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Why unions won’t give up on Fair Pay Agreements

Written By: - Date published: 7:11 am, October 18th, 2019 - 40 comments
Categories: business, economy, labour, Politics, uncategorized, Unions, wages, workers' rights - Tags:

Fair Pay Agreements are in the news this week as the CTU calls for progress on this, and some media suggest that there is a developing rift between Labour and Unions.

Fair Pay Agreements as Labour Party policy have been fought for by Affiliated Labour Unions since 2014.  Originally called Industry Standard Agreements, and driven by Helen Kelly, there was comprehensive policy adopted by the Labour Policy.

Helen Kelly often made the case by comparing the situation of a Four-Square worker in Kaitaia and how difficult it was for her to join a union and become part of collective bargaining under our current (despite amendments) employment legislation.

Since then, there has been a Working Group report led by the former PM Hon Jim Bolger, who has reflected and quite bravely owned up to the impact of the policies his government introduced in the 1990’s with the Employment Contracts Act and welfare attacks.

The case was well made out in the Working Group’s report and has been repeated elsewhere, even in the OECD and IMF who have noted that New Zealand has one of the lowest levels of collective bargaining (and as a consequence, high inequality) in the OECD.

Predictably, the Business Sector has opposed the idea of improving standards in industries for those who are most likely not to have collective agreements or be able to join unions. They continue to maintain that any improvements that will increase the share of the wealth workers provide have are “1970s or 1980s.”

Yesterday a Discussion Paper was released.  It recognises that wages need to be lifted and the economic system is failing many workers and that Fair Pay Agreements will help fix this.  There are some areas of concern that have entered the dialogue, such as a market test, increases to thresholds which will create more hurdles, and non-union representation.

 

While we’re frustrated that yet another layer of delay has been added with the consultation document, unions will never give up.  My experience as a union fighter is that it sometimes takes years for unions win, but we do and we have.  Think four weeks annual leave, paid parental leave, health and safety, minimum wage etc,

Fair Pay Agreements are an essential part of a fair economy.  It’s just not good enough to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that everyone is better off.  They’re not.

Meanwhile, the CTU has launched this campaign to ensure there is feedback from working people on the Fair Pay Agreement consultation document. 

Please join this important dialogue.

 

40 comments on “Why unions won’t give up on Fair Pay Agreements ”

  1. Adrian Thornton 1

    Thanks for that piece Darien.

    I believe that if we are going to be honest, and have that much needed open and honest discussion around wages and conditions of NZ workers, we first have to acknowledge that Labour largely abandoned the working classes in the eighties beginning with Lange. How many actual working class workers turn up at any Labour event these days?, around here almost none, that by itself speaks volumes.

    I know that locally (the Hawkes Bay) the workers in the primary industries of fruit growing/maintenance/picking and packaging have been exploited for at least 20 years. Pickers haven't received a substantial increase in bin rates for over 20 years, the packers are mostly on minimum wage..all this while the orchard owners crow about the booming industry, and endlessly grizzle about the lazy local workers, and praise their fantastic imported labour from third word economies..it's obscene.

    I brought this up with Andrew Little before he was rolled by JA..do you know what he actually said in response…"we have to look at productivity" WTF!, I of course called him out and said that he of all people should know that productivity had increased right through the late eighties nineties and early 2000's, so why the fuck would or should workers offer more productivity when wages hadn't moved in two decades despite them more than fulfilling their side of the 'increase productivity trickle down bargain'?..he had no answer.

    It seems that Labour are far more interested in protecting their own class interests (ie the middle class and upper middle classes) than protecting, let alone fighting for working class interests.

    Turn Labour Left!

    • george.com 1.1

      AL is right, we do have to look at productivity, and also how the gain of productivity are shared. FB agreements are part of the jigsaw for ensuring productivity gains are shared equitably. When there is an economic benefit from productivity gains, capital AND labour claim a share of it.

  2. Alan 2

    5 hours and 1 comment?

  3. The Chairman 3

    Because this government is making a choice: who do they need more, unions or business? And it’s going to choose business. Because when business is grumpy, it’s the front page of the Herald and it comes back every month in business confidence surveys.

    But when unions are grumpy, what happens? Nothing, because unions have nowhere else to go. They’ll keep giving Labour donations every election, and campaign support every election, because for all Labour’s broken promises, it’s still better for unions than National.

    The above quote is from your first link. Does Heather have a valid point re Unions donating to and campaigning for Labour? And if so, is it time the Unions do something about it? If Labour's support of Unions is not meeting expectations, is it time for Unions to look to replace them?

    Of course, she is wrong claiming nothing happens. When unions are grumpy industrial action tends to follow.

    • Drowsy M. Kram 3.1

      "When unions are grumpy industrial action tends to follow."

      What tends to follow industrial action, i.e. what is the purpose of unions – why do they exist?

      C'mon, you can answer – you know this one.

      • The Chairman 3.1.1

        Unions are there to protect the rights and conditions of employees. And I support them. Therefore, I'm not suggesting there is no justification for them being grumpy from time to time.

  4. The Chairman 4

    Question

    Will employees still be able to self negotiate if they feel they can personally attain more using the FPA as a backstop if they don't?

  5. The Chairman 5

    When it comes to regional variations, allowing them would allow businesses doing well in a not so well performing region to escape having to pay workers as well. Therefore, if adopted, there would have to be a safeguard for this.

  6. Ad 6

    Dont see any such agreements occurring under this government.

    No muscle, no executive ability.

  7. Craig H 7

    These have been a long time coming, but I think they will happen after negotiation with NZ First to get some concessions for regional businesses.

  8. The Chairman 8

    When it comes to the right to strike, it should be strengthen in this not further diluted.

    The reduction on the ability to strike plays a pivotal role (IMO) for the downward pressure on wages.

    Will their be an exemption for allowing for strikes on the grounds of heath and safety during negotiations?

    • That's not required, TC. All workers have the legal right to withdraw their labour in unsafe situations. However, that shouldn't be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations.

      FPA's do not dilute the right to strike in any way. However, that's primarily because the workers they will assist have no practical ability to strike for better pay or conditions anyway.

      FPA's are designed to give a leg up to workers who have little or no bargaining power, and for whom, striking is really not an option.

      • The Chairman 8.1.1

        FPA's do not dilute the right to strike in any way.

        That's incorrect.

        The Government has given business assurances that industry-wide strikes will not be possible under Fair Pay Agreements.

        https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11939465

        So while some (not all) may not currently be in a position to strike, FPA's will remove the right regardless. Robbing unions of their leverage to possibly secure a better deal.

        • te reo putake 8.1.1.1

          I should have been clearer, TC. The workers likely to be covered by FPA's currently have no legislated right to strike for better pay, therefore there is no dilution. The situation remains exactly the same.

          The ERA allows workers covered by a collective employment agreement (CEA) to strike while in bargaining. That, in the main, is union members only. Individuals have no such right to strike and as I understand, never really have had that right in NZ. The point of FPA's is to provide for workers who are effectively powerless to negotiate better deals.

          The FPA's may also lift pay for some unionised workers, but probably only those who are near the minimum wage.

          • The Chairman 8.1.1.1.1

            Cleaners, security guards, and supermarket staff are priority for Unions for sector-wide Fair Pay Agreements. All of which have and do strike from time to time.

            Furthermore, if the point of FPA's is to provide for workers who are effectively powerless to negotiate better deals, then shouldn't the right to strike be extended to them? Empowering them, ensuring they actually get the best deal possible?

            • Descendant Of Smith 8.1.1.1.1.1

              Of course the government could give give low wage workers a boost by bringing back to 40 hour working week, time and a half on Saturdays and double time on Sundays.

              All without convoluted bargaining.

              Oh and lift the minimum wage.

              I do also support industry wide, rather than employer agreements however.

        • Darien Fenton 8.1.1.2

          The right to strike around enterprise and multi employer agreements will not change, Nor will the right to strike around health & safety. Fair Pay Agreements are based on a arbitration system, because the workers who need them most rarely have the power to strike. There's nothing stopping them going on to bargain and strike for collective agreements once a Fair Pay Agreement is settled. It simply sets a floor.

          • The Chairman 8.1.1.2.1

            Fair Pay Agreements are based on a arbitration system, because the workers who need them most rarely have the power to strike.

            Then they are unlikely to have much success achieving more after the floor has been set. Thus this is why the goal here should be to not only enable (thus empower) individuals within a sector to collectively negotiate but also enable them to collectively strike if need be.

            Obviously, we would want to see the floor set at the best possible level, thus workers require the all the arsenal they can get to achieve this.

            Therefore, if a settlement can't be reached, the ability to strike (opposed to a determination process) should be an option.

  9. gsays 9

    A big thanks to you Darien and all the other organisers and unionised workers.

    I have only recently joined E Tu and I work in hospo.

    I have been gently encouraging other younger ones to join but I feel there us a bit of a disconnect. Their eyes glaze over when I talk of award rates, time and a half, double time, uniform/travel allowances…

    They seem more beholden to the employer.

    • I was talking recently to an older person who has worked in semi–skilled jobs throughout life. On suggesting that one child who is approaching middle age and only scraping by, might like to train up and get a better paying job, I found a large negative attitude.

      No advice or suggestions must be given by the parent, to change jobs, try for one higher skilled, after investing in somehow getting better skills; trying to learn to gain upward mobility is not what that family does. It is like the efforts to help people and the country become better educated, updating skills and becoming more prosperous, have just passed this family by. Being aspirational, the mature members advising the younger and promoting tertiary education, aspiring to build competence and good resource bases and being progressive is not considered applicable. I was gobsmacked.

      • Descendant Of Smith 9.1.1

        Yet as I and several others have found upskilling can also make you less employable and more threatening to those managers who have not done so – particularly if you do well with the upskilling.

        Loss of jobs, restructuring, marginalisation, overlooked for opportunities and promotionand loss of wages can all result.

        There's quite a bit of experience to show that the managerial class don't like it when the working class do get educated. There's often not as much mobility as you might think – especially when that education brings you an in conflict with the mores of the managerial class e.g. what you instinctively thought was bull-shit actually turns out to be so.

        That aside there are things that many people don't comprehend as they have little experience of it as an alternative:

        Home ownership being for ordinary people – when all your family have rented all their lives and have little money after paying their rent then you accept that you will be renting the rest of your life. Only rich people can buy houses.

        When you go to secondary school and those schools are in a competitive modelling framework based on how many students go to university then from the third form you know if you are not academically inclined, or know you can never afford to go to university anyway, then you know the school is not interested in you and what is the point in trying.

        When you get into a relationship and you have no experience of sharing money – his is his and hers is hers – then you struggle to build a strong future together.

        Within the working class too often education sets you apart from your peers – you're perceived as being too good for them now, or you have more income, etc. You can lose friends, family and get altogether discouraged from making the effort.

        Also if you distrust the educated class (think the bankers who turn you down for loans forcing you to the loan sharks, the WINZ staff when you want a permanent job who send you to pick Kiwifruit, the city councillors who look down on your family members who are struggling and want to ban them, and so on) then why would you want to be like them.

        The religious cults, like the gangs understand to capture people to your world you need both love and hate working in tandem. The educated class often just express dislike to the working class.

        Thus it has been for many for a long time.

        Those old fashioned egalitarian values have shrunk over the years as Thatcher's notion of there is no community, economic notions of individualised rational behaviour and the American notion of anyone can make it and if you don't it is your own fault have taken hold/retrenched themselves.

        We have stopped giving people hope – hope that each generation will be better than the last.

        • greywarshark 9.1.1.1

          Very thoughtful DoS. I think those are major points. The strength of being in a group that accepts you is basic. Apparently that holds many Maori children back from doing well at school. You can't hang out with friends because you are studying, so you don't share in their activities and don't get asked in the end. If your parents have not done well at school or in life, then there is an implied criticism of your family. 'So we're not good enough for you eh'.

          I'm going off middle class mores myself. I have done some adult reading tutoring, and found some cartoon books with text that I thought would interest and help, they were quality on sale from the library. Took them along to add to the resources. Got response 'Oh no. We don't have second hand books here. These people have never had anything new and we want to show we respect them.' Or similar. So the patronising tart would not even allow the people to decide for themselves if they would enjoy this option. She knew best. Such inflexibility in thinking and concern about style and appearance has led us, i think, to our present state of dissolution of society and environment.

    • patricia bremner 9.2

      They and many like them can't remember getting help from unions, as it has been a long time since unions played a part in their lives. Union Reps need to educate better, to counteract the business spin.

      Business always cries "But but.." "Wait for better times.."

      Currently, they are generally very sour about the Government.

      We can't all be millionaires and need protections for the little guy, especially those in low paid employment for multinationals, and part time or precarious employment.

    • Darien Fenton 9.3

      Thank you for joining the fight, We have a lot of work to do. There's always been a next generation. We start with what matters to them.

  10. Bryan 10

    Fair pay for the protection of workers with safe minimum set of terms and conditions great idea fantastic to be able achieve the kind of safety net that prevails in much of the world.

    But it all becomes cant and hypocrisy doesn't it Darien when the other "fair pay" is for nurses and teachers ie those in the Labour stable.

    And this government spent $32M let me say that again $32M trying to repudiate the junior doctors contract and failed.

    • Craig H 10.1

      How are the nurses and teachers in Labour's stable? None of the relevant unions are affiliated to Labour.

  11. The Chairman 11

    This is interesting. Socialist Equality Group NZ perspective on FPAs

    The real role of the FPAs will be to establish a corporatist framework of employer-union-government wage setting, while outlawing industrial action. This process will entrench low pay across entire industries, enforced by draconian legislation. The unions, as they have done for decades, will impose the deals and suppress resistance from workers.

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1806/S00180/labour-government-to-extend-bans-on-strikes.htm

    And here is International Socialist Organisation Aotearoa perspective

    Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has broken with normal protocol to pre-empt the working group’s recommendations by announcing in advance that workers being represented in FPA negotiations will not have the right to strike. Typical bloody Labour! How, you may ask, will businesses be pressured into reaching “fair” agreements without the threat of industrial action in the background?… The right to strike is an issue that the left and trade unionist activists must take up. Pressure from below is needed to push the union leaderships into demanding our rights.

    https://iso.org.nz/2018/06/06/fair-pay-agreements-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/

    • Both quotes miss the point. FPA's are a means to improve the lot of individual workers who have no bargaining power. FPA's won't be bargained, they'll be advocated.

      The process does not require force to get a result. It's actually a relatively dry academic exercise where unions and employers in an industry put forward facts about pay rates and trends in an industry in order to establish a reasonable base rates and minimum conditions that are closer to the average in that industry.

      The two quotes misunderstand the point of FPA's, which is to protect the vulnerable and powerless. In short, the right to strike is meaningless if the action has no effect on the employer. An individual worker going on strike at, say, a dairy or cafe, has effectively just said take this job and shove it. Quite empowering at the time, of course, but not so flash when next week's rent is due.

      • The Chairman 11.1.1

        FPA's won't be bargained, they'll be advocated.

        FPA's are sector‐wide collective bargaining.

        It has been proposed and recommended all workers (within the sector being covered) should be covered.

        My understanding is if a settlement can't be reached, industrial action can't be taken and it will go through a determination process. The outcome of which, will then be binding.

        An individual worker going on strike in a business that only employs one or a hand full of workers can be disruptive, thus have an impact on an employer.

        Nevertheless, the goal here should be to not only enable (thus empower) individuals within a sector to collectively negotiate but also be able to collectively strike to help bolster their position while in negotiations.

        • patricia bremner 11.1.1.1

          Oh that would mean the whipping boy of Unions would be gone and Business would have to deal with facts not spin Sounds rather painful for the powerful lol lol

  12. Darien Fenton 12

    It's a good idea to read all the documents, including the Working Group report. The case is comprehensively made ; NZ was once one of the most equal countries in the world with a high level of collective bargaining. Now it is one of the most unequal ; and has the sixth lowest level of collective bargaining in the OECD. The highest level of collective bargaining is in countries where they have a mixture of sectoral and enterprise bargaining. Our union membership is low, our collective bargaining system is broken for around 85% of the workforce. Many insecure and non standard workers have no protection. We can go on about what caused it ; I think we all know that, but I am interested in how we start to fix it. Arguments about the right to strike are irrelevant in this mission because we have a huge rebuilding job to do, We are talking here about workers who never join unions, who never have access to collective bargaining, who live day in and day out under the yoke of their boss and who can only rely on government minimums like the min wage etc.

    • Descendant Of Smith 12.1

      In the absence of unions you can legislate for things such as minimum wage increases each year for the lowest paid – say anyone earning $60,000 per annum and under. Many of the low paid workers I have dealt with are on the same wage they have been for years as apart from ask the boss there are no effective provisions for annual pay increases in their contracts. Meanwhile peoples incomes fall behind more and more.

      Within the public sector you could enforce the requirement to fill vacancies permanently as soon as they become vacant (that used to exist) and stop the bull-shit "acting" for years and years and as well stop the use of temporary contract positions. Pre-election Labour was concerned about insecure employment but the public service itself is currently full of it. Maybe you could ask each department how many staff are acting and how many are on temporary contracts and how many staff have been acting or temporary for more than a year. Family working in the public service say in their areas up to 40% of the staff are temporary.

      https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/105107686/inland-revenue-contact-centre-workers-thought-contracts-were-a-joke

  13. Janet 13

    I think that better wages and Fair Employment issues won’t be “fixed” until we stop free trade and reduce immigration right back to the specialist skills we lack. They all go hand in hand. eg: as a small producer of fresh produce I have found that the price producers receive on average now is less than what it was twenty years ago – particularly if it is now competing with produce that free trade agreements have enable to be imported in recent time. This finally affects the wages an employer can pay in NZ. This will be the case in all areas of production in NZ.

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