How National plans to smash collective agreements

Written By: - Date published: 12:00 pm, July 26th, 2013 - 42 comments
Categories: national, workers' rights - Tags: ,

no conclude

By Rachel Mackintosh, EPMU Director of Organising

I wrote recently about how the Government’s changes to our employment laws will empower bad employers and reduce Kiwis’ wages and conditions. Over the coming weeks I’m going to go through each of these changes to show how, in contrast to National’s spin, they’re not just technical and they’re certainly not ‘fair’ or ‘balanced’.

The first is what National calls the ‘removal of the duty to conclude’. This basically means the boss will be able to say ‘no’ to a collective agreement and force people onto individual agreements with less job security and lower pay and conditions. You can see why it’s also known as the ‘Ports of Auckland clause’.

How does it work? It’s simple. Say your collective agreement comes up for renewal. You get together with your workmates and ask the boss to sit down with you and negotiate in good faith.

At the moment your boss has to work with you until you find an agreement. He doesn’t have to give you everything you ask for, but generally you’ll negotiate a fair increase that both sides can live with. It’s a system that delivers bigger pay increases and better conditions and it has a knock-on effect that benefits every Kiwi worker.

National’s new employment laws will change all that. Under the new law, if the boss doesn’t want a collective agreement he’ll be able to refuse to agree to one. If he’d rather put you and your workmates on an individual agreement so he can dictate the terms and pay then he’ll have a whole lot more power to do that too.

All the boss will have to do under National’s law is turn up to a few meetings, take a hard position he knows will never be acceptable to you and your workmates  (say, for example, turning you into a casual or cutting your pay) then refuse to negotiate any more when you don’t agree to it.

This is the so-called ‘protracted bargaining’ Simon Bridges is so keen to put a stop to – it’s workers refusing to take pay cuts or have their jobs casualised. Bridges’ solution is to let the employer go to the Employment Relations Authority and get a declaration to say that bargaining is over so that workers no longer have a say.

Once collective bargaining is declared to be over, industrial action will be illegal and there’ll be a sixty day ‘free hit’ period where the boss can go to people one by one and offer them individual agreements they’re in no position to turn down.

What does this mean for pay? Well, some workers might be able to get an increase in the first year if they accept an uncertain roster, a reduction in redundancy entitlements and a cut to penal rates. But once those conditions are all gone there’ll be nothing left to sell.

This is when real wages really start to plummet. It’s what happened in in the 1990s and it’s the reason New Zealand is a low-wage economy today. If we let the Government do this to us again we can expect the same result – lower pay, fewer rights, and another generation of Kiwis heading to Australia for a better life.

But there is an alternative. Unions are campaigning to stop these laws and build support for employment laws that support good jobs, a living wage for all and a real say on the issues that affect us at work. You can join the campaign at www.workrights.org.nz.

42 comments on “How National plans to smash collective agreements”

  1. Te Reo Putake 1

    Great post, Rachel! That’s a nice clear summary of what these ‘technical’ changes really mean.

    Key wasn’t kdding when he said he wanted to see wages drop. These changes are designed to do just that.

  2. karol 2

    Once collective bargaining is declared to be over, industrial action will be illegal and there’ll be a sixty day ‘free hit’ period where the boss can go to people one by one and offer them individual agreements they’re in no position to turn down.

    What does this mean for pay? Well, some workers might be able to get an increase in the first year if they accept an uncertain roster, a reduction in redundancy entitlements and a cut to penal rates. But once those conditions are all gone there’ll be nothing left to sell.

    This is part of Key’s plan to make wages drop.

    Key’s Nat Party is surely is the true “nasty party”.

    No concern for low to medium income Kiwis.

    I’m glad the unions are campaigning against it. How to get the message out there to all Kiwis, without the dominant voices int he MSM running interference?

  3. asd 3

    Great piece Rachel! With a bit of luck John Campbell and his team at Campbell Live will pick up on it. They’ve been doing some good stories this year in the absence of anything but tabloid journalism on Seven Blunt!

  4. karol 4

    Meanwhile, in NZ the rich get richer (Bryce Edwards summary of articles and posts on it), and justify it as being good for NZ.

    And Max Rushbrooke provides a graph to help understand the NBR rich list.

    It also shows two things. First, the sharp rise in income inequality in the mid-80s to mid-90s has resulted in a large and lasting increase in wealth concentration.
    […]
    Second, income inequality may not have increased since the global financial crisis, but this increase in wealth is likely to translate back into increased income. This just reinforces my argument last week that we will probably see rising inequality (even in income terms) in coming years.

  5. Rosie 5

    Ultimately does this ‘removal of the duty to conclude’ clause spell the end of good faith bargaining as one of the cornerstones of the Employment Relations Act 2000?

    If so, all we have left is no faith, no trust, just bad blood, hostile workplaces, reduced productivity and increasing poverty. Well done Bridges, you’re an %$# * if there ever was one.

    • Te Reo Putake 5.1

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Rosy. We’ve had ten years of relatively harmonious wage bargaining under the good faith concept, but that will now come to an end at firms who want to use this change as a licence to disempower their staff and their unions.

    • Draco T Bastard 5.2

      Ultimately does this ‘removal of the duty to conclude’ clause spell the end of good faith bargaining as one of the cornerstones of the Employment Relations Act 2000?

      Yep, it does. It seems to me that the whole point of the legislation is to allow bosses to go into negotiations with no intention of concluding an agreement.

      If so, all we have left is no faith, no trust, just bad blood, hostile workplaces, reduced productivity and increasing poverty.

      QFT

      And when a society no longer has any trust is when bloody revolutions occur.

    • Foreign Waka 5.3

      Bridges is the worst of them all. He is one that smiles in you face, talks the lawyer slang that leaves ordinary people bereft of understanding what he is actually saying and all the while pulls the rug under your feet, so to speak. Worst part, he enjoys is. Amazingly, not many people seem to notice that he exudes a very bad nature.

  6. King Kong 6

    Awesome. By the end of Nationals third term the only thing “union” left in the country will be rugby.

  7. Follow-the-money 7

    While you’re about, please, could your articles explain how these changes will help the National Government with its stated goal of bringing NZ workers more closely aligned with Australians?

    • Arfamo 7.1

      It appears the strategy there is to align New Zealand workers more closely with Australians by having them leave this country and go and work alongside them in Australia. This was the part of the strategy that wasn’t actually explained to the electorate at the time.

    • Draco T Bastard 7.2

      There’s a difference between National’s stated goals of raising wages and its actual goals of lowering wages.

  8. AmaKiwi 8

    OK, folks. We have a monstrous fascist government on our hands. How do we stop them?

    My instinct is to organize (because I once was an organizer). Organizing requires everyone agreeing on a grievance we can clearly articulate. After that come tactics to force changes.

    We have to be unified. We can’t have workers fighting one battle, greenies another, etc. At this point bringing down the government is not a solution because we can’t be sure we would win an election.

    Any and all suggestions are welcome.

    • BM 8.1

      How do we stop them?

      It’s called an election.

    • burt 8.2

      Yes we must resist the fascist political parties who have in the past forced low paid workers into unions and used the fees extracted from them to line the pockets of highly paid union bosses and politicians.

      • mac1 8.2.1

        I once had a chat with one of these ‘highly paid union bosses’. He spoke of the poverty from which he had come. He told me of his habit which he still practised of never throwing away worn out under clothes. Instead he washed them and put them into his clothing drawers, because the habit of thrift had never left him.

        He also remembered the poverty from which he came where underpants were unaffordable.

        He spoke for the poor and was indefatigably driven by this experience. Now dead, I still honour this man, Burt.

        • burt 8.2.1.1

          One of the genuine good guys mac1. They are around us in all walks of life. With all due respect to this particular chap, my experience to date has typically seen union bosses having a far better standard of living than the people they claim to represent.

          There is something inherently wrong with using fees extracted from low paid workers to donate to political parties when politicians earn so much. Nice for the likes of Shearer that he can leave his own money off shore and call it ‘his private stuff’ while his party spends the money from minimum wage workers on political advertising.

          • Sable 8.2.1.1.1

            I fail to see your point. National party politicians earn well above the norm when compared to the public of NZ. Management in any organisation, including unions, are compensated for their skill and experience. Or do you think only incompetent political fat cats should earn a decent wage?

            • burt 8.2.1.1.1.1

              The point is…. Sure the fat cats in business and in the National party scoop the cream and live the high life. But it’s apparently wrong when they do it ????!

              Is it right that union bosses have 6 figure salaries paid for by minimum wage workers but wrong that private company owners have 6 figure salaries paid for by minimum wage workers?

              • Arfamo

                It’s wrong that union bosses have 6 figure salaries paid for by minimum wage workers too, IMO. But not wrong that unions exist to provide collective bargaining power and look after the safety, health and welfare of their members. Pike River not enough evidence for you of the need, burt? How well did the bosses and governments do in ensuring their workers’ safety and welfare?

                • Daveo

                  Arfamo. FFS, why would you even accept burt’s framing? He’s talking complete crap.

              • felix

                “But it’s apparently wrong when they do it ????!”

                Isn’t that what you’re saying though burt? That it’s wrong for the head of a union to earn a fat salary paid for by the toil of min wage workers, but it’s fine for CEOs to do exactly the same?

                • RedLogix

                  In burt’s world that is exactly the case felix. This is because CEO’s, financiers and fat cats are inherently better people than us. They are indeed our betters and us ordinary serfs gotta know our place.

                  (And not to let our envy show too much…)

                  • felix

                    Ah, I see. So he’s not so much bothered that someone’s getting a good salary.

                    He’s bothered that they’re uppity.

              • Daveo

                Burt is talking bullshit. SFWU organisers, who organise the low paid, are paid very little – the place operated on a showstring. Unite is even worse paid. EPMU organisers earn marginally more and are frequently paid significantly less than the highly skilled tradesmen they organise – usually getting a job at the union means a pay cut. In these unions I don’t know if there’s anyone who’d be on more than $100,000. Perhaps the national secretaries, who manage dozens of staff, run multi-million dollar organisations and have CEO-level responsibilities.

                In the public sector unions they tend to tie the salaries to the scale of the people they organise, so you’ll get a few senior officials on more than $100,000 but it’s not the norm.

                Union officials are by and large paid well less than they’d earn in the public sector and do intense, difficult work with very long and frequently unsociable hours. The mythical lazy, overpaid ‘union boss’ is a right-wing fiction.

                Donations to political parties are less than quarter of one percent of most unions’ budgets and are democratically endorsed by members’ elected reps. Many unions don’t donate. Those that do usually have an additional opt-out on the membership form. The right hates union donations because they don’t want cleaners, train drivers and factory workers to have political influence. They want parties to be totally dependent on corporate largesse.

                In short, Burt is talking bullshit and I’d advise fellow leftie commenters here not to indulge him or accept anything he says at face value.

                • Draco T Bastard

                  +1

                • felix

                  Well said Daveo.

                  I also note that when burt complains about minimum wage earners joining unions, he fails to acknowledge that in low-wage environments the best way to ensure that your wages get above and stay above the minimum is to join a union.

                  I think RedLogix nailed it above; burt just doesn’t want working people to have any representation or bargaining power.

            • big bruv 8.2.1.1.1.2

              “I fail to see your point. National party politicians earn well above the norm when compared to the public of NZ.”

              National party back bench MP’s earn less than Labour?

              Is that a honest mistake or another example of the way the left keep telling lies.?

              • felix

                No, it’s yet another example of you not having a fucking clue what you’re reading

      • Draco T Bastard 8.2.2

        used the fees extracted from them to line the pockets of highly paid union bosses and politicians.

        [citation needed]

        • felix 8.2.2.1

          burt once saw a hollywood film about the Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters in the 50s.

          It has informed everything he claims to know about unions.

  9. Arfamo 9

    It’s hopeless for me. The only things I can come up with all seem to involve sticks of dynamite 🙁

    • Sable 9.1

      It will just be a case of riding it out. Keys will get another term, behave worse than he is already and in spite of the mainstream media lies and half truths people will finally have had enough and give him the bums rush. Same thing happened to Howard in Australia when I lived there and their press is even worse than ours (hard to believe I know).

  10. Sable 10

    Its just history repeating itself, ECA all over again. Does National have any imagination at all when it comes to employment law, let alone common sense?

    • burt 10.1

      Sadly the compensation for this will probably be for the lovers of big government to campaign for compulsory unionism again. The cycle will repeat… As you say – we do it all over again.

      I can’t understand why either the unionist insist their way is the only way or why anti unionists insist their way is the only way. But I do know that having been forced to join a union because you earn under a certain amount ( in the past ) was extremely abhorrent to me. While struggling to make ends meet a few dollars each week ( which was being donated to fund Labour Party advertising ) was money that I could have used more effectively myself.

      Different if I had chosen to donate it…..

      Now, if your team are prepared to make an assurance that nobody is either required to join a collective ( ever – under any circumstances ) and never required ( ever under and circumstances ) required to join a union – then you have high ground to fight the other side that wants to see it set up such that people can be forced out of a collective or a union.

      • Sable 10.1.1

        Its highly unlikely we will ever return to compulsory unionism. If you recall the ERA is a watered down version of the ECA. What will happen is the “new” ECA will move back to something looking like the ERA when Labour/Greens are eventually elected.

      • Daveo 10.1.2

        No one’s arguing for compulsory unionism. Personally I don’t support it. What the CTU wants is a system of industry bargaining that gives workers a real choice to join a union and bargain collectively.

        Still, as a low income worker, even with your union fees coming out it’s almost certain you’d have been earning relatively more back then than you would now in our deunionised labour market. Compulsory unionism has its flaws, but it did materially benefit NZ workers.

  11. Wolfslair 11

    I guess this is what you get when you elect a Prime Minister who has a mediocre education and is hard-headed with money

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