Unions good for society and economy

Written By: - Date published: 9:37 am, October 11th, 2015 - 39 comments
Categories: class war, International, Unions, workers' rights - Tags: , ,

Great post on the UK based NEF Blog: Don’t be fooled, dismantling the rights of workers is not good for you, or for the economy. It’s so good, with so many links, I’m going to quote most of it:

1. Wages keep the motor of the economy turning – and unions are required to defend wages

One of the principle functions of a trade union is to be a line of defence against low pay. They provide a form of collective voice for employees to negotiate over how their employer’s revenue is distributed to the staff that collectively helped to generate it.

Today we’ve published research into how this function of trade unions benefits not just the staff in question, but the economy overall. Spoiler alert:the findings show that strong unions have a positive impact on economic activity.

2. Allowing employees to defend their pay and conditions makes economies more equal – and therefore better-off

In March the International Monetary Fund (IMF) acknowledged that in countries where unions are in decline, top pay is soaring and inequality is rising. Contrary to decades of mainstream rhetoric, evidence now overwhelmingly shows that inequality does not make economies growpointed out recently by the OECD – nor does it bode well for economic stability.

With the UK leading the race to be the most unequal nation in the G7, it seems that a more sensible objective would be to boost, not reduce, the capacity of workers to negotiate over their conditions.

3. Good working conditions takes pressure off welfare provision

Having a secure, decently paid job means you don’t need to rely on unemployment benefits or working tax credits – in other words: good jobs cost the taxpayer less. With growing numbers of people on contracts that provide irregular incomes and very little job security – for example throughself-employment and casual, often exploitative, contracts – trade unions have an upward struggle to serve an increasingly broken up workforce.

With the recent budget hitting low income workers the hardest, the welfare system is under pressure to provide a safety net for people both in and out of work. Better quality jobs and strong institutions to protect them are essential components of building a pre-emptive, rather than crisis-led, welfare system.

4. GDP growth gives a warped indication of progress and should not be used to dismantle fundamental individual rights

If the aim is to boost GDP, then – as the last three points lay out – restricting the rights of working people is a failure on its own terms. But this also presents a distorted view of what a healthy economy would be. Recent decades have shown us that GDP rises do not equal better living standards for most people.

In the absence of economic policy aimed at delivering more concrete positive outcomes – such as a higher quality of life – the proposed changes to employment rights appear to be a political move based on ideology not evidence.

For more on how trade unions are a key component of a healthy economy, read our new report

Something to think about on a Sunday morning – and a site well worth checking out.

39 comments on “Unions good for society and economy”

  1. ianmac 1

    In today’s climate would the current National Government be able to destroy the workers rights as Holland did to the Watersiders in the 50s?
    Or would they slip in little bits of Legislation to nibble away the rights/pay of workers?

    • Draco T Bastard 1.1

      Probably the latter. National are, slowly but surely, taking us back to the 19th century and all the poverty and prevails that society had back then.

      • Macro 1.1.1

        National are, slowly but surely, taking us back to the 19th century and all the poverty and prevails that society had back then.

        I think we are nearly there.

        • northshoredoc 1.1.1.1

          “I think we are nearly there.”

          How so ?

          • Macro 1.1.1.1.1

            Workers rights have been steadily eroded since the 1980’s. No longer is there a 40 hour week, weekends for many are a thing of the past, wages for most are now insufficient for one person to support a family, forcing both caregivers to work some doing 3 jobs or more to survive, working conditions are now so poor that time out for a break is no longer a right in many situations, workers may be rostered on for 10 – 14 hour shifts for up to 14 days without a day off. Work place stress in steadily increasing. On the other hand more unemployment means that employers can offer little and expect much, zero hour contracts, short term contracts, fire at will, wages that are minimal and upon which no one can subsist, eg 2 days per week if ur lucky – and no benefit? is that a choice? What sort of existence is that? The times and the phone, and trivia around us may be different – but as Dickens Mr Micawber (most likely quoting his father) said:

            “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

            Same today as then.

            • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1.1.1.1

              Exactly.

            • northshoredoc 1.1.1.1.1.2

              So what was the life expectancy in the 19th century ?
              Who had the right to vote ?
              Was there free healthcare and education ?
              Was there any social welfare ?
              Was legal aid available to all ?

              • way to miss the point doc – jeez you are sounding pretty right wing with your list of questions.

                @ Macro – a fine summation thanks

              • Murray Simmonds

                This article is about the role of unions in a healthy economy (which is not the kind of economy that we currently have – as any thinking person will tell you.)

                So, north-sore-dot:

                “So what was the life expectancy in the 19th century ?”
                Relevant to the trade union movement and/or the economy? You tell me.
                “Who had the right to vote ?”
                Relevant to the trade union movement and/or the economy? You tell me.
                “Was there free healthcare and education ?”
                Relevant to the trade union movement and/or the economy? You tell me.
                “Was there any social welfare ?”
                Relevant to the trade union movement and/or the economy? You tell me.
                “Was legal aid available to all ?”
                Relevant to the trade union movement and/or the economy? You tell me.

                Then, after you’ve told me, and the rest of us, explain why you convolve social issues with trade union/economic issues and expect people to listen to you?

                • Macro

                  Said much better than I Murray – it’s been a very busy day here meeting after meeting – and what about? Social injustice.
                  For the doc living on the north shore life must be “like running with the wind at your back”, unaware of invisible sustenance, support and propulsion. What does he understand about employment conditions for those working in the supermarkets from where he buys his food? Or the staff in the cafe where he buys his latte? And why is it a problem for him? Privilege is being unaware that a problem is a problem.

              • northshoredoc

                @Murray

                I was responding to the repeated comment that

                ‘National are, slowly but surely, taking us back to the 19th century and all the poverty and prevails that society had back then.”

                “I think we are nearly there.”

                Which I believe is a silly thing to say.

                if you wish to change the goalposts and make it just about the union movement fine.

                There was obviously no union movement as such in the 19th century but in terms of workers rights which of these were workers entitled to Annual holidays

                Bereavement leave
                Break entitlements
                Employment agreements
                Equal pay and equal rights
                Flexible working arrangements
                Health and safety oversight
                Minimum pay
                Penalties for employers not complying to employment laws
                Public holidays
                Sick leave
                Parental leave
                Right to work in NZ
                Trial periods
                Unions

                I also find it astounding that you comment

                “..explain why you convolve social issues with trade union/economic issues and expect people to listen to you?”

                • One Anonymous Bloke

                  So you don’t agree with the hyperbole: how about the evidence presented in the OP?

                  Have you noticed, for example, that workers rights have been degraded over the last thirty years or so, with consequent destructive effects on society and the economy?

                  • northshoredoc

                    My general observance in the medical area would lead me to suggest that staff are working longer hours.

                    I would agree with 1-4 unreservedly.

                    Not sure if you are a mod on the site – if so can you look at expunging the rubbish that Chooky left on the recent post on Helen Kelly.

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      No, I’m not.

                      I suppose it’s inevitable that some will use any opportunity to get attention for their ghoulish lies. I share your disdain.

                    • Rosemary McDonald

                      I have no opinion on the therapeutic value of hydrogen peroxide, but the usefulness of IV Vitamin C as a supportive therapy for some cancers is proven,

                      More research coming….https://uoalumni.otago.ac.nz/vitamin-c-cancer

                      And, anecdotally, some patients who the medical profession have discharged into palliative care have found an improved quality of life in their often extended last days after having IV Vit C therapy.

                      Sadly, because of the obstinacy of many in the medical profession…. most of these patients have to fund this treatment themselves.

                      Maybe the reluctance to embrace what many doctors consider to be ‘fringe’ therapies is due to the overwhelming power of the pharmaceutical companies.

                      They don’t like Vit C….because it is comparatively cheap….and they don’t hold the patent.

                      P.S. It may have not been entirely appropriate for Chooky to bring that into that particular thread.

                      But it was heartfelt.

                      Driven by a real desire that many of us have who have walked through the valley to offer whatever solace we can.

                      So, don’t be so hard, eh?

                    • Colonial Viper

                      “science” is usually and necessarily slow on the uptake. In the 1970s some parents insisted that some food colourings were bad for kids’ behaviour patterns. They were considered hippies/loonies by the bulk of the medical establishment of the day. 40 years on and its an accepted fact.

                • millsy

                  99% of employers would choo those if they could.

                  FACT.

                • Macro

                  As I alluded to above, your privilege makes you unaware that the working conditions of today are now little different from those of the 19th C. Now in England for instance if a worker dares to strike they can be immediately reported to the police -with all the negative consequences. Exactly as was the case in the late 19th C. Don’t think that that won’t happen here!
                  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/striking-workers-may-have-to-identify-themselves-to-police-carry-a-letter-of-authorisation-and-wear-10489011.html
                  http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/oct/12/police-blacklist-construction-workers-watchdog

                  In 1909 militant trade unionists had formed the New Zealand Federation of Labour (the “Red Feds”) an organisation opposed to the Liberal governments Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act, which meant labour disputes had to be settled though conciliation boards and arbitration courts. Unionists had several complaints about the arbitration system; it failed to increase wages in line with the cost of living, didn’t compel employers to pay for all hours of work, and the provisions for employers hiring workers at less than agreed rates were considered too loose. …………. In 1905 an amendment to the act made strike action and lockouts illegal where there was an award covering employers and workers and another amendment in 1907 increased the penalties for striking illegally.

                  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1913_Great_Strike
                  Pretty much where we are back to today.

                  • northshoredoc

                    “As I alluded to above, your privilege makes you unaware that the working conditions of today are now little different from those of the 19th C. ”

                    On the contrary my knowledge of history makes me aware that working conditions today are very different to those of the 19th century.

                    • Macro

                      You see – you don’t know what working conditions are like for a large number of workers today
                      Privilege means that you do not know if a problem exists because it is not a problem for you. For you living, and working I presume as a doctor on the North Shore – an affluent area of NZ society to say the least – how can you be aware of the working conditions for a 20 year old in the bakery of Pak and Save?
                      You assume that because some things are different now than they were in the 19 C, then all things are. I’m saying that that is not the case. There were good employers and bad employers in the 19 th C just as they are today. The good employers will want to do the best for their workers because they realise the value that they add to their business, while the poor employers will use all the loop holes and ignore all the regulations they can. Now our employment regulations and wage rates are nearly as bad as they were 100 years ago, and employers are taking advantage of that constantly. Our labour conditions will slowly sink to that of the lowest common denominator in all of our so called FTA’s, because our employers now have to compete with off-shore labour laws. If a major trading partner has sweat shops and employs child labour etc then our manufacturers can no longer compete unless they exploit similar labour conditions. Why is it that NZ no longer has a manufacturing base, and the US and all developed nations can no longer clothe themselves, but rely on cheap, poorly made, clothes from sweat shops in Asia?

                    • northshoredoc

                      @Macro

                      I have sons, daughters, nieces and nephews etc in the workforce who do work at supermarkets and bakeries so have a very good idea of their working conditions.

                      You seem to be making the point that one can’t comment on things that don’t currently effect them in a direct way, a rather silly view in my opinion, although it would serve to shut up all of the politicians in NZ so maybe some good would come of it.

                      I agree with you in terms of good employers and bad employers and note that employment law and regulations are generally for the assistance of those who find themselves working for bad employers.

                      To suggest that employment conditions we have in NZ now will sink to the conditions that were prevalent in the 19th century or in certain offshore countries now is absurd, hyperbolic and serves to weaken any relevant points you may make.

                    • lprent []

                      It is called competition. If employment conditions are allowed to deteriorate to those that bad employers find profitable, as has been happening due to the bad laws and the stifling of enforcement, then good employers will be forced to follow.

                      At present that exactly the path being followed by this government. Just look at the systematic underfunding of Worksafe. They don’t bother even taking easily winnable cases any more, presumably because of lack of funding or will. The CTU has to spend their funds doing something that Work safe have a statutory duty to do.

                      Basically your position simply ignored the current reality. The CTU should just start bringing prosecutions against work safe and their minister for malfeasance.

                    • Macro

                      I give as but one example of our now poor work conditions in NZ the NZ fishing industry:
                      http://ssl.law.uq.edu.au/journals/index.php/maritimejournal/article/view/82/133
                      abstract:
                      “Foreign fishing crews working in New Zealand’s EEZ have a history of exploitation and abuse. The New Zealand government has recently made significant changes to the way employment conditions are controlled. While these changes are a welcome advance, legal and practical difficulties in enforcing the new guidelines mean there is more work to be done before New Zealand can claim a clear conscience on the matter.”
                      and related to that, this recent case by a well known bad employer:
                      http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/better-business/67592954/talleys-guilty-in-death-of-crewman
                      and I could list all the deaths of forestry workers over the past few years:
                      you might also like to ask your young relations who work in supermarkets if it is not the case that some there are working 12 – 14 hour days for days at a stretch. I know that is certainly the case in our supermarket here – do you really think that that is acceptable?

                    • northshoredoc

                      @lprent

                      “It is called competition. If employment conditions are allowed to deteriorate to those that bad employers find profitable, as has been happening due to the bad laws and the stifling of enforcement, then good employers will be forced to follow.”

                      I don’t think there’s any evidence to support that rather negative viewpoint.

                      “They don’t bother even taking easily winnable cases any more, presumably because of lack of funding or will.”

                      That’s very concerning, however, having checked the Worksafe website it appears that you are mistaken as there are a number of successful prosecutions from this calendar year. This does not mean however they couldn’t do more.

                      “Basically your position simply ignored the current reality.”

                      My position, once again, is that we are not in a situation where NZ workers are anywhere near the situation they were back in the 19th century.

                    • lprent []

                      My position is that we are heading there, and heading there fast.

                      On the competition aspect, that is pretty basic economics taught in first year business courses and then all of the way through. It is a rational behaviour driven as much by shareholders as direct employers. In NZ it is pretty easy to observe. All you have to do is look at the wage levels of the lower quartile of employees. It has been steadily falling in ‘real’ dollar terms (ie after CPI inflation) for more than 20 years. The only bumps in it are changes to the minimum wages. The changes in the economy were largely from a shift to service sector, destruction of the ability of unions to organise, and the chronic underfunding of the Department of Labour – now Worksafe.

                      On the prosecutions. Worksafe is do in less than a quarter of the prosecutions they were doing decades ago. Perhaps you should have looked for more than a single point?

                      You really don’t look for things you don’t want to see, do you? Why is that?

                    • Melb

                      “if a major trading partner has sweat shops and employs child labour etc”

                      Macro, you must be rapt with the TPPA including provisions to ban child labour in the member countries then.

                    • northshoredoc

                      @Lprent

                      “On the prosecutions. Worksafe is do in less than a quarter of the prosecutions they were doing decades ago. Perhaps you should have looked for more than a single point?”

                      Well according to Helen Kelly who i have more faith in than yourself

                      Council of Trade Unions spokeswoman Helen Kelly agreed that the Government deserved kudos for the work put into WorkSafe, but said more lives could have been saved.

                      “They prosecuted only 12 of the 900 serious harm injuries up until this year. This was one of the problems: they had no inspectors, no regulations and they’ve now only just sorted all this out.

                      They’ve re-regulated and they’ve inspected every site and issued all those notifications and enforcement actions and they’ve started prosecuting for the accidents and deaths, and what’s happened? The accident rate has halved. It could have been half this year and the year before that if they’d started earlier.

                      Part of the reduction had come from increasing the number of WorkSafe inspectors from one to 13 and revitalising the previously “dilapidated” health and safety legislation, she said.

                      “It has really made businesses realise it’s time to get serious about this.”

                      http://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/news/64629361/Work-safety-prosecutions-on-the-rise

                      Similarly workplace fatalities appear to be trending in the correct direction.

                      http://www.business.govt.nz/worksafe/research/health-and-safety-data/workplace-fatalities-by-year

                      Although as I commented earlier more could certainly be done.

                      Your comments regarding competition are simplistic and miss the point.

                      As i have said previously working conditions in NZ are not anywhere near those of the 19th century nor are they likely to become similar.

                      You really don’t look for things you don’t want to see, do you? Why is that?

                    • lprent []

                      So now you look back over a few years towards the slight improvement that Helen Kelly shamed this pack of arseholes in government to implement. That was after they’d cut the inspectorate down to that pitiful level in the first place, and thereby started murdering people at an increased rate.

                      There a great many more inspectors and prosecutions a few DECADES ago – as I said. A few years stretch by a constrained mind like yours is an improvement.. I guess..

                      Basically, the level of accidents has massively increased over those decades because of lack of enforcement. They just redined accidents as not being work related.

                    • northshoredoc

                      ‘….and thereby started murdering people at an increased rate.”

                      Haven’t you got a shark to jump over Fonzie ?

                    • lprent []

                      Look at the requirements of the acts that govern Worksafe. Their duty of care is quite clear. They clearly weren’t doing their job and people died or got injured from it.

                      If a doctor did that, then they would be individually prosecuted. If a hospital allowed people to die through neglect of their duties, then they’d be in court as well.

                      Why should we exempt the lazy arseholes in government, like Stephen Joyce, who similarly owe a duty of care laid down in legislation…

                      Incidentally that is exactly while those negligent arseholes started to increase funding to Worksafe. They couldn’t change the legislation politically, and the probability of getting successfully sued for their negligence was rising rapidly. The unions were starting to bring cases and increasingly focusing on the individuals making negligent decisions.

                • tracey

                  BUT the notion of collective bragainin gpower certainly did exist in the 19th century doc.

                  Just one example

                  1821 Oct First recorded wages dispute when Maori sawyers in the Bay of Islands went on strike for the right to be paid in money or in gunpowder.
                  1840 Feb Samuel Duncan Parnell (a carpenter) lands at Petone and refuses to work for George Hunter unless he can have an 8-hour day starting at 8 a.m. Reputed to have said: “There are 24 hours given us per day and eight of these should be for work, eight for sleep, and the remaining eight for recreation and in which men do what little things they do for themselves.”
                  1841 Jul Labourers for the New Zealand Company at New Plymouth went on strike in protest at the rise in the cost of the company-supplied provisions. They were forced back to work the next day on the same conditions, but had to work an hour longer for the same pay.
                  1842 Wellington Benevolent Society of Carpenters and Joiners formed.
                  1846 Man sentenced to seven days hard labour in the Auckland Magistrate’s Court, because he only cut three tons of firewood while his boss thought he should have cut four.
                  1848 Eight Hour Day Association formed in Dunedin, to campaign for an 8-hour day. This gradually spread to the majority of centres where workers’ organisations were developing and became a central campaign of unions and trade and labour councils.
                  1849 Feb Attempt by the New Zealand Company to break the 8-hour day agreement was beaten off.

                  From the construction union website

                  The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), established in 1885,

                  http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/document/26074/mothers-union

  2. Atiawa 2

    Not content with a previous National Government abolishing compulsory unionism, this right wing anti worker Government, has enacted industrial laws that control how voluntary unions and their members conduct their business, e.g secret ballots on the taking of industrial action, punishing financially non striking workers, controlling union access to work places by officials. No worker in this country has had a gun pointed at their head by a union, yet thousands in the world have died because of the gun the boss holds.

    • Colonial Viper 2.1

      Not content with a previous National Government abolishing compulsory unionism

      Which Labour kept that way.

      • Atiawa 2.1.1

        Yes that’s correct, and of course aided and abetted by a union movement seemingly too cautious to campaign for it’s reinstatement ( unions need the LP & the LP need unions, especially around election time )
        There’s a strong argument to be had for a return to compulsory unionism – simply read the links of the post, if there are any doubts -.
        Unions today are purely “bargaining agents”. More often than not, unable to secure for those they represent the true value of their labour, because the competing workshop or factory down the road is not unionised. Unfortunately the alternatives are worse for working people, i.e no collective employment agreements.

        United we stand, divided we fail.

  3. Aspasia 3

    Excellent post , expertly derailed! Strong effective unions are crucial to a strong stable civil society.
    John Campbell profiles the Meatworkers Union members fighting to defend the right to collective bargaining in Wairoa. They are up against the recently enacted amendments to employment law as well as the might of Sir Peter Talley!
    Court action in the Employment Court to is currently underway to try to get AFFCO (ie Talley’s) actions in forcing workers into individual contracts declared illegal. If you are in Wellington, phone the Employment Court for the next fixture date and get down there to support the workers. Donate to the Meatworkers or the CTU to support those who are locked out.

    Listen to the John Campbell podcast
    http://www.radionz.co.nz/programmes/first-person/story/201773438/first-person-with-john-campbell-'it's-not-about-money-at-all‘ and be informed about the heartbreaking cost of these ruthless union busting actions.

    This fight is our fight. These workers are standing up for our rights too.

  4. red-blooded 4

    Great post. I think Helen Kelly made some similar points in the weekend (on The Nation, I think). She said that unions worked to protect all workers, not just their members, and used the recent CTU work on improving health and safety in forestry as an example. Multiple small operators, lots of casual employees; low rates of union membership, but those lives are still worth protecting and establishing better practices in that industry can help to flow on to other areas.

    She was talking about protecting people rather than the economy, but the link was that her focus was on what unions do for the wider society, not just their immediate members.

    • tracey 4.1

      Yes, if you are not a union member and you face employment issues, they will represent you if you begin paying dues from that point.

      I have some problems with that though, and the dues should be backdated through your entire work history at the organisation, otherwise members are subsidising non members

  5. tracey 5

    I belong to the TEU

    I pay $18 per fortnight.

    1. In July 2015 as part of the collective I received a $23 per fortnight pay increase.
    2. I receive 5 weeks of annual leave (non union colleagues receive 4)
    3. I am entitled to 10 days sick leave (non union colleagues are entitled to 5)

    The Union is being very representative during the proposed restructure of my organisation and they are, of course, pushing for the retention of Union members in their positions.

    Those who say it is not worth joining such a Union, I say read 1-3 above.

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