A stupid missed opportunity that will hurt workers rights

By   /   September 14, 2018  /   5 Comments

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The government has decided to miss an important opportunity to increase workers rights as part of the proposed changes to the employment relations act.

The government has decided to miss an important opportunity to increase workers rights as part of the proposed changes to the employment relations act.
The current bill, as drafted, will not allow workers a genuine choice between joining the union and the collective agreement or going on an individual employment agreement in companies that have collective agreements.
The proposed 30-day provisions in the bill will result in all workers being put on the terms of the collective agreement for the first 30 days.
All workers, therefore, get the benefits of whatever the union has negotiated.
At the end of 30-days, all workers need to be able to make a genuine choice between going on an individual employment agreement or joining the union and staying on the collective agreement.
This proposal was put forward by the Council of Trade Unions in their submissions.
This is about choice – not compulsion.
However, the bill as reported back from the select committee denies workers the possibility of making a genuine choice.
The proposal is to give workers a “choice” form and it is entirely voluntary as to whether it is completed and returned.
Unite Union has experience between where workers are simply given a form that they can return if they want to and where they are compelled to make a choice.
In the first instance, less than 1% of people return forms. In the second situation, at least 20% of staff choose to join the union and the collective.
But this decision is entirely the worker’s choice. There is no union official compelling them to do so. In both situations, the employer controls the entire process by handing out the employee choice forms at the beginning of someone’s employment and then collecting them again (or not) and passing on the results to the union.
Unless there is a compulsion to complete and return the choice form employers can simply say that they never received them from employees and there is almost no monitoring compliance.
We have had that situation happen with major employers like McDonald’s and Burger King.
Workers also often tell us that they have filled out a choice form and handed it to their managers and it is simply not passed on to the company head office or the union. Workers often think they have joined but they have not.
This type of form can actually deny workers the choice that they need.
We propose a simple solution that gives workers a genuine choice.
This will only apply where there is an existing collective agreement.
At the end of 30-days, all employees are given a form that allows them the choice of going on an individual employment agreement of staying on the terms of the collective agreement and joining the union.
This employee choice form should be treated as a membership form in that situation.
Otherwise, the employee is not given a choice at all. All the company has to do is allow everyone to go on an IEA by default unless they have had the opportunity to join the union.
We operate in industries with small sites scattered across the country operating on a 24-7 basis with an annual staff turnover of 100%. There is little chance a union official can see everyone and give them a genuine choice of joining the union and the collective or not.
Making the employer give them that choice at the end of 30-days is about democracy.
No one could seriously argue that making a company give the worker a genuine choice in that situation is not fair.
It is completely stupid to allow the bill to proceed in its current form.
There should be an amendment drawn up to change the bill in these final stages. That is still possible. There is still time.
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About the author

Mike Treen

National Director of Unite Union


  1. Andrea says:

    OK, Mike. What’s the call to action here?

    What do you want us to do?

    Who do you want us to message in some way – and by when? Which political ears are both open and able to walk down the corridors of power to get positive action on this?

    Who gets to be a hero, if they do? Which pollie/s get haloes for ‘standing up for the workers and choice’?

    If it matters – we need to know.

  2. Steve Alfreds says:

    Unfortunately this will see a blow out in people freeloading off collective agreements. They get all the benefits of the agreement without paying union subs. I saw it first hand when I was a union delegate. It won’t do much to improve union membership numbers.

  3. Joe22 says:

    Well that idea will work to get 20% union membership. What about the other 80% who later realise they need representation.

    How about a required sign to be posted next to the premise Hygiene Certificate advertising the union with a shortcode mobile number to which the worker only has to txt YES and their name to become a union member.

  4. J S Bark J S Bark says:

    This is a Labour led government Mike.

    They don’t represent the workers.

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