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Don’t be fooled by the spin regarding strike laws.

Written By: - Date published: 9:01 am, June 19th, 2013 - 54 comments
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The proposed changes to employment law make massive changes to the right to strike. Those opposed to the Bill by Jamie Lee-Ross to allow replacement labour during strikes, need to be consistent in this view and should also be very worried about the main Employment Relations Amendment Bill now in Select Committee.

The Bill changes the right to strike in three significant ways:

1. Notice for strikes.

Currently only those in essential industries must give notice to strike. The new law not only requires notice for all strikes but it also requires that these notices say when the strike will begin and end and there is a requirement for each employee to give notice when a strike will end early. This will prolong strikes and see workers lose wages when they are seeking to return to work. It is intended to create technical grounds for strikes to be ruled illegal.

2. A strike tax

The Bill provides for partial pay deductions for action that falls short of a strike. Firefighters for example, reluctant to take strike action, may take action such as not filling in fire reports, teachers may refuse extra curricula activities or workers may do other creative actions (librarians at universities once refused to process new books rather than shut the library during exam times). The Bill proposes that the employer can unilaterally decide the value of this work and deduct the amount of wages they consider to match this value. Workers can challenge the amount deducted in the Court, but this will take time and the pressure of wage deductions will be used to pressure workers to drop the action. Workers will still be completing their full hours but not getting paid the full amount. The Bill even excludes compliance with the minimum wage for this deduction (it will not matter if the deduction takes the worker below the minimum wage). For state workers that take this limited type of action – the State will benefit – full time work for part time pay – a strike tax.

3. Restrictions on the right to strike

The last change is the most serious one. Currently it is lawful to strike in pursuit of a collective agreement. Sixty days before the expiry of a collective agreement, the union can initiate bargaining and begin negotiations for a renewal. When this happens the expiring collective remains in force for a full year after expiry. This means workers retain coverage and new workers can gain coverage while renewal bargaining takes place.

There is a duty of good faith on the parties to the bargaining to conclude a collective agreement unless their are genuine reasons on reasonable grounds not to. It is not a genuine reason to simply object on ideological grounds to a collective.

40 days following initiation the parties can strike or lock out in order to put pressure on the other party to change their position in the bargaining – an essential element sometimes of getting a settlement. Without it, workers have no ability to shift an intransigent employer to get a reasonable offer – it is a recognised international right, and you have heard the EMA, Peter Dunne and others defend this right. Even Key says he is not too keen.

The Amendment Bill removes the duty to conclude a collective, and provides for a party to apply to the Court to deem bargaining concluded without a settlement. If this is granted then the expiring collective agreement expires immediately leaving no collective in place and putting all workers onto individual employment agreements (remember the Employment Contracts Act?). If bargaining is deemed concluded by the Court without settlement, then both parties are frozen in relation to restarting bargaining for 60 days including from taking strike action in pursuit of a collective agreement. So there employees will sit – no collective, no bargaining and no strike rights. During this time the employer can offer individual agreements to workers to break up the bargaining unit.

All of this is technical but the reality is that this Bill is aimed to drive wages down. It is dramatic and will be used to contract out workers like the wharfies, to remove collective coverage from vulnerable workers like cleaners and hospital service and clerical workers, to undermine school support staff bargaining and to force dramatic cuts in wages and conditions on many unionised groups of workers who will be left choosing between bargaining at all and “take it or leave it” offers. A reduction of wages in collective agreements impacts on all those other workers whose wages are based on the collective and influences wages across industries as well.

The Minister of Labour spoke to the ILO conference today – he reiterated his point that this evens up the power of employers against employees, he waxed on about supporting the ILO and he ignored the fact the changes break the agreements between the New Zealand Government and the ILO. He is creating a situation where collective bargaining will not be promoted as per the requirements of this house. In doing so the Government puts New Zealand’s international reputation at risk. It has referenced these conventions in many of its trade agreements but clearly it does not honour these either!

Don’t get distracted by the Jamie Lee Ross Bill, it is serious too but if you cant strike at all – the issue of replacement labour becomes the sideshow in this larger debate about the future of work in New Zealand.

54 comments on “Don’t be fooled by the spin regarding strike laws. ”

  1. quartz 1

    Bridges is remarkably accomplished in the art of bold faced lying. You get used to hearing politicians spin but he’s in the media arguing black is white day after day. He knows we know he’s lying but he keeps doing it.

    I think it’ll fuck his political career quite quickly.

    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 1.1

      I think right wing opinion is an echo chamber that will reward Bridges for lying.

    • bad12 1.2

      Slippery the PM has been quoted as saying that Bridges is the ‘future’ of the National Party, being able to stand in front of the news media and tell a lie with a straight face seems to be one of the main requirements for ‘future’ advancement on planet Tory,

      The bigger and more outlandish lie being broadcast of course amounts to a greater number of brownie points scored…

  2. Winston Smith 2

    IMHO workers should be allowed to strike but employers should also be allowed to bring in temp workers so I’d go with the Jamie Lee Ross Bill and maybe not so much this one

    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 2.1

      What’s humble about it?

    • vto 2.2

      winston smith, you come across as a young naive brainless twat with no understanding of history and working people.

      how about you put up your reasons for your opinion referenced against the history of this very issue, lest you cement the picture you paint of yourself.

      • One Anonymous Knucklehead 2.2.1

        😆 a wingnut with a cogent coherent argument? Optimism to the point of naïvety, vto.

      • Winston Smith 2.2.2

        You come across as an arrogant, one eyed douche

        whats your point?

        • felix 2.2.2.1

          That you haven’t put up your reasons for your opinion referenced against the history of this very issue.

          #sheesh try reading what’s in front of you now and then.

        • Colonial Viper 2.2.2.2

          how about you put up your reasons for your opinion referenced against the history of this very issue

          Maybe you should try reading? There was a point in there, within vto’s dense text to you…

          lolSNAP felix

        • vto 2.2.2.3

          My point is what I wrote, as others noticed.

          Over to you …….

    • felix 2.3

      So you think workers should be allowed to strike (how jolly decent of you) as long as it doesn’t inconvenience anyone but themselves.

      • Winston Smith 2.3.1

        But it is an inconvenience to the employers having to sort out temp workers who probably wont be up to speed as well as the strikers

        whats good for the goose is good for the gander, I believe this will even up the inconsistinces and work the process fairer for everyone

        which is why I wouldn’t support any further changes as that would swing too much to the employers side

  3. Rosie 3

    Hi Helen. Thanks for your article clearly outlining the mechanics of this appalling bill. It is yet another act of contempt from this government, against the people of NZ. Can I ask, even though the 90 day bill is now a few years old, and lying sneaky rat Bridges will be busy talking up the current bill, has there been any discussion at the conference about the 90 day bill, either now or previously?

    I had thought that the denial of access to legal representation in the case of a workplace personal grievance was against one of the ILO conventions. I’m not sure which convention number it is though. I wonder if the ILO have a view on this.

  4. bad12 4

    With yesterday’s announcement from ‘the Hairdo’ that He will not be supporting this particular piece of legislation and the Maori Party also committed to opposition it appears that to proceed in the House it will require the support of NZFirst,

    Winston is quoted??? in today’s Herald online as considering supporting the legislation at least to the committee stage so that ‘the people’ can have their say,

    My suggestion to those from the left who gave their support to NZFirst at the 2011 election is that they now withdraw such support and consider other left leaning party’s as the repository of their votes in November 2014, that in my opinion is the best means of ‘the people’ having their say…

    • Veutoviper 4.1

      Bad12 – and Tracey at 6

      Dunne has said that he will not support Jamie-Lee Ross’ member’s Bill . This is the Bill that Helen Kelly says at the end of her post above is something of a side show.

      BUT, Dunne did support the main Employment Relations Amendment Bill at its first reading before it was referred to Select Committee.

      This is the Bill that Helen is referring to in her post – and the Bill that Bridges is refusing to discuss with the ILO.

      Here is the Hansard transcript of the first reading debate with the voting listed at the end of the second link.

      http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/PB/Debates/Debates/f/a/6/50HansD_20130604_00000032-Employment-Relations-Amendment-Bill-First.htm
      http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/PB/Debates/Debates/5/f/2/50HansD_20130605_00000028-Employment-Relations-Amendment-Bill-First.htm

      The voting was

      Ayes 61 New Zealand National 59; ACT New Zealand 1; United Future 1.
      Noes 58 New Zealand Labour 33; Green Party 14; New Zealand First 7; Māori Party 2; Mana 1; Independent: Horan.
      Bill read a first time.

      Dunne did not participate in the debate – and I have not been able to find anything as to his views on the main Bill. So we do not yet know whether he will support it through the remaining stages – Select Committee, report back and 2nd and 3rd readings.

      • karol 4.1.1

        The Labour Party has 34 members – so they lacked Horomia’s replacement required to successfully oppose the Bill IF Dunne gets on board?

        • karol 4.1.1.1

          PS: HAD 34 members – awaiting by-election outcome.

        • Veutoviper 4.1.1.2

          Would seem so.

          I have just checked and submissions close on 25 July on the (main) Bill – but report back is not scheduled until 5 December 2013. In other words, a rush through the House in the lead-up to Christmas to avoid reaction over the dead summer period.

          So, Horomia’s replacement will be well installed by 5 December – BUT the byelection for Dalziel’s electorate will have only just taken place ……

  5. tracey 5

    I see Dunne won’t vote for it… positioning himself for a left swing or just pissing off Key?

    • Winston Smith 5.1

      Hes playing a smart-long term game…Hes got a track record of working with National but if Labour get most seats he can point to his recent voting

      Hes determined

      • the pigman 5.1.1

        Actually, as stated in Helen’s article (and above) Dunne has only indicated his position on Jamie-Lee’s bill. He voted the amendment which is the subject of this article to select committee and I have seen no indication he intends to withdraw his support for it.

        #sheesh try reading what’s in front of you now and then.

        • tracey 5.1.1.1

          No. Not indicated. I heard the words from his mouth. I will not support this bill… it is a step too far.

  6. Red Rosa 6

    This legislation reconfirms that National is the NZ Far Right Government.

    Yes, ‘the’ and ‘is’ not ‘leads’ or ‘part of’. Worth thinking those words over.

    So the Maori Party are supporting a Far Right government.What say you to that, Sharples and Turia? Great idea for your people?

    ACT – extreme enough for you?

    Dunne? Well, why bother…

    But led by the slickest political operator for many years.

    Labour are the Centre/Left Party and should keep using this label. Maybe not even ‘left’ at present…;)

    And don’t let the Nats keep labeling themselves ‘centre-right’, when they are not!

  7. KJT 7

    NACT SOP.
    Tell us we may be going to break your back, then tell us “don’t worry, we are only going to break your leg”.

    Labour SOP. “We are still going to break your leg, but with anesthetic”
    Hat tip to David Cunliffe.

  8. captain hook 8

    this government is intent on causing as much mischief as it can before it gets the boot next year.
    lets hope that Labour will have the balls to repeal all the ideological driven mutterings from the Neanderthals.

    • Murray Olsen 8.1

      They don’t. My hope is that we can build something that will have the uterus to do it.

  9. irascible 9

    National has a long and dishonorable history of slogging the worker and undernmining labour laws and the individual’s constitutional rights. Bridges and J-L Ross are but the continuation of a disreputable breed.

    http://theirasciblecurmudgeon.blogspot.co.nz/

  10. Yes 10

    I see nothing wrong with this bill

    • Veutoviper 10.1

      Which one? There are two.

      • Hayden 10.1.1

        I’m going to hazard a guess that he means both of them.

        • Veutoviper 10.1.1.1

          LOL – if he even knows that there are two.

          • Yes 10.1.1.1.1

            There is nothing wrong the bill(s). Not sure why Helen Kelly is worried.

            There is a right to strike but there is not a right to cripple businesses. Affco ring a bill?

            • Helen Kelly 10.1.1.1.1.1

              You might find AFFCO locked half its workforce out to force a new collective removing employment security. They didnt lock all of them out in an effort to keep plants going. Others then voted to strike in support of those locked out and in order to get a collective that retained their employment season to season. This dispute actuallly is a very good example of why this law is very very bad.

              • Yes

                All MPs put bills in the ballot from both sides are some are sensible and some are stupid. Getting to the select generally weeds out the good bad or the ugly but what I find interesting that the bills go in the ballot for a reason and generally because the MPs are representing a part of the community. So in theory there is public support and normally some cross party support for the bill originally.

                I accept the right to strike but the public doesn’t accept the right to cripple businesses to strike. The conundrum is not to stop strike action but when all negotiations fail. I have very good experience of seeing how unions can just get stubborn for the sake of being stubborn.

                The feedback I got from the POAL strike wasn’t whether the union or POAL were right…the public got severly effected because negotiations broke down. Long delays were unfair on the public who had no say. That is why I think the bill is good…it allows an end game.

                I have seen no other offering of how to break a dead lock from the opposition.

                • IrishBill

                  What deadlocked POAL was the fact management had an ideological agenda and effectively refused to negotiate on the issue of contracting out jobs. They could take this position because they didn’t care about the public wealth they were destroying and they were not answerable to the shareholders because of the structure Rodney Hide created for them that disconnected governance from accountability.

                  Under the proposed law change the ideologues in the POAL management and board would have had been able to push through their casualisation unchecked. A law that allows good faith negotiations to be circumvented is a dangerous law and I’d suggest that you wouldn’t be very happy if the law was changed to allow unions to have their own way in a similar manner.

                  Indeed, as Colin James warns (as does the EMA), the risk the right faces with this kind of extremism is that it gives licence for the next left wing government to swing the pendulum all the way back and then some.

  11. xtasy 11

    May I tell ALL New Zealand workers, your rights are under the most serious attacks for years! What you have already is a labour law that is – compared to most in Europe – full of holes and useless, weak and not worth the paper written on.

    New Zealanders lost basic worker’s rights under the introduction of the Employment Contracts Act in 1991. The unions were smashed, lost most members, divisionary tactics promoted by employers and the government that wanted this to happen, led to a reduction in organisation, far below that in most comparable countries.

    The Labour led government voted in 1999 only reformed labour laws moderately to not upset corporate and other big employers, who also donated for Labour and others, as they always do. So the Employment Relations Act came in, with some moderate improvements.

    Beneficiaries and unemployed never experienced much improvement under Labour and so many became disaffectionated with politics altogether, not bothering to vote. That was part of the reason the Nats won in 2008, and a PM promised to keep most Labour laws and “achievements”.

    That though was never meant to last, and we see now, in the second term of the Nats, what they are really about. It is an all out attack on not only beneficiaries but also workers.

    Where is damned “Labour”, I ask, they were happy to be catered for by Sky City, and they are hum and quiet on welfare reforms, same as much else. Some passionate speeches in Parliament on injustices fade quickly into insignificance when 4 top MPs of them sit in top boxes to watch top Rugby at the expense of a casino operator that they accused of doing deals with the government for.

    Now we get more labour reforms, cutting worker’s rights, and what do we thing of fucking Labour? I think nothing of damned Labour, as they are largely liars and hypocritical shits.

    I will NEVER vote you again, not even as electorate MP, as you are such liars and hypocrites, looking after own entertainment before worker’s rights. I want a NEW PARTY for workers, that may grow out of Mana, or develop separately.

    I have not faith in this crap we get, to tell us to vote Labour ever again, sorry!

    So Helen, you are in the WRONG party now, need to meet with the right kind of people and start a true worker’s party, I will NOT vote for your present party, forget it.

    Thanks X

  12. xtasy 12

    Swear your allegiance Helen, then I believe you, and will support you and your treacherous “Labour Party”. We have more at stake, that is labour, the workers, poor and less poor, the issue is division, and some “workers” forget where they come, from same as Sky City Box visitors from your corrupt party. We are AGAINST this and demand loyalty and sincerity, thank , you.

    • Mary 12.1

      Thanks Helen, a good analysis. One thing, though, which is you say “Even Key says he is not too keen.” I’m wondering whether Key would say that as part of his “come across as a moderate and let others look radical but we will eventually do that by stealth of course so we don’t get shut down” strategy. Surely Key is further to the right that ACT it’s just that he’s good at hiding it from most people?

  13. tracey 13

    With the impact of the 80’s and 90’s “reform” union membership is about 25% of the workforce in NZ. So we really need to ask ourselves, with everything going on in NZ, economically and otherwise, why focus on such a tiny portion of the community. Unless your ideology drives you so blind it’s about doing it or be damned. I mean, putting loads of pressure on the insurance companies and EQC for Cantabrians would be a much better use of time. Imagine, using urgency to enforce rules and regs on insurance companies… God forbid!

  14. AmaKiwi 14

    Another day of rioting in every major Brazilian city, and the public officials DON’T KNOW WHY.

    There are no particular organizing groups, just mass protests spreading via social media.

    Protestors have numerous grievances, but no single list of demands.

    Is this what you want, Nact and Labour? People so infuriated with the numerous insults to their well being that they start randomly tearing the country apart?

    • AmaKiwi 14.1

      Labour party warning in update from Brazil:

      “There’s been a democratic explosion on the streets,” said Marcos Nobre, a professor at the University of Campinas. “The Workers Party (read as NZ Labour Party) thinks it represents all of the progressive elements in the country, but they’ve been power now for a decade. They’ve done a lot, but they’re now the establishment.”

      “support for the protests escalating — a new poll by Datafolha found that 77 percent of São Paulo residents approved of them this week, compared with 55 percent the week before”

      Quotes from the NY Times. Also good coverage in The Guardian.

    • Murray Olsen 14.2

      Here’s a page by a Brazilian political cartoonist. Naturally, it’s in Portuguese, but the two with the toucan are about infiltration of agent provocateurs into the protests. The toucan (Tucano) is the symbol of the PSDB, the so-called social democratic party to which the president before Lula belonged. Their policies were pretty much like the first ACT government as far as selling everything cheaply to their mates was concerned, but with open corruption and gratuitous Police violence. The toucan is saying “Down with corruption” and “Against corruption”.

      http://latuffcartoons.wordpress.com/

      The Brazilian right is doing its best to take advantage of these popular protests, but most people seem awake to them. There is a strong push to promote them as something above parties, with activists from small left parties having been attacked and having their flags and banners destroyed by other protestors. In a manner reminiscent of the New Zealand People’s Mandate Party, which seems to exist only on Facebook, the right are saying that the issues are important, not the parties.

      There are reported cases of police officers refusing orders to attack protestors. Something big could be starting, and it will be interesting, at the very least. One thing is for certain, the Partido dos Trabalhadores is no more a Workers’ Party than the Labour Party of Douglas, Prebble, Mallard, and Goff was. It is a party of vested interests, corruption, careerists, state enterprises and attacks on the environment, with some low level militants still holding membership.

  15. Stephen 15

    Can I just point out how lucky we are as a countrry to have workers of the calibre of Helen Kelly? She deserves (and gets from me!) our thanks

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