NZ Labour Letter January, 2016

NZ Labour Letter January, 2016

Below is the latest edition of your New Zealand Labour Letter. 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

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) urged the government to announce plain packaging laws for tobacco. The union cited a recent legal case won by the Australian government which was challenged by Philip Morris over plain packaging laws. Philip Morris attempted to sue the Australian Government for lost profit under Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) trade agreement clauses, the union explained. "The New Zealand Government has been very clear that it was 'wait and see' for plain packaging over here, depending on the outcome of the Philip Morris case in Australia" said NZNO Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku. She said the court proved "the tobacco giant had no leg to stand on" and said there was no further reason to delay introducing plain packaging in New Zealand. "Those lured to smoke by tobacco companies' marketing are predominantly young, Māori and female. Any further delays will be responsible for more grieving whānau missing out on years with their daughters, sisters and mums," she said.

Public Service Association called on the government this year to lift the cap on public service staffing, and confirm support for Equal Pay and a living wage for all New Zealanders. "2015 has not been a great year for many of our members, who've carried on delivering essential services while stuck in difficult negotiations," said PSA National Secretary Glenn Barclay. "Public services help to bind the country together - and yet our members continue to deliver more for less, under a staffing cap put in place more than 7 years ago." He noted that finance minister Bill English hinted the cap may be lifted in 2016, because the population has increased substantially since it was set in 2008. Barclay urged the government to invest in public sector and community workers whose pay has lagged behind the private sector for the past five years. "The PSA's challenging the Prime Minister to make a New Year's Resolution to do right by the public servants who make his government look good," he said.

New Zealand labour last month appealed the High Court's decision in the Pike River Mine disaster. "The appeal is of the Judicial Review decision not to re-examine the legality of the decision the Crown made to trade charges against Pike River Mine CEO Peter Whittal, for insurance money," said New Zealand Council of Trade Union (NZCTU) President Richard Wagstaff. The case was brought by Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton Osborne, and Sonya Rockhouse, whose son Ben Rockhouse, were both killed at Pike River Mine in 2010. "There are several parts of the decision being appealed. It is our view that the decision to drop the charges was the wrong one both in regards justice for the 29 men killed at Pike, and also that the decision was not in the public's interest. Continuing to pursue this legally is extremely important," Wagstaff said. The CTU supported the Pike families who "sought to pursue justice" and criticized the court's decision in November. At the time, Wagstaff said, "If this is the law in New Zealand then the law needs to change. Justice is not justice if it can be bought."

National, Economic & Political Events

Wellington had the highest advertised salaries in New Zealand last year, according to data supplied by job search company Seek. Even though the average advertised salary in Wellington fell 0.2 percent to $80,348 in 2015, the capital was still higher than Auckland where the average advertised rate was $75,856. Auckland was the second highest paid region ahead of Taranaki where the average advertised salary fell 4 per cent to $72,475. Economic experts said Wellington had a strong IT and telecommunications sector which attracted higher salaries. Wellington workers needed to be higher skilled because they work directly for or supplied services for the government, said Andrew Whiteford, managing director at Wellington-based economic research firm Infometrics. "Unlike Auckland, Wellington doesn't have much of a manufacturing sector which has lower wages. The average salary [for Wellington] reflects a more highly skilled workforce. Auckland is more typical of the whole of New Zealand," he said.

In response to a Chilean announcement that the signing of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership will take place on February 4 in New Zealand, Labour leader Andrew Little called for more transparency by the government for when the final sign-off will occur. Little added that he was informed by an American official that all signatories were working toward the February 4 date. But Duty minister Simon Bridges disputed the announcement, claiming that no final date has been set. "A number of countries are still working through their domestic approval processes required before signature," he said. Little pointed out the New Zealand Government is in control of the text and the signing of it, and should not keep the signing date secret. "I think the TPPA is going to be a major issue not just for New Zealand, but for the US and other countries that are party to it. People are entitled to know," he said. He also said that holding the signing two days before New Zealand's Waitangi Day would be inappropriate. "Our national day is a day that we celebrate our national identity and national sovereignty, and this is an agreement that potentially compromises our sovereignty," he said.

Former Council of Trade Union President Helen Kelly, who is terminally ill, called for a referendum on whether medical cannabis should be legalized. Kelly has lung cancer and has been taking cannabis oil purchased from black market sources to relieve her pain. She said it is "absolutely ludicrous" the law has forced her to illegally purchase cannabis. "If we can have a referendum on the New Zealand flag, then we can have a referendum on this issue," she told the news media. Kelly reported she has been trying to get permission from the Ministry of Health to legally buy medicinal cannabis but the effort has been "absurd" and emotionally draining. Kelly said since speaking out on the issue she has been contacted by many Kiwis wanting access to medicinal cannabis. They have included parents of children with brain tumours, people "zonked out" on morphine who want something less "brain-numbing" and elderly people suffering from arthritis who cannot cope with opiates and are in pain "constantly". She has spoken to MPs about getting a medicinal cannabis referendum on the ballot in 2017.

International Labour News

IndustriALL Global Union condemned the Thai military government for suppressing a peaceful protest by union members in Bangkok January 6. The union members held a rally outside the Ministry of Labour in support of 500 locked-out workers at Japanese-owned auto-part supplier Sanko Gosei. Invoking new powers under the Public Assembly Act 2015, police and military units used force to break up the demonstrators who planned to spend the night in front of the ministry. Two union leaders were later detained, questioned and intimidated by authorities. They had participated earlier in the day in mediation negotiations with Sanko Gosei and the Ministry of Labour. "We are gravely concerned that the government is using the Public Assembly Act to curb the legitimate rights of workers to gather peacefully," said Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL. "This goes against all norms and international standards." More than 600 Sanko Gosei workers, who are all union members, were locked out after negotiations broke down over a new collective bargaining agreement and bonuses.

U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments whether state and local public employees should pay a portion of union dues for representation services. In a 1977 case, the high court held that they can be required to pay a "fair share" or "agency" fee to cover the union's costs to negotiate and enforce a contract that covers all public employees, even non-union members. The question before the court is whether requiring an objecting employee to pay this limited fee violates First Amendment freedom of speech guarantees. The court's decision could be a blow to the financial stability of public employee unions which now represent more members than private sector unions. In an earlier dues case involving home health workers, who were ruled not to be government employees, five justices indicated that they were willing to revisit the 1977 case. The legal action was brought by a group of California teachers represented by the California Teachers Union and was funded by an anti-union organization.

The number of strikes and worker protests in China increased dramatically at the end of 2015 in response to the nation's economic slowdown, reported China Labour Bulletin. According to the human rights organization, there were 2,774 incidents in 2015, double the 1,379 incidents for 2014. Manufacturing, construction and mining all saw a massive upsurge in disputes. The number of disputes heightened after the government devalued the yuan on August 11 and the subsequent stock market crash. But China Labour Bulletin asserted the economic downturn was only partially responsible for the increase in labour turmoil. More than two thirds of all the disputes recorded in 2015, for example, were related to the non-payment of wages. "The fundamental cause has been systematic failure of employers to respect the basic rights of employees, such as being paid on time and receiving their legally mandated benefits, and the failure of local government officials to enforce labour law," it said.

Regional and Local Union News

Rail and Maritime Union (RMTU) General Secretary Wayne Butson assured Wellington's Tranz Metro rail workers that "their jobs are secure, and their terms and conditions are secure" following the Greater Wellington Regional Council's (GWRC) announcement last month to privatize the system. Transdev Australasia was awarded a 15-year contract to operate commuter rail services in New Zealand's capital city in partnership with South Korea's Hyundai Rotem beginning in July. The passenger service covers the lower North Island, including the heavily-used Kapiti, Hutt Valley, Johnsonville and Wairarapa lines. The current operator of Wellington's passenger rail is Tranz Metro, a subsidiary of state-owned KiwiRail. Butson strongly criticized the council's action, saying "private rail operators often provide poorer service at a greater cost" by milking governments for subsidies. He charged "privatisation just isn't needed. Wellington metro rail services have been delivered by the national rail operator for more than 80 years." Rail would "be the poorer for the loss of work and our members are deeply saddened at the prospect of leaving the KiwiRail family," he declared. Transdev presently operates commuter rail services in New Zealand's largest city Auckland, as well as rail and bus services in 20 different countries.

AFFCO suspended a Meat Workers Union member January 5 without pay at the company's meatworks in Rangiruri near Te Puke for wearing a tee shirt proclaiming "Jobs that Count - MWU." The company claimed the shirts were associated with "inappropriate and threatening behaviour." The incident happened before Christmas. "He was suspended standing in the carpark and suspended without pay," said union organiser Darien Fenton. "This is the third time in as many weeks that they suspended somebody without pay, so suspended pending an investigation meeting know you live in hope but I have no doubt that they'll sack him." According to a union's statement, managements refused to meet union representatives in the plant because they were wearing union-branded t shirts. "Union reps were denied entry to the office for the meeting, so we agreed to meet in the first known car-park disciplinary across the road, where we stood, papers in hand and tried to defend the MWU member," the union said.