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True Blue Worker Hate

Written By: - Date published: 9:40 am, April 9th, 2013 - 37 comments
Categories: business, capitalism, class war, uncategorized, Unions, wages, workers' rights - Tags:

Any day now the Government will announce more changes to the Employment Relations Act.  These changes will drive down wages and undermine the conditions of all workers.  They will also remove the small amount of protection most cleaners and hospitality workers get when the business they are working for loses a contract to another contractor.

The changes will be hard to campaign around.  “Retain the Duty to Conclude” just doesn’t have a ring about it that will rally people into action.  Key will say the changes are “adjustments” and minor.  They will advertise the fact they are expanding the flexible working arrangements provisions to make it easier for people to request flexible hours (there provisions are fairly well useless for most workers).

There are lots of nasties hidden in the Governments plans.  For example they will give the employer the right to deduct wages for industrial action like refusing certain duties that fall short of actual strikes (an aged care worker for example could still work 40 hours but refuse to prepare the rosters.  The employer could deduct wages for this and say pay for only 36 hours etc).  The law changes will also require all workers to give and withdraw notice formally before taking strike action or ending it.  But the two king hit changes will take the law very close to the Employment Contracts Act (ECA) when combined with the previous changes, and is true blue worker hate.

The first major change will remove the current duty in the Act to conclude a collective agreement when a group of workers is seeking one.  Currently an employer can refuse to settle on an issue (so for example if they disagree with a wage claim), but they can’t walk away on ideological grounds from the bargaining (i.e. not wanting a collective agreement at all).  The new law will remove the obligation to conclude allowing instead for surface bargaining by employers who have no intention to settle.  The law change in our view is likely to have a process to determine that that the bargaining has concluded (e.g. application to the Employment Court) even though settlement has not been reached – this is where the ghost of the ECA comes to life.

If bargaining is deemed concluded without a settlement, strikes in pursuit of a collective become unlawful (workers can only strike as long as the bargaining continues).  Collective Agreements in NZ currently continue for one year after expiry to allow time for negotiating a renewal but only as long as the bargaining continues.  This change will also allow the collective to end in an untimely way leaving workers without coverage and probably will allow the employer to promote “take it or else” individual agreements.  The second nasty little piece of the jigsaw in the new law will remove the protection for new workers to be offered the collective agreement (where one exists) for the first 30 days of employment – instead allowing them to be offered inferior conditions – isolating them from the union and putting at risk those on the collective as the numbers covered by it diminish.

So how does all this fit together?   Firstly securing a collective agreement will become much more difficult.  Employers will use the provisions releasing them from the duty to conclude to seek concessions including over who is covered by the agreement.  They will seek to exclude new workers altogether now they are not compelled to offer them the agreement.  They won’t want new workers being able to bypass the new changes by simply joining the union to gain collective coverage.

Workers will be in an impossible bind:

  • They can strike for a collective renewal – already high risk and difficult with low wage workers in particular, and face all the new difficulties.
  • They can settle collectives that exclude new workers and watch the conditions of the collective and union membership whittle away as the workforce     splits in two.
  • They can campaign and hold out, risking a determination that the bargaining is concluded which will remove the right to strike all together and cancel the remaining term of the expired collective.

During all this time all types of undermining behaviour can be undertaken by the employer as new coverage options become available to them.    Far from promoting collective bargaining as New Zealand’s international obligations require them to do, these law changes will again see workers effectively forced on to individual unilaterally determined by the employer.

The Employment Contracts Act allowed all these things to happen – limited coverage in contracts, individual agreement offers to new workers and union members when contracts expired, severe restrictions on the right to strike, opportunities for new workers to be exploited and de-unionised.   It will be hard to explain to the public that this is in fact what the law changes mean – but workers will see exactly that when the rubber hits the road.

The law, if these changes go ahead, will still include good faith provisions and in that regard remains slightly superior to the ECA but without any outcome obligations this is a marginal benefit and these obligations will be effectively removed for all new employees who may also be on a 90 day trial period.  You can imagine how companies like Talleys and the Ports of Auckland might use these new provisions.

The other massive change will be to Part 6A which offers protection to cleaners and hospitality workers when for example a building owner or sports facility choses to change contractors.   The Government plans to remove these protections for workers who are employed by smaller companies.   I will write more about this later but it is dire for these workers in regards to their employment security and wages and conditions.

We will campaign on these changes – we want your ideas as well and need your support.  Get in touch!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

37 comments on “True Blue Worker Hate ”

  1. karol 1

    Thanks for the clear explanation of this proposed change, Helen.

    It does indeed amount to worker hatred on the part of Key’s elites.

    It is part of the way Key’s government operates – seemingly small changes, that are part of a raft of inter-related changes. They add up to radical change that will make the lives of the less well-off harder, and that further undermines democracy and social justice.

  2. Dave 2

    The hate campaign continues against workers advocates. Thatcher was of the same mind as Key,enough of the meddling unions improving on behalf of the lower class.Let’s legislate them into oblivion thereby creating the third world status we have worked so hard to achieve.How dare they work to live,bring back workshops that force them to live to work.

  3. Tom Gould 3

    And as with all such things, Helen, when the government holds all the cards, and the loudest megaphone, the issue quickly becomes how you and your colleagues react. Will they ‘preach to the converted’ by spewing out 1960s slogans and 1950s ‘worker’ rhetoric and further marginalise their cause, or will they be smart and connect with the lives and hopes of the ‘unconverted’? My money’s on the former.

    • ghostrider888 3.1

      that is an Excellent point Tom Gould

    • Olwyn 3.2

      @Tom: the big question is how that is to be done. You may be right in saying that 60s and 70s rhetoric no longer works, but conceding what little ground you have as an alternative puts you even further behind the eight ball. People see straight through nothing dressed up as something when they are on the sharp end of things. I am not saying that this is what you are advocating, I am saying that the question as to what we can now do in the hope of being genuinely effective should be the question on all of our minds.

      • Colonial Viper 3.2.1

        I am saying that the question as to what we can now do in the hope of being genuinely effective should be the question on all of our minds.

        Well, it’s not going to be through any major political party or through Parliament.

        • Tom Gould 3.2.1.1

          I don’t hold out much hope, primarily because those devising the strategy have locked themselves into a sort-of ideological straight-jacket, rendering their tactics entirely predictable. The trade union movement, and moreover its leadership, has failed to adapt to the prevailing orthodoxy which has been around for nearly 30 years. Meanwhile, just about everyone else has moved on and life for most people is unrecognisable from that in the ‘union bubble’. No wonder it is so easy for Key and his cronies to make their ‘minor changes’. In the minds of the vast bulk of people, that’s exactly what they are. Once was a time when the trade union movement was embraced by this very same cohort as a force for progress, for making their lives better, taping into the inherent aspirations of people for a better future for themselves and their families. Through indolence and indulgence, the unions are now seen as a force for making things worse, and life harder for people. QED.

  4. Lanthanide 4

    More than anything else, it is these sort of changes that I hate National for. They come in, fuck everything up for several years and Labour has to come back and fix it, which coincides with increased economic growth. Then National come back in and fuck everything up again while saying the changes are required to improve economic growth which seems to be forever out of their grasp.

  5. xtasy 5

    Quote:
    “If bargaining is deemed concluded without a settlement, strikes in pursuit of a collective become unlawful (workers can only strike as long as the bargaining continues). Collective Agreements in NZ currently continue for one year after expiry to allow time for negotiating a renewal but only as long as the bargaining continues. This change will also allow the collective to end in an untimely way leaving workers without coverage and probably will allow the employer to promote “take it or else” individual agreements.”

    This and the other changes that appear to be introduced, are in essence the Employment Contracts Act revisited and reinstated, in slightly moderate form.

    So here we have it, workers’ rights removed once again by stealth, by gradual piece by piece law changes, done in a manner, and under the pretence of it all being “minor changes”, so that the mainstream media may not even bother looking at it, that the wider public hear nothing about it, and that the already decimated unions will have to run more campaigns, do networking and lobbying, which will drain their resources.

    It is disgusting, and it is a damned time that workers out there realise once and for all: You are ALL in this together, this is not just affecting a few people here or there, one day this will bite virtually every worker.

    The huge problem is people are so individually minded now, and there is such an atmosphere of disconnectedness and distrust, it will be a hell of an effort to organise and to even create awareness.

    Thank you, Helen Kelly for writing this, I had NO IDEA about these planned changes by the government to this moment!

    • Darien Fenton 5.1

      xtasy : http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/politics/6914849/Secret-changes-to-labour-rules The government added the part 6A provisions to their plans late last year before Kate Wilkinson was sacked. The only good news is that the government has been so slow to implement these changes when they were signed off by cabinet mid last year.

      • xtasy 5.1.1

        Darien, perhaps you and fellow MPs may front up to some of these media clowns out there a bit more often and more firmly, so they also get the message, that you said something about it, and that they better do some more reporting, as we get all kinds of drivel all the time, but nothing that really matters to most working and not working NZers.

        But thank you so much for pointing out that this has been in the making for some time.

        • Darien Fenton 5.1.1.1

          Xtasy : we work hard to try to get the media interested believe me and I always front up. This particular piece and accompanying other media work took weeks of effort, starting with getting the cabinet papers in the first place, questions in the house, written questions etc. I also broke the story about the changes to part 6A. What’s frustrating is knowing that it’s hardly hitting the conscienceness of working people about the horrific stuff coming our way.

          • ghostrider888 5.1.1.1.1

            you are a trooper Darien, despite what the factional analysts say; imho, the proof is in the putting (out).

            Edit: in fact, We are all in this together, (and if you follow The Standard, the future is NOT looking bright, though we might need shades).

            Yours Sincerely, not Eddie.

          • xtasy 5.1.1.1.2

            Thanks for letting us know, Darien, keep it up, sadly many working people, like also beneficiaries, are not informed, as the media has generally dropped in standards across the board and is largely in Nat friendly hands.

            Now the Na(t)zis have managed to pass this horrendous Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill through the 3rd Reading, it will late this year and in coming years be all “shock and horror” for many naive, ill informed beneficiaries, who have NO idea about what will be in store for them.

            SHOCKING state of affairs, really!

  6. xtasy 6

    I can say with some certainty, that beneficiaries will have the same kind of “awakening” as workers will have facing such changed labour laws, once the Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill will be law and implemented. There is so much lack of awareness and information around about all this out there, it is shocking!

  7. ghostrider888 7

    from my “breeze-block” tower-cell Helen; perception of a need to re-educate “working people” regarding expectations; expectations are enslaving folk; to re-quote Uturn, cut back, and “cut off the blood supply to the parasites”.

    Watched your every nuance on Q+A, fetching in grey, however, you are destined for great things, remain composed..

  8. Lionel 8

    where,s the Maori Party in all of this maori would be a disadvantagedalong with every other worker
    i agree with Lanthanide

  9. big bruv 9

    Seems like a great bit of legislation to me. Sensible policy and long overdue.

    Of course nobody should take a word that Kelly says at face value.

    [lprent: Please remember that Helen is an author here. That means you have severe limits on how far you can attack her on this site. Attack what she says. Do not attack her.

    BTW: Reminds me – did you ever pay up? Or are you still welching?
    Based on your previous performance I think that we’d have to treat your words with a wee bit of caution. ]

    • Colonial Viper 9.1

      Slavery is sensible, as is child labour. And getting rid of environmental responsibilities. In comparison, this legislation is soft assed pansy kneed shit.

      • rosy 9.1.1

        Slavery is not sensible. It costs the owner more than disposable labour, who they don’t have to house and feed. Child labour on the other hand, might be.

    • xtasy 9.2

      Helen Kelly has heaps more credentials than the dodgy bugger that is running this government and country into the ground at present! But I suppose you choose to differ, which would make clear, what we can think of your credentials.

    • Murray Olsen 9.3

      Funnily enough, big bruv sounds exactly like my older brother. Not an engineer by any chance, are you?

  10. Jenny 10

    Under the ECA strikes were only\ illegal during the term of a contract.

    This new law makes it illegal to strike even if you are out of contract.

    Except for some very narrow circumstances which are subject to the Employer, being willing to talk to you….

    ….All strikes will now be illegal.

    I wonder how the major unions will respond?

    I wonder how the Unite Union will respond? The Unite Union will be particularly vulnerable to this new law, as they have used the strike weapon as a major recruiting tool, many thousands of young workers joined them on the backs of a myriad of small but successful strikes organised in fast food restaurants.

    And last of all, I wonder how the CTU will respond?

    My guess is, not at all. Because that would mean breaking the anti strike laws that already exist.

    On the other side of the coin since all future strikes, from now on will be illegal, The CTU might as well get started now.

    If I was Helen Kelly I would call an immediate all up CTU affiliates meeting to see if there is stomach for such a strike.

    • xtasy 10.1

      “This new law makes it illegal to strike even if you are out of contract.”

      Maybe this raises human rights issues, or breaches international conventions NZ may have signed, I wonder!?

  11. Graeme Trask 11

    Thank you Helen. The current government is doing all it can and while it can to exploit workers rights and conditions. The sooner this government is rid of the better and Helen Kelly to be the next prime minister of NZ

  12. Murray Olsen 12

    We had the chance of a general strike in 1984, which would have put this neoliberal nonsense back a few years. Ken Douglas and Bill Andersen were dead against it, on the basis that at least we could talk to Labour. Not even necessarily that they’d listen, but we could talk to them.
    Now, in 2013, I still don’t see any other real answer. The problem is that the numbers in unions have gone right down and neoliberalism is the reigning delusion. I’m afraid I can’t see any other answers except for a long, slow, and difficult rebuilding of the working class movement. We have some natural allies in beneficiaries, Mana, the Greens, some of the Labour members, and maybe even some Winston First supporters. It won’t be easy, but not much that is worthwhile ever is.

    • Colonial Viper 12.1

      You need capital
      You need economic levers
      You need media levers
      You need leaders
      You need political operators

      Where are they all

      • xtasy 12.1.1

        Too many are too busy covering their own backsides, cushioning their seats, pretending to be doing something of relevance, keeping the lid on the disgruntled former supporters, paying us off with “well meaning” expressions of solidarity (words) and otherwise preparing for their secure retirement, while feathering their own nests.

        As for members of unions, and common workers, they are also too scared to rock the boat, they are themselves often divided, and the latter are often choosing to “protect” themselves by greasing up to bosses, hoping that will secure employment and their pay, so they can maintain their little slave lives while paying off the mortgages, paying the rent, putting a few morsels aside for Kiwi Saver.

        The RIGHT has sadly succeeded, with all their strategies and tricks, to DIVIDE and ensure their RULE!

    • xtasy 12.2

      Murray, in all honesty, do WORKERS expect SOLIDARITY from BENEFICIARIES, while too many (even the working poor) have fallen for DIVISION and truly SHAT ON BENEFICIARIES, when they struggled for maintaining meagre rights and protection???

      Where were the workers that supported the protests, or even us here on the Standard and in other places and forums, when beneficiaries were getting hammered?

      Where was the sympathy from the “middle class”?

      Where is the support and sympathy from any of those working NOW?

      Too late, the most hideous piece of legislation was passed in the House last night, supported by lackeys like Dunne. I know of people who wrote to the guy, to present the critical issues in question, to reconsider and withhold his vote to just ensure some corrections to protect the weakest. NO, he cast his vote in favour, and the voters of Ohariu have not to my knowledge lobbied him to show sympathy and consideration.

      NZ is DIVIDED, PEOPLE ARE AT EACH OTHER’S THROATS, RATHER THAN STAND TOGETHER!

  13. Kahukowhai 13

    The putting in of compulsory collective agreements was an ideological move in 2005. Remember:
    This was the policy of Labour in 2000 but they backed down in the face of opposition in the submissions. In 2005 they simply ignored the submissions outright to push it through regardless. You can’t deny it was a controversial move. I have never signed a union collective agreement and I never will. Myself and my friends would regard this as a push towards compulsory union membership and some of my friends who were forced to belong to unions would have strong views about their rights to freedom of association, which isn’t just what you define it as, the right to belong to a union, but also the right not to be forced to join a union.

    • Colonial Viper 13.1

      In politics, ideology is everything.

      You may want to be a lone agent negotiating for yourself but you are one of the few.

      My suggestion since you are such a heroic worker – just find a work place or an employer which doesn’t use collective contracts. Maybe working as a collective team is not for you? It seems like life as an independent contractor beckons to you. Go for it. Don’t let the losers hold you back mate, you can o it all better by yourself.

      It’s your choice where you work after all, and you have freedom not to associate with work places you don’t want to associate with.

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