NZ Labour Letter - May 2015
The online publication of the New Zealand Labour Letter is provided as a service to Labour by AIL of New Zealand Ltd.
National Labour News
McDonald's agreed May 1 to join Burger King and Restaurant Brands and cease using controversial "zero hour" contracts, announced New Zealand's Unite Union, which organises fast food, hospitality and retail workers. "This is a historic agreement. Now all of the major fast food chains have committed to ending zero hours. This is the culmination of a decade-long campaign for secure hours by Unite Union," said Unite national director Mike Treen. "It will be welcomed by tens of thousands of workers in the fast food industry and hundreds of thousands more who will ultimately benefit in other industries. It represents a fundamental shift in the employment relationship of the most vulnerable workers in the country." The victory came after a 10-year campaign by the union against the contracts which deny workers guaranteed hours each week. Unite had planned strikes across the country May 1 which it called off. "Zero hours" contracts refer to the fact that a worker is not guaranteed any hours of work during the week.
All trains stopped for one minute on April 28, International Workers' Memorial Day, in addition to other actions by the Rail Maritime Transport Union (RMTU) to push for a ban on asbestos. "A recent report urged the government to consider banning the importation and use of asbestos in New Zealand. Almost every week, RMTU members find new containments of asbestos in their workplaces" said RMTU General Secretary Wayne Butson. "This has to stop, but it cannot while the government continues to allow the importation of products containing asbestos". Other actions on April 28 included large ceremonies at the Dunedin, Napier, Christchurch and Lower Hutt rail workshops. Butson said RMTU members "feel very strongly" about this issue and Workers' Memorial Day "because our union has suffered a terrible loss of life within the rail and port industries." He said union members are committed to removing hazardous substances from the workplace and called on the government to make a similar commitment.
New Zealand Council of Trade Unions joined other union organisations here and in Australia to express concern over negotiations on an expanded Pacific regional trade and investment agreement called PACER-Plus. The union groups supported a May 4th call by Pacific civil society groups and individuals to suspend negotiations pending an immediate release of the secret negotiating texts and a full impact assessment of the proposed agreement. NZCTU said Australia and New Zealand governments were unduly pressuring the 14 Pacific Island countries involved in the talks. The jointly signed letter was written to their respective trade ministers and copies were distributed to trade ministers and chief negotiators of all the Pacific Island countries, NZCTU said. A number of officials and civil society critiques from the Pacific Islands have stated that the PACER deal is of little benefit to them and some have pushed for greater labour mobility for Pacific Island workers to Australia and New Zealand.
National, Economic & Political Events
Temporary Chinese workers fixing KiwiRail's trains are "probably not" covered by New Zealand law, said Workplace Relations Minister Michael Woodhouse. But he added the issue may have to be tested in court and the government had no plans to seek a definitive answer. The workers are employed by a Chinese company to remove asbestos by locomotives used by state-owned KiwiRail in Lower Hutt. Woodhouse said an investigation cleared the company of mistreating the workers, but that both the employees and employer had blocked its attempts to gain wage records to determine if minimum wage laws were violated. Maritime Transport Union (RMTU) General Secretary Wayne Butson charged the government had done a "shoddy" investigation of allegations of exploitation and the union might undertake a test case if the government didn't. "To say that foreign workers working under warranty are probably not covered by New Zealand employment law is not good enough" said Butson.
The recent deaths of two quarry workers may have been preventable, declared the general counsel for the Council of Trade Unions, Jeff Sissons. He said the Government excluded quarries from the protections of the new health and safety law after heavy lobbying from the industry. "Specific regulations for quarries should be urgently made. These would be big steps towards stopping further deaths or injuries," he said. Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union's assistant national secretary, Ged O'Connell was "extremely disappointed" over industry efforts to avoid strong health and safety regulations. He said the poor safety record in quarries was symptomatic of New Zealand's lax health and safety regulation generally over the last 20 years. A 25-year old man in Tauranga was killed in April when he was crushed by a 45-tonne rock-cutter and another was fatally injured in Timaru in March. In the two years to September 2014, there were 242 reported injuries in quarries and 56 in underground mines.
Parliament passed The Immigration Amendment Bill (No. 2) on Thursday, April 30, which subjects employers who exploit foreign migrant workers to tough new penalties. The measure was adopted after a number of reports of foreign migrant workers being abused and paid below minimum wage. Under the new law, employers who exploit temporary workers can be jailed for up to seven years, fined up to 100,000 NZ dollars or both. A new offence is also introduced which makes it unlawful for employers exploit legal temporary or unlawful workers and are reckless as to their immigration status, with penalties of up to five years in jail and a fine of up to 100,000 NZ dollars, or both. "The fundamental principle is that migrant workers have the same employment rights as all other workers in New Zealand," said Immigration Minister Woodhouse.
International Labour News
U.S. McDonald's workers vowed to mount "the biggest ever protest" at the company's shareholder meeting May 21 in Chicago with a demand to end "poverty wages" paid to many of its 420,000 staff. Fight for $15, a union-backed protest group, said McDonald's workers are "fed up" with pay that drives them to rely on public assistance. They dismissed the company's recent announcement to increase its US staff's minimum wage to $9.90US, from the current average hourly wage of $9.01US as a "publicity stunt." The workers "would not be coming alone," Fight for $15 said in a statement, and will be "armed with 1 million signatures from everyday Americans calling on McDonald's to pay workers $15 an hour and respect their freedom to join together in a union."
Australia needs to limit the number of temporary working visas being approved, declared Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Ged Kearney. In a submission to the Senate inquiry into temporary working visas, the ACTU said that the number of international workers needs to be restricted in favour of permanent migration. "We need to focus on creating job opportunities for Australians, we must ensure our permanent migration system is robust and we must limit the use of temporary visas to reflect genuine skills shortages," said Kearney. Kiwis form the largest pool of temporary workers with the next largest migrant groups coming from China, and the UK. The Senate inquiry was established in March by Labour and the Greens as both parties felt that a review commissioned by the Government had not probed the 457 visa program far enough. There are currently 1.2 million temporary entrants in Australia who have the right to work and, of these, 167,000 have "457" visas, 160,000 have working holiday visas and 623,000 are New Zealand special visa holders.
Alfred de Zayas, a UN human rights campaigner, called for a moratorium on Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks between Europe and the U.S. because the inclusion of a system of secret courts used by major corporations would undermine human rights. Under the proposed agreement, companies will be allowed to appeal against regulations or legislation that depress profits, resulting in fears that multinationals could stop governments reversing privatisations of parts of the health service, for instance, he said. De Zayas is the UN's special rapporteur on promotion of a democratic and equitable international order. He warned that adoption of a separate legal system for the benefit of multinational corporations was a threat to basic human rights. "The bottom line is that these agreements must be revised, modified or terminated," he said. If approved, the TTIP would turn the EU and US into the largest free-trade area in the world.
More than 1,000 workers at a local clothing factory in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong took to the streets in protest on May 1 for the return of two months' missed pay checks, reported Radio Free Asia. Beating drums and holding banners, workers at the Houhong Garment Factory in the manufacturing city of Dongguan staged the walkout to coincide with International Workers' Day, a striking worker surnamed Fang told RFA. "The police, security guards and riot police are all here, holding their shields, and wearing bullet-proof vests, and they have police dogs," Fang said. "It's really over the top." She said four people detained by police during the stand-off weren't even the strike leaders, RFA reported. Chen Mao, founder of the Shenzhen-based Migrant Workers' Centre, said that workers are often exploited by bosses of financially pressed companies who drain cash from the business before it goes bankrupt and disappear, leaving the workers unpaid.
Regional and Local Union News
Spotless, the Australian contractor who provides cleaning and catering services to Parliament, has agreed to offer nine employees on zero-hour contracts new agreements that include guaranteed hours, announced Parliamentary Services. Labour Leader Andrew Little had previously written to the Speaker about his concerns over the "disgraceful" contracts being used within Parliament. Prime Minister John Key had earlier denied responsibility for the contracts under question in Parliament and was not sure if they would fit within the areas of employment law the Government wanted to change. "Where our real area of concern has been...is where there are predatory issues - where someone is actually stopped from working somewhere else because they are on a zero hour contract, it's where there are changes made to their hours very, very rapidly," Key said.
FIRST Union recently confirmed that members at Bestwood, a division of Carter Holt Harvey Woodproducts, could face potential job losses if Carter Holt Harvey (CHH) completes the sale of the division to New Zealand Panel Group. The Wiri and Rangiora production facilities could lose approximately 40 jobs and the Kopu site retain production with around 10 workers remaining. FIRST Union represents most of the employees. "The job losses are a tragedy for the workers, many of whom are long serving CHH employees. FIRST Union has a good redundancy agreement with CHH which will help reduce the impact of the job losses if they occur," said FIRST Union General Secretary Robert Reid. "It is also a tragedy that New Zealand is losing even more capacity in value-added wood production.".