NZ Labour Letter February 2016, Vol. 7 No. 2
The New Zealand Labour Letter is provided as a service to Labour by AIL of New Zealand Ltd.
National Labour News
KiwiRail is so strapped for cash that some lines are in a state of “managed decline” at a time when the road transport lobby is demanding more and bigger trucks on our roads, warned the Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU). RMTU General Secretary Wayne Butson said numerous lines such as the Stillwater-Ngakawau, the Napier line and the Northland line are only being maintained to a standard that KiwiRail acknowledges will result in deterioration. “Discussions with KiwiRail and our union on a proposed change in the make-up of maintenance gangs led to management admitting this sorry state of affairs,” he said. Butson reported that other lines like the Wellington to Auckland North Island Main Trunk Line and the Picton to Invercargill South Island Main Trunk Line are only being cared for to a standard that will maintain their current state. “We are of the view that this is not good enough and our national railway network should be improved,” said Butson. “It beggars belief that in a modern 21st century developed economy we have a railway system that is funded in a manner that loads cost on the operator whilst the trucking industry does not pay the price for the environmental damage and congestion it causes.”
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The bitter dispute between the Meat Workers Union and Talley’s-owned meat processor Affco continued last month at an Employment Court hearing concerning stalled negotiations over a return to work by 200 Wairoa freezing workers who have been locked-out for the past 135 days. Affco lost a hearing in November when the court unanimously ruled the company’s lockout of freezing workers at plants across the North Island who had refused to sign individual contracts earlier in the year was illegal. The court also charged Affco was not acting in good faith while collective bargaining was continuing. Workers at other plants eventually returned to work under the new contracts but a number of Wairoa workers refused to sign. Mediation talks failed to resolve the long-standing dispute and the court ordered another hearing. The points of contention concern the terms and conditions under which the workers return to work. Affco, the country’s fourth-largest meat processor, insists the locked-out workers restart work on the night shift, which the union charges is unreasonable and discriminatory.
Aviation security officers refuse to “accept cuts to their allowances” and threatened industry action this month, according to media reports. The workers recently rejected a second proposal from management. “The three unions are currently meeting to discuss next steps,” Jessica Williams, media advisor for the Public Service Association, told the media. The union members are represented by PSA, New Zealand’s largest union, E Tū and the National Union of Public Employees. The officers were told they would lose an allowance worth $2,100 a year at the same time airports are reporting a significant increase in passengers without any additional support or resources. “Our members do a crucial job in keeping New Zealand’s skies safe,” said PSA National Secretary Glenn Barclay. “Union members voted in favour of strike action in December but decided to call it off, because it would cause massive delays for the public during the holiday season.” Kelvin Ellis, E Tū director of organising for aviation workers, said workers are asking only for a modest pay increase and no erosion of their terms and conditions of work.
National, Economic & Political Events
News media reported that hundreds of people gathered recently in front of the Governor-General's residence in Wellington to protest the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The event was one of numerous anti-TPP protests held across the country. The demonstrators presented the Governor-General with a petition signed by more than 4,500 people asking him not to sign off on the TPP. The official signing took place at SkyCity in Auckland on February 4. Marching with signs proclaiming "Support local, not global" and "Protect our freedoms," the group finished their protest with a “Great New Zealand Sell-off" display outside Parliament. Anti-TPP protests also were held in Rotorua, New Plymouth, Nelson, Christchurch and Dunedin. In addition, protest convoys by car enthusiasts took place in Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Palmerston North, Wellington and Christchurch. The Waiheke Local Board in Auckland recently voted for the island and the Hauraki Gulf to become a TPP-free zone as part of another protest action. United States trade expert Lori Wallach has been touring the country informing New Zealanders about the lack of support for the trade deal on both sides of the political divide in the United States.
Labour Leader Andrew Little recently announced a policy for free undergraduate education in the party’s State of the Nation speech. Little said the Working Futures Plan will cost an estimated $265 million in its first year, and an estimated $1.2 billion at full implementation. "Our Working Futures Plan will mean that no matter what path someone wants to take after school, be it university or an apprenticeship, they will be able to get the skills they need to succeed without being shackled with years of debt," said Little. The policy will cover education across a person's lifetime but it would only apply to new undergraduate study, and not those who already have student loans and want to return to studying. "This will be available throughout a person's lifetime, so that it can be used for retraining or if someone changes career part way through their working life," he said. "It will mean our businesses will always be able to find the skilled workers they need to succeed." The plan will phase in with one year of free post-school education in 2019, two years in 2022 and three years in 2025.
Deaths and injuries in the forestry industry showed a significant decline in 2015, according to data from Worksafe New Zealand. The number of forestry workers killed on the job last year was three compared with 10 in 2013 and there also were half the number of serious accidents in 2015 at 79. The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions has led the “FIRST Forestry Together” safety campaign for several years to reduce the number of deaths and injuries in the forestry industry. Union pressure resulted in a lengthy government investigation into the industry in 2014 which found forestry was one of the most dangerous jobs to work in, with more than 1000 serious injuries and 32 deaths between 2008 and 2013. Because of its appalling safety record, the industry was massively overhauled following the investigation.
International Labour News
Canada’s unions called on the government to conduct “a thorough assessment of potential impacts” of the Trans-Pacific Partnership after officials announced intentions to sign onto the pact. The country will now have two years to ratify the trade deal. Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff and several other union leaders recently met with Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland and outlined their concerns about the pact. They called for comprehensive study and “meaningful” cross-country consultations on potential impacts before considering ratification. “We’re disappointed with the government’s decision to sign on and have outlined the many problems that we see with this very broad-reaching agreement," said Yussuff. Among the concerns raised by unions is the “devastating impacts” on Canada’s auto sector; greater power for foreign firms operating in Canada to import more workers instead of hiring Canadians; the government’s ability to regulate in the public interest is weakened and the deal will “increase prescription drug prices, compromises food safety and compromises personal privacy.”
The government, the Fiji Trades Union Congress and the Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation reached an agreement on a joint implementation report that has been signed and submitted by the three parties to the ILO governing body. Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum made the announcement January 29 and said the cabinet will present the Employment Relations amendments to parliament by February 8. Fiji Trades Union Congress General Secretary Felix Anthony said the parties made “good progress” on the agreements. Some of the major agreements include restoration of direct union fee deductions for public sector unions, freedom for workers to join any union and reduction of strike notice to 14 days from 28 for essential services industries.
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) workers ratified five-year agreements reached with Hawaiian Airlines in December for approximately 2,200 mechanic and related, clerical, office, stores, fleet service and passenger service employees at the carrier. The contracts cover more than 1,500 IAM District 141 members who work in clerical, office, stores, fleet and passenger services and 700 workers represented by District 142 who are aircraft mechanics and inspectors, line servicemen, cleaners, and contract services personnel. According to the union, the new labour deals “provide pay increases and enhanced job security while holding the line on health care costs.” The new contracts also secured profit sharing and other incentive programs. "I'd like to thank the members at Hawaiian Airlines and their negotiating committees for bargaining and approving agreements that they can be proud of," said IAM General Vice President Sito Pantoja. "Both District Lodge 141 and 142 did a great job coordinating this round of bargaining and demonstrating the solidarity of all IAM members at Hawaiian Airlines." Hawaiian is Hawai'i's biggest and longest-serving airline.
Regional and Local Union News
Tramways and Public Transport Union pledged to work with NZ Bus to save the jobs of union workers after the company’s tender was rejected by Auckland Transport to provide bus services in the area. News reports indicated that 200 drivers would be affected. National union president Gary Froggatt said workers would experience major problems but there was some time to place them in other depots. The company was given a nine-month transition period. But Froggatt accused NZ Bus of offering too high a price for the service and warned that drivers who switched companies might face a pay cut. "Some of them may be offered jobs with a new company ... we know what the wage rates are in those companies — the wage is a lot less than what is currently paid with NZ Bus." He blamed the company for making the drivers pay for their mistake. "I guess NZ Bus will attempt to blame the workers even though we've helped them become more competitive during the past two years by modifying our wage claims, but you know the average bus driver takes home about $800 a week, by the time you take out $500 for rent there's not much left."
E Tū union charged offshore processors of New Zealand hoki are undercutting local processors which are costing jobs and economic loss to the nation. Nelson-based Sealord recently announced that production of its Kirimi fish bites products will stop because of competing products from cheaper offshore processors. Up to 60 processing, cleaning and salaried jobs could go from one of factories in the plant at Port Nelson. "The big problem here is that we are allowing our fish to go offshore to be processed in China and undercutting jobs here in New Zealand — its total nonsense," said E Tū union co-ordinator Chas Muir. "Sealord's hoki customer can get a cheaper final product because our exporting rules are not set up to best help the New Zealand economy. It's cheaper and easier for many fishing operations to make a quick buck flicking off fish for processing in China." Sealord closed its Dunedin factory in 2006 and has gone through four restructurings at Nelson in 10 years.
Association of Salaried Medical Specialists clashed with the Capital and Coast District Health Board over the pay raise to the board’s chief executive, Debbie Chin. Union Executive Director Ian Powell said the chief executive's pay rise was far higher than the average increase of 3.5 percent for all DHB chief executives while workers only got a 0.5 percent average pay rise. He said the increase showed the disparity between her salary and that of her hospital's workers. "An 0.5 percent salary increase on a salary of, let's say, $60,000 is also going to be much, much less than a 3.5 per cent increase on a chief executive's salary of anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000 or above. So it is by contrast grotesque,” he said. According to Powell, State Services Commission figures show the 2013-14 total salary band for the chief executive position was $490,000 to $499,999.