New Leadership at Unite

10 Dec

The 2014 AGM of Unite Union saw many new leaders step up and a farewell to one of the Union’s

Featured imageMatt McCarten stood down as National Secretary. Matt had been on leave for the most of the year after taking up the Chief of Staff position for the Labour party in parliament. Matt played the pivotal role in the transformation of Unite from a small union with a few hundred members to a ground breaking movement that achieved what was thought internationally to be impossible – organising casualised and low paid workers and negotiating national collective agreements. Matt’s skills and leadership will be missed but it is no surprise that he is once again taking the fight for working people onto the bigger stage of national politics.

Gerard Hehir was elected unopposed as National Secretary. Gerard has been Unite President for the past five years. Mike Treen remains as National Director and Tom Buckley as Assistant Secretary.

There was a change to the Presidental positions with the President and Vice-Presidental roles being replaced by two Co-Presidents (one of whom is required to be a woman). Elected were Tina Barnett (SkyCity, Auckland) and Heleyni Pratley (Unite Union, Wellington). A special thanks is due to Duncan Allan who has served as Vice-president over the past few years.

Of the thirteen strong Executive members (ten elected, three co-opted at the AGM to ensure good representation) there are eleven new faces: Continue reading

Fast food strikes in US

9 Dec



Push for Higher Pay Spreads as Home Care Workers, Convenience Store Cashiers, Discount Store Clerks, Airport Cleaners and Ramp Workers, Walmart Associates, Federally-Contracted Service Workers Call for $15 an Hour

In Just Two Years, Fast Food Cooks and Cashiers Have Sparked Broad Movement to Lift Wages for Families Living on the Brink—8 Million Low-Wage Workers Have Already Seen Raises

Two years after 200 New York City fast-food workers walked off their jobs, sparking a nationwide movement for $15 and union rights, cooks and cashiers at McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and other major national chains went on strike Thursday in more than 190 cities— the most ever—joined for the first time by convenience store clerks and dollar-store workers in two dozen cities.

Baggage handlers, skycaps, wheelchair attendants and aircraft cleaners from 10 major airports supported the strikers as the Fight for $15 movement continued its spread to new industries. The Home Care Fight for $15, which launched in September, more than tripled in size, reaching 19 cities from coast to coast. Also Thursday, federally-contracted food service workers at the McDonald’s location at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC went on strike, joining the call for for $15 an hour.

“Every day I look my kids in the face and they realize we live in poverty. They are the reason I fight,” said Terrence Wise, a 35-year-old father of three who is paid $9.30 an hour at Burger King in Kansas City, MO and is the subject of a major New York Times profile published Thursday. “It’s inspiring to see airport, home care and retail workers fighting for $15, too. This movement is larger than ever and we are going to keep standing up until we win.”

Continue reading

Unite Union conference declares war on zero hour contracts

9 Dec

​Unite fast food delegates send a message of support to US workers

By Mike Treen, Unite Union National Director

150 Unite Union delegates resolved to launch a campaign in the new year to end zero hour contracts in the fast food industry at their national conference December 1-2.

At their national conference Unite discussed recent cases where the existence of these type of agreements have been used against workers.

Ex-McDonald’s worker Stephanie Phillips was at work even though she had three broken ribs and a punctured lung. When the pain and discomfort got too much she asked to go home but this was refused. When a customer saw her coughing up blood and complained she was transferred to the drive through. She was only allowed to leave after 5 hours. Workers are able to be treated this way because they lack the power to assert their rights. They know that if they do speak up the managers take their revenge by cutting their hours.

Restaurant Brands which owns the KFC brand implemented a new roster last week cutting hundreds of hours from workers regular roster without consultation. Some staff have been working regular 5-6 hour shifts for many years only to have their shifts cut to three hours. Management hours have also been cut so that it will be impossible for them to run the store without themselves clocking out and working unpaid. There will be added pressure on crew to not take breaks and work unpaid as well. Again the company believes it can do this because there are no guaranteed hours for crew at KFC. Suspicion is widespread that these cost cutting measures are designed to boost profits so that the share price hits $4 and triggers a $1 million bonus for the chief executive.

Opposition party leaders including Andrew Little from Labour, Winston Peters from NZ First and Metiria Turei from the Greens spoke to the Unite conference in support of the union’s objectives.

Action Station has also swung in behind the campaign to ban zero hour contracts.

SkyCity cleaners beat contracting out

5 Dec

By John Crocker, SkyCity SEA-Unite organiser

SEA-Unite has finally claimed victory in our 6 month campaign to oppose the outsourcing of the Cleaning Services department. The decision of the Employment Relations Authority that SkyCity was not compliant with the unions’ Collective Agreement was delivered Friday 14th of November and effectively blocks the outsourcing of the cleaners.

The union’s campaign against the proposed outsourcing began in May with the initial consultation process. Multiple submissions were made, in writing and at meetings, regarding the proposal. SEA-Unite pointed out flaws in the process, breaches of good faith, bad results with outsourcing cleaning in the past as well as the whole proposal being against SkyCity’s core values and its commitments in the Collective Agreement. These consultations did not convince SkyCity but laid the groundwork for the later ERA case.

At the same time SEA-Unite began an industrial campaign to show SkyCity how strongly staff felt in opposition to the proposal. First the union circulated a petition that gathered an amazing 770 signatures to show just how widespread the opposition was. Then the cleaners themselves wrote letters to the CEO. There was a photo campaign as well. Lastly there was a picket, the first since 2011 to show how strongly the opposition was felt.

SkyCity workers with petition

When SkyCity insisted on proceeding, against overwhelming worker opposition and their own stated values, the unions adopted a legal approach, first attending mediation and then filing the case with the Authority. The hearing took place over two days in late October with over half the affected cleaners in attendance and many giving evidence.

The Employment Relations Authority found that SkyCity was in breach of section 2 of the Collective Agreement which deals with SkyCity’s obligations towards employees as well as section 4 of the Employment Relations Act which deals with good faith.

This is a big deal for all workers at SkyCity! This decision stops SkyCity from outsourcing the cleaners and sets the bar high for any future outsourcing of any department. SEA-Unite showed SkyCity how far we will take things when we know they’ve got it wrong. This was possible due to the hundreds of union members at SkyCity, their support and the strength of the unions.

Zero tolerance for zero hours

4 Dec

Fast food workers are on the frontline in the fight against zero-hour contracts, with a union saying bosses have all the power.

A street full of fast food signs

Working the night shift a few months ago Martha, a 19-year-old KFC worker in Wellington, got into a dispute with her boss over whose job it was to finish a task. When she refused to do it, the “big boss” reminded her that he was currently hiring new staff – an implicit threat that her hours could be cut.

“In my head, I was thinking ‘is that a threat? Are you threatening me … Are you serious? I’ve been working here for four years’. And for him to just say that … I wasn’t mad, it was just hurtful.”

Martha’s voice breaks as she talks about work, and before long, tears are running down her face. “Sorry,” she says. “It’s just frustrating.”

She says she works about 15 hours a week. She can’t do night shifts because the last bus leaves before the shift finishes, but she’ll take them if she has to, because she knows her hours are not guaranteed. She is studying, and would like more hours – she hassles management for more shifts. But her job feels precarious.

“I’m always keen for more hours, because I have lots of things to pay for, and I need money.”

Martha, who didn’t want to give her full name or be photographed, is one of several young fast food workers on zero-hour contracts who this week shared their stories at a conference held but the Unite Union, which is fighting to have the employment agreements abolished.

Unlike casual contracts, where workers have a right to refuse work, zero-hours contracts are a regular employment agreement. This makes it difficult to turn down work, but employers aren’t obligated to provide minimum hours.


It’s a horrific way to treat people. There are a lot of good employers who would never do that. There are some rogues who do it, and unfortunately we need to have laws to deal with the rogues.

They’re common in fast food, but increasingly in other sectors like retail, finance and security.

Zero-hour contracts are on the rise around the world. It’s not known how many people are on them in New Zealand, but research in the UK found that more than one in 10 employers are using such contracts, which are most likely to be offered to women, young people and people over 65.

University research here shows that two-thirds of employment is classed as casual, part-time or contract. But employers say that’s not fair on them either. They argue that changes in consumer demand and greater competition globally make it hard for employers.

Unite national director Mike Treen says zero-hour contracts mean those employers can reduce staff hours “arbitrarily and whimsically,” placing all the power in their hands, and leaving workers – especially young workers – with few mechanisms to protect themselves. He says people would be surprised to find out how common they are.

“These are the entry level jobs for tens of thousands of young New Zealanders. This is their first experience of life, and it’s not necessarily a joyful one. We want to change the culture.”

A spokesperson from Burger King says that a collective agreement with Unite workers has been in place for some years, and the union’s position has changed since it was signed. The company says it will address that when the agreement is re-negotiated in the first quarter of next year.

Other fast food companies contacted by The Wireless – including McDonald’s and Restaurant Brands (owners of KFC and Pizza Hut) – either did not respond to requests for comment or declined to comment.

Continue reading

Why bother joining a union?

28 Nov

Workers protest over how Carl’s Jr sale was handled by company

By Mike Treen, Unite Union National Director

This past couple of weeks Unite has had a number of graphic examples on why it can make a huge difference in you work life whether you are a union member or not.

100 cleaners jobs at SkyCity were saved when an employment authority decision stopped the company from contracting out their work. The collective agreement that Unite has with SkyCity says that the company will treat workers with decency and respect. Too often claims or promises to treat workers well are simply empty words designed to remain on paper. This time a company has been forced to comply with its promises.

Hotel cleaning staff at a major hotel have received thousands of dollars in back pay after they were discovered paying thir staff by the room and not meeting their legal obligations under the minimum wage act.

The owner of seven Carl’s Jr stores in Auckland sold them to Restaurant Brands without a thought about what would happen to the workers. After the intervention of Unite we got three weeks pay in lieu of a full four week’s notice as required in our collective agreement. In addition, after a three way discussion between the union, the new owner and the old owner of the stores all of the migrant workers with visas specific to the old owner will be able to continue to be employed. We still have some back pay issues to settle through a separate process with the old owner but everyone has a job and their service will be recognised by Restaurant Brands.

The cleaning manager at a major hotel in Auckland announced that because of the law change she didn’t have to provide breaks for staff until the end of the shift. We have individual members at the hotel and no collective agreement as yet but with a judicious bit of media attention the hotel management got the message and apologised to all staff for the “misunderstanding”.

Continue reading

Casual work putting pressure on families

27 Nov

By Thomas Heaton

(Reprinted from the Manawatu Standard)

A job market with more casual labour and an increasing number of zero-hour contracts is leaving Manawatu families wanting.

Palmerston North’s Methodist Social Services food bank co-ordinator Stacey Rohloff said there were a number of people using the food bank to make up the difference.

More zero-hour contracts added to the problem, as it meant workers did not have guaranteed hours of work.

"They never have a budget that’s secure," she said.

Massey University research has found almost two-thirds of work was casual, part-time or contracted.

Methodist Social Services found "the worst thing" was the increasing number of zero-hour contracts.

In Work Tax Credits are designed to go to those who are not on government benefits and who work a certain amount of hours each week.

To qualify for the tax credit a single parent with a dependant child, under 18, must work a minimum of 20 hours per week, while a couple must work 30.

Their hours were also insecure, so could fall short of the 20 or 30-hour threshold, Rohloff said.

There is an option that allows families to obtain the tax credit at the end of the financial year, in a lump sum.

"It sounds great, but generally they [families] have struggled the whole year."

Receiving the tax throughout the year was also possible, but anyone overpaid at the end of the year would have to pay it back.

The money from the lump sum would go to paying off debts accrued throughout the year, Rohloff said.

It was hard for some parents, who thought they could not do without it, because they still had to feed their children, she said.

Rohloff said she believed the In Work Tax Credit was a "bit of a sham".

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) also expressed dissatisfaction with the tax credit system in light of the current employment market, as workers were missing out due to "red tape".

Although parents were missing out on the extra money, it was their children who were being affected.

CPAG economics spokeswoman Susan St John said that the "discriminatory and inflexible" family assistance package failed to protect children in a casual work environment, where parents’ work hours were uncertain.

"The unrealistic, rigid hours-worked requirements must go as a first step in badly-needed reforms to reduce child poverty."

A spokeswoman for Minister of Revenue Todd McClay said the tax benefit was always designed to "ensure people in work were better off than being on welfare".

"On the wider issue of child poverty, the Government’s absolutely committed to improving living standards for all children, particularly our most vulnerable," she said.

"Cabinet is working on a range of options right now and they will form part of next year’s Budget."


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,317 other followers

%d bloggers like this: