NZ Labour Letter - June 2015, Vol. 6 No. 7
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National Labour News
Employees at AFFCO's Rangiuru plant are being forced to sign individual contracts against their will, the NZ Meatworkers Union declared. According to the union, the workers were told they would not be re-employed if they refused to sign the contracts which required more hours for less pay. The union lost a request before the Employment Court for a temporary injunction to block the company's action but vowed to continue the court fight. Union campaign director Darien Fenton said the workers were told not to report to work unless they signed the contracts. "The company has made it very clear that they require a signed individual agreement, so it really is they sign with a gun to their head," she said. "We'll live to fight another day - both in the Employment [Relations] Authority and in the Employment Court."
The Education Council (Educanz) which replaced the Teachers Council has been expanded too far and teachers lack faith in its role, education unions warned. Educanz will still register and discipline teachers, but it will also develop a code of conduct, comment on education issues and seek to lead the profession. But all of the members are appointed by Education Minister, Hekia Parata, and do not include teacher representatives. Educational Institute Secretary Paul Goulter predicted teachers will not recognize its leadership. "The Government has completely messed this up. It's no longer an organisation for teachers, by teachers and with teachers," he said. Post Primary Teachers Association Angela Roberts told the council's nine members the organisation would never be anything more than a highly unpopular and coercive arm of the government. "There's huge risk, potentially. Their core business, which is the regulation of the profession, has become only a part of what they've been charged to do by the minister and by the legislation," she said.
The results of a recent WorkSafe New Zealand Health and Safety Attitudes and Behaviours Survey show that employers in high-risk industries do not understand the dangers faced by workers, the Council of Trade Unions said. More than 3,700 workers and 1,900 employers were questioned in the survey. According to the results, 17 per cent of workers and 6 per cent of employers surveyed thought there was at least a moderate risk of a worker getting seriously hurt in their workplace in the next 12 months. CTU's Helen Kelly said the difference shows that employers fail to understand the risks in the workplaces they supervise and are "out of touch" with workers' concerns. Kelly further called for greater involvement of workers in health and safety efforts.
Delegates of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union voted July 2 in favour of merger with the Service and Food Workers Union, said the union in a statement. According to EPMU, the merger proposal will now go to the full membership in a postal ballot. "This is a tremendous milestone for the merger, which has been under discussion for quite some time," said Bill Newson, EPMU national secretary. He said the merger would also be "a significant step forward" for New Zealand's labour movement. "The role of unions has never been more important. As the nature of work changes, and exploitative trends like offshoring jobs, zero-hour contracts, and down-skilling technical jobs become more common, workers need strong support and advocacy to ensure they get a fair deal." SFWU national secretary John Ryall said the new union would free up resources so that more time would be dedicated to assisting workers who wanted representation but could not get it. If approved by both memberships, the new union would be the second-largest union in New Zealand with more 50,000 members. The tentative launch date is set for October.
National, Economic & Political Events
Jobs confidence dropped to a two-year low as the number of workers getting a pay rise in the last year dropped sharply, according to Westpac McDermott Miller consulting's research unit. The firm's employment confidence index fell nearly three points to 102.8 in the three months to June. An index above 100 represents more optimists than pessimists. "The number of workers who reported a wage increase over the past year is at its lowest since the global financial crisis. That could be a bit of a concern for the economy if it starts to pass through to spending," said Westpac senior economist Satish Ranchhod. He said weak earnings growth, the recent rise in unemployment and low inflation make it more difficult for workers to negotiate pay raises.
Labour and the Greens harshly criticized the Government about the prospect of selling state social housing to a private Australian company, Horizon Housing. The Government announced in January that 1000 to 2000 houses would be sold to community housing providers this year and as many as 6000 by 2017. Labour leader Andrew Little challenged Prime Minister John Key in parliament on the lessons a company that provides housing in Australia could teach Housing NZ about running social housing in Invercargill. Little later asked reporters, "We've had our own state agency for 80 years running our social housing. What has changed that means they have to hand this over to an outfit on the Gold Coast?" He charged the policy was a "big state sell-off" to an overseas owner. "Once that land goes and those properties go, we'll never get them back. This is ideology gone mad, it's got to stop," he warned. New Zealand has never needed anyone from overseas "holding our hands, looking after our most vulnerable," he said.
According to a new analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers, New Zealand leads the world in harnessing the economic power of older workers. PwC developed its Golden Age Index which ranks the success of countries which take advantage of the economic clout of workers older than 55. The index is a weighted average of indicators, including employment, earnings and training that reflect the market impact of older workers in 34 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. PwC reported New Zealand ranked at the top of the list, followed by Iceland, Israel and countries in Scandinavia. PwC Partner and business adviser Scott Mitchell said New Zealand's high ranking suggests that current conditions are a win for the government, employers and older workers, but the nation should not become complacent. "More should be done to focus on how we can drive innovation and productivity by harnessing the diversity that results from having a broader range of generations working together," said Mitchell.
International Labour News
More than 600 people signed up for Samoa's first private sector union, union leaders reported July 1. Samoan First Union was officially launched June 29. New Zealand Labour MP Jerome Mika said union representatives have been receiving huge interest from workers about the union and reported "an appetite" for a private sector union in Samoa. "We have had a few issues of personal grievance come through which we are investigating at this stage. But also things like the NPF, the National Provident Fund deductions that employers are supposed to take out. A lot of workers have approached us talking about the NPF deductions out of their wages," he said. S peaking at the union's launch, Samoa's Associate Labour Minister, Patea Tasi, who is also a union supporter in New Zealand, praised the efforts for establishing a union in Samoa.
Seventeen nurses and health care organizations from across the Pacific, Latin America and North America condemned the controversial TransPacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, reported the global union, Public Services International (PSI). In an open letter to trade ministers and government leaders, signed by the organisations, they said the TPP poses "too great a threat" to healthcare for them to remain silent. "The principles of universal healthcare are based on equitable access to affordable healthcare" said PSI General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli. "The TPP undermines those principles. Nurses, midwives and health workers know what happens when profit is put before people in the health system." The letter raises numerous concerns such as an increase in the cost of medicines as access to generic medicines is delayed and pharmaceutical manufacturers are given unprecedented access to government decision-making bodies.
The United Steelworkers union is negotiating three big contracts with major metals producers in the U.S. that expire this summer. Talks with Allegheny Technologies, where most of the 2,450 union workers are employed at the specialty metals producer's plants in the Alle-Kiski valley, do not appear to be going well, according to news reports. The four-year contract expires at the end of June and the company has made significant concessionary demands, including defining the normal work day as 12 hours. On September 1, three-year pacts expire at U.S. Steel covering thousands of workers and at ArcelorMittal, the worlds' largest steel-maker, where the union faces tough bargaining. A weaker U.S. economy, a stronger dollar and a rash of imports have plagued steel producers in recent months with shipments by U.S. steel mills down nearly 10 per cent through April.
More than 300 Chinese workers at a garment factory that supplies international brands such as Uniqlo began a protest in June over what they say is a unilateral decision by management to force them to move to another factory. Workers at Shenzhen Artigas Clothing & Leatherware in southern China said they demand negotiations for the relocation after management shut down the plant. Artigas is managed by Lever Style Limited which has refused comment. But the Japanese retailer Uniqlo has threatened to terminate its contract with the supplier if the matter remains unresolved. Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin reported more than 1,000 collective actions have been taken by Chinese workers since January who are taking to group actions to fight for their rights. The human rights organization reported 1,379 workers' strikes in China in 2014, up from 656 the previous year. China Labour Bulletin explained workers are more militant because China's economy is slowing and they have greater awareness of their legal rights.
Australia's South Coast Labour Council launched a campaign to save BlueScope's Port Kembla steelworks. The company stoked fears about the plant's future when officials announced "a game-changing" approach to significantly cut costs. Stopping steel production would lead to thousands of job losses and plunge the Illawarra coastal region into a deep recession, warned South Coast Labour Council Secretary Arthur Rorris. In response, labour unions want state and federal governments to use Australian-made steel on taxpayer funded projects. "We're not prepared to wait for one boardroom meeting of one company in Melbourne to determine the future not just for our steel industry in this country but also whether our region goes into a very deep recession," Rorris said. "You cannot lose thousands of jobs in this region and everything that goes with it and expect to have an unemployment rate without double digits." Citing the U.S. as an example, he said supporting locally made steel happens in other countries around the world but the government needs to lead the way.