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Reaction roundup: Nats’ work rights policy

Written By: - Date published: 11:14 am, July 25th, 2008 - 39 comments
Categories: national, wages, workers' rights - Tags: , , , , , ,

Democratic, voluntary organisations of workers:
Finsec: “Within the current framework, many workers have been able to achieve real wage increases like the 5% increase from Westpac our members have been offered this week…These pay rises have come as a result of staff being able to bargain collectively through their own independent union. National’s policies undermining collective bargaining would weaken the ability of workers to achieve real wage rises”

CTU: “National’s policy does not mention how they will lift wages, suggests workers could lose the fourth week of annual leave and have pay for statutory holidays cut, and reduces the democratic right of workers to belong to unions. This is consistent with them opposing all legislation that has improved workers lives over the last 9 years.”

EPMU: “The policy aims to take rights from workers in a new job, undermine collective bargaining, block workers accessing representation on site and undermine annual leave provisions and holiday pay rates…National’s policy shows it has no plans to lift wages in New Zealand. Every point in this policy is an attack on current work rights and every point would put downward pressure on the wages of working New Zealanders.”

NDU: “This policy will keep wages down in the rapidly growing service industries where unionisation and collective bargaining is just starting to recover and deliver improvements for some of the lowest paid workers in the country.’

NZEI: ‘the pay gap is the problem; strengthening people’s ability to collectively bargain is the answer. What in National’s policy is going to strengthen collective bargaining?’

PSA: “John Key says nothing about how National will lift wages as workers face rising fuel and food prices”

Voluntary organisation of employers:
Business NZ: “We have had quite a few pendulum swings in employment policy over the last twenty years. A period of restraint and consolidation along with enhancement of basic rights is likely to be beneficial”

39 comments on “Reaction roundup: Nats’ work rights policy ”

  1. T-rex 1

    That is a very strong statement from Business NZ.

    Great stuff.

    Ha! Captcha: “S. Connerize”. Is that like ‘terminate’?

  2. T-rex 3

    I retract my above. Reading the actual story… sigh.

    They should listen to their own advice.

    That said, I’m not sure what the problem is with allowing independent collective bargaining. It doesn’t say people CAN’T belong to unions, just that they’re allowed to form their own collectives as well. What’s wrong with that?

  3. BeShakey 4

    They seem to be struggling to get much positive comment on their policies. I guess theyre hoping that releasing them a way out from the election will give JK enough time to mesmorise people with his smile so they forget what the Nats policies are.

  4. Joker 5

    Finsec: “Within the current framework, many workers have been able to achieve real wage increases like the 5% increase from Westpac our members have been offered this week These pay rises have come as a result of staff being able to bargain collectively through their own independent union. National’s policies undermining collective bargaining would weaken the ability of workers to achieve real wage rises’

    Turkeys: We think Christmas is a terrible idea

    [Tane: Hey, um, just wondering, do you actually have a rebuttal of Finsec’s analysis, or are you just crowing about the idea of workers taking a pay cut under National’s policies?]

  5. T-rex 6

    It’s not just the smile… have you not seen the Notional Party Hypno-logo?

  6. there’s clearly thought behind this timing and vagueness:

    for one and a half years we’ve basically had no idea what national stands for – ‘change’ and smile and moderate were the memes… now, get out the bad policy quickly and quietly before the glare of the full campaign.. the only policy they want to release then is the tax cuts and probably one surprise spending promise.

  7. T-Rex. Being a union isn’t hard – you need 15 members and you jsut register with the DoL. What allowing collectives to be made when there’s no union involved (ie no organisation of wokers) means that the workers and their reps aren’t involved in deciding what goes into the collective. Instead, the boss bargains with a bargaining agent – paid by the boss, or the boss. The collective that emerges is obviously going to be in the employers’ interests and less beneficial to workers than a boss-union collective. The boss then presents workers with the collective and say take that or take nothing, and can legally refuse to bargain with the union because there is already a collective in place.

    Unions aren’t trying to protect their ‘patch’ by opposing this, they’re trying to protect workers’ bargaining power.

  8. Tane 9

    T-Rex: The problem is you’re accepting the Tories’ framing. Anyone can start a union – it’s simply a group of 15 or more workers who choose to register to bargain collectively. There are heaps of these small unions about under the current law.

    What National is proposing is to allow the boss to create his own collective agreement on lesser conditions and refuse to bargain with his employees’ chosen union. This was done in the 1990s under the ECA and it led to an undermining of collective agreements and a drop in wages.

    Add in other measures like the ability of employers to refuse unions site access and the 90 day no rights policy and you’ll see how the balance of power (and thus the ability to win higher wages) is being tilted hugely in favour of the employer.

    Like all of the right’s rhetoric of choice, the real power lies with the employer, not with the worker.

    Beshakey: The Nats may be hoping people will forget about their policies, but it also gives unions plenty of time to inform their members about what a potential National government would do to their wages.

    I suspect yesterday’s policy release will have galvanised a lot of unionists who had been quietly hoping that John Key would live up to his moderate rhetoric.

  9. T-rex 10

    “and can legally refuse to bargain with the union because there is already a collective in place”

    THAT I was not aware of. That’s f*cked up.

    Aren’t unions predicated on the ability to withdraw labour though? How can that be taken away? I mean how can you actually refuse to bargain with someone?

  10. Tane 11

    T-Rex. You lock out the workforce who remain on the union collective (unpaid) until they submit to your demands. The experience of the 1990s is that workers may hold out for a while, but eventually they need money to feed their families and pay their mortgages etc and have to submit to the non-union collective.

    It may mean a pay increase of 2% rather than 5%, but hey it’s better than being locked out without pay.

  11. T-rex 12

    The same thing could happen anyway though. If you had two unions within a single company (both of 20 people) and one of them was asking for 2% and the other for 5% then the employer could just offer 2%, and wait out the other workers.

    The question is why any of the 2% people would accept only 2%?

    I can’t see how to avoid this without having compulsory union membership of a single union, and that seems somewhat authoritarian.

  12. There are limited legal grounds for strikes.

    But, yes, that raises another point (and something I was looking at the other day) – weakening the bargaining position of unions actually increases strikes and labour/days lost.

  13. Tane 14

    T-Rex. Why would a union deliberately try to undermine the other union onsite with a lower pay deal that meant everyone lost out?

    Sure there can be tension sometimes between unions that share sites, but I’ve never seen anything like you’re suggesting.

    Unions aren’t businesses undercutting each other for market share, they’re democratic workers’ organisations. Workers decide themselves what their pay claims are, elect delegates to the negotiations and have a democratic vote to ratify the final deal.

  14. T-rex 15

    “Why would a union deliberately try to undermine the other union onsite with a lower pay deal that meant everyone lost out?”

    I don’t know – why would a non-union collective try to do the same thing?

    I can’t see how a union and a non-union would be any different to two unions. In either case there is the potential for corruption of the person doing the bargaining.

    “Workers decide themselves what their pay claims are, elect delegates to the negotiations and have a democratic vote to ratify the final deal.”

    Surely that would be equally true of a non-union collective. Or at least, if it wasn’t, it would be because the members chose to use a different arragement.

  15. Tane 16

    Because if it’s a non-union collective written and managed by the boss on a take-it-or-leave-it basis then he has an incentive to undermine wages. That’s why he’s introducing it in the first place.

    No democratic organisation of workers has an incentive to lower their own pay.

  16. Lew 17

    T-Rex: “I don’t know – why would a non-union collective try to do the same thing?”

    Because a non-union collective would likely be headed by a person negotiating on behalf of the employer, not the employees.

    That’s the fundamental issue: it’s divide and rule.


  17. T-Rex. First, I think we’re confusing terminology between collective as a group of people and collective as shorthand for collective agreement. UNder National’s policy, there is no non-union collective organisation, only a non-union collective agreement. There’s not some kind of collective of workers that’s not called a union.

    Parties bargaining for the non-union collective are both paid for by the boss. They work in the interests of the boss – ie. lower pay rises.

    Unions are democratic, voluntary organisation of workers working for their members’ interests. A non-union bargaining agent is not working for the workers, it’s working for the boss.

  18. T-rex 19

    In that case it should be called a non-union non-collective.

    How could anyone accept such a conflict of interests? Why would anyone accept representation by a complete sellout, rather than deciding to abandon the non-collective and form their own.

    What I’m getting at here is – how is what you describe any different to an employer simply refusing to accede to any of a unions demands?

    What is the recourse available to a union that would not be available if a non-union-non-collective was present?

    Is it just a “united we stand” kind of thing? Is the perception that a union is less vulnerable to intimidation?

  19. T-rex 20

    So really, a non-union agreement is just the employer calling all the shots, but with a pretense of objectivity and independence.

    What a complete load of crap. That is even stupider than wanting to build a 4 lane highway from Welly to Auck.

  20. Draco TB 21

    The question is why any of the 2% people would accept only 2%?

    Why would anyone undermine their bargaining position by having multiple collectives in a work place?

  21. T-rex 22

    “Why would anyone undermine their bargaining position by having multiple collectives in a work place?”

    Because they might not believe in the ideals of the people representing them, or they might be looking for different things out of an agreement to the norm, etc etc.

  22. A collective agreement is an employment contract that applies to more than one worker. That’s why it’s called a collective.

    Under the current law. Workers through their union have the exclusive right to bargain for a collective agreement with the boss (the workers must vote to approve the collective).

    National would allow someone else than a union to bargain with the boss for a collective. Who’s that someone else? not the workers, it’s an agent of the boss. Workers are then presented with the choice – sign the collective (eg take a 2% rise, rather than the 4% you would expect from a union collective) or refuse, strike or get locked out.

    It’s not that National is trying to be evil, it just sees minimising costs to business as more important than workers pay and conditions.

  23. T-rex 24

    “Workers are then presented with the choice – sign the collective (eg take a 2% rise, rather than the 4% you would expect from a union collective) or refuse, strike or get locked out.”

    How is that any different to what would happen without a collective though?

    Union says “we demand 4%”, boss says “no, 2%” – neither will budge, and you’ve got the same strike/lockout scenario.

    I think the collective does nothing but allow the boss to pretend to be being more reasonable than they actually are. I can’t understand how anyone could ever argue it had merit.

  24. but, T-Rex, everyone loves choice.

  25. T-rex 26

    yeah – dare to be stupid.

  26. Tane 27

    T-Rex. Certainly union-busting goes on now with the ERA in its current form, but the protections in the law and the ability of unions to organise onsite make such an approach a lot harder.

    Allowing the boss to set up a non-union collective agreement, put together with the other changes National is proposing, will make it a lot easier for bad employers to bust the onsite union and reduce wages.

    That’s what the experience of the 1990s tells us. It’s certainly not a ‘choice’ that’s going to empower any workers. It will only empower bad employers.

  27. monkey-boy 28

    I have to confess I am intrigued. For example, if the employer refuses to negotiate with a non-union collective or such, what it to stop it saying ‘f** it ‘ we will just join/form a recognised union and then you will have to listen to us’?
    Unless the collective bargaining position of the non-union collective is identical to the unionised one, in which case, why have the union?
    I am also conscious that the ECA is about employment contracts. The term ‘contracts’ suggests a negotiable settlement, rather than a situation that is set in stone, does it not?
    I think what National is attempting to do here is to dilute the influence that unionised collective bargaining has in the workplace, not because it is intrinsically opposed to the concept of collective bargaining, but rather because it is a way to drive a wedge into the amount of financial clout and personnel that can be supplied to the Labour Party.
    If this is a case, then what we are witnessing is a three-pronged debate; one on the security of collective bargaining under present law versus a law change. Two, an appeal to the country to consider and debate the influence that unions hold over workplace negototiations for better or for worst. Three; whether the ‘status quo’ is being defended for altruistic reasons by the union movement and Labour, or because it perceives a further threat to its financial bases, which is already creaky.
    To put it mildly, if Keys apparently innocuous changes are embraced by the voter, and coupled with the EFA, if they change their mind, or merely amend it to take in rcent court rulings such as th eone against the EPMU, Labour and the unions will be in serious trouble.
    In short it could finish what the EFA started. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

  28. Tane 29

    Lee, employers are opposed to collective bargaining because it means higher wage increases and more say from workers in the operations of the business. National is the party of employers, hence the policy.

    I think your obsession with the EFA is clouding your analysis here. National’s policy has nothing to do with the EFA or party funding – it’s essentially the same policy as Don Brash put out in 2005.

    Moreover, unions contribute only a small proportion of Labour’s funding. They don’t really have a lot of money to throw around, nor the mandate from their membership to spend a lot. Far more comes from business, MPs and wealthy individuals. The strength of the unions in elections is their ability to mobilise workers at election time. No electoral law will change that.

    Anyway Lee, I’ve been wondering for a while – given your pretence of standing for the workers, and given National’s policy will screw over said workers, how can you still support National?

  29. Anita 30

    Can someone with a better union-theory head than me (and without the flu 🙂 check this logic for me…

    The Employer-Worker dynamic is based, in the first instance on good will and the fact that, broadly, productive efficient companies can benefit both. When things go bad though, the dynamic is based in paired mirroring withdrawal rights: a labour withdrawal i.e. the right to strike; and a capital withdrawal i.e. the right to withdraw capital, usually but shutting down or moving overseas.

    We see both in action in New Zealand; on the one hand workers will threaten to stop work to improve wages and conditions (the classic strike), on the other companies will threaten to take their capital overseas, or change business activities, unless wages and conditions are cut (e.g. AirNZ saying they’d ship engineering overseas unless the EPMU could find a way of making services cheaper).

    There are two checks and balances on the withdrawal rights, the first is legislated controls (placing controls on both workers and employers), and the second is the operation of the market – a capital withdrawal is worthless if the workers can all get equivalent work elsewhere quickly, a labour withdrawal is worthless if the employer can hire equivalent staff quickly.

    So… to limit the effect of both controls the employers and workers form collectives. By forming unions or business associations/forums/whatever they can both negotiate with government over the legislative controls and prevent the replacement of capital/labour quickly (e.g. “we’ll all move overseas” or “you won’t be able to find any qualified engineers if the union strikes”).

    At least, in my flu-ridden state that seems right 🙂

    So, allowing non-union collective bargaining weakens the worker collective. While the group can bargain together, without membership of a broader union their threat of labour withdrawal is significantly weakened because they can’t prevent other workers being brought in to replace them. Secondly they have little power to negotiate with government over legislative change. Thirdly, encouraging the existence of groups of non-unionised workers weakens the unions (and through that, those workers) as it makes it easier for employers to replace them if they withdraw labour.

    So National’s proposal skews, against workers, the existing balance between employers and workers paired right to withdraw.

    Does that analysis hang together?

    [Hee – moderated for length I think – can’t be concise when I can’t stop coughing :]

  30. monkey-boy 31

    You see there you go again Tane:
    “Anyway Lee, I’ve been wondering for a while – given your pretence of standing for the workers, and given National’s policy will screw over said workers, how can you still support National?”

    You have a tendency to judge everyone by your own standards. Just because you are so ideologically entrenched that it wouldn’t even occur to you to see any merit in looking at both sides of the argument, you seem to think that nobody else can. I will support whoever I see as the best bet for the future of the country based on the merits of the arguments around the policies, and based on my own experience. Now, about my obsession with the EFA. I believe in discussions on kiwiblog I may have stated positons such as ‘I can’t believe that the unions are actually supporting this’ based on my own observations tht it would, in the wrong hands be a perfect instrument with which to screw the unions if National got in. Now, coupled with a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach to disrupting collective bargaining, if that succeeds, you will see a strike against the ability of the unions to participate in the electoral process, and you may see a waning of membership of unions which may affect say, the EPMU’s abilty to raise the limit of $120,000 it could have as a third party. If it had been allowed to by law.
    So, to be brief, the unions have been screwed already by Labours inept laws and face further of the same if National get their way.
    So I guess I should ask you: given your pretence of standing for the workers, and given Labour’s policy has screwed over said workers, how can you still support Labour?

  31. Quoth the Raven 32

    I don’t think there is much doubt that union membership and hence strength has incresed under this Labour goverment. True the EFA has decreased the amount of money a third party like a uniion can spend but unions can communicate to their members they don’t need to spend loads of cash for full page ads in the Herald.

    I think what National is attempting to do here is to dilute the influence that unionised collective bargaining has in the workplace, not because it is intrinsically opposed to the concept of collective bargaining..

    I think history shows otherwise.

  32. roger nome 33

    Lee – you aren’t too well-read on industrial relations and/or labour economics hey?

    Try slipping across to my blog, and read just the latest four posts.


  33. Sorry roger.. the spam filter has taken a shine to you and your links, but it learns and since i just unspammed you four times hopefully it will stop bocking you.

  34. “Sorry roger.. the spam filter has taken a shine to you and your links”

    Don’t worry Steve.The spam filter is the only thing in the world that can possibly have the hots for the rogered gnomer.

  35. monkey boy 37

    Roger thank you I read your blog this morning and followed some of the links. Noticed Tane regurgitating much of it today as well, here and on kiwiblog, while you were doing your Abbott and Costello act. You should do him for plagiarism. Raven historically I think you are correct about national and collective bargaining, I was basing my comment on the recent policy release, which is like a neutron bomb, which may be designed annihilate the union movement, but leave the rights of collective bargaining intact, but unusable.

  36. monkey boy 38

    ps, Roger, as you are such a fount of knowledge, can you list which countries, apart from NZ, doesn’t use probationary periods in their employment laws? I am really keen to see the company we keep.

  37. Swampy 39

    “Being a union isn’t hard – you need 15 members and you jsut register with the DoL.”

    That is complete rubbish. Unions are required to register as incorporated societies and meet all the legal requirements of that law – which basically means a written constitution that meets certain minimum standards, keeping records and accounts and so on. The bureacracy makes a small union of 15 people rather unlikely.

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