When Workers Rights Are Under Attack!



As the old union war-cry states, when workers rights are under attack, stand up, fight back!

And fight back we must to today’s announcement by Labour Minister Simon Bridges that the National Government has introduced the long expected second round of attacks on New Zealand workers. Make no mistake about it; this Bill is designed to make it easier for employers to cut pay and conditions. It will increase inequality and make it harder for working families to get by.

You may recall the first round of attacks on workers’ rights when National was elected in 2008 and rapidly introduced the ‘fire-at-will’ 90-day law that removed any rights a worker had to access unfair dismissal procedures if their employment was terminated in the first 90-days of employment. The initial justification for the changes was that they only applied to small businesses (20 or fewer workers) as these companies needed the “flexibility” that the laws offered.

However, within a year or so the fire-at-will law was amended to apply to all New Zealand workers, regardless of the size of the organisation they worked for. We are still waiting for the economic recovery that this law promised us. I wouldn’t hold your breath.

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And so today the long expected second round of attacks have been launched with the introduction of the Employment Relations Amendment Bill to Parliament.

But in fine National Party style, the true intent of the Bill has been masked with a smoke-screen that the “reforms” will actually assist workers by “speeding up Employment Relations Authority processes” to ensure faster decisions on employment disputes. This is to be achieved by ensuring the Authority has to either provide an oral determination or an oral “indication” to the parties at the end of the hearing.

The press release or supporting documentation makes no mention as to any additional resources (be it financial or human) being provided to the Authority to achieve this so-called “reform” and in light of the ongoing budget and staff cuts to the public sector under the current government, you must wonder how the Authority will have the capacity to implement this amendment.

You also have to question whether forcing the Authority to have to provide a decision or “indication” at the end of the hearing (which seems to undercut the long-established legal practice of reserved judgments) will actually lead to better legal outcomes or whether it will just result in rushed or knee-jerk decisions. Time will tell.

But as I said, this is all a smokescreen. The real changes are designed directly to attack workers’ pay and conditions, particularly those workers who currently benefit from the protection of a collective employment agreement (CEA).

Much will be written over the next few months about this Bill, but I want to highlight one key issue at this time. This is the proposed amendment to remove the current duty of good faith on both parties to conclude a collective agreement.

Whilst this proposed amendment may appear on the face of it to be a modest proposal, it is designed solely to destroy the ability of workers and unions to negotiate and maintain CEAs. It will allow an employer with an expiring CEA to go through a facade of negotiation, refuse to conclude it, apply to the Authority for a declaration that bargaining has ended and then push workers into individual employment agreements with lower wages and inferior conditions to those in the old CEA.

An example of how this could be used relates to the current Ports of Auckland dispute. Under the current legal obligation to conclude bargaining, both parties in this dispute are still engaged in bargaining in an attempt to find a negotiated outcome to the dispute. Whilst they do, the terms of the CEA continue to apply to the current workers. Under the proposed Bill, the Ports would be able to call an end to bargaining and simply contract out the work of the current workers to labour hire firms on inferior wages and conditions. When the Ports tried to do this under existing law, the Courts stopped them as being in breach of their duty of good faith.

These changes will lead to a further exploitation of workers and reduce wages in this country. They certainly do not lead to the “Brighter Future” John Key and the National Party promised us in the election campaign of 2011!

I call on you to stand up and fight back in whatever way you can. Make a submission to the select committee opposing the Bill, contact your local MP to make your anger heard, join the upcoming Council of Trade Unions (CTU) campaign against the Bill, and if you haven’t already, join a union to ensure we have strength in numbers!


  1. I think we might be up to around Act 4, Scene 2 of Macbeth (metaphorically speaking)

    “But cruel are the times when we are traitors

    And do not know ourselves; when we hold rumor

    From what we fear, yet know not what we fear,

    But float upon a wild and violent sea”

    • Why would they bother? They have been quite ineffective politically for a good number of years and their influence amongst working people have been also dropping steadily.

    • That’s what they may want but I think it will backfire upon them. People, when desperate, reach for anything that will help and as the unions helped before I think that they’ll be the first thing that the people reach for. The question is: Are the CTU and the rest of the unions ready for it?

      We can’t have a repeat of 1991.

  2. National do seem short sighted at times but it also appears that they have long term goals that they plan to achieve over multiple terms in office and in opposition. They see that Labour do not roll back all of what National put in place, so over a period of decades it equates to a net gain for the conservatives in shaping the nations’ direction. This will continue as long as Labour or a left coalition government does not reverse these policies in their entirety.

    • Not just reverse, but go further. Labour and the rest of the left parties need to stop compromising in National’s favour.

  3. Reversal of the Industrial Revolution and the disappearance of jobs is going to catch both workers and management by surprise because ‘nobody’ in paying attention.

    • Oh, I think you’ll find that the people in John Key’s social circles, which includes very few people from in NZ, are keeping a very close eye on things. That’s why National are selling our assets and introducing these types of policies. It transfers the real wealth from society to the rich and makes the people ever more dependent upon those same rich.

      Those policies, quite literally, are making serfs of NZers.

  4. What is absolutely crucial now is, for the remaining unions, their organisers and members, to spread the news, to inform, to consult, to hold meetings, to make public announcements, to release more press releases, to lobby those that may yet be undecided, to form a solid movement to stop this.

    This right wing, neo liberal or whatever you call it, almost dictatorial government we have, is taking advantage of a useless damned Labour Party and their most useless “leader” that this party ever had, which renders the Labour movement close to redundant and useless.

    They are now rolling out radical, right wing, anti worker, anti environment, anti welfare, anti society policies almost week by week, and smart, light brown, modern “NAZIs” like Simon Bridgeass are setting the damned pace now.

    Is anyone within sleepy Labour awake? Are the cosy, warm and fussy seeking Greens up to it? I see it as not happening, they are now too much tied up in nitty gritty small time agendas, also afraid to rock too many boats. Of course, like with welfare, they are all solidly against the Nat Attack. But hey, where is the organising, the networking, where is the consultation with the base?

    I see this again, I have seen this for months, it is overdue now, that we consult, meet, join and form a NEW and truly LEFT PARTY for the better future of New Zealand. The so called “left” have lost it and are not to be trusted, let alone capable of performing as a functioning opposition anymore.

    A NEW LEFT is needed, and it must be discussed, organised and formed, well before the next election, so that a sound share of the desperate vote out there can be harvested.

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