New Zealand Labour Letter (December 2012, Vol. 3 No. 12)

6 Dec

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

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The New Zealand Labour Letter joins the growing family of international Labour newsletters published by AIL which include the U.S. Labor Letter and the Canadian Labour Letter.

In Solidarity,
Steve Friedlander
State General Agent, American Income Life

National Labour News

New Zealand unions backed a campaign to oppose a subminimum wage for young workers. The Same Work Same Pay campaign was launched November 27 on the steps of parliament. The campaign is targeting a government bill that would set a minimum wage of $10.80 an hour for 16 and 17-year-olds during the first six months of a new job. The rate is 80 per cent of the $13.50 adult minimum wage. "New Zealand has a minimum wage for a reason. All New Zealand workers should have the same minimum wage and be paid on the basis of the work they do and the skills they have," said campaign spokesperson James Sleep. He said paying young workers a lower minimum wage to do that same job as others is "fundamentally unfair." The unions rejected that a "cut-price" minimum wage will solve the problem of 85,000 young New Zealanders who are not in work, education or training. "This policy may lead to some jobs being opened up for young people on youth rates, but this will be at the expense of other young and older workers who will be paid the adult minimum wage," Sleep said. Unions called for the government to take "an investment approach" by creating job schemes, apprenticeships, increased support for youth employment and easier access to higher education.

New Zealand labour supported the Royal Commission’s recommendation for a new Crown Entity on workplace safety, but said the new entity must include union safety and health representatives. "We need to put workers at the centre of our approach to health and safety; health and safety workplace reps need to have the power to issue Improvement Notices and we need Health and Safety Advisors in our workplaces," said NZ Council of Trade Union President Helen Kelly in the council’s submission last month to the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety. She said the Pike River tragedy was an example of the failure of a de-regulated health and safety legislative framework. She said labour wanted "a more clearly prescribed law" and stronger penalties such as corporate manslaughter. "A worker voice needs to be at the heart of health and safety in New Zealand," she said.

As the country welcomed the film premiere of "The Hobbit" last month, NZ Actors Equity is still bitter over the failed unionisation attempt in 2010. "I’m bloody angry," said NZAE vice president Phil Darkins over the country’s uniquely non-unionised film industry. "New Zealand is the only English speaking nation on the planet where professional performers ply their trade at the mercy of their lords and masters. And they are supposed to do this feeling nothing but enormous gratitude for the fact that there is even work available." Media reports indicated that the union is making progress in negotiations with the country’s producers association, the Screen Production and Development Association (SPADA). The negotiations focus on replacing the existing unenforceable "Pink Book" guidelines with possible rigid codes for actor fees and a share in residuals, among other compensation issues. "We’re having productive discussions with SPADA," the union’s Anna Majavu told the news media, "and look forward to reaching a mutually agreeable conclusion."

The Rail & Maritime Transport Union called attention to the closing of KiwiRail’s Dunedin Hillside workshops, which made the new New Zealand built carriages used to promote the 25th anniversary of the TranzAlpine service. Union representatives held a protest demonstration at the launch of the new world class carriages on the TranzAlpine which made their first journey to the West Coast from Christchurch last month. Union spokesman John Kerr said it’s a "sad irony" of what the Government is doing to the manufacturing industry in New Zealand. He noted that train passenger wagons will no longer be built in the country. "…whilst we think that today is an auspicious day for the TranzAlpine, we think it’s a very sad day for Hillside workshops," he said. Christchurch City Councillor Aaron Keown supported the protestors, saying "It’s actually good to see them do it because these are the last of the rolling stock being made in New Zealand…" The partial closing of Dunedin’s Hillside rail workshop resulted in 90 job losses.

National, Economic & Political Events

Labour’s caucus voted unanimous support for leader David Shearer which, he said, puts to rest "any speculation or doubt about my leadership." Shearer called for the vote after his former rival David Cunliffe challenged his leadership. Cunliffe was demoted from the front bench and stripped of his economic development and associate finance portfolios. Shearer won out over Cunliffe last year in the leadership vote and invited him into the leadership to unify the party. But the two were never able to resolve their differences. Shearer described Cunliffe’s actions as destructive, disappointing and undermining. "I no longer have confidence in David Cunliffe,” he said. After the vote reaffirming his leadership, Shearer said, "It is important that these matters are resolved so that Labour can lift its sights to focus on the serious challenges facing the country, including jobs, education and housing affordability." He said a wider reshuffle of his leadership team will be made at a later date.

The use of temporary workers in New Zealand has become a long-term staffing solution for employers and no longer a quick fix, a survey by the recruiting firm Hays recently revealed. The survey found that 31.2 per cent of surveyed employers consider temporary workers "to be a key component of a long-term staffing strategy." A further 24.2 per cent of employers said temporary workers are essential to the success of their organisation, while just 11.8 per cent see them as a temporary cost reduction measure. The Hays survey showed that most temporary workers were employed in the public sector (28.9 per cent), followed by construction, property and engineering (21.9 per cent) and resources and mining (17.1 per cent) industries. The survey also found that 83.1 per cent of employers say temporary workers constitute up to 25 per cent of their workforce. Organised labour, meanwhile, continued to urge government policies to encourage the creation of more full-time jobs.

Regional and Local Union News

Tough negotiations averted a strike at Tegel’s Taranaki Bell Block chicken factory after management agreed with workers’ demands to consider raising wages 5 per cent to match what Tegel pays workers at its other NZ factories. The 230 unionised workers are represented by the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU). According to EPMU lead organiser Wayne Ruscoe, the workers had earlier voted industrial action if the company continued to refuse their demands. Ruscoe said workers were back on the job after the union was assured that a resolution to the pay dispute "would be found." He said the dispute has been going on for more than six months as both parties finally reached "a bit of a truce." Ruscoe said the decision to take action was a first for union workers at the factory and they had never walked off the job before. The workers were "pretty militant," he said.

The Service and Food Workers’ Union said workers at Te Papa national museum in Wellington are preparing for job cuts before Christmas that could result in at least 30 redundancies. Union spokesman James Sleep said the union has not been told exactly how many jobs will be axed. At least 115 jobs are affected, he said, but many could retain employment in other areas at Te Papa. "We’re confident that it is about 30 jobs, if not more, that will be lost," Sleep said."[Te Papa] has still got a number of curator jobs that they have deferred for disestablishment towards the beginning of next year, which could potentially add some more numbers there." Sleep warned that the job cuts could affect the international reputation of the Te Papa. He said the museum employs about 550 people, although he estimated that fewer than 400 jobs were permanent, full-time positions. The union represents 182 such employees, 46 of whom had been told their jobs could be disestablished.

International Labour

A group of U.S. workers kicked off a campaign November 29 to unionise New York City fast food restaurants with picket lines at the outlets of major chains including McDonald’s and Burger King. The campaign, called Fast Food Forward, is demanding a $15-an-hour wage and the right to join a union. New York Communities for Change is a local group that is spearheading the effort. Organising Director Jonathan Westin reported that hundreds of workers participated in the action at dozens of fast food restaurants. Most workers earn $7.24 an hour, the minimum wage in New York, which they say is not enough to live on. "These jobs pay people poverty wages," Westin said. "The hope is that what today will do is galvanise workers." Union organising is difficult in fast food restaurants because turnover is high and few employees work full time.

Nearly 200 Chinese bus drivers in Singapore launched the city-state’s first strike in 25 years over receiving less pay than their Singaporean and Malaysian co-workers for doing the same job. They struck November 26-27 but returned to work after facing severe government pressure. Strikes are illegal in Singapore for workers in "essential services" such as transport unless they give 14 days’ prior notice and comply with other requirements. The strikers also complained that the bus company switched them to a six-day week with slightly higher pay from a five-day week that had allowed them to earn more by doing overtime. In response, the government said it will deport 29 mainland Chinese bus drivers and prosecute five others for taking part in the city-state’s first strike since the 1980s. "The strike was planned and premeditated. It disrupted our public transport which is an essential service, and posed a threat to public order," its statement said.

The Australian government is considering new tough penalties against workplace bullying. A national advisory service found that workplace bullying is "widespread" and has led to some workers taking their own lives or becoming permanently disabled. An estimated 6.8 per cent to 15 per cent of Australian workers have been bullied, costing the economy between $6 billion and $36 billion each year. A House of Representative committee has proposed a uniform national approach to address workplace bullying, including an agreed definition of what constitutes bullying behaviour. Labour MP Amanda Rishworth, who chaired the inquiry, said society could not ignore the seriousness of bullying in the workplace. ”The psychological and physical detriment to health that bullying had and, of course, the cases that led to suicide were the shocking part for me because it really indicated the seriousness of this,” she said.

Independent unions in Mexico pledged to fight against pro-business legislation passed last month which overhauls the country’s 40-year old labour laws. The measure allows employer to hire and fire at will, outsource jobs, sidestep giving workers health benefits and hire part-time workers for a fraction of the pay they’d otherwise receive. "It strips away rights from workers and leaves union leaders untouched," said Cristina Auerbach, a labour lawyer working with coal miners in the northern state of Coahuila. The legislation was originally proposed by President Felipe Calderon, who stepped down from the presidency December 1. He is replaced by Enrique Pena Nieto, a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party which returned to power after a 12-year hiatus.

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