Unions Succeed where National Fails

Written By: - Date published: 11:00 am, August 31st, 2010 - 9 comments
Categories: Unions, wages, workers' rights - Tags:

National’s big election promise in 2008 was to close the wage gap with Australia.  They’re failing, as our wages fall behind theirs under National’s economic mismanagement and employer-centric policies.

But there are some who are doing better than others in the pay stakes: Union members.

Victoria University has put out a study showing that the 20% of workers who are on union-negotiated collective contracts on average got a raise of 4.2% in the last year.  With an overall average of a 1.6% pay rise for all New Zealand workers, that means non-union workers got 1% – that’s less than inflation.

So if union members aren’t falling behind Australia in their wages like their non-union colleagues, why aren’t National encouraging all workers to join unions?  Instead they’ve introduced a bill to make it much harder to unionise workplaces – making it difficult for union delegates to enter workplaces and allowing employers to try and break the collective negotiating an agreement.  A bill that takes away workers’ rights; so it’s harder for them to negotiate the raises that are necessary to closing the wage gap that John Key called the ‘fundamental purpose of his government’.

I said last week that I’d have a post saying how to tell the government what you think of their attack on workers’ rights.  This is it:

The Bill, and its counterpart attacking the 4 weeks’ holiday that Australia had for 30 years before us, are now before select committee.  You can write to the select committee directly; or the unions are organising to an easy way to submit – and they’ll take all their submissions together to the committee in one big hit.  They encourage you to ask to expand your complaints in person if possible – it’s more effective if the National MPs have to sit there and listen to what you have to say.  The more people that submit the better.  This isn’t a strong willed government – it can be pushed about by ACT, or by people power – best we make sure they get pushed the right correct way.


Interesting read: The Herald on what a union can do for you and how numbers are finally rising.  Yes: Granny Herald – I know.

9 comments on “Unions Succeed where National Fails”

  1. Pete 1

    I guess the logic of National/ACT and their supporters is that unions should be run down because the demands they help make, and the wage rises they help negotiate are unrealistic in the current economic climate – see the earlier post re Key’s response to union negotiations.

    Therefore we should do nothing and all wages should stagnate/drop/remain static or wages and conditions will improve through ‘the invisible hand’.

    Correct me if I’m wrong.

    • Bored 1.1

      Pete, I’m a bit hot on what has been to my mind a lack of solidarity amongst workers and individual unions. It might be better if the CTU and the Labour party went public with a “national wage” recommendation (as opposed to a demand), to be applied universally. Fat chance I reckon. In between times being unionised in a sectoral union is the best hope as demonstrated by the numbers.

  2. Lanthanide 2

    Someone on the radio pointed out that many union pay contracts are set 2-3 years in advance, so raises that members got in the last year could’ve been locked-in back in 2007 or 2008 when things didn’t look as bad. Not sure how true that is, but it does put a different perspective on things.

    • Blighty 2.1

      we only got pay rises this year because we were in a union and went on strike. bosses wanted to give us a 3% real pay cut (ie 0% nominal), we got 2% nominal.

    • bbfloyd 2.2

      no it doesn’t put a different perspective on anything. in fact it strengthens the case for union membership. the workers who were affected earliest, and have been hit hardest were the ones who weren’t union members.
      in the present situation, having union representation will be as much about protection from exploitation as remuneration.

      what is demonstrated is that, without union participation, then the industrial/commercial environment becomes exploitative.

      to actively pursue policies that facilitate this kind of environment would qualify, in my mind, as the largest, and most damaging( socially/economically) false economy i will ever see.

      • Lanthanide 2.2.1

        Or, actually, if employers are locked into giving everyone 4% pay rises, yet because of the recession can’t actually afford to, they have to make staff redundant.

        On the other hand a company that wasn’t locked in for a 4% pay rise, instead chooses to give everyone 0% increase but no one is made redundant.

        These are hypotheticals, but pretending that everyone can have 4% pay rises without any negative consequences for anyone whatsoever is a bit naive.

        • Draco T Bastard

          Pretending that giving everyone a rate of inflation pay cut is equitable is psychopathic.

        • bbfloyd

          my word, you are locked into that shallow mindset aren’t young lanthy…. what did you do?, relinquish the section of your brain responsible for spatial thinking in order to get that promotion?

          if you are intelligent enough to understand the selective use of statistics to misrepresent the complete picture, then you are intelligent enough to understand that to be a tool for misdirection and dishonesty.

          ps.. you really should leave this stuff to (don)key. he’s got the technique nailed.

    • It is correct that some union agreements are negotiated for three year chunks. This is the legal maximum that a collective employment agreement can be negotiated for (3 years) and usually there are annual pay increases agreed as part of those negotiations. IIRC the last teachers’ negotiations were in 2007. They pretty much always go for three year deals – with around 50,000+ workers (principals and teachers in secondary, primary and kindergarten) covered by the negotiations (and probably over 3000 worksites too) to do it more frequently would be a pretty mammoth effort for everyone.

      Most workers of course aren’t on collective agreements at all, so there is no requirement to renegotiate their pay and conditions on a regular basis. Individual employment agreements can go forever. So many many workers get no opportunity to have any kind of power in a discussion about pay or conditions with their boss. It’s like it, lump it or leave.

      In terms of the argument about locking in pay rises meaning redundancies if situations change. My experience has been that workers are more than happy to go back to the table to talk about the sustainability of pay and conditions if the situation in an organisation genuinely changes in a way that threatens jobs/hours. You can do it under the law, through the process of variation. However many times that I’ve seen, when the boss says we need to break the pay rises (or whatever) because times are tough when you actually look at the figures you discover that there are lots of other measures they haven’t looked at before pay cuts/job losses. And then you have a very productive discussion about those other measures and often pay cuts/job losses end up not happening at all, or being heavily limited. Some bosses just go there immediately by default, when it’s not necessarily the best/only option.

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