Labour Letter, October 2016

Labour Letter, October 2016

National Labour News

Airline unions expressed deep concern and shock over a series of recent laser strikes targeting flights near Auckland and Wellington airports. "We need to deal with the issue and we need to deal with it strongly" said the Airline Pilots' Association's, Tim Robinson. The flight attendants' union, E tū, condemned the act as “irresponsible and potentially lethal.” According to news reports, the strikes affected several international flights into Auckland September 30, as well as an Air New Zealand plane heading into Wellington the previous night. Helicopter pilots also reported being struck by a laser from the area, other media reported. The pilots in the Wellington incident were temporarily blinded, and though they landed safely, “the outcome could have been catastrophic,” said E tū's Director of Organising Aviation, Kelvin Ellis in a statement. “These strikes put everyone at risk, including the pilots, flight attendants and the general public”, said Kelvin. All landings are the most stressful time for flight crews, Kelvin explained, and landing at Wellington is “stressful enough without the risk of a laser strike.”

The Public Service Association criticized sweeping changes and lack of detail in a proposal that the union said could affect hundreds of jobs at the Ministry of Justice. While the drive to improve work systems is creditable, there's not nearly enough detail about the reasons for change and the effects it will have, said PSA National Secretary Glenn Barclay. “The Secretary for Justice Andrew Bridgman admits he's often asked 'how will we know when we get there?' and seems to indicate there is no endgame,” Barclay said. “We have asked the Ministry to urgently provide us with details about how new roles will replace the disestablished roles, analysis of work streams and how the changes will be implemented.” He warned the changes will disproportionately affect Maori employees and questioned whether Treaty partners have been properly consulted. “We are particularly concerned at the plans to disestablish many specialist roles in the Māori Land Court, resulting in the loss of hundreds of years of institutional knowledge,” he said.

New Zealand Resident Doctors Association (NZRDA) notified all 20 District Health Boards (DHB) that the union's 3,200 members will strike for 48 hours from 7 a.m. on October 18. The union represents resident doctors who primarily work in the public sector. NZRDA National Secretary Deborah Powell said about 300 resident doctors were not NZRDA members and would not participate in the strike. The issues involve working conditions and long staffing hours. Negotiations over hours of work by resident doctors have been under way since January and Powell said members wanted a guaranteed change to rosters. She said although DHBs had offered to reduce the number of night shifts from seven to four, this would take two years to implement and there would be no guarantee this would remain in place. The union also wants to reduce the maximum number of days worked consecutively to 10, down from 12. Doctors last took industrial action in 2008, when two 48-hour strikes were held. Senior doctors would be expected to work longer hours as a result of the strike, Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) executive director Ian Powell said. He said services would be limited to emergency care only and operations would only be performed for those patients whose lives were at risk.

National, Economic & Political Events

Protestors with signs and taped-over mouths greeted hundreds of shoppers outside H&M in Auckland's Sylvia Park as the Swedish firm opened its first store in New Zealand. They are concerned over the fashion retailers' human rights record. The firm has been accused of using child labour and allowing unsafe factory conditions in Asia. "I think that people are unaware how unethical this company is. They have sweatshops and they abuse children and adults by not paying them enough, by putting them in factories that aren't a good standard for them to work in,” protest organizer Julie Cleaver said. The Washington-based Workers Rights Consortium last month reported hundreds of thousands of workers making H&M garments in factories in Bangladesh were doing so in dangerous conditions. "We're talking about severe safety hazards. For example, lack of fire doors and fire exits, lack of proper alarm systems, lack of sprinkler systems," said Workers Rights Consortium executive director Scott Nova. "There's no question that workers' lives continue to be put at risk at many H&M factories and certainly consumers in New Zealand should be aware of that.”

No matter who wins the United States presidential election, the next president will preside over a deeply divided nation, according to political experts from the U.S. and New Zealand who spoke recently at a Fulbright New Zealand forum hosted by the University of Otago. The implications of the outcome are significant for New Zealanders on issues from trade to climate change and the fight against global terrorism. They agreed that whoever wins will have a difficult time achieving their policy goals. ''Even the winning candidate is likely in reality to have a limited capacity to govern a polarised country and manage its relations with the rest of the world,” predicted Otago University politics professor Robert Patman. ''For an increasing number of US citizens, the optimistic American dream ... seems to be increasingly beyond their reach.'' American University assistant professor and Fulbright scholar Simon Nicholson from Washington DC spoke via a pre-recorded video and said the country was split on party lines over climate change. Donald Trump's election would be a ''severe blow'' to international efforts to battle it, he said. Both candidates, however, oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal and congressional approval is uncertain. US ambassador to New Zealand Mark Gilbert suggested that the results from key states such as Pennsylvania, Florida and Virginia on the East Coast could indicate the presidential winner early in the evening on November 8.

International Labour News

Under pressure from workers in the country's biggest export industry, the Cambodian government agreed to raise the minimum wage for clothing and footwear workers. The minimum wage will be raised by 9.2 per cent to $153 a month, effective at the beginning of next year, announced the Ministry of Labour, Vocational and Training in a statement. But the increase falls short of the $171 a month wage proposed by unions. “All the workers' union leaders and I, myself, are not happy with this new increased wage,” said Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union, who took part in the negotiations. “Due to the general expenses of the workers being too high, especially the prices of goods that keep increasing day by day, I think the fair minimum wage for the workers should be $171 per month.” The clothing and footwear industry is Cambodia's biggest export earner, employing about 700,000 people in more than 700 garment and shoe factories.

Indian worker groups pushed for faster implementation of new laws that will protect India's estimated 50 million domestic workers, most of them women. Representatives of the National Domestic Workers Movement and Tamil Nadu Domestic Workers Federation opened a drive for approval of a bill that will provide domestic workers with a minimum monthly salary of 9,000 rupees and benefits including social security cover and mandatory time off. The two groups have 200,000 members across the country. Many housemaids are now forced to work up to 18 hours a day and face dire living conditions, sexual abuse, physical violence and low wages or non-payment, they say. "Today their salary depends on their bargaining power," said Josephine Valaramathi of the National Domestic Workers Movement. "With the draft bill for domestic workers yet to be cleared by the government, all these workers have no protection under existing laws."

More than 1,000 workers September 28 struck an Indonesian gold and copper mine owned by U.S. firm Freeport-McMoRan in a dispute over bonus payments. Union official Frans Okoseray told the news media about 1,200 workers are on strike and they include heavy equipment operators and truck drivers. He said they want bonus payments equal to underground miners who get a 50 per cent bonus each month. The Grasberg complex is one of the world's biggest gold and copper mines located in the mountains of eastern Papua province. The walkout affected operations at the open pit mine but an underground mine at the site was reportedly so far unaffected. A company spokesman also said a processing plant was still operating at limited capacity.

In the U.S., UNITE HERE September 27 called for a national boycott of businesses Donald J. Trump owns, has invested in, or has partnered with until the Trump Hotel Las Vegas honours its legal duty to bargain with the union at Trump Hotel Las Vegas. "Enough is enough," said UNITE HERE President D. Taylor. "While Donald Trump waged an indefensible anti-worker and anti-immigrant presidential campaign, the workers at his Las Vegas hotel fought for dignity and respect in their workplace. They voted to unionize, they won, and now the law says Trump must negotiate." Workers at Trumps Las Vegas hotel voted in December 2015 to join the Culinary Union, largest UNITE HERE affiliate, but management still refuses to recognize the union. According to UNITE HERE, locals picketed at Trump National Golf Course Los Angeles with other boycott events taking place in Waikiki and San Francisco, and October 1 and 18 in Chicago. More actions are expected to follow in Virginia, New York and Florida.

Regional and Local Union News

The Tertiary Education Union (TEU) reached a new collective agreement with Victoria University of Wellington that protects members' weekends and evenings and offers a $1,200 pay rise, the union announced. TEU reported the deal was concluded after union members took industrial action “where they dressed in red and played the Split Enz song I See Red on the hour, every hour, for a day.” TEU Deputy Secretary Nanette Cormack said in a statement the new general staff salary rates that the university introduced earlier this year will now go in the collective agreement and all new staff will be employed on these rates. Existing staff can choose to stay on their current salary scales or transfer to the new bands. For new staff and those who transfer there will be changes to long service leave and retirement leave. “Everyone's salary will increase by $1,200 and some of Victoria's lowest paid people - library shelvers, desk assistants and lower paid library assistants - will increase by more than that,” she said.

The New Zealand Meat Workers and Related Trades Union won a significant victory against Land Meat New Zealand, owned by Affco, which lost an employee dispute that will cost the company a $15,000 fine. The Employment Relations Authority ruled the Whanganui meatworks failed to negotiate with workers in good faith after the expiration of the 2013-14 slaughter collective agreement. The company's failure to engage in any meaningful way with the union over a bargaining process was "a deliberate, serious and sustained breach of good faith over a period of several months", the Employment Relations Authority ruled. Authority member Trish MacKinnon said she was not satisfied the meat company was serious about signing a bargaining process agreement with the union or progressing the bargaining. Affco has also lost an appeal against an Employment Court judgement that found the company's lockout of Wairoa freezing workers who refused to sign individual contracts was illegal. In a decision last year, the court found Affco had unlawfully breached the Employment Act by locking out 170 staff that refused to sign new individual contracts. A Court of Appeal decision released October 6 upheld the lower court's ruling.