NZ Labour Letter (July 2012)

4 Jul

This is an abridged version of an online newsletter published as a service to Labour by AIL of New Zealand Ltd. Letter at www.ailnews.com

NATIONAL LABOUR NEWS

The NZ Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union warned the Government that more good jobs will disappear unless a new jobs strategy is put into place. The recent closure of the high-end manufacturing firm Flotech, which will result in more than 70 redundancies at Flotech’s Manukau plant, follows similar mass redundancies at Summit Wool Spinners in Oamaru and Norman Ellison Carpets in Onehunga. “This is the third major factory closure in as many weeks. It’s time the government realised that its hands-off approach isn’t working,” said EPMU assistant director of organising Strachan Crang. He said the government needs to support manufacturing if it’s serious about protecting well paid, highly skilled jobs. “Unless the government is willing to step up with a plan to help manufacturing firms through the downturn, we’re just going to see more good jobs like these disappear,” he warned. EPMU said that all members affected by the job losses will receive a redundancy package as part of their collective agreement.

First Union (Finance, Industrial, Retail, Stores and Transport) transport and logistics secretary Karl Andersen called for law changes to stop unsafe practises by truck drivers on New Zealand’s roads. The union charged that some truck drivers are engaging in unsafe practices such as taking shortcuts and using stimulants. Andersen said owner drivers are under “immense pressure” to make a living, many were tied into contracts their boss could change at will and demands could not be met without compromising the safety of themselves and other road users. “This leads to drivers taking shortcuts, running bald tyres, breaking driver regulations and, in some cases, using stimulants to get through,” he said. “Drivers work very long hours and face significant disruption to their family time. They shouldn’t also have to work in an unsafe environment and put themselves and others at risk.” According to Ministry of Transport national figures, 57 people died and 871 were injured in road crashes that involved trucks in 2010, 15 per cent of the total road toll even though trucks made up only about 6 per cent of the road traffic.

Teachers’ unions urged schools to refuse to release national standards data to the media to prevent the information from being unfairly reported. Union leaders said schools should not individually give results to the news media and should instead refer any requests for the information to the Education Ministry. The ministry declined a request for data from the Dominion Post, but acting senior manager Dennis Cribb said individual schools could be approached. “We are entering a new era of ‘naming and shaming’ schools in order to sell newspapers and even worse, the publication of league tables will be unfair and based on faulty, misleading and valueless misinformation,” New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) president Ian Leckie said. In an “urgent” advisory, NZ Principals’ Federation president Paul Drummond also suggested schools should “consider reporting in general terms” to prevent misinterpretation of the data.

REGIONAL AND LOCAL UNION NEWS

The NZ Maritime Union supported heavy criticism of New Zealand in a U.S. Government report on the NZ fishing industry’s use of overseas labour. The U.S. State Department’s “Trafficking in Persons Report 2012”, released in June, identified areas “of strong concern for human trafficking in New Zealand” including the use of overseas labour in the fishing industry. The union said the criticism was “justified.” “This report confirms and vindicates the stance of the Maritime Union that the deregulated industry and exploitation of overseas labour has been a stain on New Zealand’s reputation. The Maritime Union has been pushing for action on this issue for a decade,” said Maritime Union of New Zealand General Secretary Joe Fleetwood. The report charged New Zealand was a destination for foreign workers, who are subjected to forced labour and other abuses on fishing boats and in the agricultural sector.

Workers at Solid Energy’s Huntly East underground coal mine demanded the company agree to Australian mine safety regulations, including worker-elected check inspectors. Represented by the NZ Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, the 120 workers called for called for a system of worker-elected check inspectors, which is a key part of Queensland’s mining regulations. The Queensland regulations are considered the international best practice in mine safety, the union says. “Solid Energy can’t credibly claim it supports lifting New Zealand’s sorry mine safety regulations to international standards while it refuses to allow check inspectors and lobbies against law changes to make them compulsory,” EPMU assistant national secretary Ged O’Connell said. Solid Energy, a state-owned miner, has taken over the Pike River Coal mine on the West Coast of the South Island where 29 workers died in an explosion. The company opposes a mandatory role for worker-appointed check inspectors.

The NZ Council of Trade Unions said in a statement that “action” must be taken to stem the exodus of workers to Australia. Statistics NZ recently reported that 53,400 people left permanently or long term for Australia in the year ending May 2012 which serves as “a stark reminder to employers and the Government that we need to create more decent jobs in New Zealand,” said CTU Secretary Peter Conway. “Action needed includes a lift in the minimum wage, and a lift in wages in general through improvements to collective bargaining, including the development of industry-wide agreements, and renewed efforts to lift productivity and share the benefits with workers,” he said. Conway pointed out that the steady outflow at a very high level also shows that the 2010 tax cuts which gave $2.2 billion to the top 10 per cent of income earners was not only grossly unfair but has made Australia even more attractive for many New Zealand workers.

NATIONAL, ECONOMIC & POLITICAL EVENTS

Faced with an open rebellion from teachers’ unions and the public, New Zealand’s National Party-led government in June dropped plans to increase class sizes throughout public schools. The government had proposed to increase the student-teacher ratio from 23 to 27.5 over the next ten years as a way to cap the numbers of teachers. Teachers and school communities had been joined by parents and students in bitterly denouncing the move. The cuts were part of the government’s “zero budget” in May, which froze expenditures and deepened attacks on public services. The announcement sparked an outcry from educators, parents and students. Polls showed 80 per cent opposition to any increase in class sizes. For the first time since it assumed office in 2008, the government began losing substantial poll support to Labour and the Greens. On June 7, Education Minister Hekia Parata suddenly announced that the class size increases would be rescinded.

New Zealand faces an acute shortage of skilled labour, said a recent Department of Labour report. Even though New Zealand gained 1,500 more skilled workers than it lost last year, acute shortages still exist in some trades. According to the Department of Labour, skilled jobs where shortages exist include drainlayers, fibrous plasterers, metal fabricators and crane, hoist or lift operators. More professions also are likely be added to the long-term list such as engineering and mechanical trades and truck drivers. The report explained that some deficits are an aftershock of the Christchurch quakes, others due to the brain drain. Most projected skills shortages are in jobs for the Christchurch rebuild. The projected skill shortages are likely to impact immigration policy as pressure builds to ease entry rules for foreign workers.

New Zealand government workers are the most demoralised about their jobs than at any time in a least six years, according to the April-June Westpac McDermott Miller Employment Confidence index. The Public Sector Employment Confidence Index sank 3.8 points to 89.7, the lowest since the public sector measure was started in March 2006. Readings below 100 mean pessimists outnumber optimists. “Public sector employees are caught in an on-going process of public sector restructuring and job losses,” said Richard Miller, director of strategy planning consultancy at McDermott Miller. “Job security is shaken within their sector while opportunities outside are few and far between.” Private sector employees remained optimistic, even with a 1.1 point drop to 100.5, still the lowest reading since June 2009. Overall, the index fell to 96.2 in the April-June quarter, from 98.9 three months earlier, the fourth straight quarterly decline.

INTERNATIONAL LABOUR

Australia’s lowest paid workers will earn $15.96 an hour, effective July 1, an increase of $17.10 in their weekly pay check. About 1.4 million workers were granted an extra 2.9 per cent in their wages, following the annual wage review by Fair Work Australia. Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary Dave Oliver said the award-dependent workers, who will receive the annual wage increase as the new financial year starts, includes about 100,000 on the minimum wage. “For these workers, the Fair Work Australia Annual Wage Review is their only chance of a pay rise,” he said. “Every year, unions launch an annual wage case to ensure that all workers have a decent safety net. Over the past decade, the gap between workers who are dependent on award wages and the rest of the workforce has widened dramatically, and unions will continue to advocate on their behalf so they do not fall further behind.”

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) strongly condemned raids on union offices and arrests June 25 of seventy-one trade union leaders and members who were detained by the Turkish government. According to the ITUC, the pretext of the attacks was an operation against an illegal terrorist organisation, although no links between Turkey’s trade unions and “any real or perceived” terrorist group has been found. “We cannot accept that trade unionists are detained, jailed and, most of all, baselessly accused. The Turkish government must immediately stop labelling trade unions as terrorist organisations. Trade unionists should have the right to play their legitimate role without fear of being arrested,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary. Last year, 25 members of teachers’ union Egitim Sen were sentenced to six years’ and five months’ imprisonment by the Izmir Criminal Court as “terrorists.” The only “evidence” against them included possession of books that can be found in any bookstore in Turkey, and the holding of union meetings.

Thousands of striking Argentine truckers and other union members staged a one-day strike June 27 to demand the state cut back income taxes to improve wages amid inflation which is running about 25 per cent annually. They also demanded better treatment from the executive branch. The action was called by the powerful General Labour Confederation union, which was once a close ally of President Cristina Fernandez and her late husband, former President Nestor Kirchner. “It wouldn’t cost Mrs. President anything to … talk to workers,” said union leader Hugo Moyano at the rally in Buenos Aires. He added that he hoped Fernandez would “realize that she can’t continue with this overwhelming haughtiness.” The workers gathered in front of Argentina’s presidential palace in Plaza de Mayo in an action that is seen as a challenge to Fernandez. The demonstration was the first time the labour federation, an umbrella group for numerous unions, has called a strike since Nestor Kirchner took office in 2003.

Thousands of striking Argentine truckers gather outside the presidential palace in Buenos Aires, Argentina, June 27, 2012. The demonstration was staged to demand tax cuts. [Xinhua]

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