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Nothing moderate about National’s employment changes

Written By: - Date published: 3:41 pm, June 11th, 2013 - 71 comments
Categories: Unions, wages, workers' rights - Tags: , ,

The National government’s changes to employment law will build on what we already have – the most unequal society we have had since the first Labour government turned things around in the 1930s. These laws will drive wages down and increase insecurity and poverty in this country.

There is nothing “moderate” about pushing policy that increases the power of the powerful and reduces the power of those dependent on them for a living.

The Government admits these laws will give bosses more power. They tout this as “reasonable”, “moderate” and “fair” and pretend that it increases individual workers’ choices. But when you have no power, you have no choice.

They say the laws will increase productivity but offer no evidence to back it up. And they won’t find the evidence in history. Last time the deck was stacked in favour of employers to this extent, wages tumbled, the economy stalled and productivity stagnated.

You cannot increase wages by undermining unions. It’s a fact that union members get higher and more regular pay increases and that this acts to pull up the wages of everyone else. More than 95% of people who belong to my union, the EPMU, got a pay rise last year. For the general public that figure falls to less than half.

This law will reduce workers’ ability to organise to increase wages and conditions through collective bargaining. Where there is less collective bargaining, wages are lower for everybody. And when wages are low, the gap between rich and poor grows.

Unequal societies are bad for everybody. Insecurity, overcrowding, disease, mental illness, child poverty, crime and despair are devastating for all of society, not just those at the bottom.

The Government says that the law changes won’t be the end of the world for the union movement. This is true. These changes are just one plank in a platform of neoliberal policies that have failed our society.

Driving down wages can’t be achieved with just one piece of law: The government has also failed to create jobs or to support the manufacturing sector. They have stood and watched as tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs disappeared from our economy and devastated the regions. Then they have blamed those out of work for unemployment and duly demonised and punished them. They have sold public assets to narrow private interests and they have begun the privatisation of education, moving the focus from education to profit.

These planks all contribute to poverty, insecurity and inequality.

The union movement stands for something better. We reject the Government’s recipe of endless austerity, social division and insecurity at work. We stand for fair employment laws that ensure all workers enjoy a living wage, a safe workplace and a real say over our working lives. We stand for fairness at work.

Rachel Mackintosh is Director of Organising for the EPMU. You can sign up for campaign updates at www.workrights.org.nz

71 comments on “Nothing moderate about National’s employment changes ”

  1. Te Reo Putake 1

    “They tout this as “reasonable”, “moderate and “fair” and pretend that it increases individual workers’ choices. But when you have no power, you have no choice.”

    That’s it in a nutshell. First they make us pay for their crisis, and then, at the first slim signs of a recovery, tilt the odds further in their favour so we cannot regain what we have lost. Great post.

  2. Winston Smith 2

    Let me guess…the greatest attack on workers rights since the last greatest attack on workers rights which was preceded by the greatest attack on workers rights.

    • Daveo 2.1

      It’s definitely the greatest attack on workers’ rights since the Employment Contracts Act. This essentially takes us back to the ECA era. But yeah – there’s a reason NZers’ wages are low. 30 years of neoliberal employment law will take their toll.

      • Te Reo Putake 2.1.1

        Funny you should mention 30 years, Daveo. This article is about the theft of a bike in Napier and contains the following observation from the owner:

        “Ironically, he said, at the time the bike “disappeared into the night”, he and his friends were reminiscing about cycling experiences in Japan.

        “We were marvelling at how safe it was, how we never had to lock our bikes.

        “How we were able to leave our valuables and documents in the front basket while shopping and sightseeing, and never having any of our stuff stolen once. New Zealand used to be like that once – perhaps 30 years ago – but not any more,”

        http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10889763

        Coincidence? Somehow I think not. It’s also no coincidence that the issues of drug and alcohol abuse, violence, gang problems and permanent levels of un- and under- employment around NZ have grown since the 1980’s. Force people into poverty, hopelessness and desperation and they will react accordingly.

    • QoT 2.2

      You don’t need to “guess”, Winston. You can read the post. … are you going to need help with that?

  3. Colonial Viper 3

    Look forwards to that General Strike in order to fight this law.

    • Daveo 3.1

      That is sadly illegal under NZ’s very restrictive employment laws. You can’t strike except during bargaining of a new collective agreement, or in some rare instances over health and safety. And even this limited right to strike is under attack now!

      • Colonial Viper 3.1.1

        Indeed I know…I also know that all major unions and the “Labour” Party are quite fine with this state of affairs.

        From what I know of Marx: if labour has no ability to withdraw its labour…what leverage does it have left over capital, absolutely none or sweet fuck all?

        We should be thankful that the Tories haven’t gone further because realistically, without the power to strike, you might as well be whipping them with a wet bus ticket.

        • Daveo 3.1.1.1

          I agree entirety. My (labour-affiliated) union passed a conference resolution last year to restore the right to strike. Not sure where Labour stands on the issue.

          • George D 3.1.1.1.1

            Don’t wonder. Just look at the Employment Contracts Act of 1991. Whoops, I meant the Employment Relations Act of 2000. Both effectively ban the right to strike.

        • Te Reo Putake 3.1.1.2

          “I also know that all major unions and the “Labour” Party are quite fine with this state of affairs.”

          Er, no. Not actually factually correct, CV. Perhaps you need to get involved in the upcoming policy debates in Labour or at least check what Darien Fenton is working on as proposed changes to strengthen the ERA. Or get a job and join a union 😉

        • Te Reo Putake 3.1.1.3

          “I also know that all major unions and the “Labour” Party are quite fine with this state of affairs.”

          Er, no. Not actually factually correct, CV. Perhaps you need to get involved in the upcoming policy debates in Labour or at least check what Darien Fenton is working on as proposed changes to strengthen the ERA. Or get a job and join a union 😉

          • Colonial Viper 3.1.1.3.1

            You’re saying that reintroducing the right to strike in support of other workers and other industries might be back on the cards?

            OK I’m surprised, but I’ll definitely look out for it.

  4. fambo 4

    From a devil beast’s perspective, it probably seems quite moderate

  5. Macro 5

    Labour are as much to blame for this sorry state of affairs as the current pack of clowns. Clarke had the mandate in the early 2000’s to undo most of the damage of the Douglas, Prebble, and Richarson era but chose basically to fiddle around the edges.

    Don’t expect the next Labour Govt to be any different from what their present form displays – they are much anti-labour as the rest of them. Wedded to the myth of neo-liberal economics to the last. Idiots and traitors to those who went before.

    • fatty 5.1

      +1

      The ECA 1991 was brutal, but it was expected. The real kick in the teeth was the ERA 2000 – that cemented the ECA’s attack on workers

      • Colonial Viper 5.1.1

        TRP reckons things are back on track inside Labour re: returning power and leverage to labour, and having close ties to the union movement he must know. Right?

    • Wayne 5.2

      That is an incorrect analysis of the opportunity that Helen Clark had in 1999.

      One of the main reasons why Helen Clark was so electable was because she indicated she would not fundamentally undo the reforms of the previous 15 years. Instead she promised to moderate them. That meant undoing the ECA, but not bringing back compulsory unionism amd awards. It meant not nationalising everything, but promising more control over monopolies. It meant not undoing all the welfare reforms, but moderating them. It meant a modest increase in the top tax rate to 39%. Voters accepted that and she essentially stuck to her manifesto. You would have had her breaking the compact she had with the voters.

      John Key learnt from that, which is why so much of the Helen Clark legacy remains (not that I expect you to agree with that proposition).

      It seems to me that Labour has yet to go through the process of working out what they will keep from the John Key govt and what they will change. Now I expect you will say repeal the lot. But that is not how Oppositions win elections.

      One of the reasons is that such an approach is too reactive. Oppositions need to have their own positive policies that look forward, not back.

      • vto 5.2.1

        Aaaaaaaaah….

        that would be why you lot have abandoned the free market approach in central Christchurch

        and abandoned the free market hands-off approach to dairy irrigation

        and abandoned the deregulation model of regulation that led to 29 men being killed at Pike River (except that you haven’t have you – you want to implement in the heavy-trucking sector of all bloody dumbarse places)

        and acknowledged that the market has failed to supply the demand for affordable housing in Auckland (surely housing is like undies manufacture and the same principles apply no?) and gone for heavy intervention central planning instead

        and embraced welfare for the NZX

        and welfare for the Chinese meat exporters fucked around by MPI and no welfare for east Chch residents fucked around by EQC

        and that would be why you have no credibility in my eyes

      • lprent 5.2.2

        Oppositions need to have their own positive policies that look forward, not back.

        I thought that KiwiPower did that requirement rather nicely since it is now pretty clear that the “free market” in electricity provision only works if you’re interested in revaluing cheap assets upwards and ratcheting dividends off them (while doing little investment in generation).

        When they flesh out the KiwiBuild so that it works in urban Auckland (ie apartments and townhouses rather than McMansions in some paddock too far from any work), it looks a whole lot more interesting than Nick Smiths attempts to increase the supply of high cost housing here.

        etc etc… Not the best we have ever seen and generally I find that the Greens policy platforms are better thought out. But they are getting better.

        And incidentally, perhaps you could point to the forward looking policies National brought in at or after the 2008 election? I was kind of chortling at your description because the only policy that I remember then pushing then was unsustainable tax cuts. It rather defined their first term.

        But I see Muldoon level of debt to pay for taxcuts. Trying to roll labour law back to the days of Holland? How to massively subsidize private schools with taxpayer dollars to educate the children of National MPs while starving low decile schools of funding? The usual National stealthy reduction of police numbers and resourcing back to the percentages of the 90’s? Cutting almost all export and R&D incentives for local export companies in favour of glorified jaunting (especially MPs) to rather useless generic trade shows that seem to be dominated by agriculture? Not to mention the complete screwup of the morale that was the defense force cuts….

        To be precise, there isn’t a single forward looking policy in the lot that I can see. Just a lot of blowhard reversions to a mythic past.

        • George D 5.2.2.1

          The Clark-Cullen Government fucked us, much as the Lange-Douglas Government fucked us.

          My dad’s a working man, and the last time he got overtime was 1989. Union affiliates don’t mean a thing if the Caucus don’t want it.

          Still waiting. It’s why I’m a Green.

          • George D 5.2.2.1.1

            And to pre-empt the response: he, or I, shouldn’t have to pay $500 a year to some delegate to negotiate for for things that are basic worker’s rights. I’ve never had a union delegate visit any of my workplaces in NZ or Australia, but I do know that even after 11 years of John Howard I had more rights in an Australian workplace than I did in a NZ workplace after 9 years of Helen Clark.

            • Jim Davis 5.2.2.1.1.1

              I’m not sure what you mean. That you don’t want to pay union fees?

              • George D

                That I want the party of the labour movement (hint, it’s in the name) to put through legislation guaranteeing things that were basic rights 25 years ago, and enable unions to be useful at doing the things that legislation can’t do (like strike for us).

                If organised labour can’t get that from disorganised Labour, then they should reconsider the terms of their relationship. After all, the party currently lives and dies by the financial contribution of the affiliates, you’re in a very strong position.

                • Te Reo Putake

                  ” … guaranteeing things that were basic rights 25 years ago, …”

                  What things, George?

                  • George D

                    Overtime and penalty rates, for one. I find it astounding, that NZ, the place that invented the legal 8 hour day – has no such protection for workers in law, and nor do either the Labour or Green parties have a policy to make this work right law again.

                    (Labour’s policy injects unions into collective compulsory bargaining so they can fight for it, but we shouldn’t have to. Make it law, as it was, and unions can fight for the other things like high wages and decent work environments. Under Labour’s policy, many workplaces will gain this right after bargaining, and some will not. This is unacceptable.)

                    • Te Reo Putake

                      Thanks, George. I’m not sure that overtime and penalty rates were ever set in law; more likely that the law (IC&A act) allowed them to be included in awards by negotiation or by order of the Arbitration court.

                      However the Labour Government’s enshrinement of the 8 hour day/40 hour week would certainly have meant that bosses would have had to offer penal rates to get workers to do more hours, so the affect was probably the same.

                    • Macro

                      You answered it TRP – the enshrinement of the 40 hour week! That was what it was all about – see many workers able to work a 40 hour week these days? Or able to live on one if they are lucky enough to do so? And who stuffed that up? Oh yeah! Labour.

        • Wayne 5.2.2.2

          Putting aside our obvious disagreements on a range of policy issues, I would have thought there are number of things that Labour would not automatically repeal.

          For instance, many of the RMA reforms, especiallythe national callin provivions, the Holiday Act reforms, all the finance regulation (in fact I think Labour voted for this), increase of GST to 15%, tighter student loan criteria, National Standards, ACC reforms, improved relations with the US, tighter parole. Possibly the 90 day rule would not be repealed but modified. There will be others.

          Just because Labour oppossed something at introduction is not a committment to repeal it. Of course there are things Labour would change, notably tax rates and if there is a
          change of Govt in 2014, charter schools but they will stick if the Nats stay till 2017.

          • Macro 5.2.2.2.1

            “Putting aside our obvious disagreements on a range of policy issues, I would have thought there are number of things that Labour would not automatically repeal.”

            Of course they would not repeal them – There was practically no difference between Labour and National. I doubt that there is much even now. 🙁

            People wonder why nobody can be bothered to get out and vote – does it matter?? They are going to get the shafted no matter who.

            • Te Reo Putake 5.2.2.2.1.1

              Bloody Romans, what have they ever done for us?

              • Macro

                Labour in the past did a great deal in improving the lot of workers TRP. I come from a family that lived and breathed the Labour movement. My dad died a saddened man in the 1990’s, seeing almost all he had striven for over over half a century of union and political activity sold down the river. At the time I thought he was wrong, things would improve. But the more I read, and the longer I wait, the more I come to realise that our present Labourites have nothing to offer the workers. They too, are far too wedded to the myth of neoliberal “growth”. It’s not going to happen. Take for example FTA’s. They function simply to export employment and import poverty and who was it that signed the FTA with China?

  6. BLiP 6

    As time goes on, the depth of John Key’s mendacity becomes more and more apparent . . .

    – We’re not proposing to change the Employment Relations Act in a way that weakens unions

    An honest man?

  7. Tiger Mountain 7

    The EPMU does well given the male/masonic history and enduring conservative culture of that organisation, and the lack of traction over MECCAs. FIRST and UNITE are public and feisty and involve and organise young people. The public sector unions charge on regardless and full marks to them.

    The problem is an “atomised” working class is now several generations beyond a social contract, national awards, time and a half and compulsory unionism. So many people need more hours, security of hours and so forth. Much of the employed workforce has really been reduced to the level of the waterfront “seagull”, contracting, freelancing, precarious employment, management by stress and so forth.

    So get I CV’s remarks. Will Labour unite all who can be united and bring back some level of social responsibility to labour relations?

    • Colonial Viper 7.1

      The public sector unions charge on regardless and full marks to them.

      Uh, no, some of them – even the big ones – can be quite passive, divided and highly confrontation averse.

  8. Yes 8

    That 94% statistic is rubbish. Only 6% of private sector are in unions. That’s 1 million who aren’t. They get paid way more by negotiating themselves.

    • Colonial Viper 8.1

      They get paid way less by being told sign here or we’ll give your job to a 16 year old for $11/hr.

      FIFY

    • Jim Davis 8.2

      Eh? I think you misread the statement:

      “More than 95% of people who belong to my union, the EPMU, got a pay rise last year.”

      The author’s clearly not stating 95% of people belong to the EPMU. She’s pointing out that 95% of EPMU members got a pay rise.

      Also, union membership for the private sector is 10-12%, not 6%. This number is lower than it was in the past because changes to employment law have made it difficult and uneconomic to organise the vast majority of workplaces.

      People tend to want to join unions if given the choice, and the reason is obvious – union members get better pay rises than people who aren’t in unions. http://thestandard.org.nz/hooton-spouting-nonsense/

      • Yes 8.2.1

        Wrong 94% don’t belong to unions and again the stats will show non union people earn more than union people. Agree 95% of EMPU got a pay rise..but silly sample base. Should compare the whole 100%

        • Jim Davis 8.2.1.1

          Unions represent 20.9% of wage/salary earners.

          http://www.dol.govt.nz/er/starting/unions/registration/membership2011.asp

          I don’t understand the rest of your comment. What on earth are you talking about?

          • Te Reo Putake 8.2.1.1.1

            Yes is just posting random brain farts after digesting some bad talking points, Jim. Or just tired and emotional. Who cares, really?

            • Jim Davis 8.2.1.1.1.1

              I like to think of Yes as Cameron Slater when he hasn’t got Simon Lusk to write his posts for him.

          • Yes 8.2.1.1.2

            Public sector is 11% and get paid very well. 11% in unions of public service. Now what I am saying is the EMPU should put their wage rates and pay rises up against non union wages and it will show that union members are behind non union people

            • Jim Davis 8.2.1.1.2.1

              Public sector union membership is more than 50%. Honestly mate, are you just plucking these figures out your arse or something?

              As for your other point, you’ll be pleased to know that the research has already been done and they show union members are more likely to get pay increases than non-union and that these pay increases will be higher than non-union.

              Well, at least he kept one promise

              This makes sense – workers have more bargaining power collectively than they do individually. Moreover, collective agreements set a floor for wages and conditions, not a ceiling. That means you can be a member of the union and earn more than the rate set out in the collective agreement.

              In short, everything you’ve said on this thread is demonstrable nonsense. My advice to you is to go bother someone else until you learn to use google.

            • Te Reo Putake 8.2.1.1.2.2

              You aren’t making a lot of sense, Yes, and the facts don’t back you up. Fact 1 is that 95% of EPMU members got pay rises last year. Most other kiwi workers didn’t, or got bugger all if they did. The average non-union increase, where there was one, was close to the CPI. The EPMU average increase was twice that. And union agreements usually have far superior conditions as well, particularly penal payments, leave, and redundancy compensation.

              Fact 2. Union members, on average, across the country are paid more than non union in equivelent jobs. That;s because they have some power banding together and they can afford professional advocates. Better results in wage negotiations are part of what they pay the union dues for.

              If you’ve got some ‘facts’ that disprove what I’ve written, let’s see ‘em. Won’t hold my breath though.

              • Yes

                To Jim and te let’s get this straight. You are both unable to answer the question. Better answers out of peters. You keep harping on about pay rises..who gives a dam . Here is the facts.

                To help I have rounded numbers for you. 80% od employees aren’t in unions because they don’t care.
                Secondly those 80% on average earn more than union members. FFS stop talking rubbish.

                It’s is all over your google stats department.

                • Te Reo Putake

                  So give us a cite. Should be interesting to see you back up your ‘fact’.

                  • Yes

                    No Jim said google..I made a joke for him.

                    Just go to NZ statistic deprtment.

                    Plus Auckland university studies and victoria

                    • Te Reo Putake

                      Why don’t you just put the links up? Is it because you are making up shit again? Why, yes, yes it is!

                • xtasy

                  “To help I have rounded numbers for you. 80% od employees aren’t in unions because they don’t care.”

                  Yes, what a dick you are, at least a dick-head of sorts. Sorry, but that is what needs to be said.

                  Firstly you have backed off from your lies that 94 per cent or so of workers are not union members, now you claim that workers that are not in unions “do not care”.

                  Hah, is it any wonder, when most employers offer only individual contracts and do not even bother “negotiating” on fair and equal terms with a job-seeker who applies for a job.

                  It is “sign at the dotted line”, after rigorous selection processes, which are humbling and even intimidating to many. So when a worker dares to make any demands, the employer will in most cases say: “F*** off then, there are many others waiting outside”.

                  Also if a worker starts raising any hints, about wanting to join a union, most employers will immediately turn against them, and make life harder for the new employee.

                  So workers had to learn the hard way, that is most, who have no exclusive skills and experience to offer. They learn, shut up, duck their head, humble themselves, and think, be glad you get a job at all, and sign the dirty deed at the bottom line.

                  That is what real life is about, Mr “Yes man”. That has nothing to do with workers not caring about better representation, conditions and pay.

  9. xtasy 9

    Just having turned Parliament TV on last night, there was another debate on changes to the legal aid bill still before the House.

    Employment law changes will make life harder for unions and individual workers. Issues will arise, and what will workers on individual contracts have left as means and power to address grievances and possibly worse problems?

    When there is no union only the employment tribunal will be there. Representing oneself will be hard for many, especially lower educated and low skilled workers.

    Legal aid is going to be restricted even more, as I heard, and fewer and fewer will be able to access it. Generally it needs to be paid back also.

    So looking at the greater picture, the government is taking away more rights, making it harder to get access to justice, and this is a double frontal attack.

    Workers will get shafted in greater and greater numbers, and many will have no means to take an employer to a tribunal or court, as it will be near impossible to get legal aid, unless a person has saved enough to pay a lawyer.

    What a disgusting government this is, and sadly so many do not really learn about what is going on. Try finding details about all this in the mainstream media, it is hardly mentioned anywhere. Disgusting, I say!

  10. George D 10

    Is it really the case that only 6% of private sector workers are in unions, as Yes suggests? This is a shocking figure, and must concern anyone whose interest is in the right of New Zealanders to earn a day’s wage.

    • Yes 10.1

      yes only 6% – so my argument is that 94% of private sector people don’t care about belonging to a union and are quite happy.

      Even if you use the classic 80/20 rule – that is still 80% of the population working are very happy in the private sector

      • KJT 10.1.1

        Didn’t i read somewhere that over 80% of Kiwis are unhappy with their job conditions?

        It would be interesting to match that with Union numbers.

        Then there are the thousands who were unhappy enough last week, to emigrate.

        The fact is, when the right to act collectively was made illegal, the power, and the advantages of collective action for workers was removed. making Unions less relevant. Which was exactly the intention.

        Employers know of the power of collective action. That is why we have collectives such as corporations, associations and cartels.
        And they make sure that successive Governments remove the rights of employees and contractors to act collectively.

      • George D 10.1.2

        It doesn’t suggest that. But it does suggest that the labour movement and its party have failed to build the basic institution of organised labour. There are many reasons for this, and they all deserve acknowledgement.

        From a slightly different context, but I think it resonates quite strongly here – particularly in the face of unionists continued failure to examine their precipitously declining membership.
        http://www.pipingshrike.com/2013/04/review-mark-lathams-not-dead-yet.html

    • Daveo 10.2

      Read the rest of the comments, man. Yes is a troll. The actual figure’s 20%

    • Jim Davis 10.3

      No, it’s not true.

  11. New Zealanders are Mexicans with cellphones*, they are just paid a little more. Eventually under National workers will be paid even less than that, when you take into account living costs, and tax rises on the poor. National becomes a Mafia, and a more illegitimate government day by day.

    *Not my phrase, someone else said that in relation to the Hobbit.

    • karol 11.1

      That phrase was in circulation well before the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings were made – back in the late 90s in relation to Xena & Hercules.

  12. tracey 12

    The pm and his finance minister dream of nz as the little india of the pacific. A more palatable dream than becoming lil germany or lil scandanavia…

    • KJT 12.1

      Sorry. You are wrong.

      They dream of New Zealand being the American rust belt of the Pacific, or the optimistic ones, the Bangladesh!

  13. Wow, this post is pleasant, my younger sister is analyzing these things,
    so I am going to inform her.

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