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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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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.


25 May

Talks with Event Cinema management and Unite Union broke down on Tuesday May 22nd, as the company refused to improve on the offer rejected by union workers on all sites in New Zealand. The big bone of contention is that the rise in the minimum wage of 50 cents, a 3.85% increase, is not matched at other rates. Cinema Attendants with more than 18 months service have only been offered an additional 30 cents, projectionists have only been offered 29 cents, and duty managers not in “Tier One” sites only offered between 31 and 35 cents, despite doing the same work.

Event St Lukes workers form their picket line


Contrast this with the offer on the table from Hoyts, where they have offered a blanket 50 cents increase on all rates. The union has also just negotiated a very good offer from Restaurant Brands, which in addition to a pay rise and the reintroduction of an overtime rate of time and a half after eight hours worked, also sees a union only benefits package being offered. Unite Union members will also receive a 72 page discount booklet; a Christmas hamper each year; life insurance for members ($5000 for a member and their spouse, $2000 for members children); a day out at Rainbows End or some equivalent. These benefits are only for union members. This shows us what the union can do when its membership is strong and united- many of our KFC stores are 100% union now.


The union, in the interests of equality, cannot accept such a low offer from Event Cinemas, at a time when our other workers in Hoyts and Restaurant Brands are getting much better deals. It is disappointing that the Australian private equity group that runs Event from their offices in Sydney has such contempt for its Kiwi workforce- is Aotearoa just a low pay colony of Australia?


Compare the rates Event cinema workers earn in New Zealand with their counterparts across the Tasman. These workers do the same work, sell tickets at the same price, and box office takes the same levels of profit, yet they earn heaps more.

Over there, the Event owners (Amalgamated Holdings Ltd) own a chain called Birch Carroll and Coyle Cinemas. The starting rate for an adult hourly full time worker in 2010 was AU$15.60, which works out to NZ$20.20. The rate goes up to AU$21.19 (NZ$27.44) for Cinema Personell Level 5. Casual workers recieve an EXTRA payment for every hour to make up for their lack of security of hours- they get between AU$18.72 and AU$25.43, which works out to between NZ$24.24 and $32.92 per hour. And these are just the cinema attendant rates, you can check out the rest of the agreement

Back in NZ, Some of the supermarkets organised by the First Union now have a starting rate of $15 per hour. There is huge consensus in society now that pay is too low, and a campaign for a Living Wage launched on May 23rd has received massive backing from community groups, churches, political parties and unions.

30 and 40 cents increases are an insult to workers, at a time when the cost of food, petrol and rent are going through the roof. Union members are right to reject this offer, but now they need to organise like never before to take on a company that doesn’t care.


Up until now, the Union has organised some boisterous, good humoured strikes and protests around the country. (see pictures) Queen Street led the way on May the 1st, and was joined by strikes in Westcity, St Lukes, Rialto, Albany, Hamilton and Wellington. 9 out of 10 workers went on strike at Westcity, and 5 out of 7 in Hamilton. Everywhere except Manukau, where site management have taken a very hard line against the union, the union has recruited new members and the delegate leadership has gotten stronger. In the next few weeks, more members will be joining in on the action to make sure we get equality with Hoyts, and win a living wage.

Event Chartwell workers take a (strike) break

We are also going to go after the company’s brand. Not only do they pay Kiwi workers a lot less than their Aussie cousins, but they charge exorbitant prices for popcorn and ice creams. The union will run campaign stalls outside cinemas educating Event customers about these facts, and ask them to join a “Popcorn strike”- boycotting the rip off products at candybar in favour of cheaper alternatives. We will ask workers, students and activists to help staff these stalls at busy trading times. The union can keep this up forever, and as it impacts on the company’s brand, will see a reduction in the profits it makes. This is the only language Head Office will understand. If you or your friends would like to help. txt Joe at 029 4455702.


Unite is recommending that its members accept the following agreement

– Term: One year deal from April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013. Then we negotiate again.

– There are no claw-backs in this new agreement – only improvements for members.

-Staff rates all have a 50c increase on hourly rates from April 1, 2012 raising them to:

Start rate: $13.50, minimum wage

320 hours to 18 months service: $13.80

More than 18 months service: $14.10

Projection shift at Sylvia park: $16.95

Projection shift at other sites: $16.69

Shift Assistant: $15.28

Note: Start rate already moved at April 1, and 320hrs-18mnths position already moved 20c at April 1 but moves a further 30c resulting from agreement back-dated to April 1.

Duty Manager (DM) Rates: 50 cent increase on hourly rates from April 1, 2012 raising them to:

DM1,Tier 2: $16.98

DM1, Tier 1: $18.01

DM2, Tier 3: $16.98

DM2, Tier 2: $18.01

DM2,Tier 1: $20.07

– All new rates above are backdated to April 1, 2012, for union members only.

– Rates for staff on individual agreements will not be reviewed until September 2012 and therefore union rates will not be passed on for a good period of time.

– Increase in uniform allowance by 10% from $6.00 to $6.60

– Early-outs: Company agrees that it will only send workers home early from a rostered shift by mutual agreement.

– 15 minutes is the length of the break that will apply for shifts up to three hours in duration and also at least two hours in duration.

– Employer will pay overtime (time and a half) for hours worked on the seventh consecutive day of work where the employee has not volunteered to work the extra shift (i.e. a shift- swap to work on the seventh day will not qualify the employee for overtime rates).

– Employer will pay overtime when there is less than nine hours rest between shifts where the employee has not volunteered to work the extra shift (i.e. a shift- swap to work on the seventh day will not qualify the employee for overtime rates).

– Employer agrees to cease previous limited practice of unpaid trials.

– New disciplinary procedure clause provided in union agreement.

– Unite proposal on union services will be considered by employer.

– New employees clause will be amended in case of a government change to 30-day provision in the Employment Relations Act (which currently puts new employees on the same conditions as the collective). The union will amend it’s new employees form subject to company approval.

The full terms of settlement are available here

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