New Zealand Labour Letter, April 2013, Vol. 4 No. 4

23 Apr

The New Zealand Labour Letter is produced as a service to the labour movement by AIL of New Zealand Ltd.

National Labour News

Forest safety campaign intensified as FIRST Union General Secretary Robert Reid called for a government inquiry to address the alarming rate of injuries and fatalities in forestry. Three forestry workers have died since January of this year, the union said, and “deaths in forestry are of the magnitude of a Pike River disaster every 6 to 7 years.” Meanwhile, the Council of Trade Unions launched a “What Killed Ken Callow?” billboard on Auckland’s Khyber Pass on April 4, part of a campaign calling for Minister of Labour Simon Bridges to initiate an investigation into forest safety. The billboard is funded by donations across the country through OneBigVoice.Com. Gisborne forestry worker Ken Callow died in 2011 and his parents were in Auckland for the launch.

New Zealand Education Institute said the government should “open the books” on groups that want to set up charter schools. The union appealed to the Ombudsman after the Ministry of Education refused to release a list of groups that have indicated an interest in setting up charter schools. “The proposed charter school legislation and authorising processes had no provision for consultation with the communities or other schools in areas where charter schools might be set up. It makes sense that local people and schools should be able to fi nd out as early as possible what the impacts might be for them,” said NZEI Te Riu Roa president Judith Nowotarski. NZEI said the Minister’s decision “is an example of the lack of transparency” and accountability throughout the introduction of the National/ACT charter school policy. “This is privatisation through the back door without any mandate and without accountability, given that charter schools will not be subject to the Offi cial Information or the Ombusdmen Acts,” Nowotarski said.

Labour groups strongly criticized a bill the government is preparing to pass that will introduce sanctions, drug testing and other draconian measures to pressure unemployed workers back into the job market. Eileen Brown, Council of Trade Union Policy Analyst, said the bill is based on the “false ideas that unemployed people don’t want to work” and that enough jobs exist for everyone. “It’s already hard for families who are looking for work; these changes only make it tougher for them to get by. We have 163,000 offi cially unemployed, 284,000 jobless and 111,000 wanting more work. We are seeing large scale redundancies,” she said. She said the “threat of sanctions and other punitive measures” will force people into low quality, low paid, high risk jobs. “The Government needs to gear itself to job creation and support for people who are out of work and at risk of losing their jobs. Instead these will introduce sanctions and bring in draconian measures like drug testing that even their official advice was against,” she said.

Public Service Association national secretary Brenda Pilott said, “the conveyor belt of job cuts in the core public service” should raise concerns in the public mind. “What is the impact of these cuts on people who work in those services and are coming under greater pressure? And secondly, are the cracks beginning to show in terms of the quality of service delivery,” she asked. She noted that the Pike River inquiry found that the number and level of support for the mine inspectors was a part of the picture there. Under National, the size of the total public service has dropped 45,297 to 43,345. In addition, around 2500 vacancies exist across the core public service, a fi gure largely unchanged over several years.

National, Economic & Political Events

Minimum contributions for KiwiSaver members jumped from 2 to 3 per cent beginning April 1, leading some labour experts to fear that lower-income workers may struggle with the extra money taken about of their pay. Employers also will have to match the increase to a minimum of 3 per cent, which sparked additional fears that pay raises could be at risk this year. According to government data, 1.97 million New Zealand workers were signed up to the scheme last year. About 1.16 million, some 59 per cent, contributed at the default rate of 2 per cent with other workers contributing more. But those on the minimum wage, which rose 25 cents to $13.75 this month, will only receive a negligible pay increase if they stay in KiwiSaver, warned CTU Secretary Peter Conway. “But, if you have to do the 2 per cent to 3 per cent [extra deduction] on KiwiSaver, then it only goes up $2.38 a week in terms of what you get,” he said.

Labour urged the Prime Minister to shelve his party’s partial asset sale policy. David Shearer said National should put politics aside and reconsider the policy. Labour issued the statement because of uncertainty over the future of the Tiwai Point smelter. Analysts warned that the market could be fl ooded with cheap electricity if the aluminium plant closes, which would devalue the state-owned energy enterprises that the Government is looking to partially float. “The Government should do what is best for New Zealand, not what is politically expedient,” Shearer said. “In this case, they should back out of the Mighty River Power (sale) because they’re not going to get the price they want for it.”

Regional and Local Union News

Otago/Southland Branch Secretary of the NZ Meat Workers UnionGary Davis warned meat workers had “been under a fair bit of stress” in the past six to seven weeks because they are working longer hours with more overtime. Workers were doing 10-hour days and at least six days a week at most plants to keep up with the extra stock. They normally worked 8- to 8-1/2 hour days and fi ve days a week, he said. “It’s diffi cult this shift work . . . our workers have been doing a hell of a job,” he said. “They still have to keep a home and keep a family.” But the longer hours and extra shifts are taking a toll, with one Southland meat company reporting about 100 of its 2000 workers call in sick on any given day, according to media reports. Southern farmers, for example, are sending more livestock to meat companies than normal because the lengthy dry period puts pressure on their pastures to feed them. News media reported that 6.1 million lambs had been killed compared to 5.5 million at the same time last year

EPMU assistant national secretary Ged O’Connell called on the government to pledge that it will continue to fi ght for the future of Tiwai Point smelter Plant in Southland and its 700 workers. “There are more than 3000 families relying on Rio Tinto and the Government to come to a solution that protects their jobs and provides a future for Southland,” O’Connell said. The smelter’s owner, Rio Tinto, recently rejected an offer from the government of a short-term taxpayer subsidy. They want a deal for 18 years of affordable power from Meridian’s Manapouri plant. Prime Minister John Key said the government was “not interested” in a long-term subsidy for the smelter. Key told Rio Tinto to re-negotiate a new energy contract, which the company said was “highly unlikely.”

KiwiRail’s announcement that it will suspend its Christchurch-Picton passenger service, the TranzCoastal, over the winter months is both “shortsighted and misguided,” said the Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU). “Since the Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2012, KiwiRail’s Christchurch based passenger services have suffered a decline in customer numbers, but this summer has seen the reversal of that trend, and it does not make sense to stop running this train over the winter,’ said RMTU General Secretary Wayne Butson. He said Christchurch needs “a demonstration” by government companies like KiwiRail that they have faith in the tourism business and the future of the area. “To suspend the service over the winter months is shortsighted, it sends a signal to tourism operators overseas that our own Government lacks faith in the rebuild of Christchurch and the resurgence in tourism in the South Island and beyond,” he said.

International Labour News

Global unions demanded Thailand stop persecuting a British rights activist and researcher in ‘’an attempt to silence human rights defenders.’’ International Trade Union Confederation warned Thailand to drop two criminal charges against Andy Hall for “legitimate and peaceful human rights work.” In a letter to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said the dispute could lead to international boycotts or importation restrictions on Thai products. The 33-year old Hall is prominent in defending the rights of Burmese and Cambodian workers to receive proper wages and conditions in all industries throughout Thailand. Recently, the Natural Fruit Company took criminal action against Hall that could see him jailed for up to two years and fi ned 300 million baht.

Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU) opened their 14th national conference April 4 with a pledge to strengthen trade union unity in the country. Slogan of the conference was the intensification of class struggle to change policies. CITU State general secretary Elamaram Karim told the news media that trade unions had a responsibility to strengthen unity among them to improve life for all. More than 2,000 delegates from across India attended the conference. Leaders of various trade unions such as the All India Trade Union Congress, Indian National Trade Union Congress, Hind Mazdoor Sabha, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and the United Trade Union Congress attended the inaugural session. A delegation of the World Federation of Trade Unions led by its general secretary George Mavrikos and International Labour Organisation representative Arial Castro also attended the delegates’ session.

The United Steelworkers-Canada announced an organising victory for 85 workers at Price Steel in Edmonton, Alberta. “We’re proud to welcome these workers as the newest members of the United Steelworkers in District 3,” said Director Steve Hunt. “The courage they displayed by sticking together and standing up for their right to join a union is a powerful reminder to all of us of the true meaning of solidarity.” The union opened the campaign in January 2013 with a strong inside organising committee. USW Organizer Pablo Guerra said that “despite the usual tactics by the employer,” the workers never backed down from supporting the union and improving their working conditions. A vote was held in March with more than 60 per cent of the workers voting yes to the union. “Organizing is the lifeblood of our union. We are committed to continuing our efforts to offer workers throughout western Canada the opportunity to join the United Steelworkers and stand together to build a better future for themselves and their families,” said Hunt.

Hong Kong’s Kwai Tsing container terminals were rocked by a strike of 450 dock workers March 28. The dispute is further jeopardising Hong Kong’s ranking among the world’s leading container ports. Hong Kong recently dropped from the world’s third-busiest port to the fourth. The Hong Kong Shippers’ Council has advised operators and freight forwarders to divert cargo to Shenzhen if the strike at Kwai Tsing continued. The workers are demanding a 17 per cent pay raise and say they have not received any increase for a decade. Hong Kong was the world’s busiest container port for more than 10 years until it was overtaken by Singapore in 2005. In 2010, Shanghai took over as number one and Shenzhen is third largest.

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