Tag Archives: Mike Treen

Greek election a blow to austerity

9 Feb

By Mike Treen, Unite National Director

(Reprinted from The Daily Blog)

The SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) election in Greece has opened up enormous opportunities to turn the tide against the anti-working class austerity policies that have been imposed in that country above all but also elsewhere in Europe. This small European country of less than 12 million people is becoming a world leader.

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, left, with Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the leftwing Podemos party in Spain

Following the world recession of 2008-10 the capitalist institutions dubbed “The Troika” (The European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) used the crisis to impose austerity policies on all European countries as a condition of receiving the financial support they needed to “save” the banking system of each country and prevent a further decent into chaos. Essentially the bank debts were taken over by the the public and made a public liability. Servicing the increased public debts of course required cuts in other government expenditures. Austerity became the order of the day. Europe has been mired in economic stagnation virtually ever since.

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Continuing crises are what this system is about

10 Nov

By Mike Treen, Unite Union National Director

(Reprinted from The Daily Blog)

The decision of the US Federal Reserve to end its programme of “Quantitative Easing” signals a desire for a return to monetary “normalcy” in capitalist policy circles. The announcement was made on October 29, the anniversary of the 1929 crash on Wall Street—triggered by a previous series of monetary tightening measures by the U.S. central bank that ushered in the Great Depression of the 1930s.

But the world capitalist economy today stands at a critical juncture that is far from normal.

Stagnation is the order of the day across Europe. Output remains two percent below the peak reached in 2008 before the financial crisis and great world recession. Investment remains 15 percent below 2008 levels. The European central banks and governments are now instituting their own forms of monetary loosening after years of austerity in an attempt to jump-start the economy and escape a deflationary spiral. A similar picture exists in Japan.

A classic crisis of overproduction

The world economic crisis of 2007-09, a classical capitalist crisis of overproduction, was by far the worst since the crisis 1929-32. Like all such crises it was preceded by an explosive growth in credit as the capitalists sought to escape the basic laws of economics and produce more commodities than the market could absorb. But in the end, interest and principal must be paid and when it cannot interest rates rise, the bubble bursts, credit contracts and the economy enters a new recession. Capitalism has had this process repeat itself regularly for nearly 200 years, and yet the pro-business economists and media commentators always seem surprised.

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SkyCity boss misleads public over workers lost shifts

24 Oct

SkyCity CEO Nigel Morrison “not telling the truth”.

By Mike Treen (Unite National Director) and John Crocker (Unite SkyCity Organiser)

SkyCity CEO Nigel Morrison has defended the employment practices at his company in an “Opinion” piece entitled “Human Capital key to corporate success” in the NZ Herald on Thursday.

A number of his claims are misleading, contain only partial truths or are exaggerations. In one important respect when discussing a SkyCity worker what he says is simply untrue.

To pride oneself on being a non-minimum wage employer when the start rate for many positions in the employment agreement is only 10 cents above the minimum wage is a partial truth at best. Apprentice chefs are also paid less than the minimum wage so to say “all” SkyCity employees are paid above is not accurate.

To boast about the training staff receive when the company deliberately changed its policy in order to stop paying trainee table game dealers during their training is a bit misleading. Now when SkyCity takes employees from WINZ, the taxpayer is paying a benefit to the worker during unpaid staff training.  They then subsidise their wages for a period if subsequently employed.

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Mike Treen – “We can change this government.”

18 Sep

National Unite Director Mike Treen lays out the choices for workers in Aotearoa as we prepare for the election on Saturday. Share hard! https://unitenews.wordpress.com/about/

Unite writes to Human Rights Commission over KFC sacking workers with disabilities

3 Sep

The following letter was written by Unite National Director Mike Treen to the Human Rights Commission to seek their assistance in dealing with what the union considers illegal discrimination against workers with disabilities.

TO THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION

Dear Sir/Madam,

KFC has over the years hired some people with disabilities to do a limited range of duties and the hiring has been done through a range of local managers and support groups.

Sometime in late 2012 it seems the company made a decision that it no longer wanted to employ these people, on the grounds that they are not versatile enough to be employed – and because the arrangements had been made on an ad hoc basis by local managers.

Unite Union first became aware of it when a restructure process affecting two stores in the Hutt Valley that were being merged in September 2012 resulted in the workers with disabilities being the only staff made redundant. They were not told that this was a criteria when the process began. We only realised what had happened after the fact.

When union members have been affected we have tried to represent them and get some compensation. These processes are usually confidential so we can’t talk about the individual cases.

But we were so concerned at what appeared to be an unlawful systematic process of removing all staff with disabilities that we wrote to the company in February this year with an urgent request that they stop the so-called restructures.

We argued that they appeared to be completely illegal.

I said that the argument being used by the company to justify these dismissals weren’t valid. The company was claiming that it had adopted a policy that “all” workers had to be able to do Front of House and Back of House duties to what is called All Star level. But this is simply not true. A large number of workers at KFC are not “All Star” qualified. Many workers specialise in preferred roles. And anyway they can’t introduce a new policy like this without without proper consultation – including with the union.

I also argued that even if the company adopted such a policy it would be unlawful as the only victims would be a group of workers with disabilities. Restaurant Brands is bound by the decisions of its agents to employ people with disabilities in the knowledge that they would not be able to do all the duties available in a KFC store. Some of these workers were initially employed with subsidies from WINZ and promises to move them on to permanent jobs.

Creating a policy that has the intended effect of removing people with disabilities from stores appears to be discriminatory and a breach of the human rights act.

It is also a clear breach of the disability policy of the company which says the company is “committed to achieving equality for people with a disability within our work team by creating an accessible and inclusive workplace which is free from discrimination and harassment.”

After our letter in February we didn’t hear of the issue coming up again so thought that maybe the company had had a rethink. But it appears the company has continued and one of our members is now being restructured from their job in Te Awamutu along with another worker who isn’t a member. They haven’t changed their approach one bit. The “restructure” of the store is on exactly the same discriminatory demand that the workers with disabilities must be able to do every job in the store.

We know of at least a dozen cases where this has happened in the Hutt, Greymouth, Birkenhead, Motueka, Oamaru, Papanui in Christchurch, the Alexandra store in central Otago and now Te Awamutu.

I am not sure what is the best course of action and would like the advice of the Human Rights Commission. Our current role of trying to represent workers through what seems a pre-determined process and possibly getting compensation for individual members is not a solution. It does not address the root problem which is a company-wide policy. The company has refused our requests for information on when the policy started and how many workers have been affected.

I believe the policy has to be stopped. If a major company can get away with it then workers with disabilities will have no chance to play a productive and valued role in the community.
From our own experience the dismissals are even usually opposed by local management and crew at KFC.

Companies like Restaurant Brands have to learn that they operate as part of the communities from which they make their money.

Yours faithfully

Mike Treen
National Director
Unite Union

A new vision needed by labour movement

12 Jul

By Mike Treen

(Reprinted from The Daily Blog)

One of the disappointing aspects of some labour movement leaders comments on the private members bill to legalise scabbing was that it wasn’t needed because strikes were so low in this country.

But that is part of the problem. It is true that industrial action has reached record lows in this country. The employers as a consequence just seem hungry for more.


Mike Treen on picket in solidarity with Maritime Union at Auckland Port

New Zealand workers have some of the fewest legal protections in the world. Even the USA has time and a half after 40 hours in their law! In many states unions can impose union recognition and compulsory unionism by a majority vote of the affected staff. In New Zealand that isn’t even on the agenda as a possible discussion point.

The one minor legislative entitlement won under the last labour government (making meal and rest breaks a legal right) is being taken away by the government. The previous Labour Government also gave unions the right to access workplaces to sign up new members but membership as a percentage of the private sector workforce has continued to decline overall and now stands at less than 10%.

This was a product of a long retreat of the union movement following the passing of the Employment Contracts Act into law in 1991. Union membership halved in numbers and went from 40% to 20% of the workforce and stayed at that level despite the economic growth and new legal rights under the 1999-2008 Labour Government.

Alongside the deunionisation went a radical restructuring of the workforce. Full time male employment fell for a period then recovered at a lesser rate than the working age population. Part time and casual work expanded. Cheaper female employment rose for both full-time and part time.

Real wages were driven down 25% in real terms in the 1990s and have never recovered since. Whole industries were largely deunionised. One sector my union represents in the international hotel chains went from a standard employment agreement of full-time work with penal rates for overtime and on the weekends, to being effectively on the minimum wage, having no guaranteed hours and no penal rates or other allowances. Their real wage decline was probably in the order of 40 to 50%.

The Statistics Department reports that the the working age population expanded by 38% when comparing the December year 2012 to the earliest recorded number in the series for 1986.

Over the same period male full time employment (working 30 or more hours a week) expanded by only 17% and part time employment by 45%. Female full time employment expanded by 72% and part time by a staggering 144%.

Traditional manufacturing jobs declined as factories were driven out of business by cheap imports. Many simply went out of business whist others relocated to cheap labour countries abroad. Service industry jobs expanded and tended to be dominated by cheap young, female casualised labour.

We can turn the situation around. But it will require a revitalised movement that is NOT afraid to use the strike weapon. But that is not enough. We need a vision for society that can inspire a broader social movement behind us.

The fact that my own union has succeeded in reunionising thousands of fast food workers and won (modest to be sure but real) improvements in wages and working conditions is something that can be emulated. We have collective agreements with all the major chains – Restaurant Brands, McDonald’s, BK and Wendy’s. We are not alone and the progress the First Union is making in the major retail chains must be acknowledged also.

Unite achieved what we did without any funding outside our own credit cards. We may still have a few back debts to IRD as a consequence but I can assure all our critics that these debts will all be gone before our conference this year. It has been a remarkable effort and deserves to be celebrated.

At Restaurant Brands (which owns KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and Carls Jr) we have over 50% density. Our collective agreement there reflects this fact and this year we restored overtime at time and half for the first time in the industry since decades ago. Major progress has also been made on ensuring breaks and more regular and secure hours. We have made less progress at the other main chains and are currently in a major dispute with McDonald’s for which we will be appealing for help and solidarity over the next few months.

It is in the interests of the broader labour movement to support these efforts. This includes the public sector unions who have bank accounts with millions of dollars in them and could be using some of that money to support their poorer and weaker private sector cousins. A weak private sector is ultimately a barrier to making gains in the public sector as well.

The problems I have been describing are an international phenomenon. And there is an international discussion happening on what needs to be done. So to finish this blog I would like to end not with a lecture but to encourage readers to look at a recent speech by Dan Gallin who is the chair of the Global Labour Institute which has a secretariat in Geneva. Dan is former general secretary of the IUF (the international federation of food, agriculture, hotel and catering and tobacco workers’ unions).

He gave his talk appropriately enough to a conference in Greece. It is entitled “Fighting Austerity: Our Crisis and Rebuilding Unions from Below.” In it he says he want to “open a discussion on our crisis, the crisis of the labour movement, because I believe that the multiple crises we are facing in society are ultimately the result of the failures of our movement, and that we cannot effectively deal with those economic, social and political crises unless we overcome our own crisis first.” I share this sentiment.

(Unite National Director Mike Treen has a blog hosted on the TheDailyBlog website. The site is sponsored by several unions and hosts some of New Zealand’s leading progressive commentators. Mike’s blog will be covering union news and general political comment but the views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of Unite Union.)

A smart vote for Labour and Mana

5 Jul

By Mike Treen

(Reprinted from The Daily Blog)

Mana’s strong showing in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election is a major victory for all working people.
Coming a strong second and pushing the Maori Party into third place has provoked a crisis in the Maori Party that could prove terminal.

This has happened because in the words of Mana leader Hone Harawira “Mana is what the Maori Party was supposed to be – the independent voice for Maori, the fighter for te pani me te rawakore (the poor and the dispossessed.”

Increasingly the contest in the Maori seats will be between Labour and the Mana Movement. I want to explain why I think that this is of benefit to the broader labour movement (including, paradoxically, the Labour Party).

Working people want to defeat the National Government. It has presided over growing unemployment and inequality and its policies are designed to ensure that process continues unabated.

Unfortunately it remains relatively high in the polls. The next election is not certain. Luckily its current coalition partners (Maori, Act and United Future) are in terminal decline. Preventing their entry into parliament will make the chance of defeating National that much greater.

Labour is still languishing in the polls. But the combined vote of Labour and the Greens makes the “opposition” a credible alternative. When they have combined to offer a policy that challenges the status-quo even modestly seriously (like energy prising or housing) – the policies prove very popular.

The wild card is New Zealand First. Winston Peters tries to come across as and anti-establishment candidate who defends the welfare state and opposes asset sales. But a significant part of his appeal is the only half-concealed racism directed against immigrants. He went with National after the 1996 election when there was a hung parliament with the excuse that a coalition of Labour, NZ First and the Greens would be too unwieldy. He could well make the same claim if he was in the same position at the next election. Alternatively he could tell Labour he would form a government with them only if it excluded the Greens.

It is in the interests of both Labour and the Greens to ensure that does not happen.

Mana holds Te Tai Tokerau and its deputy leader Annette Sykes came a close second in in the seat of Te Ururoa Flavell – the new leader to be of the Maori Party. If he fails to win his seat it would spell the end of the Maori Party. If he keeps his seat he could also possibly bring in a few other MP’s if the Maori Party was to get 2-3% of the vote. They are also potential allies for National.

Mana however will never go to National. If they were to hold Te Tai Tokerau and take Flavell’s seat they would be adding at least two seats to the broader left. The added bonus is that these would be seats that wouldn’t be deducted from Labour or the Green’s total which would be determined by their party vote. It may even be possible that Mana could bring in one or two extras from a list vote of 2-3% – which is a possibility given a continuing Maori Party decline.

A smart campaign option would be for the Green’s and Labour to essentially run a list vote campaign in these two seats even if they have candidates. This would help ensure a bigger number of seats going to the anti-National coalition and neutralise the possibility of Winston Peters being the king maker.

Once the job of ejecting this government has been accomplished Mana and Labour can return to the job of competing for who is the best representative of the poor and oppressed in this country.

Long-term under a proportional system all major parties need allies. One of the great strategic errors of Helen Clark’s government was helping Jim Anderton destroy the Alliance Party on the Labour Party’s left. Middle class voters could go to the Green’s but that party is unlikely to ever appeal to disillusioned working class voters. They are more likely to go to New Zealand First (which will never be a reliable ally of the left) or even National. Working people need a voice that is truly one of the poor and oppressed and today that is Mana.

(Unite National Director Mike Treen has a blog hosted on the TheDailyBlog website. The site is sponsored by several unions and hosts some of New Zealand’s leading progressive commentators. Mike’s blog will be covering union news and general political comment but the views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of Unite Union.)

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