NZ Labour Letter - March 2016

NZ Labour Letter - March 2016

National Labour News

FIRST Union and Bunnings agreed to be bound by recommendations made by the Employment Relations Authority in an effort to end their long-running dispute over roster changes. FIRST Union retail and finance secretary Maxine Gay said the authority had agreed to help the two sides in their negotiations in a process known as facilitated bargaining. Facilitated bargaining is where the ERA steps in to help overcome impasses in collective bargaining. At the end of the process the ERA will make recommendations for a settlement which both sides will accept. "With the authority supervising the process, we're confident we can break the deadlock on rostering,'' she said. The issue involves demands by the company for changes to the workers’ rosters that the union said would allow managers to impose rosters on staff with just a few days’ notice in some circumstances. Bunnings recently suspended hundreds of workers across New Zealand for removing their aprons in a protest against the chain store’s refusal to negotiate on rostering. Gay said the staff would be wearing their aprons as the strike action been lifted.

First Union's Retail Secretary Maxine Gay speaking to Bunnings' workers picket

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) and the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) called on the Government to resist pressure from the US to extend the monopoly times for a new group of potentially life-saving specialty medicines under the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). Ian Powell, ASMS Executive Director, said there was a risk that TPPA will extend the patent from five to eight years held by the big drug companies for this special class of medicines known as biologics. “If that happens, it will add millions to New Zealand’s medicines bill and mean these drugs will cost us more for longer, and that they will stay out of the reach of many ordinary New Zealanders who need them,” he said. Dr Bill Rosenberg, CTU Economist and Director of Policy, pointed out the New Zealand Government has been signalling that the TPPA won’t change the way biologic medicines are currently handled “but that’s at odds with the messages coming out of the US Administration and Congress.”

New Zealand unions hailed action by Parliament to ban the use of zero hours contracts after an amendment by the Labour Party to the Employment Standards Legislation Bill was accepted. Faced with an unrelenting campaign by thousands of working people, National was forced to seek Labour support after United Future and the Maori Party echoed concerns that the bill; in its original form, would not stop zero-hour contracts. “As a society we are changing. Modern work means treating working people with more dignity and respect. The fact that this legislation has received cross party support is testament to a new vision; a better working life for all Kiwis,” said CTU President Richard Wagstaff. He offered “special acknowledgement” to Unite Union members who for years “told their very personal stories about what it means to have no security of hours or income from week to week.”

Public Service Association National Secretary Glenn Barclay said National's Better Local Services reforms must not be used as a back-door way to force council amalgamation and privatization. "The government's reform agenda clearly sees greater amalgamation at council level as the way to deliver better results," he said. “The PSA is not opposed to amalgamation if ratepayers want it – but to date, these proposals have largely been rejected by New Zealanders.” Minister Sam Lotu I'iga claims the reforms will allow for more shared services and greater use of Council Controlled Organisations which will result better services to ratepayers. But the PSA warned ratepayers could end up carrying more risk as a result of these changes and with less say in how their community services are run. "These changes will force amalgamation by stealth, with Council Controlled Organisations able to work across different regions with very little accountability. We believe this will lead to gradual erosion of local democracy," PSA said.

National, Economic & Political Events

An investigation by the New Zealand Herald revealed that 20 multinational companies overall paid virtually no income tax, despite recording nearly $10 billion in annual sales to Kiwi consumers. According to the Herald, an analysis of financial information of more than 100 multinational corporations and their New Zealand subsidiaries showed that, had the New Zealand branches of these 20 firms reported profits at the same healthy rate as their parents, their combined income tax bill would have been nearly $490 million. These 20 were the “most aggressive” in shifting profits out of New Zealand and overall paid just $1.8m in income taxes after several claimed tens of millions of dollars in tax deferments and losses, the Herald said. The paper reported that the 20 companies identified “with the largest difference in profitability rates are dominated by firms in similar industries, ranging from the well-known, such as Apple, to under-the-radar methanol producer Methanex” and included Facebook, Google, Pfizer and Pernod Ricard.

A proposal to pay every adult Kiwi more than $200 a week as a "universal income" from the Government is being considered by the Labour Party, according to news reports. The proposal is part of the party’s Future of Work Commission, a project to look at the impact of new technologies on careers and the workforce. A discussion paper floated by the commission suggested the idea of giving every adult New Zealander $11,000 annually in exchange for scrapping many current welfare payments. A universal income, said the discussion paper, would help to remove the insecurity associated with low wages or insufficient welfare benefits, which bred "personal shame, stress, [and] mental health problems". Labour finance spokesman Grant Robertson said it is looking into how best to provide income support to Kiwis as their careers come under threat from new technologies.

Statistics New Zealand reported gross domestic product grew 0.9 per cent in the three months to 31 December 2015. The annual growth over 2015 was 2.3 per cent. Growth in the December quarter was led by service industries, which make up 70 per cent of the economy and grew 0.8 per cent overall. Agriculture activity fell 1.7 per cent in the quarter, but remains up 3.7 per cent over 2015. Labour economists, however, said the underlying picture “is not as rosy.” CTU’s Bill Rosenberg pointed out productivity for each hour people worked fell by 0.1 percent over the three months and rose only 0.2 percent compared with the same period last year. He said most of the growth is driven by more people moving to New Zealand. "As a nation we are producing more and getting less for it. There are also growing concerns about the international economy. The Government has a critical role to play in turning this around and to ensure that working people are getting their fair share," Rosenberg said.

International Labour News

In the Republic of Georgia, coal miners in Tkibuli and glass factory workers in Ksani recently waged strikes that resulted in big workplace gains. They were assisted by the Metal Workers, Miners and Chemical Industry Workers’ Trade Union (MMCIWTU) and the Georgian Trade Unions Confederation (GTUC). After 750 miners went on strike in February, they won key contract demands, including a wage increase and improved job safety and health. The workers were employed by the Georgian Industrial Group (GIG), which operates two mines in Tkibuli. In a second major action, 170 workers at the JSC “Mina” glass container factory went on strike February 5 for 30 days after months of stalled contract negotiations over key issues that included a wage increase. They ultimately won a 7.5 per cent pay increase beginning January 1, 2017, and the company agreed to the workers’ demand for a location to hold union activities.

Australian trade unions launched a blistering attack on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for trying to resurrect a construction industry watchdog commission abolished by Labour in 2012. Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, the country’s biggest construction union, is leading the fight against the proposed reinstatement of the Australian Building and Construction Commission to toughen monitoring of union activities. National construction division secretary Dave Noonan told the news media the Prime Minister was being held hostage by his big business backers and a conservative party that appeared "obsessed" with slashing workplace rights. "These undemocratic and repressive laws help the government with its base, it helps them settle the 'Taliban' in the Liberal backbench, and it rewards their mates in the big property developers and construction companies," he said. Turnbull, meanwhile, has threatened a July election if the Senate did not agree to restore the ABCC.

A new study found that 17 percent, or one in six, Hong Kong migrant domestic workers surveyed are in forced labour. In "Coming Clean", a first-of-its kind report by the Justice Centre Hong Kong, only 5.4 per cent of the more than 1,000 domestic helpers surveyed showed no signs of exploitation. “Unscrupulous recruitment and placement agencies, brokers and moneylenders, have a huge role to play, and lack of adequate regulation and of stiffer penalties on these agencies that overcharge is having a detrimental human rights impact on migrant domestic workers,” said Victoria Wisniewski Otero, co-author of the report. The yearlong study also found that of the domestic workers in forced labour, one in seven (14.0 per cent) were trafficked into it. The survey revealed that four out of 10 (39.3 per cent) did not even have their own room to sleep in, 35.2 per cent shared a room with a child or an elderly person, and two per cent slept in a kitchen or communal space. “The survey findings provide much-needed evidence to push for policy and legislative change around forced labour, human trafficking and domestic worker rights in Hong Kong,” said Piya Muqit, the executive director of the Justice Centre.

Regional and Local Union News

A group of cleaners working for meat cooperative Silver Fern Farms has won a pay dispute before the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) that will save their wages and benefits. The company’s Dargaville plant contracted out its cleaning jobs, first to first to ISS Facilities Services Limited, then to Biogene Limited in September 2014. The cleaners were told they were no longer covered by the collective agreement which meant losing certain working rights and a cut in pay. After reviewing their case, the ERA ruled Biogene must make up any shortfalls in wages and holiday pay. "It's an important reminder that in the meat industry there's people that do important jobs like cleaning,” said New Zealand Meat Workers and Related Trades Union campaign director Darien Fenton. "And we have to preserve not only their conditions and pay but also the standard we expect in the meat industry.”

After being locked out for months, 160 AFFCO Talleys workers at the Wairoa plant returned to work in late February. But the Meatworkers Union charged the company is still not complying with the judge’s ruling. "Talleys are making things difficult for us, by not abiding by the judgement, they’re still pushing the law to the limit," said the union’s Justin Kaimoana. In a second Employment Court ruling in January, Judge Bruce Corkill deemed the lockout unlawful and gave the company until 23 February to reinstate the workers back to the day shift. Workers are supposed to have the same working conditions before the lock-out, including start and finish times, but Kaimoana said the company is still not cooperating. The dispute concerns company demands that workers accept new Individual Employment Agreements.