NZ Labour Letter

12 Jan

Produced by AIL NZ for the labour movement of New Zealand

January 2015, Vol. 6 No. 1


National Labour News

NZ Meat Workers Union launched a national campaign to highlight job insecurity within the meat industry. The union said in a statement that it will call on ‘Jobs that Count‘ for workers in the industry in an effort to help alleviate some of the major pressures meat workers face both financially and in the workplace. More than 20,000 meat workers provide labour for the industry "yet their job security is on more shaky ground than ever," the union said. Union National Secretary, Graham Cooke explained, "Seasonal work, dangerous jobs, casual and zero hours contracts, and increasing pressure on workers to join non-union individual agreements. As if that’s not enough, the Government’s recent Employment Law changes mean meat workers will face a tougher time settling collective agreements and earning a decent living." He said the union understands the industry faces challenges, "but we don’t believe workers and their families should pay the price." The Council of Trade Unions put its clout behind the campaign, citing a CTU report which found that at least 30 per cent of New Zealand workers are in insecure work.

The Maritime Union of New Zealand welcomed ratification of the Maritime Labour Convention by the National Government. The union called The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) a "seafarers bill of rights." The MLC is an international treaty adopted by the International Labour Organisation which lays out minimum rights for seafarers and promotes good employment practices across the shipping industry. The union has been pushing for years for New Zealand to be a signatory. "Most developed nations including Australia are signed up to the MLC and it was an anomaly that New Zealand was not," said Maritime Union National Secretary Joe Fleetwood. "The Maritime Union works with the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) to recover wages and deal with crew welfare issues. We note that this work is done by the unions, not by the Government, and we deal with constant issues on flag of convenience vessels on the New Zealand coast," he explained. "The deregulated approach to this and other aspects of the maritime industry has been recognised as a failure, so now the move is back towards proper oversight of the industry by Government." He also expressed thanks to Business New Zealand for supporting ratification.

Continuing cuts in Government funding of public services are inevitable as a result of the projected budget deficit, making for a gloomy horizon for jobs, the Council of Trade Unions warned. CTU Economist Bill Rosenberg said the Budget Policy statement "ignores the social, environmental and economic pressures that are building in New Zealand." He predicted 120,000 people will still be unemployed in 2017, a jobless rate above 5 per cent and nine years after the global financial crisis hit. He said the health budget will come under pressure, the level of inequality will increase, child poverty will continue and the government has still failed to adequately address climate change. "Clearly they are living in the past, focusing on Budget surpluses which are a side show compared to creating and funding social and environmental solutions which could have such positive economic consequences," said Rosenberg.

National, Economic & Political Events

A new report released by Statistics New Zealand found that almost two-thirds of disabled adults aged under age 65 are employed, and most of the remainder would like to have jobs. According to the Disability and the labour market: Findings from the 2013 Disability Survey, 61 per cent of disabled people aged 15 to 64 were working in paid jobs in 2013, while 74 per cent of those who weren’t employed said they would like to work if a job were available. "Over one-third of disabled adults worked in either managerial or professional jobs, while many worked in physically demanding occupations such as labouring or trades jobs," labour market and households manager Diane Ramsay said. "Many disabled people face difficulties in looking for jobs or are limited in the amount or type of work they can do. Interestingly, we found that relatively few disabled workers aged under age 65 needed special modifications or equipment in their workplace."

Prime Minister John Key and his National party suffered a political setback when New Zealand’s Treasury department reported last month there will be a NZ$572 million budget deficit in the 12 months through June 2015. The half-year update contrasts with the August 2014 projection of a NZ$297 million surplus. The government said falling dairy prices and weaker inflation resulted in lower-than-expected tax revenue. During the election, Key pledged to deliver the first budget surplus in seven years. The Labour Party pounced on the news, declaring that the government owed an apology to New Zealanders. "Less than three months into its third term National is already back-pedaling on its election tax cut promise," said Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. "Not only is the Government not getting the books into the black but growth and exports are declining. And worst of all, Kiwis’ forecast rise in wages is as much of a mirage as the promised surplus."

More than 200 workers at Lyttelton Port refused to work overtime last month in a fight for a wage increase. The industrial action was called by the Rail and Maritime Transport Union, which represents half of the port workforce. "Our members have already voted for multiple full stoppages at the port, however we see industrial action as a last resort so we’ve limited ourselves to the overtime ban at this stage", said RMTU South Island Organiser John Kerr. The workers rejected a two per cent raise offered by the port, citing the 18 per cent pay hike received this year by the port’s chief executive, Peter Davie. Kerr said the port’s rates fell well short of what was being paid elsewhere in Christchurch and he urged the company to do a survey to get a better idea of market rates for tradespeople. "It gives us no pleasure to see local businesses affected, but we know the ban has already hit a number of major companies hard," said Kerr, noting that at least one ship due for repairs had already been moved elsewhere. The workers also demanded an industrial council be set up that includes worker involvement to address safety concerns at the port. Three workers have died there in the past year shifting or unloading cargo.

Food workers at Auckland Hospital walked off the job for a day last month to protest a district health board decision to outsource the supply of hospital food. The three boards awarded a 15-year contract for food services at all public hospitals and clinics to the British-based company Compass Group, which it claimed will save between $80 million and $90 million over the contract term. "The workers are devastated and patients and their families will be very disappointed when they experience the reality of outsourced food," said Service and Food Workers Union Jill Ovens. She said the Auckland District Health Board made a "bad decision for workers and it would be a bad decision for patients." Ovens said the Government intends to outsource food service across the whole country in 2015, affecting more than 1500 kitchen workers and every patient requiring hospital food. The union had no planned strike action but she was calling on the health boards to reconsider the decision.

International Labour News

Workers at Amazon distribution depots in Germany waged an extended walk-out just before Christmas in a dispute over pay and conditions. Five of the online retailer’s nine centres were reportedly affected with a sixth added later. More than 2,600 workers were involved in the industrial action. Workers represented by the Verdi union want Amazon staff to be part of the retail industry’s collective bargaining structure which the company has refused. The company employs about 9,000 staff in Germany. The Verdi union said more than 1,000 Amazon workers joined a rally in Koblenz in December, which included employees from three other warehouses. "Your courage and your determination will bring Amazon to the negotiating table. You are an example to the whole country," Verdi board member Stefanie Nutzenberger told the strikers. Verdi has organised a number of strikes at Amazon since May 2013 as it seeks to force the retailer to raise pay for warehouse workers in accordance with collective bargaining agreements across Germany’s mail order and retail industry.

Some 174 workers with Otis Elevators in Australia claimed victory December 17 when they voted to accept an agreement that ended an 8-week lockout. The workers won all but one of their demands after attempting to negotiate with the company since April. The workers began industrial action at the end of September with bans on overtime, shiftwork and the commissioning of lifts and escalators after the company insisted on a below-inflation 1 per cent wage increase. The company responded by locking out the workers on October 21. The workers, members of the Electrical Trades Union and the Australian Manufacturing Union, construct and service lifts and escalators. The 3½ year agreement provides a 14 per cent pay raise, income protection for the first time, increases to daily fares and travel, construction allowances increased to above industry standards and other benefits. The bitter dispute attracted global attention with the workers supported by unions in New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Denmark and Ireland who took part in an international day of solidarity.

Hundreds of police December 18 stormed into Artigas Clothing & Leatherware company in Shenzhen, China to disperse more than 1,000 workers who had been on strike for 9 days to demand unpaid social insurance, overtime, and compensation for factory relocation. Artigas is a Hong Kong-owned garment maker that supplies brands such as G2000, Uniqlo, and Baleno. The dispute was sparked when the company announced the factory will move but did not release a timetable. Worker representatives made a request for collective bargaining over their issues, but the company responded with police action. The police took away leading strikers and assisted the factory management to put finished clothing on carts for shipping to Uniqlo. According to the Hong Kong Trade union federation, many workers were arrested and some of them were injured in the clash and forced back to work or intimidated with threats of dismissal. Hundreds of workers had picketed the factory gate around the clock in a bid to prevent the company from removing valuable assets, reported The China Labour Bulletin.

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