Union News – Feb 2017

 

lyttelton-portLyttleton Port Strike

On 28 January this website posted a report on the Lyttleton port dispute. This is a brief update.

The port company’s legal challenge to the Maritime Union’s strike notice for the Waitangi Day long weekend failed clearing the way for the 3–day strike. The Maritime Union has given notice of a strike from 17-19 February, in addition to the notice for 11-12 February previously reported.

 

Junior Doctors – New Zealand Resident Doctors’ Association

Junior doctors staged a national 73 hour strike from 17 to 20 January. This follows a 48 hour strike in October. The issue: fatigue. The doctors are seeking more reasonable hours of work in their negotiations over a Multi-Employer Collective Agreement with the District Health Boards. Currently they can be made to work for seven nights in a row and up to 12 day shifts in a row. The union has been campaigning for a maximum of four nights and 10 day shifts in a row.

In an interview with RNZ, the NZRDA’s general secretary, Deborah Powell, explained that a compromise agreement had been worked out in negotiations, but the employer side had not been able to make a formal offer without consulting the DHBs’ chief executives. At the time of writing, the union was still waiting to find out whether the employers were willing to sanction the draft agreement. [Read more…]

Class struggle – key to liberation

auckland-health-workers-strike

Auckland health workers strike 2015. Photo: RNZ

Shomi Yoon gave this talk to the International Socialism Day School, Newtown, Wellington, last month.

It seems obvious that we need to understand the world in order to change it. Socialist strategy and tactics for liberation is not only about the downfall of capitalism but also for genuine liberation for all.

A Marxist understanding of class and understanding that this is the central divide in society is crucial. But more than this, it’s the working class that can transform society for genuine liberation. I want to contest the idea that putting class at the centre of our analysis means that other forms of oppression are secondary in importance to class – far from it – it provides a concrete analysis of where the oppression comes from and how we can overcome it. [Read more…]

Tell Otago to #LoveHumanities

love-humanities-rallyBy Seb Hepburn

Last week between 300-400 people gathered outside the Union building at Otago University to protest proposed cuts to the Humanities division. Up to 20 jobs are at risk across the History, Anthropology and Archaeology, English, Languages, and Music departments, and the TEU has been vocal in its campaign against the cuts. There was a prior protest of similar size in August, and a smaller one outside a lecture theatre where Bill English was speaking in September. The tree next to the Union building had been adorned with knitted and paper hearts, the latter of which bore messages of support for the humanities. Once the crowd has assembled we began marching to the steps opposite the clock tower, led by a bagpiper. [Read more…]

Mourn for the dead, fight for the living!

161014-helen-kelly_jpgby Jen Wilson

At this time we remember and honour long time union leader Helen Kelly, a brave and compassionate person who mourned with and comforted the families of workers killed at work; Forestry workers, the Pike River miners, Charanpreet Dhaliwal, aged only 22, beaten to death on his first night on the job as a security guard. So many dead because their lives and safety were not valued by their employers. Standing beside the grieving families Helen Kelly demanded justice, the prosecution of their employers who put profits above the lives of workers. She shined a light onto failed business practices which made these deaths inevitable and demanded and worked for change. Her death is a great loss. [Read more…]

Workers can run the world

NUW workers in Australia occupying a Dandenong factory, 2015

NUW workers in Australia occupying a Dandenong factory, 2015

Gowan Ditchburn gave this talk to the Auckland branch of the International Socialists in May.

Let us examine on of my favourite things on Earth, Democracy. No, not that silly parliamentary kind where you vote every few years. I mean real democracy. Control by the people. Actual control not sending people to parliament to argue like children for three years and pass a few laws which change very little. I mean getting to decide how everything is done. From the Economy and the distribution of goods and resources, to the planning of our cities. All this placed in the hands of the people. My aim is to bring you an interesting look at a different, better and much more democratic way of doing things. [Read more…]

Defeat the Bill! The struggle against the Employment Contracts Bill, 1991

Stop Contracts Billby Dougal McNeill

 

‘We’ll need to go on strike, an ongoing strike.’  That’s how Jane Otuafi, a delegate in the Engineers’ Union, responded in March 1991 to the recently elected National government’s plan for an Employment Contracts Act. [1] ‘A general strike is the only answer,’ job delegate Sa Leutele of the Northern Distribution Union agreed. ‘I’ve had several meetings to explain to the boys that the only way we can fight is to stick together. Otherwise nobody will survive after the Bill.’ [2]

Leutele’s words were prophetic. The Employment Contracts Act, once it passed, had a devastating effect on workers’ rights and living standards in New Zealand. It dealt a body blow to the trade union movement, one from which we’ve never recovered. Union membership almost halved between 1991 and 1995, with union density going from 41.5% to 21.7%, and has staggered in the private sector ever since. Workers’ organisation and confidence – expressed in working days ‘lost’ to strike activity – has been hit harder, with historic low levels of industrial struggle through the 1990s and 2000s. ‘The ECA,’ as Brian Roper puts it, ‘effectively deunionised and casualised large sectors of the workforce.’ [3] The viciously unequal New Zealand we live in now is shaped by the legacy of the ECA: 10% of the population owning 52% of the wealth; casualization and low pay the norm across the service industries; homeless families living in cars a ‘new reality’; and racialized poverty resulting in a Māori unemployment rate twice the national average. [4] The union movement, a basic line of defence for working people, held this back. It’s no wonder, then, that National set out to destroy the unions as effective fighting tools. [Read more…]

Zero Hours Contracts Treachery

Michael Woodhouse: fit to

Michael Woodhouse: fit to “wet his cheeks with artificial tears, / And frame his face to all occasions.”

By Martin Gregory

Workers cannot put any trust whatsoever in this double-dealing Key government of liars. When it comes to employment law, under the lead of Workplace Relations minister Michael Woodhouse, they have developed a habit of announcing one thing and doing another.

They told the public they were going to stop the exploitation of migrant workers. They made it harder for the migrants.

They said they were going to strengthen health and safety law, but they reneged on the key thing of workers’ representation.

Back in April, when Unite union fast food members were protesting zero-hours contracts, and having public support, the right-dishonourable Woodhouse told the media that he was going to outlaw such bad practices. He told One News: “Even if it is a relatively low incidence in our employment, it’s probably worth ruling them out, for the sake of certainty for those vulnerable workers.”

In the Employment Standards Legislation Bill now before Parliament the government proposes the opposite. Zero-hours contracts are currently often legally dubious. The new law would legitimise and legalise them.

Full details are given in this excellent factsheet by the CTU.

The whole union, Labour and Socialist movement must raise a storm of protest.

Migrant workers’ victory in Korea

Opening ImageBy Sam MacDonald in Seoul

Over the past 50 years, few countries have experienced such a dramatic economic rise as South Korea. A country once known for sweatshops and cheap manufactured goods; now produces some of the world’s most advanced ships, cars and electronics. An important part of this process was the state-led export of Korean labour. From 1975-85 over one million young Koreans moved to the Middle-East in search of construction jobs and money to remit home. However, as Korean capitalism has grown and workers have fought for higher wages, this process has reversed as small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) have sought to fill labour shortages with over 500,000 foreign migrant workers. Concentrated in so-called 3D jobs (dirty, dangerous and demeaning), these new migrants have become one of the most marginalised groups in this society, facing constant discrimination, abuse and mistreatment.

[Read more…]

Our struggles – in the courtrooms and out

We should all celebrate recent SFWU victories in the courts...

We should all celebrate recent SFWU victories in the courts…

By Julia Smith

In March this year Service and Food Workers Union National Secretary, John Ryall  stated that unions would be taking more and more employment cases to Court following the latest in a string of successful cases for low-paid employees. He went on to say that litigation was now preferable to collective bargaining, which he described as “hopeless” and that the preferred  strategy,  which the SFWU started about five years ago, is going to the courts and arguing for minimum wage rights and human rights, in terms of enforcing the Minimum Wage Act and Equal Pay Act.”

John Ryall’s remarks were endorsed by CTU president Helen Kelly who said the CTU was also concentrating on strategic litigation.”We have to rely on the minimum code – Minimum Wage, Holidays Act, Equal Pay Act – to get any sort of justice”, Kelly stated.

It is  true that workers have recently won several strategic union backed cases. And the private prosecutions the CTU has taken in forestry – when the relevant state bodies have not been prepared to make a stand for workers’ safety – are absolutely commendable. They have helped pursue justice for workers’ families, and have highlighted the dangerous conditions in the industry. However making gains by way of litigation raises a number of concerns for the future  of the union movement as a whole and its effectiveness long term. This article aims to look at some of the cases taken and will briefly explore some of the  questions which arise.

[Read more…]

Celebrating Unite’s struggle against Zero Hour Contracts

Wellington UNITE organiser Heleyni Pratley leading workers in struggle

Wellington UNITE organiser Heleyni Pratley leading workers in struggle

By Shomi Yoon

In a campaign reminiscent of Unite Union’s SuperSizeMyPay.com getting workers on to collective contracts from a decade ago, once again Unite has burst onto the industrial scene to take on the fast food giants and against all odds, win. The campaign brought out courageous stories of workers speaking out against their exploitation and zero-hours contracts, heartwarming acts of solidarity – globally and domestically, and reinforced the old union slogan of “If you don’t fight, you lose”.

It also brought to light just how low companies are willing to go to intimidate and harass its workers. McDonalds, in particular, were unwilling to come to the table to offer an end to zero hours contracts. They resorted to grubby tactics like offering pay rises to their non-unionised staff during negotiations as a way to undermine Unite.

[Read more…]