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Lockout at Bridgeman Concrete

Written By: - Date published: 10:45 am, September 16th, 2009 - 13 comments
Categories: national/act government, workers' rights - Tags: , , , ,

Last week I wrote:

We’re seeing a new pattern in work relations emerging. The big employers, emboldened by having their party in power and using the recession as an excuse, are attacking workers’ pay and conditions.

Now, on the same day Talley and National-linked Open Country Cheese begins shutting out its workers and illegally using local cow cockies as strike-breakers, Bridgeman Concrete in Manukau has served its workers with an indefinite lockout notice unless they accept a wage freeze for the next two years.

There’s not even a pretext this time. The workers haven’t notified any industrial action of their own, so Bridgeman doesn’t even have the usual excuse of “ensuring certainty”. This is just a straight out attempt to bully the workers into taking a real-terms pay cut and break their will to organise collectively.

This new wave of employer militancy hasn’t come out of nowhere. A large part of it is opportunistic employers taking advantage of the recession to put the screws on their workers, but the Government has played its part too.

It was National, after all, that rammed through the fire at will law under urgency and sent a strong signal to employers that they don’t need to deal with their workers fairly.

And it’s National that’s been running the argument that workers should have to take a wage freeze. Bill English has already tried to freeze wages in the public sector, and as recently as last week John Key was talking down wages to striking firefighters and telling them they were lucky just to have a job. These comments were today picked up and repeated by the firefighters’ boss to attack the union.

It doesn’t take much imagination from there to see how the management at Brigeman Concrete might have got the idea they have a right to demand a wage freeze and to treat their workers unfairly.

All power to the workers and to their union, the NDU, on this one. There’s a picket currently underway at the Bridgeman Plant, 55 Crooks Road, East Tamaki. Go and offer some support if you can.

13 comments on “Lockout at Bridgeman Concrete”

  1. gargoyle 1

    “We’re seeing a new pattern in work relations emerging. The unions, perturbed at not having their party in power are actually trying to support workers.”

    On a more serious note – clearly some of this is employers taking advantage of the economic conditions to keep wages down just as clearly in some cases this will not be the case, it also rather pathetic to go down the “fire at will’ track …… I imaging most of these emplopyees will have been in the job for some time.

    • Eddie 1.1

      Read the post more carefully. I’m saying the government’s message to employers has been that they don’t need to treat their workers fairly. They have promoted a culture of unaccountability and abuse in the workplace.

      On your other point – if you think unions dictate to their members whether to go on strike or not then you’re clearly speaking from a position of ignorance. In any case, this is a lockout, not a strike.

  2. NickS 2

    Is Bridgeman’s lockout even legal?

    • Eddie 2.1

      Yeah, employers have the same rights to use lockouts as workers do to call strikes – that is, so long as it’s during bargaining for a collective agreement.

      It’s not listed as an essential service so no need for 14 days’ notice like at Open Country or Air NZ.

      • indiana 2.1.1

        Eddie, would you like ability for employers to lock out employees removed?

        • Eddie 2.1.1.1

          I’m pretty cautious about this. Any limitation on the power to lockout within the current industrial relations framework will lead to calls for even greater limitations on the right to strike. I’m not sure that’s a road we want to go down.

          Personally I think locking workers out is a stupid move anyway, it only tends to strengthen resolve, bring the public onside with the workers and highlight the inequalities of power inherent in the employment relationship.

      • Swampy 2.1.2

        Hmm, let me see, Is the Open Country dispute over the union demanding a new collective agreement – like some of the other big disputes e.g. Progressives?

        The Employment Relations Act is very clear that there is no legal obligation for an employer to offer or agree to a collective contract. However Labour have done everything they could to stack the legislation in favour of unions demanding such contracts.

        I understand National have just recently signalled changes to this will be upcoming.

  3. Tigger 3

    I see Fire Service CEO Mike Hall saying “firefighters enjoy job security, generous leave entitlements and a very good remuneration level,”

    Well none of your workers have quite your remuneration level mate. Last year’s annual report has him on $360,000 $369,999. Easy to tell people to ‘harden up’ when you’re creaming it.

    • Jared 3.1

      And its easy to criticise how much a CEO receives. Yet, just like the Telecom case with Paul Reynolds, CEO’s with good leadership and organisational skills in an international market aren’t cheap. So while it might sound impressive, to pay an alternative substantially less would likely get a significantly lesser CEO, likely jeopardising the organisation.

  4. Good luck NDU and Bridgeman workers. Maybe a regular weekly Strike/Lockout donation fund needs to be set up by the CTU for the period of Shonkey and the hollowmens term. The first few of these serious disputes inclusive of OCC will have a major impact, for better, hopefully, or worse beyond the immediate.

    National may have made a tactical mistake in not immediately introducing ECA mk2, though with their abuse of urgency I should not talk too soon. Perhaps they have purloined the working class tactic of direct action employed by certain well suited anti union bosses, coupled with talking up a “wage freeze’ in the interim.

  5. kaplan 5

    Gee… You’d almost think someone would love to see wages drop…

  6. Swampy 6

    In response to growing union militancy in the last term of Labour. Collective agreements are not compulsory in law. An employer is not required to agree to one if they don’t want to. Since Labour kept on passing new legislation intended to give unions the upper hand, there has been a steady stream of industrial conflict driven by unions demanding new collective agreements where there weren’t any before. The Progressive strike a couple of years ago being a classic example.

    • The Voice of Reason 6.1

      Doh! Wrong on all counts, Swampy.

      Labour did not keep passing ‘new legislation’ to help unions. The ERA has largely stayed as it was at it’s introduction. There hasn’t been a ‘steady stream of industrial conflict’ of any kind. The stats on stoppages (strikes and lockouts) show that the opposite is true and that the ERA’s insistance on good faith behaviour has lessened days lost to industrial action.

      The Progressive blue was not about establishing ‘new collective agreements’. The dispute was about the company reneging on an agreement to amalagamate the 3 existing agreements into one and equalising the pay and conditions.

      If you have any other fantasies about industrial relations I’m happy to put you right.

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