First I want to congratulate myself that my prediction two weeks ago that Winston Peters and NZ First would choose to do with Labour has proved correct.
Of course, when there are only two choices the chances are quite high of being correct.
However, it was a judgement, not a guess. I tried to put myself into the shoes of Winston Peters, the politician and party leader, and think like I thought he actually would – not as I wanted him to think.
I am glad I have been proved right.
In the short term at least there is more chance of squeezing some small concessions in some areas that will advance the position of the low paid workers that I represent.
In particular, we want to push the minimum wage up from just over half the average wage to two-thirds of the average wage which is about $20 an hour in today’s dollars. Winston has said he wants that number to be reached by the end of the first three-year term. Labour and the Green’s both also officially support the goal of two-thirds of the average wage although Labour had the escape clause of “if economic conditions permit”. There is a good chance we will be close to that number within three years.
The current level of the minimum wage is $15.75 an hour. To go up to $20 an hour in three years is an increase of $4.25 or $1.42 an hour each year. That is almost double the 75 cents an hour increase being promised by Labour in the first year. Let us hope a more ambitious goal becomes part of the deal that has been done with NZ First and the Greens.
The other changes I think the union movement should concentrate on are those that strengthen our ability to organise working people.
It was one of the mad failures of the nine-years of the last Labour-led government that union membership density as a percentage of the working class was lower at the end than the beginning. The changes to industrial and other laws were too inconsequential to allow unions to grow easily – especially in the private sector which covers fewer than 10% of the private sector workforce. The goal should be to double or treble that percentage.
To do that we need tools t allow us to do the job more effectively. Much of the current policy Labour has put forward in the industrial relations sphere is simply rolling back the negative changes made by National. This is welcome but insufficient. As I said no real progress was made under the old regime before those changes so more needs to be done.
I am not sure that the policy of Labour for new “Industry Standards” will do that. This may establish better minimum employment standards in certain industries but I want changes that help strengthen unions to do that job.
I have sixteen simple and practical actions based on Unite Union’s organising experience that could be done easily and quickly that would make our work a hell of a lot easier. They are “reasonable” in the sense that right-wingers would find it hard to argue against them. I know that with these changes unions could organise hundreds of thousands more workers into unions and they could use their collective power to significantly improve their lives.
Some small changes that we could use to rebuild working class power in Aotearoa/NZ
1) All employees should have a clear choice to join a collective agreement and the union when being employed by a company where a collective agreement exists. This needs to be a single form that all employees must complete that is an “either/or” option. If the employee elects to become a union member the employer must process the form as a membership application and deduct fees. The employer must also forward the employee’s contact details to the relevant union. Where there is no collective agreement employees should have the choice of applying to join a union that is responsible for that industry. Application forms should be forwarded to the appropriate union.2) Promote Multi-Employer Collective Agreements (MECA). Where a union initiates for a MECA the employers must meet within two weeks and appoint a bargaining team and an advocate. The advocate and team must make themselves available to meet and bargain in good faith within 30 days. When there has been a failure to conclude a collective agreement where bargaining has become protracted or a breach of good faith has occurred the union party can ask to attend facilitation through the Authority. If an agreement still cannot be reached by the parties the union can request that the Authority member to make a determination on the issues in dispute to conclude the collective agreement.3) Master Franchise holder shall be deemed to be the employer party for all employers that operate as sub-franchisees.4) An employee has the right to take a personal grievance against a party who is not the direct employer which has caused unjustified disadvantage, discrimination, harassment, bullying and unjustified dismissal. For example, when a security guard loses their job because the company they have been assigned to objects to their continued presence on a site.5) An IEA has a maximum term of 2 years and the employer must propose changes in advance and meet with each employee in good faith to discuss and give the employee the opportunity make proposals. If the matters are unresolved the employee can access mediation services to assist any unresolved issues. Alternatively, the employer may choose to put the employee on the same terms and conditions as the collective agreement without individual bargaining for the payment of an agreed fee to the union.6) Unions have the right to communicate with their members including access to a union-controlled noticeboard in a workplace that has members of the relevant union.7) At the union’s request, the employer must provide a list of all employees, their work locations and positions and facilitate the unmonitored access of those employees by union representatives, including adequate meeting facilities. If an employee does not wish to meet the union representative, the employee needs to communicate directly with the union representative. The initial meeting with employees who are not members of the union shall have a reasonable time, not less 15 minutes, to discuss membership of the union.8) Union access to union members can be conducted individually or collectively. Collective discussions need be facilitated to allow members of the union to fully engage in the meeting. Wherever practical the union meeting can be in the workplace concerned.9) All employers must allow deduction of union fees from pay. (At present there is an exemption where it is stipulated in an employment agreement that there is no deduction allowed. This is used by labour-hire companies.)10) Regular patterns of work shall be deemed to be agreed hours of work unless there are genuine reasons based on reasonable grounds for the regular pattern of work to not to be recognised.12) Part 6A (transfer of undertakings) rights provided under this section to be extended to all employees.
13) The pay and conditions of workers supplied by Labour-Hire companies shall not be less than that paid by the employer to which labour is being supplied.14) All Labour Inspector powers and penalties should be available to workers/unions/at the ERA.15) Stop migrant workers visas being tied to their jobs, or an amnesty to find another when exploited. Migrant worker employment agreements to be lodged with MBIE and all wages paid directly to a bank account.
16) There are also there issues of broader working class rights that could be done to bring this country into the 21st Century that would also be hard for right-wingers to argue against.– Overtime rates of time and a half shall apply to all hours worked in excess of 8 hours a day or 40 in a week.– Sick Leave increased to 10 days– Redundancy pay of at least “4&2” to be a legal right