Head of the Unite union, Matt McCarten, writes about the Synovate lockout and how foreign-owned businesses try to exploit New Zealand workers:
[The] owners offer workers essentially nothing above the minimum wage then expect everyone to roll over and accept it. The normal threat is to close and go offshore.
This is supposed to terrify the workforce into submission. But, frankly, no matter what concessions workers make they’ll never compete with countries like India. Unless the Act Party has its way and the minimum wage is abolished.
Call centres in New Zealand are almost all owned by Australian interests and serve the Australian market. Their unions have maintained their contracts and the going wage rate is A$22 ($27.70) an hour, twice what the Kiwi workforce is paid.
You have probably worked it out by now, that the purpose of the Kiwi call centres is to threaten the Aussie workers that their work will be shipped off to our side of the Tasman unless they agree to wage cuts.
So, Kiwi workers are used to keep down workers’ pay and conditions in Australia and we’re kept in line with offshoring to India. It’s a race to the bottom.
Increasingly, new Australian owners sack the entire old management and appoint their own nationals into the top company roles. These appointees are almost always on short-term sojourns to test them before they are promoted back home. The measure of performance is that they are to cut costs and maximise profits.
This means cut staff, work them harder and pay them less. As they have no intention of assimilating into our society they don’t particularly care about any long-term damage.
Several times I’ve had Australian managers tell me they can’t believe how passive Kiwi workers are and that in their country their workers wouldn’t put up with such crap. Of course, workers do fight back collectively if they want to be treated respectfully. But our transtasman cousins seem to relish some sort of Aussie Rules game when it comes to industrial relations with their new acquisitions.
The solution is obvious. If workers want a fair deal from the bosses they need to pool their strength in a union. Individually, workers have nearly no bargaining power; together they can get gains.
Make no mistake, if workers at Synovate had not been unionised they would have had to individually accept the pay the company offered – barely more than the minimum wage (or they can always ‘go down the road’, because there are plenty of jobs about eh?). Because they were unionised and didn’t crumble when the bosses played hardball by locking them out, the workers won a pay rise. The union gives workers the power to get a fair deal.