Zero-hour contracts, Poverty Pay, Rest Breaks Gone: We Need Our Unions

The scandalous practice of illegal wage deductions came to light in November when the media took up the case of Kerry McIvor, who resigned his Gull petrol station job in Masterton in disgust. McIvro was only paid $14.75 an hour. Over several occasions Kerry’s pay was docked hundreds of dollars by the owner of the Gull franchise as a penalty for drive-offs. This franchise creep defended his actions saying it was standard industry practice. He had a point. TV3 took calls from all over the country from petrol station workers who had also had pay deductions for drive-offs. It also came out a Pak ‘n Save supermarket at Whakatane also had a policy of deducting pay to off-set shop-lifting losses.

Some petrol station workers are expected to chase after drivers who make off without paying. This is obviously dangerous. In Canada petrol station attendant Grant De Patie was killed doing just that. The outrage that Grant’s death caused resulted in Grant’s Law, which requires petrol stations to have pre-pay after 10pm and two attendants on duty at night or one in a protected booth.

What is the New Zealand government going to do about the illegal wage deductions? Nothing, no doubt. The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU) reports that they have raised concernswith the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) regarding their reported advice to workers about the petrol station drive-offs. An MBIE official was quoted on the front page of theDominion Post as saying “deductions from wages due to customer behaviour could be challengeable if they were disproportionate to employee’s wages.” The CTU says “This advice is wrong: there is no concept of disproportionality in the relevant sections of the Wages Protection Act 1983.” The CTU says that clauses in employment agreements allowing employers to deduct money from workers’ wages to compensate them for loss caused are unlawful.

There is no limit to the depths that employers will sink. Under our reactionary government the boss class are encouraged to go hard against workers. This is the clear meaning of the amended Employment Relations Act. The legal entitlements to periodic rest break have gone. The rights of workers in contract industries to transfer their employment have been weakened. There is no longer an obligation for employers to conclude a collective agreement.

There is only one effective answer to illegal wage deductions, slave conditions, bullying managers and poverty pay and that is unionism. No matter whether part-time, casual, fixed term or permanent, every worker should be a union member. Unions are the basic defence organisations of our class. They still remain the largest voluntary organisation in New Zealand at 370,000 members. It is a plain fact that unionised workers have better terms and conditions than non-unionised. We’ve had years of setbacks, and we need to rebuild – recent ANZ strikes can be an inspiration for the rest of us. We need to rebuild a union culture. We can and should talk about our unions to fellow workers, friends and families. Get into – and build – the union must be our constant message to our fellow workers.