 1

    More to the point, if an individual chooses to stand on their own against a massive employer, why should we have any sympathy when that employer succeeds in what they meant to do, generate maximum revenue at minimum cost.

  2. captain hook 2

    Any one who has read JK Galbraith knows that the goal of any legitimate enterprise is to ensure its long run existence. Only in new zealand is it to terrify the workers, grab as much money as you can in the shortest posiible time and then bugger off to the south of France. You know. That sunny place for shady people. Of course National knows how unions work that is why they oppose them because they stand in the way of garnishing opportunistic windfall profits.

  3. I’ve been informed that Rodney Hide has also covered this topic: hilariously, he thinks (or pretends to think) that cash payments are a “union rort”:

    The irony of this of course is that cash payments benefit employers, because it keeps the base rate of wages low. I look forward to Brash and Hide campaigning strongly to end this terrible system – and ensure that all workers get real pay increases.

    • Tracey 3.1

      as opposed to when telecom was giving a grand to those who didnt join the union… that was the free market principles.

    • big bruv 3.2

      Of course it is a union rort. All one has to do is read Hide’s article to see that.

      Face it, Kiwis don’t see a need to belong to the corrupt union movement, only the moronic would want to give people like Matt McCarten their money given he has a relaxed view toward paying his taxes.
      Unions are never going to be as influential as they once were (and thank goodness for that) a return to 1970’s mass industrial action will never be tolerated by the workers let alone the bosses.

      • I did read Hide’s article, bruv. And he makes a lot of silly accusations with no basis to them. The math doesn’t add up, the alleged payments to the Labour Party don’t happen (the PSA isn’t affiliated to the Labour Party!), and the idea that this is some Labour Party-initiated bribe makes no sense (cash payments in lieu of pay rises are entirely routine in collective agreement negotiations – because they’re more attractive to employers than across-the-board pay increases.)

        Clearly, many Kiwis do see a need to belong to a democratic union movement which provides significant benefits and protections to them in their working life. And the whole reason Brash and Hide are kicking up a fuss about this situation is because it refutes every anti-union lie the right has spouted over the past 25 years.

      • felix 3.2.2

        Where’s the rort? It’s part of the remuneration package they negotiated for doing their fucking jobs you idiot.

        • RedLogix

          In bb’s world – ordinary people getting paid anything at all is a rort. If you look about the trends in the last few years – slavery is making a very real comeback in the form of internships.

          I was next to three smart, capable sounding young engineering graduates talking on the train this evening – all three of them have been doing internships for more than two years now and the penny is dropping for them that they will never, ever get a paying job.

          Within a few decades the world will be fully owned by a few thousand billionaires. Full-time employment as we have known it since WW2 will vanish. Welcome to neo-fuedalism.

          • geoff

            You’re in Oz, right?
            What’s your impression of the job market there?

            • RedLogix

              It’s not flash the mining downturn, the cynical shutdown of the car industry, the refusal to support local industry, the blatant assault on the unions, the pitiful shambles that is the NBN rollout, the ‘end of the age of entitlement’, the cutbacks on public broadcasting, the string of broken election promises – and the threat of a ‘Black Hole” budget in May – all add up to a bleak picture.

              Tony Abbott’s govt is going to be an appalling disaster for Australia, he’s a sort of an amalgam of Don Brash, Roger Douglas and Tony Blair. But still Australia has only really had six months of this toxic shit, NZ has had thirty years of it.

              The job market largely holds up because the unions are still a potent force, but wages have been stagnating for some time now. The days of hopping on a plane to Perth or Melbourne and having two job offers before you got off it are over. Company reps are telling me that that they’ve never seen things so tight. It reminds me of NZ in the early 90’s.

              But for all this, Aus at the moment is still way better than NZ. And we are really enjoying living in the regional Victorian town we have settled in.

              The big difference between Aus and NZ is that Abbott’s polling is awful. Just six months into his govt and if an election was held today they’d be thrashed. I put this down to two things, the first is the strength of public broadcasting over here, the second is the strength of the unions.

              • geoff

                Cheers, RL that’s quite interesting.
                And what of your industry? You’re an engineer of some variety are you not? Do you know what sort of engineers the interns you overheard were?

              • big bruv

                ” the second is the strength of the unions.”

                Would they be the same unions who are so corrupt that there is to be an official investigation into their practices?

                • Tracey

                  as opposed tot he string of convictions for highly paid directors of finance companies?

                  banks and brash took big fees to be directors of Hujlich, and then pleaded ignorance of just about everything… sounds corrupt to me… one is still a MP.

                  • big bruv

                    Or using your union credit card to make cash withdrawals and hire hookers?

                    We need the same type of investigation into unions in NZ. They could start with Matt McCarten.

                    • Draco T Bastard

                      Or using your union credit card to make cash withdrawals and hire hookers?

                      I find that far les corrupt than being supplied with $1000/hour hookers to help close a deal – the culture that applied on Wall Street just before the GFC.

                    • RedLogix

                      The union corruption enquiries in Australia are a transparent political gambit by Abbott.

                      Everyone knows.

                      The allegations so far are pretty much confined to the construction industry, and that’s always been a hard-ball game in Aus. Very much on both sides of the business. So much so that Abbott was forced to concede that the scope of the enquiry would have to include corporate corruption as well.

                      Ironically enough one of the corruption first scalps will be Arthur Sinodinos (Lib) whose testimony to a commission last week demonstrated a remarkable paucity of memory around certain important details.

                • Draco T Bastard

                  Corruption happens pretty much everywhere but apparently far more in the business world.

                  • big bruv

                    “I find that far les corrupt”

                    So it’s OK if the unions or anybody from the left does it?

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      No, the problem here is English comprehension.

                      “Far less corrupt” ≠ “OK”.

                      Personally though I think neither example represents corruption as perfectly as Graham Capill and David Garrett.

                    • big bruv

                      Or Darren Hughes, Helen Clark, Philip Field, Chris Carter?

                    • Draco T Bastard

                      Well, Darren Hughes and Helen Clark didn’t do anything wrong and Philip Field and Chris Carter both got kicked out of labour. Philip Field went to prison for his crimes.

                      So, you still don’t have a point.

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      Bruv sounds like Penny Bright 😆

                    • MaxFletcher

                      Not sure you could say Hughes did nothing wrong. A person was found naked in the street and a complaint was made so at least one party felt aggrieved. Not being convicted due to lack of evidence doesn’t mean nothing happened.

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      Actually you’ll find it was charges that were lacking, not a conviction. Sorry to spoil your dishonest framing, but it helps your credibility if you don’t dabble in transparently deceitful rhetoric.

                      The problem is that you’re completely shit at it.

                    • MaxFletcher

                      Someone running away from someone else while naked and then laying a compliant of a sexual nature tends to speak to something untoward going on.

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      I can accept that in your mind this is the equivalent of a criminal conviction such as the other examples cited upthread, but that speaks to your personal struggle with reality, and nothing else.

                      Or perhaps you are merely seeking to minimise the scale of Capill’s offending by pretending equivalence?

                    • Tracey

                      max, do you consider that every male who ever made a rejected advance on a woman leading her to run from him, and go to the police but no charges result, has done something wrong?

                    • MaxFletcher

                      There is no comparison to Capill.

                  • Naturesong

                    Here’s the thing. Unions are democratic institutions, and like all institutions they can become corrupted if there are poor governance structures in place, and even then if you get one or more corrupt individuals in positions of power.

                    You see the same type of corruption infect businesses (corporations are particularly prone – CEO’s which harvest a company, generating slightly inflated year over year profits, claiming massive bonuses and then leaving the company fighting for its life once they leave – following HP from 1999 when Carly Fiorina took over through to Mark Hurd in 2010 can be particularly instructive – as can Mark Hurds time at the head of NCR prior to him joining HP), local councils, NGO’s and governments (the current National government is collecting quite a paper trail of corruption of process, conflict of interest, egregious examples of acting against both the wishes and interests of the New Zealand electorate as a whole) can all become infected by corruption.

                    Unions aren’t inherently corrupt.
                    Like othe institutions it’s whether or not it has robust governance structures, has transparent processes and is accountable to it’s membership.

                    • Tracey

                      yup but one or two wrong doings by a union official or beneficiary are heinous affronts to social justice and the people of new zealand. a few directors taking fees for not overseeing their company, their employees or the funds held on behalf, or ignoring health and safety leading to death and injury of employees is unfortunate but not representative of all.

                    • Draco T Bastard


                    • Naturesong

                      In reply to Tracey

                      My argument is not that they are representative of all institutions.
                      But that the same weaknesses which allow corruption to gain a foothold in unions, are also present in other institutions.

                      One of the constant refrains I hear in the media (Rodney Hyde, Herald Article, all the attacks over the last 4 years on NZEI and PPTA) and some people who absorb the propaganda wholesale, is that unions are inherently bad things, that unions are by definition corrupt.

                      Not only is it factually wrong, but by seeking marginalise these institutions which represent so many people, it undermines democracy in New Zealand.

              • Tracey

                and third Rudd’s ego.

          • Draco T Bastard


            That is what all this privatisation is all about: Turning us back into a feudal state but one that spans the globe.

            • srylands

              No it is about promoting prosperity and getting better lives for the poor and the disadvantaged, people that get screwed by fiscal disasters caused by inefficient state run businesses.

              • Draco T Bastard

                No it is about promoting prosperity and getting better lives for the poor and the disadvantaged,

                It can’t possibly be about that as it does the exact opposite.

                people that get screwed by fiscal disasters caused by inefficient state run businesses.

                The evidence is in:

                When was the last time you actually saw a study proving government is inefficient? In general that’s just a talking point to obscure the fact that government is often much more efficient than business (this is especially true the bigger the company is) and corporate efficiency is a myth.

                The state runs businesses better than the private sector.

                • fender

                  Roger Douglas Srylands will go to the grave having blind faith in the private sector being the saviour..

        • Tracey

          when someone refers to Hide’s opinion piece in an election year to form their views no response is needed. It’s like BM checking WO each day before he knows what to think about “stuff”/

      • Tracey 3.2.3

        this is the same rodney hide who thinks that weather is climate, right?

        He would have championed paying workers bonuses to not join unions though?

    • Tracey 3.3


      do you know if the gap between rich and poor was bigger or smaller when we had compulsory unions?

      was unemployment higher or lower than today.

      was the median wage relativel higher or lower than now?

      • Dave_1924 3.3.1

        I know when we had compulsory unionism in NZ the ferries were always under threat of strike at Easter, Tracey.

        I am personally in favour of unions – why? Because the little guy needs protection from desk jockey managers who are on power trips, the ability for unified action in the face of safety issues, having back up when your getting screwed over by your employer and to ensure the negotiations of pay & conditions happen between reasonably equal parties.

        BUT – you knew there was a BUT coming – Unions abused their power in the 1970’s and early 80’s in NZ. Strikes to harm the export sector to drive a big wage packet, Wharf unions protecting their members from action to curb their pillaging, Unions threatening strikes at Xmas and Easter to extort high benefits by threatening chaos to joe punters holiday plans.

        Frankly if Unions hadn’t over played their hand they maybe in a better place now in terms of membership.

    • Antonina 3.4


  4. red blooded 4

    …bonus payments can be a way around this problem. Good on the parliamentary services union (the PSA?) for finding a way of focusing the benefits of their work on their own members.

  5. captain hook 5

    what free market. didnt you read last weeks dompost outligning how forex currency traders fix the market.
    every market is fixed dum dum

  6. In Vino 6

    It’s not that they don’t understand – they do. But they hate unions, and deliberately put their dishonest spin on it, to bring the public to hate unions just like ‘cheating’ beneficiaries.

    For the biggest load of arrant nonsense, check out Rodney Hide’s Sunday Herald column on exactly this topic. How do people swallow such cacklemush?

    Look at the comments, and you will find as many supporting as dissenting. Sad.

    • Draco T Bastard 6.1

      But they hate unions, and deliberately put their dishonest spin on it, to bring the public to hate unions just like ‘cheating’ beneficiaries.

      Well, actually, they only hate workers unions. They’re quite happy about their unions.

      • RedLogix 6.1.1

        Personally I think unions took a wrong turning when they went down the all-comers, mass-membership model.

        The older idea of the guild which had a definite skill-based barrier to entry, and a sense of protecting the value of the trade (and there is no such thing as unskilled labour) has some real merits. It’s also why the dismantling of the apprenticeship system was so destructive to workers – because it starved off the entry level to a progressing into the business.

        • Murray Olsen

          Compulsory unionism enforced by the state signalled the death sentence for unions. It allowed bureaucracies to spring up which often ended up cosying up to the state rather than building the fighting strength of their members. Industrial muscles not being used atrophied to the extent that when the state removed the compulsion, the muscles had disappeared and there was no fight. We saw such betrayals as Peter Denny fighting for the Nissan Way. Ken Douglas did get on a lot of boards, though, along with a few others.

        • Tracey

          surely what you call mass membership model is the membership of “unskilled” people… who didn’t fit into a traditional guild. EG people on factory lines, cleaners etc… retail service workers and so on.

          I suspect the mass membership model was also to counter the campaigns by large employers to defeat small unions. Pooling membership fees into fewer organisations gave more money for education, campaigns etc?

          • Draco T Bastard

            Economies of scale would certainly apply as far as hiring the full time administration that the union would need. Would also bring more power to bear when a dispute was in progress.

      • Tracey 6.1.2

        PLUS 1

  7. Brash, Hide, DPF et al are intelligent men – they know very well how unions work. They’re just quite happy to pretend they don’t for propaganda purposes, because they hate collective bargaining with a passion.

    • Tracey 7.1

      they know unionised workers get paid more than non unionised workers and have better protections. It really is that simple. They are anti union cos they want to pay their workforces less and have less workplace protections in place.

  8. Zeroque 8

    It’s ironic that collectivism is acceptable to neoliberals when it doesn’t involve workers collectivising to set their wages but involves corporations teaming up to further their interests. That’s a double standard and is unfair. It will be some time yet before the neoliberals accept unions as a legitimate part of the market again. Unions provide part of the solution to stemming growing inequality. When it comes down to it, inequality isn’t something that business has a strong interest in addressing. What we see at Parliamentary Services is surprising in so far as the employer apparently hasn’t, as most do, neutralise the union gains by handing the full union settlement to non-union workers. This is usually done under the guise of fairness and equity and is almost unpreventable by unions and relies upon agreement between union and employer.

    What is it about unions that Hide and Brash don’t understand? Very little of the macro view I’d say but it’s what they don’t like about unions that is telling of their character.

    • aerobubble 8.1

      Well look at power. We all buy power but we can’t collectivize our purchasing power. We all buy potatos, we could quite easily collectivize our purchases, so why not power???? I should have to personal switch power companies, I should be able to buy my power from a non-profit collective who bulk buy power.

  9. vto 9

    Unions play an essential part in our world, just as capital does.

    Anyone who does not understand this basic tenet of human operation is just bloody thick and poorly read. Like big bruv – what a frikkin’ dunce …

  10. vto 10

    Capitalism makes full use of cooperative / socialist behaviour itself. I mean, what the fuck is a limited liability company if not a form of 100% pure cooperative to achieve an end? And look at our two biggest businesses – Fonterra and Foodstuffs, full blown cooperatives, just like unions and all other cooperatives.

    That capitalists claim otherwise is just further evidence of their dishonesty (and self-defeating ignorance).

    • Phil 10.1

      what the fuck is a limited liability company if not a form of 100% pure cooperative to achieve an end?


      The formation a limited liability company creates a ‘person’ in the sense that the owners cease to have individual responsibility for losses over and above the equity invested in the firm. The company becomes an individual.

  11. Rosie 11

    Completely unsurprising face palm from Brash there. To be expected.

    What I would question is the timing of such a press statement. The second reading reading of the Employment Relations Amendment Act was passed approximately three weeks or so ago and is due for it’s third reading. This is the Bill we have the employer lobby to thank for and Simon Bridges for being the puppet that gave it life. With this Bill, National and Co are returning to finish the work they started on the ECA back in 1991.

    This is the Bill that removes our right to a rest break.

    This is the Bill that will allow employer’s to walk away from negotiations. A court order can declare bargaining over – you can forget about the duty to conclude.

    This is the bill that will make it even more difficult to go out on strike – the employer can challenge the Union on technical points.

    There are other changes, all of them anti Union, anti worker. Ultimately, the way I see it, the proposals in the bill are designed to wipe away Good Faith bargaining, the cornerstone of the ERA 2000.

    So, kind of convenient for Brash and Co to do a bit of Union bashing right about now, I reckon. Just pour some petrol onto the fire, make it burn a little brighter.

  12. tricledrown 12

    So your Talking about Nationals $1.6 billion bailout of SCF.

  13. aerobubble 13

    National attacks employees ability to bargain high wages and now National desperation to see wages rise to keep pace with living costs, petrol, insurance, heating, etc so they find lip service…

    …trust them employers will pay more.

    • Zeroque 13.1

      Yes, Aerobubble that irony wasn’t lost on me either. It’s akin to knowingly having removed a fairly important part from a machine and expecting it to still function satisfactorily.

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    2 weeks ago
  • Key’s ‘efficiencies’ = DHBs’ pain
          John Key’s talk of ‘efficiencies’ ignores the fact the Government is chronically underfunding health to the tune of $1.7 billion, says Labour’s Acting Health spokesperson Dr David Clark.       ...
    2 weeks ago
  • More than 1,300 schools to face budget cuts
    The latest Ministry of Education figures reveal thousands of schools will face cuts to funding under National’s new operations grant funding model, says Labour's Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Speculation fever spreads around country
    House prices in Wellington, Hamilton and Tauranga are going off as a result of uncontrolled property speculation spilling over from the Auckland market, says Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Twyford.  “Speculators who have been priced out of Auckland are now fanning ...
    3 weeks ago
  • New Zealand lags on aid targets
      The National Government needs to live up to its commitments and allocate 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on development assistance, says Labour’s spokesperson on Pacific Climate Change Su’a William Sio.  “The second State of the Environment Report ...
    3 weeks ago
  • War on drugs needs more troops
    The Minister of Police must urgently address the number of officers investigating illegal drugs if she is serious about making a dent in the meth trade, says Labour’s Police spokesperson Stuart Nash.  “Answers from written questions from the Minister show ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Doctors strike symptom of health cuts
    The notice of strike action issued by the junior doctors today is the result of years of National’s cuts to the health system, says Labour’s Associate Health spokesperson Dr David Clark. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Government starves RNZ into selling Auckland asset
    Just weeks after TVNZ opened its refurbished Auckland head office costing more than $60 million, RNZ (Radio New Zealand) has been forced to put its Auckland office on the market to keep itself afloat, says Labour’s Broadcasting spokesperson Clare Curran. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Government must be more than a bystander on the economy
    Despite what he might think John Key is not a political commentator, but actually a leader in a Government who needs to take responsibility for the conditions that mean a rise in interest rates, says Labour’s Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson.  “John ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Māori Party all hui no-doey on housing
    The Māori Party should stop tinkering and start fixing tragic Māori housing statistics in the face of a national housing crisis, says Labour’s Māori Development spokesman Kelvin Davis. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Labour committed to eliminating child poverty
    Labour accepts the challenge from Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft to cut child poverty and calls on the Prime Minister to do the same, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little. ...
    3 weeks ago