Tag Archives: Helen Kelly

CTU will not engage in Governments sham consultation process on Terrorist Bill

24 Nov

Media release

CTU will not engage in Governments sham consultation process on Terrorist Bill

Today the CTU has sent a letter to Prime Minister John Key articulating serious concerns about both the content and the rushed process the Government has clearly signalled it intends to follow to progress the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill into law and urging him to follow the proper process in considering this legislation.

“Rushing this legislation through is not appropriate or proper. We will not participate in a sham consultation process or take for ourselves the “luxury” of the chance to be heard at the select committee on the basis of some dubious selection criteria made by those to whom the Bill grants power while other legitimately interested citizens and groups are denied that opportunity,” CTU President, Helen Kelly said.

“There has been no evidence presented at all from the Prime Minister that such urgency is needed. Given the severe and unique nature of the powers being sought, quite the opposite is appropriate and a reasonable period of time should be made available for the public to have a say on this legislation,” Kelly said.

“The Bill provides authority for the SIS to trespass onto private property in order to conduct covert surveillance (such as installing video cameras and listening devices). These powers will compromise citizens’ right to avoid unreasonable search and seizure and to privacy. The Bill also extends the ability of the SIS to conduct warrantless surveillance for 48 hours in situations where it would be impracticable to get a warrant and it is believed that information may be lost. Warrantless surveillance as fundamentally irreconcilable with expectations of acceptable government behaviour in a free and open society. The only public accountability for the use of this power is that the SIS must note the number of times this power is used in their annual report,” Kelly said.


View the letter here http://union.org.nz/news/2014/ctu-will-not-engage-governments-sham-consultation-process-terrorist-bill

For further comment, please contact:

Helen Kelly, President, CTU

021 776 741

Huia Welton | Communications & Campaigns Advisor | New Zealand Council of Trade Unions – Te Kauae Kaimahi

ph: +64 4 802 3817 | cell: +64 021 524 502 |

www.facebook.com/fairness.at.work | www.union.org.nz | Follow us on twitter: @fairnessNZ

Unions – we’re about Fairness

Beat the rain on Saturday!

17 Sep

Kia ora

So many people have already voted, over 350,000 in fact! Maybe you’re one of them?If you haven’t voted you still have time. The weather forecast for Saturday is rain and wind over most of the country. If you think the weather will impact on your ability to vote, or the ability of someone you know – then vote before Saturday!

Saturday is the last day to vote. The voting places close at 7pm on the dot! You can find a list of all the places here http://www.elections.org.nz/events/2014-general-election/information-voters-who-when-and-where

It’s really important that people know that on Saturday it’s not possible to enrol you can only vote.

Do you know anyone under between the ages of 18 – 30? Please ask them about when they’re planning to vote.

I’m looking forward to voting on Friday, Suffrage Day, with my son and other members of my family. Like you, I’m committed to having my say about who our next government is.

Let’s get out and vote!

Helen Kelly, CTU President

Authorised by: Helen Kelly, NZCTU, Level 7, 178 Willis St, Wellington

Petty scandals cloak real horrors

14 Jul

By Matt McCarten

Herald on Sunday July 14, 2013

I shared a car trip with Helen Kelly, the Council of Trade Unions president, on Thursday. Inevitably, we got talking about the state of left politics.

We reminisced on our radical youth, when debate was about big ideas and our place in the world.

My first attendance at a political rally was after Big Norm Kirk sent a navy frigate as a protest into the French atomic-testing zone in the Pacific. That action inspired thousands of us to join the nuclear-free movement.

My second attendance was at protests against the cynical use of our national sport by apartheid sympathisers to give sustenance to the fascists in South Africa. We risked arrest and getting our heads mashed in.

1981 Springbok tour demonstrators go head to head with riot police outside Eden Park.

Sir Robert Muldoon won re-election after calling Nelson Mandela a terrorist, and many took pride that New Zealand was boycotted at the 1978 Commonwealth Games.

Whina Cooper’s Maori land march, and protests about abortion rights, workers’ rights and our soldiers killing Vietnamese people for right-wing ideologues in Washington DC, were there too.

We are a proud nuclear-free state, are on the right side of history with Mandela, have a Waitangi Tribunal to hear land-theft cases, and didn’t join the United States in Iraq. These are a result of our nation’s values, which were won out of mass civil struggles.

Could you imagine any politician now advocating nuclear ship visits?

I remember when Jim Bolger, who was in Muldoon’s Cabinet, fawned over Mandela with the rest of his colleagues after he became a rock star.

We are so embarrassed about Afghanistan that we kid ourselves we were on a humanitarian mission to build bridges and schools for the Afghan people. As far as Maori separatism goes, none of the elites bat an eyelid that the very people they used to lock up now sit alongside them in the Beehive in natty suits drinking the finest wines.

My point is, politics used to be about big things. What we did changed society for the better.

The battles have changed, of course. The fight against marriage inequality was won recently, although other human rights – such as a woman’s right to choose abortion – are still murky.

Economic inequality and the widening gap between the top and bottom earners is alarming. A privileged few buying many mansions while most of our children will never have a home of their own is unsettling.

I laugh when I hear the right wing attack unions, as if workers had any rights or power these days. The selling of our public assets as cash cows for those with more money than they need is legalised theft. Even though these issues call for attention, the social movements that once mobilised in the streets for great moral ideas have vanished.

Big political news is now relegated to seedy scandal, such as giving a corporation rights to build pokie machines so they can fund a conference amenity. Or sneakily changing the law on state spying so our Prime Minister can cover his butt and let secret police snoop on what we do with our keyboards.

This week was even more depressing. Some in the media have become so bored and cynical they now make up political news.

Labour had a conference remit to allow electorates to restrict selections to women. The media scrum screamed that Labour leader David Shearer would be toppled for allowing PC to go viral in his party. Shearer knocked out the remit. The scrum reversed tack, spinning he would now be toppled for interfering in party democracy.

That was bit weak so they invented a story about a letter signed by MPs, calling for his head. Every MP denied it, which only proved, to the scrum anyway, their fiction must be true. For their own credibility, the media now needs to keep the story alive and frame Shearer as a leader under internal attack. Truth no longer matters.

Politics was once about noble ideas. Now it’s about media celebrity and intrigue. No wonder New Zealanders have disengaged. And civil society is poorer for it.

(Matt McCarten is National Secretary of Unite Union. His weekly Herald on Sunday column are a commentary on social and political issues in New Zealand. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unite Union.)

The tale of Michael Stevens – killed 27 May 2008 – hit by falling tree

5 Jul

By Helen Kelly, President of the Council of Trade Unions

(Reprinted from The Standard)

I have collected up the available documentation on the men killed in the forest since 2008. I am going to try, using the documents I have, to tell their story – one at a time. I haven’t been able to contact all the families of these men and hope if any of them read this, they are not surprised or upset to see the details set out like this.

Since 2008, the industry has seen 33 deaths and 874 serious injuries

The documents are public but have never been pulled together in one place. If we have an inquiry – they will provide some of the clues to what is going on. I have OIA’d the last 50 serious harm injuries as well – but the MBIE won’t provide them. MBIE have not collated and looked at these deaths as a set – I think collectively they paint an important picture.

This week the Forest Owners said they would welcome an independent inquiry into the industry and we hope to meet with them to talk about this soon, but really we need Mr Bridges to get over the line on this and agree to support it. I am hoping telling these stories will help.

Michael Stevens was killed in Ngaumu Forest in the Wairarapa on 27 May 2008. He was 40 years old. He was employed by Montana Logging working in a Juken NZ forest. He was struck by a falling tree. The foremen became concerned when he had not heard any cutting from the area Michael was working in for a while and went to look. He was found dead.

Michael had only started work 7 months before the accident and had been to polytech for a training course before hand. He was basically a trainee and was working towards his first tree felling unit standard on the week prior to the accident. Montana records indicated that it had clear faith in his ability to work competently, safely and productively on his own with limited or no supervision. He was cutting a tree which had a large wind thrown tree leaning heavily against it creating a large amount of pressure on the standing tree, thus causing the tree to fall quicker after the back cut was completed and causing the wind thrown tree to spring forward in the direction the falling tree would have taken. Other wind thrown trees nearby made it difficult to establish an uphill escape route. The falling tree hit other trees on the ground and slid sideways and backwards striking him in the area of his predetermined escape route.

The inspector found Michael’s decision to cut a particular dangerous tree was the critical factor in his death – he blamed him. “In this case DOL believe that there has been a breach of Section 19, in that an employee’s inactions have been the major contributing factor into the cause of the accident” “In this case there are no clear recommendations that can be made to dramatically improve processes or procedures to ensure this does not occur again”.

He wrote in the report that Michael was a worker “who could be trusted, who had initiative, a great work ethic and immense passion for tree felling”.

The inquiry report has no details of an employment agreement, nor record the hours of work that week , nor the weather conditions at the time. It does record that Michael tested negative to drugs. Five contributing hazards and four contributing causes were identified by the inspector but none included the weather or fatigue. The inspector found Montana had a comprehensive management system for this logging operation – the Coroner concluded it did not.

Coroner Garry Evans carried out a full inquiry into Michaels death. He found the DOL had been wrong to attribute health and safety duties to Michael that actually sat with his employer. After hearing from an expert witness he concluded Michael was cutting a tree beyond his experience and in fact lacked the training to even recognise that he was out of his depth. He found the health and safety plan was a generic one and insufficient for the specific site, and that Michael had only two months tree felling experience and was doing work usually done by the most experienced fellers.

Coroner Garry Evans recorded that it “cannot reasonably be said that … an employee’s inactions have been the major contributing factor into the cause of the accident”. An expert witness found that other contributing factors to the poor decision made by Michael included weather conditions (raining, wet, poor light, cold), time of day and having had only one day of rest (Sunday) before starting the next weeks work, maybe some personal problems but this was questioned, and not enough experience. The expert said that with the wet conditions the likelihood of the tree sliding backward or sideways into the escape route was very high.

No prosecution was taken in relation to this death. It is unclear if the Coroners recommendations were adopted by the Department – there is no legal requirement under the Coroners Act for any party to formally respond.

Don’t be fooled by the spin regarding strike laws.

19 Jun

By Helen Kelly, Council of Trade Unions President

(Reprinted from The Standard)

Helen Kelly speaking rally in support of Ports of Auckland workers

The proposed changes to employment law make massive changes to the right to strike. Those opposed to the Bill by Jamie Lee-Ross to allow replacement labour during strikes, need to be consistent in this view and should also be very worried about the main Employment Relations Amendment Bill now in Select Committee.

The Bill changes the right to strike in three significant ways:

1. Notice for strikes.

Currently only those in essential industries must give notice to strike. The new law not only requires notice for all strikes but it also requires that these notices say when the strike will begin and end and there is a requirement for each employee to give notice when a strike will end early. This will prolong strikes and see workers lose wages when they are seeking to return to work. It is intended to create technical grounds for strikes to be ruled illegal.

2. A strike tax

The Bill provides for partial pay deductions for action that falls short of a strike. Firefighters for example, reluctant to take strike action, may take action such as not filling in fire reports, teachers may refuse extra curricula activities or workers may do other creative actions (librarians at universities once refused to process new books rather than shut the library during exam times). The Bill proposes that the employer can unilaterally decide the value of this work and deduct the amount of wages they consider to match this value. Workers can challenge the amount deducted in the Court, but this will take time and the pressure of wage deductions will be used to pressure workers to drop the action. Workers will still be completing their full hours but not getting paid the full amount. The Bill even excludes compliance with the minimum wage for this deduction (it will not matter if the deduction takes the worker below the minimum wage). For state workers that take this limited type of action – the State will benefit – full time work for part time pay – a strike tax.

3. Restrictions on the right to strike

The last change is the most serious one. Currently it is lawful to strike in pursuit of a collective agreement. Sixty days before the expiry of a collective agreement, the union can initiate bargaining and begin negotiations for a renewal. When this happens the expiring collective remains in force for a full year after expiry. This means workers retain coverage and new workers can gain coverage while renewal bargaining takes place.

There is a duty of good faith on the parties to the bargaining to conclude a collective agreement unless their are genuine reasons on reasonable grounds not to. It is not a genuine reason to simply object on ideological grounds to a collective.

40 days following initiation the parties can strike or lock out in order to put pressure on the other party to change their position in the bargaining – an essential element sometimes of getting a settlement. Without it, workers have no ability to shift an intransigent employer to get a reasonable offer – it is a recognised international right, and you have heard the EMA, Peter Dunne and others defend this right. Even Key says he is not too keen.

The Amendment Bill removes the duty to conclude a collective, and provides for a party to apply to the Court to deem bargaining concluded without a settlement. If this is granted then the expiring collective agreement expires immediately leaving no collective in place and putting all workers onto individual employment agreements (remember the Employment Contracts Act?). If bargaining is deemed concluded by the Court without settlement, then both parties are frozen in relation to restarting bargaining for 60 days including from taking strike action in pursuit of a collective agreement. So there employees will sit – no collective, no bargaining and no strike rights. During this time the employer can offer individual agreements to workers to break up the bargaining unit.

All of this is technical but the reality is that this Bill is aimed to drive wages down. It is dramatic and will be used to contract out workers like the wharfies, to remove collective coverage from vulnerable workers like cleaners and hospital service and clerical workers, to undermine school support staff bargaining and to force dramatic cuts in wages and conditions on many unionised groups of workers who will be left choosing between bargaining at all and “take it or leave it” offers. A reduction of wages in collective agreements impacts on all those other workers whose wages are based on the collective and influences wages across industries as well.

The Minister of Labour spoke to the ILO conference today – he reiterated his point that this evens up the power of employers against employees, he waxed on about supporting the ILO and he ignored the fact the changes break the agreements between the New Zealand Government and the ILO. He is creating a situation where collective bargaining will not be promoted as per the requirements of this house. In doing so the Government puts New Zealand’s international reputation at risk. It has referenced these conventions in many of its trade agreements but clearly it does not honour these either!

Don’t get distracted by the Jamie Lee Ross Bill, it is serious too but if you cant strike at all – the issue of replacement labour becomes the sideshow in this larger debate about the future of work in New Zealand.

Helen Kelly: Jobs, not debt, should be priority

15 May

The Government should review its priorities. Continuing high unemployment, much greater than its own forecasts, could do far more damage than taking longer to pay down debt. The Government debt is very low compared with other OECD countries but unemployment at 11th lowest is an embarrassment given our economy is now growing faster than all but four of those countries.

Helen Kelly speaking to Port workers rally in Auckland

The 2011 Budget forecast we should have only 4.8 per cent unemployment by now and the 2012 Budget forecast 5.7 per cent, yet the figure is 6.2 per cent or 146,000 people unemployed and 251,400 jobless. In addition, 51,300 people left to live in Australia in the past year.

There will be little to celebrate if the Government reaches its surplus at the expense of working people and their families. It is risking a repeat of the 1990s: armies of consultants and contractors, and disasters like Cave Creek.

The Government should ensure that we set the economy on a course that provides good jobs for the future and addresses the much bigger debt problem – the overseas debt, mostly owed by banks and other businesses.

It should put more money into assisting people when they face unemployment, with more intensive support for finding jobs, retraining and more generous income replacement. It should expand tertiary education and industry training. The announcements it has made are simply not enough. It should increase programmes that give unemployed people jobs doing work needed in the community.

Rather than laying off public service staff, there is plenty of work that needs to be done in our health system, schools, conservation estate, protecting immigrants and other workers from exploitation, expanding state housing and much more.

It has announced some belated improvements to government procurement, but it could do much more to buy locally. It could actively support local industry, especially manufacturing, including by management of the exchange rate.

And last but certainly not least – the Government’s Workplace Health and Safety Taskforce produced a report that deserves unqualified support. The recommendations need at least $30 million more a year on an ongoing basis. We hope that the Budget will announce this increase and that we can work with the Government towards much safer and healthier workplaces.

Helen Kelly is president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Union

A Broader Union

12 Oct

Can an iwi-trade union alliance help change the economic equation in favour of workers?

werewolf October 11, 2012 | ISSUE 35


By Alison McCulloch

With all eyes focused on Turangawaewae and the water rights hui late last month, another gathering of iwi leaders a few days later in Tauranga that could also have far-reaching implications slipped by with a lot less fanfare. Prompted by the role leaders from a handful of North Island iwi played in bringing the 12-week Affco meat works dispute to an end in May, the Council of Trade Unions and its Runanga brought together officials from its main affiliates, a smattering of Māori leaders as well as union members and delegates with the goal of forging a partnership to work in the interests of low-wage workers. It’s an exciting prospect for unions, harnessing Māori economic might on behalf of what one iwi leader referred to as “the downtrodden”. And while the Affco dispute provided a concrete example of how such a partnership can work, the challenge will be applying it to other industries and situations.


Affco hit the headlines at the end of February when, after 18 months of negotiations over a collective agreement, around 750 meat workers at five North Island plants were locked out of their workplaces. Affco, which was taken over by the Motueka-based Talley’s Group in 2006, was open about its desire to rein in the union, stating in a media release that management was “seeking to draw a line on Union influence in the workplace”. It pointed to five main issues, including its right to determine staffing and speed of process lines, problems over dispute resolution, random drug testing, and new employee training.

From a worker perspective, that translated as union busting, as one veteran of the strike from Affco’s Horotiu plant near Hamilton told the Tauranga hui. “They had one reason, they had one goal … to smash the union,” the worker said. “Despite all the stuff you read in the media that was it. Break the union.”

Graham Cooke, general secretary of the Meat Workers Union, said the key issue for workers throughout the bargaining was job security, which, in the seasonal meat industry, is based on seniority. Under that system, if you were taken on 20 years ago, you’ll be called in to work before someone with only five years on the job. Cooke said this was being stripped away by Affco’s campaign to entice workers to sign individual employment agreements with promises of a $1000 bonus, and “being taken care of” at the end of the season.

If they agreed about little else, both sides did agree that this dispute was never just about money.

In the three years leading up to the lockout and strike, Affco’s push for individual contracts saw the union lose a solid chunk of members, leaving it in a wounded state before the lockout even began. According to Dale Robinson, a union shed official from Affco’s Wairoa plant in northern Hawke’s Bay, union membership at his plant had dropped from 98 percent a couple of years ago to around 75 percent just before the dispute, and 44 percent immediately afterward. The lockout initially affected unionised meat workers at five of Affco’s eight North Island plants – Moerewa in Northland, Horotiu, Wairoa, Imlay at Whanganui and a beef plant in Feilding. In response to the lockout, which began on February 28, the union issued at strike notice for Affco’s remaining unionised North Island workers, who went out the following week.

Māori Involvement

One notable feature of this dispute – and what eventually brought the iwi leaders to the negotiating table – was its disproportionate impact on Māori, who comprise more than 70 percent of the plants’ unionised workforce. Ken Mair of Whanganui, and one of the key players in the eventual settlement, told the hui that iwi were there from the beginning, largely behind the scenes, supporting those out on the picket lines. But as the dispute dragged on, the financial and human toll grew beyond tolerable.

Another of the leaders who wound up around the negotiating table, Sonny Tau of Ngāpuhi [pictured left], and himself a former Moerewa freezing worker, explained that part of the impetus for iwi deciding to get more directly involved was to stem the flow of resources, and end the pain being suffered by the workers and their families. “Our runanga was bleeding money to our people,” Tau said, “to feed them on the picket lines and things like that.”

The negotiations, which involved members of the Talley family, senior Affco management, as well as union officials, delegates and iwi leaders – Mair, Tau, Ngahiwi Tomoana of Ngāti Kahungunu and Tukuroirangi Morgan of Tainui – got underway in Auckland on Sunday May 20th. “By Tuesday morning, about 5:30 in the morning we’d completed about 8 or 9 agreements,” Mair said, “and quite frankly we were quite elated albeit many, many people were very tired.” Mair said his focus throughout the talks was “will this help our families”? “We basically said, we’re here for our families,” he said. “We’re here in regards to ending the pain for our families, so every time we’re looking for a solution, think of our families.”

On the all-important question of seniority, Graham Cooke says the settlement Mair and others helped secure was a win for the union, if a slightly “watered down” one, with a few sticking points still unresolved. The negotiators also sealed a 2.3 percent pay increase, with a further 2 percent from next year.

When news of the deal broke that Tuesday, the news media focus was less on the terms of the deal than on the role played by iwi leaders in breaking the deadlock, and in particular a threat by Māori to withhold stock from Affco plants. Sonny Tau explained it at the Tauranga hui: “This clever Ngāti Kahungunu fellow, Ngahiwi [Tomoana] said, ‘Right, if Affco doesn’t listen, we’ll withdraw our stock from them. So that sort of bounced the idea around. Then we had a quick look at what Māori owned in terms of stock units in this country and it was 4.7 million stock units.” Tau continued: “We said to Talley, I think Ken [Mair] said to Talley, well you’ve got 22 percent of this today. Tomorrow you’ll have nothing. I don’t think they believed that until there was a couple of emails showed to them from other companies who said they will put on extra shifts and take up the slack, and I think that’s when they realised that Māori were really serious about this.”

For its part, Affco has acknowledged the role iwi leaders played in ending the dispute, though has not, to Werewolf’s knowledge, commented on the specific issue of the Māori threat to withdraw stock from its plants. One Affco spokesman did tell Werewolf that it wouldn’t have been in the interest of Māori to do so, but he wouldn’t comment any further on the matter.

Allan Barber, a meat industry observer who has held management roles in the industry including with Affco, was sceptical of the threat, describing it in a blog post as a “misconception”. “Apart from comments by Pita Sharples early on in the dispute, there was no suggestion Māori Incorporations should remove supply from Affco or any other Talley’s company,” Barber wrote. “In fact it was the existing relationship with Talley’s Group which led to the successful Iwi intervention.” Asked about that statement, Barber said that the impression he got from talking to some of the key people on the company side was that there was no real prospect of livestock being withheld, “especially once the parties – Affco, Talley’s and iwi leaders – sat down to talk about the realities”.

But Barber, too, sees the iwi involvement as important. “I am convinced that the dispute would not have been settled satisfactorily, had it been left to the union to negotiate without iwi mediation,” he said.

Economic Muscle

Whether or not the economic power of Māori was key to sealing the Affco deal, it’s clear that power is growing and that Māori are increasingly willing to use it as leverage. A report by economic consultants Berl for Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Māori Development, showed the 2010 asset base of the Māori economy at $40 billion, an increase of more than $20 billion since 2006. (Some of that increase was because of price rises and improved data, but nearly $6 billion of it was real growth in the Māori economy.)

“Māori are growing in political power and wealth due to Treaty settlements and the growth of Māori business, and in physical numbers as a proportion of New Zealand’s population,” lawyer Mai Chen wrote in her recent book Public Law Toolbox. Chen says the critical factor in the Affco dispute was that iwi leaders had “sufficient leverage through the industry chain – Affco is dependent on Māori workers for labour and Māori farmers for produce to supply their meat works.” Iwi leaders were further compelled to act, she said, because the industry is of “significant historical importance to Māori, due to a long history of whanau involvement in the industry”.

In Chen’s view, New Zealand needs to acknowledge that the established political and economic landscape has shifted in the past 15 years, and to understand how Māori organisations fit into that changed landscape. If Chen is right, it could be that the trade union movement is leading the way in both recognising and harnessing that new economic landscape, with the Affco dispute providing something of a model for the future.

But how will uara Māori (Māori values) stand up against the good old profit-motive? Just last year, Māori came under fire over slave labour conditions on foreign charter vessels that were fishing Māori quota, with Talley’s among those calling for Māori leaders to take action. Syd Keepa, the CTU’s Vice President Māori, and one of the main drivers of the iwi-union initiative, said fishing was the kind of issue the union-iwi partnership could certainly get involved in. He said he himself had argued for Māori putting in their own trawlers and helping address the 27 percent Māori youth unemployment. And he’s clearly not impressed by iwi who put profits before people.

“I know when I went to the Māori Economic Development Panel, I came out of there, and all that was in there really was these business people from the iwi trusts and all that they talked about was selling kaimoana to China. They weren’t talking about training, they weren’t talking about job creation or anything like that, all they were talking about was how much money they would make, so I was critical about that situation.”

Other issues Keepa hopes the partnership could look at would be retaining jobs, and health and safety issues particularly in the forestry sector which “is completely de-unionised”, and where “there’s a Pike River every three years”. (According to the CTU, there have been 30 deaths in New Zealand forests in the past 6 years, with at least 4 so far this year.) “We’ve had heaps of people being put off in the forest industry,” Keepa said, “particularly in sawmilling. Heaps and heaps of sawmills have closed. I’ve been involved as an organiser in about 600 people losing their jobs because of sawmill closures in the forest industries.”

Forestry is one industry over which Māori are gaining increasing control, but it’s a drawn-out process. While iwi have won back ownership of a lot of forestry land in Treaty settlements, Keepa points out that the cutting rights to the forests are still held largely by non-Māori, reducing their leverage. For now at least.

Precise levels of Māori ownership of forests is tricky to estimate, but according to figures from the Ministry of Primary Industries, just shy of 30 percent of exotic forest land – or around 332,000 hectares – is currently Māori owned, and this could increase to around 40 percent as further Treaty claims are settled. But, as Keepa pointed out, much of the land is subject to Crown Forest Licenses, which separate ownership from the right to “occupy and use the land for plantation forestry” – in other words, to harvest the forests. As the Ministry explains it, when a Treaty settlement transfers ownership to Māori, the “occupier” is given a termination notice, and over the next 35 years, as the trees are harvested, full ownership returns to Māori.

Workers as Beneficiaries

As well as the potential for unions and Māori to play a concrete role in settling specific disputes and mediating specific problems, CTU president Helen Kelly, speaking at the hui, raised a less tangible goal: Changing the narrative that surrounds work. “The story being run,” Kelly said, “is that workers are beneficiaries of work and employers are benefactors who provide jobs by way of a charity, that workers should be grateful to have a job, grateful to the employer, not challenge anything, not ask for decent pay or work rights.” With a shared economic interest in work, she said – what it pays, how safe it is, whether it can provide a decent life – Māori and unions “share values”. In particular, they share a common belief that people are important and that no relationship, “including work” can be one-way.

It’s an important point, and now would certainly be a good time to challenge the work-as-charity story before it becomes more entrenched than it already is. In the United States, where the narrative has arguably been played out a little longer, corporates and the wealthy have been rebranded as “job creators”, while workers and unions – at least those who make any noise – as their opposite.

It’s a narrative that rises quickly to the surface in any industrial dispute, and Kelly is clearly hopeful that a strong Māori voice for the dignity of work and workers might act as a counterweight to the much more economically powerful voices on the other side of the equation.

A Whakawhanaungatanga Relationship

There was a lot of good feeling flowing at the Tauranga hui. Meat workers presented the iwi leaders with a specially commissioned taonga for the role they played in the Affco dispute, and there was more than enough praise and gratitude to go around. Four iwi and the CTU Runanga formally signed on to a loosely worded resolution committing themselves to a “Whakawhanaungatanga Relationship” (a familial, unifying relationship) based on uara Māori, kotahitanga (unity), and oranga whanau (community well-being, or spirit). The resolution went on to say that, “the relationship will enable the parties to support each other in working together on areas of commonality”.

So far as Keepa and the CTU Runanga are concerned, that hui was just the beginning. The Runanga has another planned for Northland in November where it will be talking with five northern iwi, Keepa said. It’s also organising to meet with sheep farmers and owners on the East Coast, with a hui planned for early February, as well as a presentation for the Māori Council.

“There’s some similarities between iwi Māori and the trade union movement, so I think basically we have similar issues,” Keepa said. Asked if the CTU Runanga would be able to bring more iwi on board, Keepa said there had been no hesitation from iwi members and leaders at the Tauranga hui, “so I’m pretty confident we will”.


Photo credits: Meat Workers Union, Alison McCulloch, TV3

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