NZ Labour Letter August 2016

NZ Labour Letter August 2016

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

E Tū charged the use of so-called “arms-length” employment is growing and labour-hire companies are exploiting workers. E Tū union organiser Shopan Dasgupta warned that many companies keep low-paid workers on insecure or sham contracts with few benefits. Some workers have even been forced to pay their own ACC levies. Dasgupta said labour-hire companies have gone from providing genuine temporary jobs to abandoning their responsibilities to offer “fair, safe and secure work.” He pledged the union would prove to companies that the workers were actually employees. "(the companies) cannot fob them off as and when you wish," he said. The challenge of monitoring workers under long-term casual contracts is a serious national issue. Last October, First Union, which represents 27,000 workers, called on Employment Relations Minister Michael Woodhouse to conduct an industry-wide investigation of labour-hire companies. Labour Party workplace relations and safety spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway also supports an inquiry in New Zealand’s contract employment.

eight_col_Driver_Kamlesh_Prasad_with_Etu__Union_Organiser_Shopan_Dasgupta.jpg
Driver Kamlesh Prasad and E Tū union organiser Shopan Dasgupta claim labour-hire companies are cutting costs at workers' expense.

 

The New Zealand Education Institute and The Post Primary Association, which represent a total of 60,000 members, scheduled joint meetings across the country next month to address Education Minister Hekia Parata’s global budget funding proposal. The joint meetings of the two unions’ members are called unprecedented. NZEI president Louise Green said there would be some disruption to classes during the meetings, but she hoped parents would understand the seriousness of what is at stake. "We want to send a strong signal to Cabinet that the proposal is unacceptable,” she said. PPTA president Angela Roberts said the government needed to know that its plans for the funding system were a bad idea. The unions oppose the plan, which would allow schools to exchange teacher salaries for money to spend on other things. They charged the proposal is similar to the unpopular bulk funding system used until 2000. Currently, salaries are paid by the Government and schools are staffed on a ratio basis determined by the number of students. School principals can decide on the best person for the position rather than give consideration to salary costs. The unions said the proposed changes could have dire long-term implications for New Zealand teachers and schoolchildren.

Public Service Association praised Labour’s latest employment incentive but wanted more details before giving its full support. The union said the plan may need more work before it is viable. Labour wants to eliminate student debt for anyone taking public service jobs in small centres. Labour Leader Andrew Little said the plan would encourage people to move to regions experiencing job shortages. The scheme could be extended to the private sector, he said. PSA national secretary Glenn Barclay said any attempt to help students with debt is a good idea. "Over recent years, the government has moved to centralise the way public services are delivered which has stripped regional offices to a skeleton staff,” he said. "Any scheme like this would need to be supported by a government commitment to maintain public service roles in the regions – and to make sure those jobs are fulfilling and sustainable.” He said PSA would “welcome” Labour’s plan if public service jobs are retained in the regions. He added that Labour would need to restrict the relocation scheme to jobs or regions where there are no local qualified workers available.


National, Economic & Political Events

Despite a hot housing market, hundreds of state homes have been sold off well below their current value, Labour charged. Labour's housing spokesperson, Phil Twyford, said the government is selling state-owned housing at “fire sale” prices. "There were, according to this data, seven properties in Orakei in east Auckland, sold. And they were sold below the valuation to a total of about $10 million, and one of them was a $2 million house," he told The Nation. "The Government, in their own words, wants to free up capital, and they've told Housing New Zealand explicitly to hurry up and sell off this stock. I think that explains why it's being sold off at below valuation." He said taxpayers are taking a “big hit” on the discounted housing sales. He also questioned Housing New Zealand’s efforts to get rid of state houses across New Zealand when homelessness is on the rise. "The National Government has made a net reduction in the total number of state houses of 2500, at a time when Government agencies are referring people to live in unconsented garages," he said.

A High Court recently found a report that was highly critical of private prison operator Serco to be fair and "without error.” Serco in February objected to the chief prison inspector's draft report which found organised fighting among inmates and access to contraband at the jail. The company requested a judicial review after which the court concluded there may have been weekly "fight clubs" at Mount Eden prison, animals may have gotten into food given to inmates and some prisoners were left waiting long periods without calls to lawyers. Corrections Department chief Ray Smith launched the investigation into organised "fight clubs" at the prison in July 2015 after the discovery of footage of the fights was uploaded to YouTube. Labour's corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis said the court’s findings showed there was no place for private prison operators in New Zealand. "The Minister of Corrections must end the privatisation experiment immediately," he said. Serco won a $300 million, 10-year contract in 2011 to run Mount Eden remand prison. The government took over the prison last July and cancelled Serco’s contract in December.

A clear majority of New Zealanders in the latest Newshub-Reid Research poll want the government to reduce immigration. The poll revealed that 60 per cent of Kiwis want fewer immigrants let in the country. The results come on the heels of reports that more work visas were issued last year than at any other time on record. More than 200,000 people were issued temporary work visas in the year ending June, almost 30,000 more than the year before. Even 59 per cent of National voters strongly support reduced immigration. "There is no question the Government is letting too many people in at a time when our labour market can't utilise everyone here at the moment and they've got to slow it down. We shouldn't be issuing work permits to people from overseas to come here when we've got problems here already internally. We're issuing too may work permits; when the economy slows down, of course we're going to have problems," said Labour Leader Andrew Little. The poll also found that 75 per cent of respondents said the government wasn’t doing enough to control housing prices.


International Labour News

Australia’s New South Wales trade union movement backed a boycott of Carlton and United Breweries products. Led by the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), the boycott attacked the company’s termination of 54 electricians and fitters last month, before inviting them to reapply for their jobs with a 65 per cent pay cut. ETU reported “union-busting” labour is now being bused into the facility on a daily basis. "CUB has built its brand on blue collar sweat, but today it is leaving a very bitter aftertaste. To turn its back on its unionised workforce is deep treachery," said Dave McKinley, ETU Assistant Secretary. "Today, we are returning serve. We are calling on trade union members across NSW to reconsider supporting all CUB brands, including VB." NSW unions recently joined ETU members who conducted a leaflet blitz which urged NSW residents to avoid purchasing Carlton and United Breweries products. AMWU State Secretary, Tim Ayres, endorsed the call. "CUB's behaviour in Melbourne is despicable. You can't extol Australian workers in your ads while sacking workers in your factory. This company is completely disingenuous,” he said. Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey said, "This action has the backing of the entire NSW trade union movement. We will use every means at our disposal to hold CUB to account."

The Myanmar Industries Crafts and Services Trade Union Federation (MICF), one of Myanmar’s largest officially recognised labour unions, vowed August 1 to boycott the Arbitration Council and stage strikes if they encounter problems with their employers. The union wants the current representatives replaced. “If they don’t hold a re-election, we will go against their representatives and we won’t acknowledge them or their decisions. We have lost our trust in the Arbitration Council and if a problem happens with workers under our organisation, we won’t go through the council mechanism, but will stage strikes,” said union spokesperson U Naw Aung. The quasi-legal Arbitration Council is a disputes resolution body which negotiates settlements between employers and their workers. Five new members representing workers were elected in early July to the 15-member body, but the unions charged they do not reflect workers’ interests. None of the new workers’ representatives represent a labour union.

The President of the Confederation of Indonesian Workers, Said Iqbal, said recently passage of the Tax Amnesty Bill into law will create an uneven playing field that puts workers at a disadvantage. He said the law is designed in such a way that it only benefits those who avoided paying their taxes. Iqbal filed a judicial review of the law and reminded the Constitutional Court (MK) that workers pay taxes every month in contributions taken directly from their monthly pay checks. "On the other hand, corporations and industry owners, who should have been paying their contributions, are given amnesty despite their obvious disobedience of our existing taxation laws." He asked the court, “"Why are embezzlers given a higher status in front of the law just for the sake of closing in our budget deficit?” Iqbal said that the Tax Amnesty Law is created solely to boost Indonesia's economic growth by providing incentives for tax-avoiders to return their money in Indonesia. He said the measure is a clear violation of the 1945 Indonesian Constitution, which holds all individuals as equal in front of the law.


Regional and Local Union News

Westpac banking group, headquartered in Sydney, is thinking about closing 19 branches in New Zealand in response to increased use of online banking, said First Union. According to First Union finance organiser Tali Williams, Westpac is considering shutting branches mostly in rural areas, though some were in the cities of Christchurch and Palmerston North. She reported the bank consulted with staff about the closures during meetings at the branches attended by First Union members and representatives. A Westpac spokesman said in an email to Reuters, without elaborating on the proposal or number of branches, “A proposal regarding a number of branches is currently with staff for their consideration and feedback.” Tali vowed the union and local mayors would oppose any closures. “It’s very out of the blue,” Williams told the news media. “Local business and farmers who are making very big financial decisions are in these communities and need to make sure they’re talking face to face with someone.” She said the bank will consult staff over the next two weeks and decide by the end of September, with affected banks closing by October-end.

In what union leaders say is a sign of desperation, Pak’n Save workers in Christchurch went on strike for a $2 an hour pay raise that would be in line with their North Island counterparts. FIRST union national organiser Bill Bradford said a job action was a big step for low-wage workers who are struggling to pay their bills. "It's a measure of the desperation of people who are faced with this never-ending grind of having to work very hard, or seeing prices going up all around them, of struggling to pay the food bill, and yet their pay barely moves," Bradford said. FIRST Union general secretary Robert Reid said low wage workers should not have to fight so hard for a decent wage. He said “meaningful” pay rises also benefit businesses when workers have more money to spend. He pointed to Pak'n Save workers in Whakatane who received an extra $1.25 hourly last year. "That was an extra quarter of a million dollars going into the Whakatane economy, now that was good for our members, that has to be good for Whakatane," Reid said. Overall wage increases slowed to 1.5 per cent in the year to June and have been below two per cent annually for the past four years.