St John management applies tourniquet to workers’ throats

By   /   January 15, 2017  /   17 Comments

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Charitable organisation, St John, which operates ambulance services nationwide, as well as other medical services, has been engaging in anti-worker actions during recent industrial negotiations to conclude a collective agreement.

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Charitable organisation, St John, which operates ambulance services nationwide, as well as other medical services, has been engaging in  anti-worker actions during recent industrial negotiations to conclude a collective agreement.

On 5 January, St John announced that workers wearing apparel bearing a pro-union message “Healthy Ambos Save Lives” would be docked 10% of their wages;

St John Ambulance officers who ditch their uniforms as part of ongoing strike action will have their pay docked by 10 per cent.

The First Union, which represents 1000 ambulance officers across the country, has condemned the move as “astounding”.

But St John says it didn’t take the step lightly, and it was done out of concern for the health and safety of staff and patients.

The wage deductions come as ambulance officers enter their third month of industrial action, following stalled collective agreement negotiations with St John.

Striking workers are continuing to respond to emergencies and call-outs as normal, but are breaching St John policy by refusing to wear uniforms.

Instead, unionised St John workers have been wearing T-shirts reading “Healthy Ambos Save Lives”.

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St John clinical operations director, Norma Lane,  ‘spinned’ the wage-docking as a “safety” issue;

“It is important ambulance officers are identifiable in an emergency environment where circumstances can change rapidly. Not complying is a health and safety risk not only to the employee but to fellow officers and other emergency workers. While there is only a very small number of ambulance professionals refusing to wear hi-vis vests, we have advised First Union and our staff that those employees not complying with this requirement will receive a 10 per cent deduction of wages.”

How cutting wages improves safety for workers is not made clear by Ms Lane.

St John’s threats echo that made by AFFCO employers, almost exactly a year ago;

An AFFCO worker has been suspended without pay, and will probably be sacked after filming workers in union t-shirts being refused entry to work, the Meat Workers’ Union says.

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[…]

AFFCO said it was company policy that union t-shirts were not worn on site, and that they were associated with inappropriate and threatening behaviour.

One Union member made his/her feelings perfectly clear with this image posted on First Union’s Facebook page;

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What is clear, though, is that St John is engaging in all-out repugnant industrial warfare against the First Union.

St John Station managers have used emotional blackmail, legal threats from law firms,  and deliberate mis-information in a calculated strategy to undermine First Union and its  members’ resolve. As  Ambulance Professionals First spokesperson, Lynette Blacklaws, revealed on 7 November last year;

“When a crew arrived in mufti at a station in Auckland this morning their manager snapped that ‘if someone dies because they didn’t let you in be it on your heads’. This comes on the same day station managers in the Bay of Plenty told several ambulance officers over the phone that industrial action was cancelled, even though this isn’t true.”

More aggressive  anti-union activity was to come.

On 24 November last year,  St Johns announced on it’s media page that it had  concluded a successful collective agreement with the  Amalgamated Workers Union NZ Southern  (AWUNZ), Central Amalgamated Workers Union  (CAWU), NZ Ambulance Association (NZAA), and the Ambulance Officers Workplace Union  (AOWU).

First Union was not a party to the new collective agreement. St John stated on it’s webpage,

It is our preference to have nationally consistent terms and conditions for all St John employees, accordingly, St John and the four union parties have made provision for the First Union members to become party to the new Collective Agreement should they wish

The statement continued with this ominous ‘rider’;

If First Union decides not to become party to the new Collective Agreement, St John will continue to work through the various options available.

On 7 January this year, First Union learned what “various options” St John had in mind. As reported in The Daily Blog, St John was flexing it’s industrial muscle using new anti-union laws passed by National in 2015.

The union representing over 1000 St John Ambulance staff has today received confirmation from the Employment Relations Authority that St John has lodged an application to withdraw from bargaining without concluding a collective agreement.

If St John were to be successful they would be the first company to withdraw from bargaining without concluding a collective agreement under the 2015 amendments to the Employment Relations Act.

Simply put, National’s so-called “reforms” allowed employers to cease negotiations to conclude a collective agreement with a union, by applying to the Employment Relations Authority;

Before the law change, parties bargaining for a collective agreement were required to conclude that agreement unless there was genuine reason not to. The change means that a collective agreement does not have to be concluded, however parties must still deal with each other in good faith.

[…]

The Act provides some protections against parties that end bargaining by deadlocking on one issue. Specifically, either party can seek a declaration from the Employment Relations Authority (the Authority) about whether bargaining has concluded. The process is discussed in more detail below.

First Union officials were not impressed. They understood the agenda that St John was playing out;

Jared Abbott, spokesperson for Ambulance Professionals First, the network within FIRST Union representing ambulance officers, said the application confirms what the union suspected: that St John had no intention of reaching an agreement.

“St John have spent less than two hours with us at the table since we started our protest actions. Applying to conclude bargaining now is outrageous. This is no way to treat your staff.”

Mr Abbott said that despite writing to the company on several occasions and requesting a proposed collective agreement, St John repeatedly refused to make a formal offer.

Ambulance Professionals First has also written to St John highlighting how no collective agreement was presented to the ratification meetings for the smaller unions who agreed to settle, a requirement under the law for a collective agreement to become operative.

“We’re astounded with how unprofessional St John has been. Ambulance staff just want fair recognition for the hard work they do. This is only going to get more staff off-side,” said Abbott.

“We don’t believe St John’s application will be successful.”

St John is using ‘the stick’. Other employers opt for ‘the carrot’ to break legal strikes;

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Whether by ‘carrot’ or ‘stick’, the bosses’ agenda remains the same: to smash unions and undermine workers’ rights. The end result – dampen wage growth and wind-back hard-won worker’s conditions.

St John management’s unscrupulous behaviour makes a mockery of that organisation’s so-called “five values”;

We do the Right Thing – Whakaaro Tika
We take responsibility. Make the tough calls. Think of others.

We stand Side by Side – Whakakoha
We respect, value and support what others contribute.

We Make it Better – Whakawerohia
We find solutions- step up, own it, do it.

We have Open Minds – Whakahangahanga
We listen openly. Encourage ideas. Welcome feedback.

We are Straight Up – Whakapono
We act with honesty, courage and kindness.

They even have ‘badges’ proudly displayed on their webpage;

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Obviously St John’s “five values” do not extend to their own workers.

Curiously, whilst St John proudly announced it’s collective agreement with four other unions on its “News Articles” page, it made no mention of it’s application to the Employment Relations Authority to abandon negotiation with First Union;

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Neither has it disclosed to the public on it’s website that it is taking draconian steps to dock ambulance drivers’ pay packets by 10% for  wearing shirts bearing union messages.

Is St John ashamed to present this information on their website, where public eyes can see what the organisation is doing to it’s ambulance drivers? It is evidently not a “good look” that an organisation nearly a thousand years old, and  dedicated to helping people, is screwing its own staff.

According to Norma Lane, the wearing of the First Union shirts constitutes   “participation in a partial strike” and thereby justifies docking ambulance drivers’ pay.

Which is about as mean-spirited as a charitable, non-profit organisation can get. As  Jared Abbott correctly pointed out;

“The wage deductions are pretty astounding. The actions ambulance officers are taking cost St John nothing.”

At first look, St John’s actions appear to contravene the Wages Protection Act 1983 which prevents employers from arbitarily docking workers’ pay;

Deductions may only be made from an employee’s pay if they are required by law, agreed to by the employee or are overpayments in some circumstances.

However, it appears that St John is stretching an exemption to what is known as a “partial strike“;

Employees strike when a number of employees totally or partially:

  • break their employment agreement
  • stop work or don’t accept some or all the work they usually do
  • reduce their normal output, performance, or rate of work.

Employees don’t have to stop work completely for them to be on strike.

However, one suspects that more reasonable-minded people would find it difficult to define a “partial strike” as wearing a shirt. If that is St John’s justification for docking ambulance drivers’ pay, then it may be on very shaky ground, both legally and morally.

Whether by luck, or clever design,   this has all transpired over the Year’s End/New Year period when current affairs programmes such as The Nation and Q+A are on hiatus, and even Radio NZ is operating on a “summer holiday programme”. The later  is closer to listening to The Breeze rather than serious news and current affairs.

Once the public begin to understand the machinations of St John’s management, that organisation’s reputation may risk a real hit. “A good reputation” as Colin Beveridge once reflected on,  “is hard-won and easily lost. But the lost reputation has invariably been given away by the actions of the holder, rather than been taken away by somebody else.”

Words that St John’s management would do well to consider.

St John – heal thyself.

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Postscript

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It will be interesting to find out what salary increase St John’s CEO will have this year or next.

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References

St John: Ambulance Services

St John: A quick snapshot of what we do

NZ Herald: St John ambulance officers to have pay deducted over industrial action

Radio NZ: Worker suspended over union t-shirts

Facebook: First Union – Healthy Ambos Save Lives

First Union: St John threatens jobs… over wearing a badge

First Union: St John employ “emotional blackmail” in badge dispute

St John:  AWUNZ, CAWU, NZAA & AOWU Unions and St John reach agreement

The Daily Blog: St John apply to end bargaining with FIRST Union

Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MoBIE): Amendments to the Employment Relations Act 2000 (March 2015)

Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MoBIE): Law changes to collective bargaining

Radio NZ: Junior doctors offered up to $200/h to break strike – union

St John:  Vision & Values

St John: News Articles

St John: The Order of St John

Radio NZ: Ambulance staff to have wages cut over strikes

Employment NZ: Deductions

Employment NZ: Strikes and lockouts

Fairfax media: Big pay rises for district health board heads

Additional

Facebook: First Union

Facebook: Ambulance Professionals First

Previous related blogposts

If anyone wants to see the Working Class

Help Talley’s Affco Workers!

Immovable and Irresistable forces – combined!!

The Talleys Strikes Back

John Key’s track record on raising wages – 7. Part 6A – stripped away

John Key’s track record on raising wages – 8. An End to Collective Agreements

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17 Comments

  1. Michael says:

    Quite frankly they should be sacked for not wearing the correct uniform.

    From my previous employment with St John First Union is a very militant union and are extremely difficult to deal with,

    • So you’re an anti-Union, anti-worker National supporter, Michael? Ok, noted.

      By the way, if they sacked the ambo drivers, who would attend to you if you got injured or sick?

      Just curious.

      • Wensleydale says:

        The ambos are a caring bunch of folk who take their job very seriously, and they’d love to attend Michael should he be sick or injured.

        Sadly, they’ve just been sacked for failing to wear the correct uniform, so poor Michael’s going to have to make do with a band-aid and a cuddle from his Mum.

        • WILD KATIPO says:

          Indeed… poor Michael might even have a heart attack… lets hope that kiss from his mother does it all better…

          Frank , your right, .

          This is simply following the time worn tactics of the neo liberal. You will find embedded into that organisation a far right wing neo liberal , more often than not… a member of the National party by proxy…

          Who , by surreptitious and vicious means seeks to further the aims of that neo liberal party by using the ‘ no uniforms , no union’ angle…

          Surreptitious by using the emotive environment of the ‘caring’ professions for people as a beachhead for privatization.

          Follow the money trail in regards to the neo liberal . Always.

          And there you will find their true ugly motives.

          They will also always inevitably seek to use ‘ govt funding cuts ‘ as the other motive to destabilize and justify their actions for their long term goal of privatization – whereby those in senior management stand to gain an obscene amount of wealth from that process.

          We’ve seen it all before and its a wonder that they still keep trying despite people now having 32 years of neo liberal experience with their stealth techniques and lies.

          Which is all very obvious to any average intelligent observer .

          Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

    • Priss says:

      What I get from your comment, Michael, is that workers are slaves, should “know their place”, stay silent, and do their masters’ bidding. That is a very 18th century view of employee-employer relationships.

      St John management have over-reacted and do not come out of this looking very sympathetic to their employees. They should be thoroughly ashamed of their actions, as should you, Michael.

    • Sally's Husband says:

      “From my previous employment with St John”

      So, you were management then? No wonder your views are so unreasonable and vindictive toward workers. People like you, Andrew, are not fit for management roles. Your attitude probably contributed to making First Union more militant!!

    • richarquis says:

      Jesus, your sentence makes no f***ing sense at all. WHAT are you trying to say?

      I’m gonna run through a few possibilities here, with possible corrections [in parentheses] to indicate where extra information should have been included, or *asterisks* to indicate where information should be omitted…

      1) From my previous employment with St John First Union [I find it] is a very militant union and [they] are extremely difficult to deal with*,*[.]

      2) From my previous employment with St John First Union[,] *is* a very militant union *and* [who] are extremely difficult to deal with, [I find that… blah blah blah…]

      Or, most accurately…

      3) *From my previous employment with St John First Union is a very militant union and are extremely difficult to deal with,*

      [I am a bit of a dick.]

    • mary_a says:

      Out of interest Michael, how long were you employed by St John? Were you management? Obviously not front line staff, given your attitude.

  2. Sally's Husband says:

    this is hugely disappointing on St John’s part. We will think twice next time before donating to their cause.

    • Mike says:

      Sally, Donations to St John go to the whole umbrella organisation consisting of St john youth, volunteer workers at sports events, property management company and some goes to St John ambulance. If you think all your donation goes to the ambulance service you are sadly mistaken.

      • Mike, you may be correct in what you say, but once St John’s reputation is tarnished, I doubt if the public will understand – much less care – for the fine distinction you make. There will be many who question the culture of an organisation that permits some of its workers to be treated in such an appalling manner.

  3. Malcolm says:

    Why do they need so many unions to represent the St John ambulance officers?
    Are they all doing the same job nationwide, or do Auckland Ambo officers do a different job to, say, Dunedin ones?
    Would it not make sense for them all to be represented by the one union?

  4. Al says:

    statement of support from the Health sector Workers Network.

    http://hswn.org.nz/deductions-pay-ambulance-attack-health-workers/

  5. Samwise says:

    This is an outrageous abuse of power by St. John employers. It shows why we need a strong union movement, left to themselves bosses will always try to screw workers.

    I’ll be thinking twice before I make a donation to St. John next time they have a street appeal.

    Bad show, St. John!!!

  6. Roy says:

    Can someone with better journalism skills than me check whether St.John are actually a charitable organisation in the sense we’d expect? A worker from another emergency organisation told me they were a for-profit company headquartered in the UK? Can they be both?

  7. […] blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 15 January […]