National MP (Botany), Jami-Lee Ross, has admitted that he has colluded with POAL (Ports of Auckland Ltd) bosses to draft his proposed strike-breaking amendment, the Employment Relations (Continuity of Labour) Amendment Bill. On TV3’s The Nation on 22 June, Ross confirmed that he had been in talks with employers during the height of the industrial dispute between the POAL and MUNZ (Maritime Union);
Source: Youtube – Ports behind bill
At 0:50, Rachel Smalley asks Ross,
“Do the Employers and Manufacturers Association support it?”
Ross’s answer was not at all truthful, and his response was utterly mis-leading. Smalley has to point out to him that the Employers and Manufacturers in fact do not support Ross’s Bill.
This is the first indication that Ross is prepared to ‘spin’ lack of support or outright opposition, in a sly, dishonest fashion. Smalley, who is aware of the Employers and Manufacturers Association position, corrects him,
“I don’t think they support it though, do they, which is quite interesting.”
In fact, the Employers and Manufacturers Association said in a media statement, that “while its principles are worth exploring it could prove very divisive.”
Acknowledgement: Scoop Media – Balloted Bill possibly a bridge too far
The same media release went on to slate Ross’s Bill,
“New Zealand communities place a high value on fairness and the Bill could have consequences that would be considered unfair.”
When even employers start perceiving a piece of anti-union legislisation as unfair, then that speaks volumes. Employers are not stupid. They understand that it only takes one unjust law to make workers more militant. That, in turn would generate increased support for a much-weakened trade union movement in this country.
At 1:40, Smalley asked,
“Does the NZ Initiative support it?”
Ross again evaded giving a straight answer, and Smalley pointed out to him that even the right-wing think-tank is dubious about the worth of the Bill.
Then at 2:18, Ross gets to the nub of the matter,
“There’s the potential once the economy really picks up again that we could seeing a whole lot more strikes.”
Ross’s statement is his first candid admission that the raison d’être of his Bill is not the “fairness”, “balance” or “choice” that he has been espousing.
Ross’s sole agenda is to crack down on strikes. Ross is targetting the most fundamental rights of human beings;
- to work together collectively, for mutual benefit
- to with-hold labour when workers deem it necessary
Working together collectively is not just a worker’s prerogative. Collective action is also used by employers who have their own groupings,
Ross’s next admission was political dynamite. At 3:26, Rachel Smalley asked Ross,
“Where does this Bill have it’s origins?”
Ross deflected with waffle about “the rights of New Zealand”.
“Or is it on the wharves of the ports of Auckland, is that where it’s origins lie?”
Ross side-stepped by remarking that “a drawn out strike can have a quite a big impact on the wider economy“.
Then, at 4:00, Smalley asked the million-dollar question,
“Have you discussed this Bill with Ports of Auckland [Ltd]?”
At last, Ross could not evade the questioning and admitted,
“A long time ago. That was an issue that was raised.”
“How long ago?”
“Oh, might have been when the industrial dispute was in full swing…”
This blogger has a fairly good idea when Ross and Ports of Auckland Ltd bosses had their little “chat”: around
On 11 January 2012, Jami-Lee Ross wrote this anti-union opinion piece for Scoop Media,
The latest development in the protracted Ports of Auckland industrial dispute must give all parties to the issue pause for thought. Continued industrial action would adversely affect the Port even further and could undermine the Maritime Union’s very reason for being.
The announcement by Fonterra recently that it is moving the company’s business from Auckland to Tauranga and Napier was a blow for the Queen City. While the negotiations between the Maritime Union and Ports of Auckland management may be a distant and removed matter for the average Aucklander, they must know the issue is now one of a fight for their port’s survival.
Every Aucklander has a stake in the Ports of Auckland. It is not a privately owned company. Nor is it listed on any stock exchange. Each and every share in the company is owned by the Auckland Council on behalf of 1.4 million Auckland residents and ratepayers. The destruction in value in one of our city’s largest public assets is alarming and has to be of concern to us all.
I don’t use the term “destruction in value” lightly. It is a strong term, but one that is appropriate for this issue. Just as losing the business of Maersk in December was no laughing matter, losing Fonterra can not be ignored. At a reported weekly trade value of $27million, annualised the loss of Fonterra’s custom represents around $1.4 billion of export business.
But numbers aside, it is obvious that losing the trade of New Zealand’s largest company, only a month after losing the business of one of the worlds largest shipping lines, has to be a wakeup call. Yet sadly for the Maritime Union, it isn’t. Sadly for port workers and Aucklanders alike, the Maritime Union continues to be unphased.
This isn’t a story of a greedy corporate hammering the little guy. This isn’t a story of a David versus Goliath battle where workers are being ripped off or paid a pittance. Few could call poverty on an average annual wage for a wharfie understood to be north of $90,000, with a proposed 10 percent hourly rate increase and performance bonuses of up to 20 percent, sitting on the table. To the average person on the street, the latest Ports of Auckland offer to the Union would almost seem generous.
This is in fact a story of the Maritime Union biting the hand that feeds them. It is a story of industrial action that, if left to go on much longer, could have disastrous consequences for the Ports of Auckland.
For commercial users, it is a simple matter of certainty and continuity Union action, and the threat of further strikes, have put a serious dent in the Ports of Auckland’s ability to provide their bread and butter services Customers are now voting with their feet. The value of Ports of Auckland and the value of the investment that every Aucklander has in the company will continue to suffer if resolution to this matter is not swift.
Aucklanders can rightly be concerned at the increasingly rogue nature of the Maritime Union. However there are 500 men and women that work at the Port with even more skin in the game and a lot more to lose. The trade union movement evolved through a desire for workers to band together to protect their common interests. This is not a dishonourable goal. But when a union loses sight of its members long term interests and cavalier negotiating tactics start to backfire, the union itself begins putting its own member’s livelihoods at risk.
Unions still occupy a privileged position in New Zealand’s employment law; a relic of the last Labour administration which has not seen significant overhaul for some years. Few non-government organisations can boast clauses in legislation specifically designed for their benefit. Despite only 18 percent of the nation’s workforce being unionised, trade unions can look to whole sections of the Employment Relations Act written exclusively to aid union survival through legislative advantage.
Up until recently, cool heads and rational people sitting around negotiating tables have meant that little focus has been placed on the role that unions play in society. However, with the bare-faced mockery that the Maritime Union is making of civilised negotiations New Zealanders will soon begin to question what position unions should hold in the modern Kiwi workplace.
As the fight for Auckland’s waterfront reaches the tipping point, for ratepayers and workers alike this present stand off must come to an end. The city’s $600 million port investment and worker’s jobs are now on the line. Also on the line is the country’s acceptance of the role of trade unions. It can not be tolerable or acceptable for a union to demonstrate continued disregard for the economic consequences of their actions.
*Jami-Lee Ross is the Member of Parliament for Botany. He was formerly a member of the Auckland and Manukau City Councils.
Acknowledgement: Scoop Media – Union biting the hand that feeds
Four months after hisstatement, Jamie Lee Ross spoke in support of the Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill, allowing secret ballot’s before workers decided to take strike action.
Ross put it thusly,
“Today is liberation day. Today is liberation day for New Zealand workers who are members of unions that have not yet embraced the democratic principles of holding a secret ballot when strike action is being considered. I say it is a shame that members of the Opposition are not supporting this bill, the Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill.” – Jami-Lee Ross, 9 May 2012,
Acknowledgement: Hansards, Parliament
Ross further advocated for secret ballots prior to strike action,
“If members want to stand in this House and say that they do support the concept of secret ballots, which is what a number of speeches have been saying in both the first and second readings—and we have heard it a few times this afternoon as well—and that they think it is a good thing that a number of unions already have secret ballot provisions in their rules, then they should go the step further and support this bill, and do the right thing by giving workers the freedom that they deserve.” – Jami-Lee Ross, 9 May 2012,
(Irony of ironies, all MPs votes on legislation are a matter of public record, and recorded in Hansards. There is no secret ballot when MPs vote.)
The Bill passed and became law on 14 May 2012
So what was the relevance between the law that Ross supported and the Ports of Auckland dispute? It seems that the POAL dispute was weighing heavily on the MP’s mind during the third reading of this Bill,
“I want to also touch on the Ports of Auckland for a moment, because I think it is important that we talk a little bit about what has become the key and well-known industrial dispute this year. It is fair to say that the Ports of Auckland dispute probably would not have got as bad as it did if there was the opportunity for those Ports of Auckland workers to have a secret ballot for their strike.” – Jami-Lee Ross, 9 May 2012,
It should also be noted that the Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill was a Private Member’s Bill sponsored by National backbench MP, Tau Henare – also noted for his hostility toward the trade union movement.
As is the Employment Relations (Continuity of Labour) Amendment Bill – sponsored by Jami-Lee Ross.
The government, it seems, does not want to get it’s hands dirty with Union-smashing legislation. Dear Leader John Key made his feelings abundantly clear in March 2012 when he played the positive-sounding propagandist mouth-piece for POAL bosses,
“I think they went through a genuine good faith process,” he told TVNZ’s Breakfast programme.
The company believed it was losing business, primarily to the Port of Tauranga, because it wasn’t competitive.
“Their view is unless they change, it will be death by a thousand cuts.”
Demand from the council for a 12 per cent return from the company within five years, up from a current 6 per cent, had not lead to the dispute, Key said.
The port had struggled with financial problems for some time and cash flow issues had forced it to sell Queens Wharf to the Government.
“Unless that’s an efficient workplace, unless it’s competitive, ultimately they will continue to lose business.”
The company was trying to make savings at the port to protect all its jobs, he said,
“And I guess they have moved to this issue where they want to go to outsourcing.”
The company needed to find almost 300 workers and would take people with experience.
“I suspect quite a lot of the people who have been made redundant will actually reapply and funnily enough get their job back just through a different vehicle… the conditions will be different.”
Acknowledgement: Fairfax Media – Jackson pulls back from port comments
So how involved was the Ports of Auckland Ltd bosses in motivating, encouraging, or actively ponsoring Ross to write his strike-breaking Bill?
Rachel Smalley put that question to Ross in the same interview. At 4:28 she asked,
“What was the Port’s input into the Bill?
“The Ports [of Auckland Ltd] indicated that during a strike like every organisation that is affected by a strike, they’re unable to keep their business going…”
So the bosses at POAL indicated to Ross that they were unable to keep their business going – and the MP for Botany duly obliged with a Bill that he fully admits POAL mananagement had input into.
This is commonly known as collusion.
What makes it all the much worse is that POAL is a publicly-owned company (by Auckland ratepayers) – and it’s own management acted against the interests of the community, as if it were some predatory trans-national corporation.
Indeed, that is precisely how Ports of Auckland Ltd management have behaved during the long-running industrial dispute;
- 12 January 2012 – Leaked POAL papers showed that management were running their own agenda “of ramping up the current industrial dispute while saying they want to resolve it.The draft management plan sets out a comprehensive contracting out plan, disparages the ports owners and board of directors, and predetermines there is no intention of seeking a negotiated solution.” (source)
- 22 March 2012 – Ports workers were served a lockout notice from Ports of Auckland LTD management just hours before a vote to bring to an end strike action. (source)
- 22 March 2012 – A POAL manager involved in negotiations with the Maritime Union was linked to a company, Pacific Crew Holdings Ltd, recruiting non-unionised wharfies for a new company, registered with the Companies Office only a month earlier. (source)
- 27 March 2012 – Employment Relations Authority issued a judgement in favour of Maritime Union not to harass workers; not to make union member redundant; not to hire scab labour; not to engage Drake New Zealand Ltd or Allied Workforce Ltd or any other person to perform the work of striking/locked-out employees; not to pressure union members to sign contracts with Drake or Allied Workforce, etc. (source)
- 12 April 2012 – POAL bosses admitted leaking private details of a port worker to a right wing blogger. The maritime worker had lost his wife to cancer. The blogger was closely connected to POAL, and may have been paid for writing pro-management propaganda on his blog. (source)
- 13 August 2012 – Maritime Union outlined cases of bullying by POAL management, ”every time somebody coughs there is a disciplinary hearing, they are attacking people continuously, making their lives miserable. There are people getting disciplined for all sorts of things, – it’s ridiculous for infinitesimal little things. They [workers] think it’s part of their [management] campaign to undermine the workforce to try and get them a little bit weakened so they will agree to what is put to them.” (source)
It should be obvious to all by now that POAL management had no intention whatsoever of negotiating with the Maritime Union in good faith, as the Employment Relations Act requires.
It was also suggested that POAL management were setting up the Ports company for eventual privatisation (see: NBR – Plea for ratepayers to give up port control). Rationalising a workforce is usually a precursor to a privatisation agenda.
Whether or not Jami-Lee Ross’s strike breaking Bill becomes law is by no means guaranteed. Even if National finds the couple of votes needed to pass it into law, this blogger has no doubt that an incoming Labour-Green-Mana government will consign it to the rubbish bin of political history. Where it rightly belongs with other laws that threaten the livelihoods of New Zealanders and their families.
Make no mistake, this Bill has nothing to do with “fairness”, “balance”, or “choice” , etc.
This Bill has only one goal; to force workers not to strike, by fear-threat of losing their jobs and replaced by strike-breaking scab labour. With unemployment at 146,000 unemployed according to a recent Household Labour Force Survey, there would be many desperate to get into a job – even if it meant displacing a striking worker. This is the dog-eat-dog world of the “Free” Market, and which Jami-Lee Ross wants to aggravate for the ordinary working man and woman.
It is fairly clear that Jami-Lee Ross and Ports of Auckland Ltd management have colluded to draft this Bill.
It is further clear that POAL had this Bill in mind to break the authority of the Maritime Union to negotiate on behalf of it’s members.
And it’s further clear that POAL had in mind this strike-breaking Bill as part of it’s over-arching agenda.
For Jami-Lee Ross, he is in a no-lose situation. If his Bill becomes law, he cements his reputation as a willing tool of the employers to do their bidding. (Much like Simon Lusk advocated in his far right plan to make MPs beholding to donors. See: National turns on hard right advisor)
And if the Bill fails, he still builds a reputation as a right wing politician willing to work with fiscal conservatives; employers; and any others who advance the neo-liberal agenda.
Jami-Lee Ross – willing servant of bosses; conservatives; and cashed-up donors.
“Going on strike cannot be easy. It can be financially and morally devastating.” – Jami-Lee Ross, 9 May 2012,
Acknowledgement: Hansards, Parliament
Yes, indeed. Very “financially and morally devastating“. Especially if Mr Ross get’s his way.
Scoop Media: Union biting the hand that feeds (11 Jan 2012)
Fairfax Media: Port workers claim bullying continues (13 Aug 2012)
Fairfax Media: Bosses bypass new era (11 Nov 2012)
Fairfax Media: Kiwi bosses’ attitude repels expats (15 Dec 2012)
Fairfax Media: Unionist slams ‘assault on workers’ (27 April 2013)
Scoop Media: Balloted Bill possibly a bridge too far (14 June 2013)
Youtube: Ports behind bill (22 June 2013)
Bowalley Road: The Right To Say – “No.”
Waitakere News: National’s generic press release for introduction of new bill
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