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A history of Unite Union (Part 1 of 4)

4 Jun

(The following history was prepared as part of the contribution by Unite Union to the international fast food workers meeting in New York in early May. Unions officials and workers were fascinated by the story we were able to tell which in many ways was a prequel to the international campaign today.)

All four parts of this series can be downloaded as a single PDF file from here

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Restaurant Brands delegates join Maritime Union picket, Auckland Wharf


By Mike Treen, Unite National Director

April 29, 2014

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, workers in New Zealand suffered a massive setback in their levels of union and social organisation and their living standards. A neo-liberal, Labour Government elected in 1984 began the assault and it was continued and deepened by a National Party government elected in 1990.

The “free trade”policies adopted by both Labour and the National Party led to massive factory closures. The entire car industry was eliminated and textile industries were closed. Other industries with traditionally strong union organisation such as the meat industry were restructured and thousands lost their jobs. Official unemployment reached 11.2% in the early 1990s. It was higher in real terms. Official unemployment for Maoris (who make up 14% of the population) was 30%, again higher in real terms. Working class communities were devastated.

The National Party government presided over a deep and long recession from 1990-1995 that was in part induced by its savage cuts to welfare spending and benefits. They also introduced a vicious anti-union law. When the Employment Contracts Act was made law on May Day 1990, every single worker covered by a collective agreement was put onto an individual employment agreement identical to the terms of their previous collective. In order for the union to continue to negotiate on your behalf, you had to sign an individual authorisation. It was very difficult for some unions to manage that. Many were eliminated overnight. Voluntary unionism was introduced and closed shops were outlawed. All of the legal wage protections which stipulated breaks, overtime rates, Sunday rates and so on, went. Minimum legal conditions were now very limited – three weeks holiday and five days sick leave was about the lot. Everything else had to be negotiated again. It was a stunning assault on working people. Union bargaining, where it continued, was mostly concessionary bargaining for the next decade.

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Workers News 24/2/13

26 Feb


Tapu Misa: Moral pressure drives fight for living wage

Living Wage Campaign Launch 2012

Matt McCarten: Living wage a moral entitlement

Helen Kelly: Working for a Living

Battle for a living wage: Campaigner says mindset shift needed to accompany monetary leap

Chris Trotter: Low-paid staff need solidarity


Big job losses worry union bosses

Women paid less than men need better law

Call for enquiry into forestry deaths

What killed Ken Callow

ANZ to cut jobs, outsource work to India

Foreign vessels bill should have more for NZers

FIRST: Secure and safe jobs would help attract primary production workers

‘Les miserables’ fight for bigger payout

Picket outside Event Cinemas


CPAG: Government deserves D for child poverty

Gordon Campbell on the latest spasm of welfare bashing

Poor Kiwis left behind, says Salvation Army

Salvation Army Report

Persecuting the poor

A press release we will never see by Andrew Geddis

Gareth Morgan: Benefits system needs to evolve

Beneficiaries treated as guilty, says advocacy group,-says-advocacy-group

Ministers accused of downplaying income in measure of child poverty

Poverty strikes at home, children first victims

Guilty of being a beneficiary


100 jobs cut at Datam

Govt won’t let Solid Energy fail, looks to banks to wear their share

Nats’ fossil fuel bet & culture of excess bankrupted Solid Energy

Hero to zero in two years, and the kitty’s empty

Think tanks & global-local networks

Dame Anne Salmond: Separating free market wolves from the lambs

TPPWatch Bulletin # 28

TPP: a gateway to GE?

Housing: Watching the dream disappear


Incomes rose more than 11 percent for the top 1 percent of earners during the economic recovery, but not at all for everybody else, according to new data.

Facebook is getting a multi-billion-dollar tax cut for paying co-founders like Eduardo Saverin, who renounced his U.S. citizenship to avoid paying income taxes on his capital gains…income he made from stock options and dividends.

Video interview with Event Cinema workers

24 Jan

The Workers of Event Cinemas in Highland Park picket their cinema. Some have worked there for 16 years, yet the company only offers them 2 weeks pay redundancy.

Do you hear the people sing? At 430pm today, the workers will rise up against Miserable bosses at an Auckland site.

24 Jan

Les Miserables jumps off screen and comes to real life in an Auckland cinema.

The dozen or so workers at EVENT Cinemas Highland Park theatre in Auckland have been offered only two weeks redundancy pay offered by Australian owned chain. Most of the workers have been there for 5 to 6 years, with some having given 8, 12 and 16 years service. When head office was asked by the Union Union official representing them if they could reconsider, they offered some workers complimentary movie tickets.

"The workers at the Highland Park site have decided to fight, not only for themselves, but for all workers in New Zealand to be protected by redundancy laws." said Unite Union theatres organiser Joe Carolan. The union, says its time for a minimum four weeks redundancy, and 2 weeks for every additional year worked as recognition for length of service.

Today they will raise their red flag at the Highland Park site at 430pm. Further actions at EVENT Cinemas are planned for Saturday night, and the day of closure next Wednesday. A petition in solidarity is being circulated nationally in every unionised cinema, including the Hoyts and Readings chains.


Unite Union Cinemas organiser Joe Carolan talks to Angus on the reasons why action is needed on the lack of any statutory entitlement to redundancy pay in NZ.,


Joe and the cinema workers can be contacted today at 029 44 55 702.

Digital Rollout spells end of an era in NZ cinemas

2 Oct

With the announcement of Fox Studios that they will stop the distribution of 35mm films, the Digital Rollout in Aotearoa has speeded up in both Hoyts and Events.

By the end of 2012, the share of 35mm will decline to 37 percent of global cinema screens, with digital accounting for the remaining 63 percent. This will accelerate, and as Universal and Warner Brothers wind down their 35mm operations, spells the end of an era in cinemas. Workers in Reading Cinemas should also prepare themselves.

I was at a poignant meeting of projectionists who received word of the restructure at the Queen Street site. High up, through the roof in the Glass Elevator, lies a darkened flickering cavern, where projectionists have played their reels as projectionists have done around the world for over a hundred years. All to be replaced by the USB from Hell. Movies are now huge digital files, too mega for Kim Dotcom to upload, which will be injested into an increasingly automated system, with the computerised TMS (Theatre Management System) replacing humans with an iTunes like playlist of films. And, as we know, from Hal in 2001 to the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica, everything will go much more smoothly once machines replace us all. 🙂

Cinema workers strike against youth rates and low pay in the industry

Unite is there for all workers facing this Digital Rollout. We will argue for redeployment where possible, with workers at least keeping the payscale and hours that they had before. The working class principles of Last IN, First Out should apply to any remaining projectionist shifts. For those who do not want to move to Front of House and wish to move on, we will fight hard for the best exit package possible, to fit the workers length of service to the company.
For more information, please text Joe Carolan at 029 4455702


1 Oct

In the last few weeks, several workers have contacted Unite, highly distressed that their hours have been cut without explanation. In all these cases, the Union was successful in restoring their hours back up to previous levels.

Our union agreements provide different protections in different companies. Every delegate and member should know which clause is important to police in our contract on the sites and notify the union when a new Manager violates these conditions.

McDonalds union members are protected by Appendix A, clause 1, of the Memorandum of Understanding between the company and the Union. The “Targeted Scheduled Hours” provision has three conditions-
(a) the worker normally works 25 hours per week or more.
(b) they have 12 months service already
(c) they have a performance rating of good or better,
Workers who fulfil these conditions are targeted for scheduled hours, based on the agreed availability for work at the start of their employment. They shall be offered additional regular shifts before new employees are employed. Any reduction in hours must be fairly distributed across the board- any worker who loses more than 25% of their hours should contact the Union immediately.

KFC/Pizza Hut/Starbucks
Clause 5.2 of the Restaurant Brands agreement states that “Any additional hours that become available either as a result of an Employee resignation or an increase in a store’s capacity, shall initially be offered to existing Employees. Wherever practical, such additional hours must first be offered to the Employee with the most service for the appropriate qualification required. If through a reduction in a store’s capacity there are less hours available, then the reduction of hours shall be spread fairly and reasonably across Employees”.

Clause 7 of the Wendys contract protects security of hours. Clause 7.2 has the same conditions as clause 5.2 of the KFC/Pizza Hut/ Starbucks agreement. In addition, clause 7.3 states that –
“Employees within the coverage of this contract with 3 years of service or more are eligible to select a minimum number of guaranteed hours of work per week, providing that the minimum number is less than 30, and that the employee has open availability. Employees with open availability on six days per week are eligible to select….less than 25”.

Burger King
Union delegates in Burger King should be aware of the Policy- Variation of Weekly Hours, Version 3, 190412. This document has a lot of provisos, but states in clause 3- “Burger King’s objective is to provide team members with some level of security.. this policy only applies to team members with 12 months’ service who work 20 hours or more per week”. Clause 4 – hours of work should not be reduced by more than 25%. Clause 5 – Where additional shifts become available.. ..these shifts will be first offered to team members who are fully effective in the position…. Where customer demand is lower than normal, the reduction in hours will be shared reasonably and fairly amongst team members..”

Clause 14 of the Union agreement covers in great detail Hours of Work at Hoyts. There are many conditions placed on workers around availability, shift swaps and rosters. Clause 14.9 also covers the “On Call Roster” for workers looking to boost their hours through increased flexibility around availability. Clause 14.11.3 needs the most policing by Union members on site and is reproduced here- “Where additional regular shifts become available due to an increase in business or a reduction in staff these shifts shall be offered to existing workers, wherever practical, before new staff are employed”.

Similar provisions also exist in clause 14 of the Events Contract. Here, clause 14.8 of the agreement states –
“Where additional regular shifts become available due to an increase in business or a reduction in staff these shifts shall be offered to existing workers, wherever practical, before new staff are employed”.

These provisions must be enforced by delegates and union members on site. Managers should be educated in these legally binding conditions, subject to the union examining and scrutinising the fairness of application of provisos etc. An active union on site will make these words the law, and will root out any instances of favouritism, nepotism, bullying or disciplining workers by reducing their hours unfairly. Contact your, delegate, organiser or the Unite office if you believe this is happening on your site.

Victory at Event Cinemas

26 Jun

By Nathanael Coleman, Queen St Delegate, Event Cinemas

The campaign for me started at the negotiation table, after our executive managers put their first absurdly low offer on the table.

From that instant I knew we wouldn’t be able to secure a fair increase without a ground up movement from our union members.

My Queen St members understood what was required and we lead the charge with members walking off shift on the 1st of May, International Workers Day.

As the campaign lengthened we remained resolute, confident that the end result would be what we deserve and through our efforts it would be achieved.

Although we secured the raises we were entitled to, it was a bittersweet victory as we knew that while we fought hard, our final wage increases amounted to keeping us in the same place, relative to minimum wage.

Still the increases we won were far greater than the company initially offered. The strike experience was a great unifying force at our Queen St site, with workers strengthened by the fact that the increases we received were through our efforts.

Event Cinema bargaining team. From left: Nathanael Coleman (Queen St); Eric Chang (Albany); Tawera Paapu (Rialto, Newmarket); Mike Treen (Unite National Director); Darren Cheung (Westcity).

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