Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Victory! A union has claimed victory over a supermarket chain after it backtracked on plans for a fingerprint-based clock-in system, instead of giving workers the option of typing in a PIN. (via Stuff) Damn right that's a victory. I remember writing about fingerprinting at work before. I used to work at a bank and they didn't need my fingerprints, why the fuck would a supermarket need them? You can fuck off before you can fingerprint me at work.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

New blog

New blog: rankandfilers This one is quite similar to Strikewatch, however it is more interested in worker control of unions, where this blog tends to be more generalised. I've signed up to it and hopefully I'll be more motivated to post some more material. It's been tough work maintaining this blog (just trying to post regularly!) but I'm not throwing in the towel. I recommend you go and have a look at rankandfilers for more material. Some more things I have been looking at lately: http://www.marxist.org http://www.anarchosyndicalism.net

Saturday, December 24, 2005

NY strike

NY Strike over: Desertnews.com The fascinating saga of a strike that crippled New York is drawing to an end. It truly is a remarkable testament to the courage of workers and union leaders in the face of massive fines and a hostile, state employer. In my mind, there are several interesting points about this: - Workers in a First World country broke the law to strike - The transit union members truly bought the city to its knees, something every unionist dreams of - The workers apparently put their placards down and started work again the moment the strike was ended, illustrating the fascinating nature of people power - they shut the city down, now they are getting it back up, just like that... - The economic implications of the strike are massive, and at a time just before Christmas... And, as always, there were unhappy members: those who felt the strike should have gone on longer, and those who felt it should have been shorter (or not at all).


Westpac strikes: NZ Herald The issues Fair pay As at 14 November 2005, Westpac have offered staff 3.75% for the first year of a two year contract and 3.75% or CPI for the second, whichever is the greater. Performance pay The structure of the pay system for staff (in particular, with regards to the performance component) is in dispute. Both parties are wanting to make changes. The comments Once again, staff (with expectations bouyed by progress in their industry) and employer have failed to come to an agreement. Depending on whose side you take, it is the workers being cantakerous and greedy, or the bank being cantakerous and greedy. Given however that Westpac is the last major bank to be negotiating its CEA (Collective Employment Agreement), you'd have to agree that it hasn't played its cards well if it wanted to avoid bad PR and a strike on one of the busiest banking days of the year. The best idea would have been to better the worst offer in the industry yet fall short of the best, being a 'common-sense and reasonable' offer (which of course every offer is). With a whole year of '5% for 05' going round the place, you should anticipate that staff will have an idea of what they want when their turn comes round. The emphasis on sales is not going to go away. Staff in the banking industry are under significant target pressure (as are many people in many industries) however the continual drive to not only maintain profitability but grow it at a better rate than last year will see one of two things happen: - the destruction of the image of a banking professional - being replaced by that of a salesperson and the subsequent damage to the banking industry and its wider image - the exclusion of target-based bonuses from salary structures, brought about by direct action throughout the banking industry If my memory serves me correctly, nearly every time that Westpac has gone on strike they have managed to get a senior HR manager fired. I wonder how long Henry Ford will last, especially after his effort today: 'Westpac this afternoon said today's strike by Finsec union members had not profoundly affected service, with 174 of 200 branches kept open and running. Yeah, but 26 shut. How long were the queues in the other branches? "Nearly 90 per cent of our branches in New Zealand were kept open. "We worked hard to minimise any inconvenience to our customers," said Westpac's head of consumer banking, Henry Ford. I want to thank our customers for their patience, understanding and messages of support at this difficult time. Messages of support? "Oh, dear Westpac, please don't be downhearted with all this nasty strike business happening, please keep on trucking, I love it when you screw me senseless with bank fees, you're my number one..." "Through redeployment of staff, proactive communication with our customers in the days leading up to the strike, and other measures, our customers have been well served on what is traditionally one of the busiest days of the banking year." You mean your managers know how to balance a cash drawer? They know how to load a PIN number onto an Eftpos card? Hey, now that they're multi-skilled, perhaps you should pay them the lowest rate instead of the highest rate, because they can do more than one task and are therefore 'valued employees'... Mr Ford also noted that a wide range of services and back office functions were unaffected by the strike, including ATM facilities, telephone and online banking.' Yes well next time we'll get the computers out on strike with us. Then you'll be fucked. We didn't exactly plan for the Eftpos outage but I bet you were sweating. I wonder what Pink Panda thinks of it all?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

World's first Starbucks strike

Unite: Worlds First Starbucks Strike Spreads to 10 Stores "Workers from stores across Auckland walked off the job today to join the world’s first Starbucks strike, held on Auckland’s counter-culture café strip, Karangahape Rd, New Zealand. What began as a small protest by workers from one store became a city-wide strike when Starbucks workers heard that managers would be brought in to cover the shifts of the striking K’Rd workers..." [More] Kiwis are again leading the way for the rest of the world. This is certainly one way to meaure how far Unite has come as a union - to be able to unionise and organise a Starbucks store, arguably one of the icons of American globalisation and anti-union practices, and to do so in New Zealand, where the retail and cafe sector have traditionally seen low unionisation rates. You can be sure that Starbucks local management have been fighting this hand and foot. You can guarantee that there will be further resistance throughout Restaurant Brands, which owns Pizza Hutt, Starbucks and KFC, but it will be interesting to hear where and when the next Starbucks strike is.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

New feed

Some of you may notice that I have added a new wire to the sidebar: LabourStart's ACT NOW! feed. I was moved to do this by the shocking news that a union leader was killed on his way home from a picket line. When you read the feed, this is your chance to show international solidarity. As an example, I sent a message in support of Australian union members in the face of John Howard's plans for legalised union-busting. I actually got a reply from Kim Beazley's office, thanking me for my support. Generic enough, but I realised that it had got through and was making a difference. So have a look and send a message.

Monday, September 12, 2005

New contributor

A warm welcome to Rachel, a friend and fellow leftie of mine. She will join the other two here at Strikewatch and has great enthusiasm for getting into the blog biz. While not strictly a newbie in terms of blogging, she is taking some steps by getting into posting her own material. Which is great for me, because then I don't feel so guilty about not posting often. So share the load, as they say. We've got revolving shifts available 24-7, and the collective agreement is with the servos. Cheers.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The latest assault across the Tasman

This from Working Life: As some people may know, John Howard's government is planning a fresh range of legislation aimed at weakening the powers of the unions in Australia, now that they have conrol of the Senate too. The article outlines some background info (very handy) to Australia's award system (similar to ours except for the ECA) and provides some info on what the proposed legislation is going to do. Go and have a read, and check out Rights at Work. I'll be hoping to do a post on the legislation soon.

Newly discovered blog

Confined Space: News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics American-based blogger Jordan Barab has a wealth of experience in occupational safety and health issues, having campaigned for many years for the right of public employees in the US to a safe workplace. From his site: "In 1998, I was appointed a Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for OSHA, serving as national Labor Liaison, ergonomics coordinator and other duties. That was a "political appointment," so I turned into a pumpkin at noon, January 20, 2001. I then "consulted" for the AFL-CIO Health and Safety Department for a year and a half. Now I have a different day job, and in my "spare" time, this." The issus that are covered on this site are very similar to those faced by workers here in New Zealand. Worth a visit.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Blog and Submission

Blog to go visit Work without End I thought I was struggling along, alone!!! I was so pleased to see this blog and Make Tea Not War going hard! Go check it out. Submission Employment Relations (Flexible Working Hours) Amendment Bill Just tonight I noticed No Right Turn and Make Tea Not War have prepared submissions for the above Bill (closed 13 July). Go and have a look at the Bill, it's not very long but makes a lot of sense. NRT has suggested extending the coverage FROM children under 5 years and disabled children under 18 years TO "anyone with a significant caregiving responsibility (such as care for disabled or elderly family members, or those suffering from a long-term illness)". MTNW has echoed this sentiment in her (his? eek) submission, which makes a lot of sense. I think that the Bill is quite reasonable in that: - it requests employers to make an effort to accomodate people's requests for flexible arrangements due to domestic childcare needs - it acknowledges and supports parents who wish to reenter the workforce part time, post-natal - it will encourage employers to find ways of adopting more flexible work arrangements, which in my view are generally a good thing for business - it will promote more understanding and appreciation by businesspeople of the part-time / flexible shift worker and foment goodwill and loyalty More thoughts to come, and more words too :)

Friday, July 01, 2005

Worker collectives and multi-agent jobs

This is a bit of a stab at some theorising and is the first time I've tried to do it outside of the academic context. There are no references to market theories, NZ legislation or studies and as such is entirely unacademic. I've tried to argue a line of reasoning however I am aware that the topic I have picked could do with a much longer post and at least a few references. I can't imagine that someone would want to use this to pass it off as their own, but if they are that silly (no references, hello?) or would like to quote and develop my argument, please reference to me and feed back to me because I would love to hear. To the kiwi bloggers both left and right, I would love to hear thoughts, comments, reactions. Strikewatch has understandably steadily decreased down a trickle of traffic butI feel that it belongs here and not on Random Contributionz, where perhaps more people would see it.

This theory attempts to outline the view that when jobs that can be shared among others or are ‘multi-agent’, are subject to standard market forces and lack an effective worker collective in their place of employment, workers in these positions like these will be less able to bargain for an increase in terms and conditions over time.

Firstly, the terms will be defined, specifically: ‘multi-agent’ jobs, ‘standard market forces’, ‘effective worker collective’ and ‘net decrease in terms and conditions over time’. Then the theory will be introduced and discussed.

‘Multi-agent’ jobs are those in which the work to be completed is largely of a ‘care’ nature as opposed to ‘responsibility’ and where there are multiple agents or workers employed to complete the common task. What this means is that the workers have equal or comparable training and all that the common task comprises can be completed by another agent. The unplanned absence of one or multiple agents does not stop the work being done, however it may result in a slower delivery of service or product. Examples of these are inbound call centres with similarly or generically trained agents, checkout operators, large-scale caterers and retail sales staff paid solely by salary or in combination with negligible commission potential.

‘Standard market forces’ refers to a market-driven labour market that is subject to limited regulations governing areas such as minimum wage floors, youth rates, hire and fire rights of employers, employment contracts and health and safety. The New Zealand labour market is subject to such constraints and is the model used for reference.

‘Effective worker collective’ refers to a democratically-run collective of workers that is effective in securing positive changes to the terms and conditions at their place of work. Effectiveness in this case will generally revolve around the level to which the workers are ‘organised’ and able to apply pressure on the employer to grant a concession or change a practice. References to the word ‘union’ in current industrial legislation secure (what some regard as monopolistic) rights for trade unions to represent workers. While there is no compulsion for a trade union to be affiliated to the Council of Trade Unions (NZ), it is a separate argument as to whether such affiliation is a strategic necessity for survival and will not be considered here. The definition of a union is likewise a separate argument and warrants discussion at another time.

‘Terms and conditions over time’ refers to employment contract that covers the workers and governs all aspects of the work, including hours of work, penal rates, perks, disciplinary measures and employee conduct. ‘Over time’ refers to the period from when the contract is negotiated to when it is renegotiated. Where collective agreements can expire anywhere between six months to two or three years, individual contracts may not be renegotiated regularly or for long periods of time.

This theory is built also on two conditions: that the industry faces genuine supply of skilled workers and the supply is primarily steady with few prolonged troughs. While there may be variances in the level of skill in each individual worker, it is held that such variances will be in excess of the level of skill required to complete the job. Workers may have industry or other experience that warrants limited on-the-job training in order to counter issues with proprietory systems or products unique to that employer, which are not in themselves necessarily skill deficiencies but knowledge deficiencies.

As workers on individual employment agreements are unable to withhold labour (‘strike’) without breaking their conditions of employment, arguments for a rise in their terms and conditions will hinge on: employer goodwill, employer fear of losing trained staff to competitors, employer fear of productivity through willful misperformance of work.

Where there are multiple agents performing a similar job, the employer runs the risk of being resented for favouratism shown to certain staff through increased wage or perk entitlements and affecting productivity or losing trained staff. Where the employer wishes to show goodwill and reward all staff, direct monetary entitlements are less likely to be employed as they are a direct cost to the employer that may not create the desired effect: perhaps even a negative response through a perception of being ‘bought out’ or paid to ‘keep quiet’ as it were. Indirect rewards such as a one-off dinner, social event or gift package for staff have the potential to create goodwill even where the monetary value of such outlay is less than a one-off payment. An ongoing monetary reward (eg. performance targets, wage rises) is likely to be more expensive because an ongoing monetary reward that is geared to be low-cost runs the risk of alienating and offending workers, and a sizeable increase based on goodwill alone may conflict with business interests in keeping unnecessary costs low. This is particularly true in industries where goodwill has little or negligible effect, evidenced by high staff turnover.

If, as mentioned earlier, there is a healthy supply of skilled workers, then employer fears of losing trained staff may be mitigated. Primary sources of concern however relate to the training of new employees: whether it is a costly process (time or directly financial) and whether the training of employees unnecessarily disrupts service or product delivery. In the absence of a dedicated trainer or team of trainers, an employer will find it costly to train new employees, either if trained directly by the employer or if existing employees scale down their work-rate in order to demonstrate or teach the new employee. Generally, there are three levels in an industry which will affect the cost of training a new employee: the complexity of the task or industry and therefore length of time required to become self-sufficient, the extent of proprietary knowledge required to complete the task and whether or not the employee can become sefl-sufficient by themselves or, if another staff member has to be diverted to assist them, how long that staff member is diverted from their work. Accordingly, employer concerns over replacing trained staff will vary based on the industry and task, as well as the size of the employer and presence of any dedicated training structure.

Employers’ fears over reduced productivity as a result of a dispute with a staff member are generally in the advantaged position. However, if there is a skills shortage or if significant legal obstacles exist to timely and reasonable dismissal of recalcitrant staff, then these fears are much greater due to potential financial loss through litigation resulting from aggrieved staff. There is much debate over the extent to which legislation designed to protect workers and the right to pursue personal grievances unfairly constricts workers, however that is a debate unable to be addressed in this post. In New Zealand, significant obstacles exist to ‘unjustifiable’ dismissal, however employers may opt for an out-of-court settlement with ex-employees if the costs of defending the charges (with no recompense for costs incurred) exceed the demands of the ex-employee. Small to medium business owners who have little money to spend on lawyers are particularly susceptible to ‘cowboy allegations’ from ex-employees.

However, staff on an individual agreement essentially have two options: ‘voice’ and ‘choice’. Ultimately, voice will be ineffective if employed outside of a legally-protected collective of workers as there is no credible threat behind ‘voice’. Unless contractually specified, ‘choice’ can occur at any time and remains ultimately the worker’s sovereign prerogative. Where a worker in a multi-agent job dissents or otherwise attempts to meaningfully negatively influence productivity, such attempts will be steadily more ineffective, the higher the number of other workers available to pick up the overflow.

Effective organisation by a legally-protected collective of workers is able to genuinely threaten an employer’s productivity and therefore provide leverage for their claims. For individual workers in multi-agent positions however, they will have steadily less luck where the number of additional agents grows, where their job complexity and training needs decrease and where there is healthy competition from the market for skilled workers. While there are other conditions for the effectiveness of a collective of workers, the optimum conditions for individuals to improve their terms and conditions exist in low-scale worksites where the cost of providing perks to all staff is more palatable or where there is a skills shortage.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

About this blog

I have reevaluated the purpose of Strikewatch. It no longer is viable or even attractive to continue butchering mainstream coverage of industrial relations - it seems that, only half way into the year, the year's industrial landscape has forced the media to take more notice of workers and their demands. And so, that means that I will cease attempting to link to each and every item of news that I can find. Instead, I want to do more detailed pieces and try and use these 'analysis skills' I learnt during university. Along the way, I hope to learn stuff as well. It will mean less posts, but hopefully better quality. Again, I extend the invitation to the national and international visitors to this site: if you would like to write an opinion piece, contact me and let's have a yarn. For the first time, this is extended to right wing thinkers too.

Friday, April 22, 2005

ANZ and National Bank staff to strike today!

Watch this space and watch the news tonight!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Lyttelton Port workers settle for pay deal

Stuff Good to see a settlement!

Monday, April 11, 2005

Bus drivers call off more action

Perhaps some Aucklanders will be disappointed? NZ Herald

University of Auckland staff to strike

Scoop: University of Auckland faces strike action Students are getting it in the neck these days - first the bus drivers, now the lecturers! Is there a problem with government funding? AUS thinks so. How long has it been an issue? Take a look at AUS's media releases.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

On the Wire: NZ workers demand equity with Australian workers

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Furniture workers to strike!

Scoop: Fair Share Industrial Action to hit Auckland EPMU workers to go on strike tomorrow: they're asking for six per cent for 14 months. The company has offered three per cent for 10 months. Part of the EPMU's Five for 05 Campaign for 5 per cent pay rises for all workers in New Zealand.

Keep it clean - strike!

Scoop: Solidarity strong at Colgate-Palmolive picket Unions involved: The NDU and the EPMU Extending the push for 'Five for 05' call for increases of at least five percent for workers in New Zealand during 2005, Petone workers strike!

Imported labour

In a skills shortage, what would you rather do: a) raise wages b) fire staff c) hire staff c) alienate staff d) import staff That last one them's there be striking talk, pardner. Play with fire: there's more than one way to show the boss that you're pissed off, that doesn't involve illegal industrial action. XtraMSN: Offshore recruitment angers bus drivers

Monday, April 04, 2005


The talks on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round. The talks on the bus go round and round, all day long. The passengers at the stop jump up and down, up and down, up and down. The passengers at the stop jump up and down, all day long. If you don't live in Auckland, don't watch the news and were out in the bush for most of last week, Auckland's major bus company, Stagecoach, was affected by industrial action by their drivers today, Monday 04 April. Here's a run down from the Herald of the issue. The combined unions and Stagecoach have been unable to reach an agreement regarding their pay and as a result, even after the unions have demonstrated that they will begin industrial action through their stopwork meetings that took place last week. The situation Stagecoach find themselves in an uneviable position where their handling of their employment relations has the potential for direct affect on the public AND businesses, schools and transport. As the major provider for bus services in Auckland, Stagecoach are relied upon for regular, reliable and convenient public transport services. Given funding by the Auckland Regional Council, they have an obligation to deliver good services to the Auckland public, and are also, as a private company and subsidiary of an international corporate, required to make money and manage the business effectively. Given that today's strike impacted ALL bus services by Stagecoach, it is a sharp reminder to Stagecoach that there is cohesive power among the unions and that they will walk if they choose to. Primary concern would therefore have to be the motivation that drivers have to join a union AND that such a significant number feel that it would be a good idea. The impact I rode on the train to Newmarket today and while it was a little more packed than usual and I was lucky to get on as the train got closer in from the West, as the carriage was filled to the gunwhales. Many more people caught the train today, and unfortunately, some schoolkids (lower priority for Connex than the public at rush hour) and some members of the public were unable to get the train when they were at the platform. I saw some people waiting at a bus stop this morning and had a bit of a chuckle to myself. I was also secretly glad that someone from Stagecoach was doing the rounds and told them to go catch the train because the bus wasn't going to come today. It was a little odd however because Newmarket didn't seem to be choked up at 9:30am like I would have expected it to be, and it certainly wasn't choked up at rush hour, when I went to catch my train again. On getting off the train, major arterial roads on the 21x/22x routes were likewise flowing reasonably steadily, by my eye. A colleague of mine remarked last week that it was more likely to clear congestion rather than cause it because the buses created a lot of queues and delay in the lanes which they dominated during rush hours. There were more cars on the road most definitely, however I didn't notice any great cram as a result. I'll admit I was privately disappointed. Dominion Road, the busiest route in Auckland, was however chocka. I don't go near Dominion Road on my route in so I didn't know this, but found it out on the news tonight. It always is a little hellish as it is, and so whenever I get a lift in the car we tend to avoid it. Students missed school, classes, and assessments. I felt quite bad for university students, because the ones who use the bus services generally do rely on them. The last outbound train from the city is about 8:30pm, I think, so the late workers would have had to cut their studies short. Auckland Girls' Grammar School was expecting major disruption and acknowledged that students might have to stay at home. From the way we were being warned, one could be forgiven for thinking that we were listening to a snow forecast and not a strike forecast. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say. So it was today. The verdict Stagecoach have several reasons to be worried: Impact The impact of the strike was lessened by such a degree and for the better part absorbed by private traffic. If traffic flowed as well (badly) with increased cars and fewer buses, what does that say about the effectiveness of the bus service? Add to that the dent to the PR image from the public declaration by an ARC councillor that she was going to join the workers on the picket. Employee relations The strike is bound to have increased the team spirit among the workers. A bit of adventure, poster and flag waving, having people toot as they go past, these would be just the kind of thing people would prefer to be doing rather than working, especially on a Monday. The strike has proven the workers' determination and squarely placed the ball in Stagecoach's court. Pay negotiations Stagecoach must now be wary of the unions and review the way that they treat them. Several unflattering soundbites in the media from Stagecoach representatives have not advanced their cause and they risk alienating the public and their staff, and losing valuable revenue. Public image and worth If Stagecoach will not avoid further strikes, then they risk forcing people to give up on the reliability of Stagecoach as a provider of public transport. The well known branding of The Yellow Bus Company took some time to assimilate and they risk turning people to private transport and losing the trust that has built up in the brand. The two cents Stagecoach risk turning the drivers militant in their unionism. For such a delicate public position where whether or not the bus runs can affect schools, businesses and academic institutions, Stagecoach need to be very careful about their public handling of this and their private response to the unions. Bus driving strikes me [excuse the pun] as having the real potential to be heavily and actively unionised, and for a private operator it is not good news if the drivers are doubted, tested and provoked. It's been a long time coming. During university, I often thought it would be a boycott that would cause Stagecoach to sort their stuff out, I never guessed it would be a strike. It's real tough for the people who missed out today, and I know they missed out. It's another case where I have my butt in ice cream because I now catch the train. What would really bring Auckland to its knees would be a combined strike by train and bus workers. However, until the unions succeed in negotiating a MECA (Multi-employer Collective Agreement - see Association of University Staff, NZ Nurses' Organisation), this is a distant possibility.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Trading Restrictions and Holydays

Responding to DPF's recent post about the inconsistencies of the Easter trading laws: I enjoyed my day off on Friday. Perhaps there is something wrong with me for not feeling outraged at the shops not being open, but the problem for me is that if trading is liberalised on Good Friday, then my holiday which I value and cherish is at risk. Example: Retail stores open their showrooms on Good Friday. Head office stays shut (typical weekend operating scenario) so the after hours structure of the organisation kicks in. Because competition is the magic formula we thirst for, all the other retail stores progressively open to be competitive and to get a share of the turnover. The retail sector thus becomes activated and for the better part is operational. So we find keen students eager for their 250% (150% increase) and we can staff the stores. At what point does the organisation determine that there's no point having the office staff at home when they could be completing their work ahead of an already busy long weekend turnover wise? The staff may even say: having Good Friday and Easter Sunday sales AND the stat Monday is too much for the following week - we need to get our stuff done on Friday. A case arises to have the head office staff in on Good Friday. All it takes is one, then all follow in the name of competition. When does the demand for services on Good Friday extend to postage, to courier delivery, to banking, to transport, and to all the other industries which would normally shut on a public holiday? Easter Sunday is a very private day in terms of family and worship, so people can spend it how they please [no pun intended]. If my organisation had the power to roster me to work on a public holiday and/or on the weekend, I would be worried that I could be asked to work on Easter Sunday. It is the right of every NZer to work, rest and shop, however it is important to me that the needs and rights of workers are given grave consideration when considering the needs and 'rights' of consumers. The clamouring for open doors all hours is what led to late night trading: people don't moan about working the hours because they're used to it now. Why should ten years difference make it OK? Irony dances her merry little jig: the public holiday isn't really a public holiday, even today. Yes workers should have the right to work, but why persist with the misnomer? If there is any consistency behind calls to liberalise trading laws, the calls should also seek the abolition of the term 'holiday' in any reference to the existing statutory days, as it is grossly apparent that there are no holidays taking place anymore, only transactions. Either that or those on holiday have already left the city.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Fitter, happier, more productive...

Fitter, happier, more productive, comfortable, not drinking too much... Those familiar with the angst of Radiohead will recognise the opening lyrics of 'Fitter, Happier', a dark song about prescribed life and increased quality thereof... Which make this story all the more bizarre: "...on college campuses in the US...Faced with the pressure of exams and essay deadlines, students have been abandoning the traditional crutches of coffee and cigarettes for Ritalin, a stimulant best known as a treatment for hyperactive children" Workers are not allowed to be inferior. They must perform to maximum efficiency otherwise they provide the ammunition for their redundancy: look at the advent of technology over human workers. Workers can't be dumb: if there's stuff out there to make you smarter, bloody well go and get smarter and stop losing my money! Workers can't be handicapped: I'm firing you because you refuse to better your handicapped mental capacity with these pills. Worker's can be sick: you should be taking care of yourself, for God's sakes. Influenza is so last century! Get some vitamins in ya! Some flippant, cynical, alarmist statements, perhaps. Some of them are real and have been said to Kiwi workers. The idea of pill popping to improve the health or performance of workers is hollow without any commitment to safeguard work/life balance. Sure, if the technology is there to help us convalesce, then by all means use it, but the ethical nub of the matter is treating the healthy, as opposed to the sick. I'm actually quite sick of sounding like the thought police or Chicken Licken, but the concept of improving worker's health even when they're healthy is dangerous, in my opinion. I don't like the way it can lead to workers becoming farm animals, bred and fed to prime, or even circus animals, trained to be 'clever' and challenge their natural instincts. The Herald piece mentions the contradiction of marginalising dopers in sport while praising dopers 'at home' (my emphasis and words) in reaching for headache pills or cough mixture. The difference is treating the sick, not the healthy. Of course, as noted in the article, the boundaries become blurred very easily. Sure, I can survive without my asthma inhalers, but it makes life pretty difficult without them. A needs based qualification is inherently subjective and would never work for the purposes of argument. Truth be told, do we want to be farmed and lose our human frailties? Who do we farm out of existence next? Small people, skinny people, weak people, people with genetic predispositions to 'weakness'?

Moko Mployment

A woman with a moko is refused a job because it 'wouldn't be good for business'. ACT MP Stephen Franks says: "Any New Zealander, of course, should be free to wear a moko...But equally, we should all take personal responsibility for the consequences of our decisions...It is well-established that freedom of association also means freedom from forced association. Those who disagree with a fashion or political statement should be free to ensure they don't have it shoved in their face all the time, on their own premises and with their customers." Is it illegal? I suspect not. I doubt that it could be proven to be racial discrimination, although it is interesting to consider what the reaction would have been, had it been an Islamic woman might have had to remove her burqa in order to work with customers, or whether it was an Indian woman with one of those red dots (displaying my ignorance) in the middle of her forehead. I would agree that the moko is a 'political statement' in that for this woman, it links her with her whakapapa and distinguishes her bloodline and makes a statement. It's obviously also a cultural statement, in that a Pakeha person would be less inclined to display their geneology on their chin in ink. From that perspective, I would feel quite comfortable labelling it cultural discrimination. On the other side, employers are responsible for employing the most suitable workers for their business. If a cafe owner in an affluent district with an exclusively white, rich clientele is hiring wait staff, they would be be justified in making a sound business choice by making a decision based on visual tatoos on an applicant. If that unfairly excluded any Maori/PI applicants (try all one of them, for example), then that would be unfortunate. Maybe not illegal, but certainly bigoted. Take a lawyer's firm wanting a receptionist. If they want to project a professional image, they are entitled to seek someone who scrubs up well. They are not allowed to hire a girl over a guy, nor are they allowed to hire a Pakeha over a Maori. They'd probably be allowed to decline a white male with visual tatoos in favour of another white male without, but the test becomes unstuck when the white male becomes a Maori female. The issue of facial tatoos is complex because it can extend across races and is not the sole domain of Maori people. I think an employer is justified in not employing someone with facial tatoos, but only if it makes good business sense. Which means, the employer has to be convinced that the facial tatoos would provide a 'net' worse off effect than had the employer someone perhaps less siutable, but without facial tatoos. It obviously only applies where contact with 'external customers' is a matter of course in day to day business. Take for example a Pakeha with 'recreational' tatoos on their face. While not overtly 'cultural', the whole concept of facial tatooing can be cast in a cultural light, whatever the reason or motivation behind the tatoo is. The reason that it has not been an issue before, is that people with tatoos on their faces have generally either not been interested in jobs where it became an issue, OR were never suitable applicants in the first place. Note, an inherited (and now-changing) association of the moko with Maori political activism and criminal activities. Personally, I think the employer displayed an attitude of prejudice. Not even completing the interview is a real give away, and as such she has put herself in the wrong from the start. If she carried the interview process through due course with all applicants, then all it would prove are the nature of opinions (and resulting loss) of the employer and her customers, however it would be very difficult to prove that cultural discrimination took place, without obtaining interview notes on which a daft employer would have to a) specify the tatoo b) not destroy c) hand over to the courts. The verdict Personally, I think it would be cool to have someone with a full blown moko working with me. A very very good conversation starter, but it only works with people who aren't scared of brown skin or ink. I wouldn't be able to stand working in a place that felt a woman like her wouldn't be good for business. My sympathies go out to the woman, because I think she was hard done by. But Groucho rears his head again: better to find out now what work would have been like, rather than later.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Orewa II

As much as I dislike giving the National Party airtime on my account, there are some worrying things in Don Brash's 'Orewa II' speech. I have less time than I used to, so this is a limited contribution: National will seek to reduce employers' risks at the expense of workers' security: 'Second, to reduce the risk to employers of taking on a person who could be perceived as "risky", we will introduce a 90-day trial period during which the parties can agree that employment can be ended without penalty. [6]' There are several problems here: - Who defines 'risky' and what discriminatory practices will this priviledge introduce? I wouldn't like to be a young Maori or Polynesian with tattoos trying to find work off a RichWhite... - When will the rules of employment be laid down to the employee? - 'Without penalty' displays an adundant dismissal of workers' rights to security of work and an unhealthy 'temp' status of work - breadwinners will not be happy in their work nor will they feel secure for three months of starting a new job. The speech is supposedly about welfare dependency but Brash brings it back again to the old target of conservatives - workers' terms and conditions. Rather that we could fire them willy nilly rather than engage in realistic vetting procedures. Towards the end of the speech, Brash talks of the DPB and of taxpayers:

'Once again, Labour's forgotten people, those who take personal responsibility for themselves and their families, are expected to shoulder the burden. Unless we take serious steps to change the situation, the number of children born into unsatisfactory circumstances will continue to grow. And the number of women trapped in dependency will continue to grow.'

Brash seems to sneer at those he postulates that he is attempting to help - suggesting that somehow people on the DPB have failed themselves and their families. Yes, education is a good thing - basic literacy auditing may well be helpful at WINZ offices - and yes, we want adults who can read and write, and if they can't then we should help them to gain those (and other valuable skills for self-education). Hell, let's start educating them properly even before they're of child-bearing age??? I daresay that student debt is looming as a big threat to women and trapping them into dependency: NZUSA, CEVEP and the NZ CTU think so too. In short, Brash again talks economics under the guise of politics. Workers beware, especially with what he has to say about the dole. Read his speech on the link above, and make up your own mind. Talk to other people about it. Talk, talk, talk about what is good for workers. What is that you need this week or next? How likely is the National Party to deliver a tax cut to low income workers? Read, think, talk.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Holidays, Leave and Family

Jordan at Just Left has posted on National's recent motions to push for the choice between the Day in Lieu (DIL) or the time and a half provisions that are currently guaranteed to New Zealand workers for working on a public holiday. The arguments It appears that the primary objection people have (where applicable) to the provisions for working on statutory holiday revolve around cost or money. Cost from the perspective that businesses struggle to make ends meet as it is and that the wage bill from a public holiday is a millstone too many (or simply an unnecessary one), cost from the perspective that it is another manifestation of red tape that business owners have to worry about. Granted, business owners or prospective owners have a lot to think about. Employment matters are but one among many matters such as insurance, industry trends, security, overheads, bills, time management or banking, that the owner has to worry about at one point or another. At this point, it is important to realise that the range of issues is a problem only when there are only one or two people running the business and they also employ people. 'Small business' owners have to comply with the same tax, industrial and commercial laws that [comparitively] large businesses have to, however with larger businesses and especially corporate employers there is significant delegation of duties. Specifically, there is a Human Resources department or consultant, who has studied in that field and would normally be experienced in that field. Thus, apart from basic industrial legislation that should be understood by employers (like don't harass your employees), the HR consultant is able to provide advice and guidance when it is required on how to manage employees. It takes a load of the employer's mind and allows them to concentrate on other things. There's absolutely no problem with consulting an accountant or getting them to do the accounts, so it's a little hazy as to why it's OK to skimp on the treatment of employees. Perhaps its just that employees don't have the power to audit one's business. This is not to say of course, that every employer is out to screw their workers. I understand completely that it's a burden, having to worry about how to treat employees, just as it is a burden to understand tax and reporting requirements. My point is that workers take just as much priority (if not more) for careful treatment as does GST. After all, who's going to answer the phone, make that cappucino or fill the boxes full of merchandise? Shouldn't employment advice be on the list as well as tax advice? Cost Currently, the cost to employers of paying someone to work on a public holiday is 250% of their normal hourly rate. This is of course, time and a half for the hours worked (150%), plus a paid day off, to be taken at any time in lieu of the public holiday (100% at normal hourly rate). For 11 public holidays in the year, this means that there are 11 instances per annum where an employer must pay 250% of the wage bill. Accordingly, the annual wage bill for an employee is increased by roughly 7.5%. This calculation assumes however that the employer has been open for 365 days in the year, including Easter Sunday and Christmas Day, where trading restrictions apply. If we assume that the employee has worked on 6 of the days in the year, the increase in wage bill is 4.1%. On Jordan's post, an idea is put forward of spreading the cost throughout the year, that is, increasing the price of goods all year round by a reduced amount to compensate for the increased cost come public holidays. Unfortunately, it looks as though a conservative price rise of 4.1% would be required throughout the year to break even. The obvious reply here is that of course, the government hasn't just put through this legislation. The change made was requiring the payment of time and a half, and most people would already working would be getting at least time one and the day in lieu. Attempts to boil this down into a numbers game fail miserably for a number of reasons: how to actually calculate profit, and the extent to which retailers were actually affected by the change versus how many jumped on the boat because of the lure of more profit and the complexity of profit margins from business to business. Not to mention how many toilet cleaners work on public holidays versus office workers versus baristas, and then: how many 'small-business' scale businesses were actually open for business on public holidays? So, a valiant effort. Close, but no cigar. Whatever the numbers there are a number of concerns Problems Customer traffic, transaction numbers and value must not change from the average day's trading to a public holiday. This means, the number of transactions, turnover and margin that are to be expected from an average day of the year should not differ from those of a public holiday. This is because a higher number of transactions at lower margins or a higher number of transactions at higher margins will produce different profit figures. How is this a problem for public holidays? For the service and retail industries (which are most likely to experience higher transactions and custom during public holidays due to an increased number of consumers off work) , it is unlikely that they will sell vastly different product/service lines (that is, with a vastly different margin to normal) on a public holiday, it is just that they will sell a lot more. I used to work in retail and turnover on a public holiday could be from 33% to 300% times higher than a standard trading day. I don't know what profit margins are like in these industries, but I accept that the increase is not as great as it sounds. In the industry I was in, we couldn't raise prices on a public holiday because all the other stores would scoop us on the deals - so higher turnover was a way to combat being open on a public holiday. In high-er profit industries, the takings from a public holiday become much more significant. These are the larger companies or corporations which can absorb the actual cost of opening, where small businesses would otherwise be forced to shut. This is because of the difference between the profit margins and the actual profits. Solutions National have proffered the idea of choice, whereby an employee can choose whether to have their day in lieu or take the time and a half payment. The debate that has ensued over this seems to me to have largely missed the point. It's not about choice, and it's not about removing 'double-dipping'. It's about making things cheaper. Going from a situation where an employee is guaranteed the day in lieu and time and a half to where the employee is guaranteed a choice BETWEEN the two, pressure will certainly be put on the employee to take the cheaper option (day in lieu) where it suits the employer. Suddenly, the employee is worse off either 100 or 150% in terms of pay/leave accrual. This is an out-and-out attack on what is a long-awaited gift for hard-working New Zealanders - their right to rest on designated public holidays without suffering for it. Never mind that it will alienate workers, it's an obvious line to business owners and another example of wedge politics where National tries to drive a wedge between the different bases of Labour support. Sometimes, it seems as though people forget that a public holiday is meant so that you can spend the day at home with family, not at work. The moaning about the price of a cappucino simply illustrates the decay of traditional social values - bugger staying home, let's go shopping for the sales! Surely, if people want to do something as a family and go out, then either a) the surcharge determines where they go and has been put forward entirely at the retailer's prerogative, or b) the surcharge recognises the sacrifice that has been made by the workers to serve them on that day and their decision to pay the charge depends entirely on their empathy for the workers' plight. Personally, I've been to Baker's Delight on public holidays over the last few, and took the oppotunity to discuss the fact that they charged it and to find out what they thought of it. The workers' responses were quite insightful and under different circumstances could have promoted a spot of organising on behalf of the SFWU. As it was, I didnt, I became the dirty little capitalist and scampered back home to scoff my pizza slice and danish.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Youth rights

Some visitors may have noticed some weird links down the sidebar, I can now (now that I have enough links) rename it to be a bit more clear - these are links aimed at younger people/workers, which some of the oldies may enjoy too! New link is the lowdown - a site hosted by the Citizen's Advice Bureau on young people's rights. The bit on employment rights is particularly helpful.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Have a look

This, a vague post from Rodney Hide, and resonding to it, this from Ben Thomas. Well worth the read.

Monday, January 03, 2005

International response to the tsunami disaster

Via LabourStart: "In the wake of the massive tsunami disaster which has hit South and Southeast Asian countries on 26 December, the ICFTU has written to its affiliated and friendly organisations in the countries concerned, expressing its condolences, support and solidarity to trade unions, their members, families and communities." [More from the ICFTU] Here is a link if you want to find amcam of the tsunami footage - via DPF Talk to your union to find out what they're doing to help in the aftermath.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Australian Immigration rort

Via The Currency Lad has invited bloggers and columnists to discuss something that has occured in Western Australia - so, taking my lead from Rob Corr and Mark Bahnisch:
The situation Twenty five South African tradesmen walked off jobs across Western Australia, last week, after the AMWU blew the whistle on a massive immigration rort. The boilermakers, pipe fitters and welders – earning as little as $11.45 an hour at Pt Hedland, Perth and Kalgoorlie – rallied in the WA capital, demanding Australian rates and relief from oppressive conditions tagged to their four-year immigration visas. [More from the AMWU website] The Aussie reaction "The AWU may well have some legitimate concerns, but to the degree that their stand has resonances with racism (and they ought to be aware of these resonances), they stand condemned." (M. Bahnisch, linked above) "I have no opposition to this if the workers are paid as Australian's get paid, and rights as workers are not unduly taken away. Same work, same pay is what I say." (Factory) "The inherent problem with this [allowing short-term refugees into Australia] is that there is no guarentee that they will only be short-term. After a certain number of years, if it is still not safe to send them back to their country, we have to gove them residence here (or get someone else to take them permanently). Obviously we will give residency to those refugees most useful to us. The Young abbortoir workers made their own case by offering to work outside the metro area in a less than salubrious job." (Harry) "The terms of those agreements [that the workers signed before entering Australia] are not “like everyone else in Australia"; they are loan-shark style deals designed to effectively indenture the worker." (R. Corr, linked above) "What is therefore implied [by the phrase, 'living in interesting times'] is hardship. That Mr Shorten is willing to accept that Chinese workers may be uniquely prone to such hardship seems to me to demonstrate a race-focused defeatism at best, intentional aloofness from their needs at worst. "Just like the old days." (Currency Lad) A Kiwi reaction Perhaps we've seen a similar situation with our wine growers? Australian visitors might like to check this out. It's a blatant assault on Australian worker's terms and conditions. You bring in one at a low wage, it's like a poison. It spreads to the rest of the workers in the office, the site, the region, the company, industry, country... Personally, I'd be madder than a cut snake if I found out there were people doing my job being paid less than me. It certainly would make my wage look high and bump it up the list of 'costs that could potentially be cut'. As Rob Corr notes (linked above), it is important to realise that this is guest workers we're talking about here in the wider picture, not Asians per se. Fair dinkum, bring workers in, just pay them the same as the people already doing that job.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Drug testing at work

The stimulus for this post was a posting about possible drug testing at TVNZ, via Reinventing TVNZ. Drug testing at work is invasive and should only be justified on grounds of employee or public welfare. Employee welfare Where employees work in a factory/manual labour situation where heavy machinery or supervision of hazardous machinery takes place, drug testing can be justified. If there is a concern that employees are coming to work under the influence and employee safety is at risk, then testing is a possible option. Example: At Company A, Worker A operates a forklift in a factory warehouse where other employees walk around or are otherwise vulnerable to misoperation of the forklift. At Company B, Worker B operates a computer in order to take telephone calls from members of the public. The worker has no other explicit respsonsibilites for the maintenance of safety measures in that workplace and is employed solely to operate a computer and associated telephony. At Company C, Worker C operates a computer for the purposes of handling hazardous nuclear or biological material. Correct operation of the computer is critical for safe disposal or production of said materials. At Company D, Worker D operates a fax machine and is responsible for effective filing of reports, memos and correspondence from the Company's branch at which she works. At Companies A and C, I would accept an employer's argument for drug testing. At Company D, the employer would have to prove that they have significant doubts about Worker D's ability to safely fax a piece of paper before I would accept an argument for drug testing. At Company B, the employer is dreaming. As an employee in a factory warehouse, I would be highly concerned about my safety should I have doubts about Worker A's rumoured reputation for coming to work stoned/drunk. I do not accept concern for public image as being a reason to implement drug testing. There are other ways to enforce measures that uphold a company's standards and public image. Example: A stoned employee tells a customer to get f***ed over the phone. Rather than discipline the employee for being stoned (effective proof of which would be a conclusive drug test), discipline the employee for breaching company service standards or gross misconduct (the conduct or breach of which was telling the customer to get f***ed). Public welfare I would be far more inclined in the situation where a worker is in control of machinery that if operated incorrectly, could cause harm to either an employee or a member of the public, to accept an argument for drug testing. It would however be up to the workers to decide whether they would stand for it. Example: A worker is operating a crane for Construction Company A. The crane can reach a nearby shopping centre, an apartment block, 6 streets of traffic in a business district and temporary company offices onsite, where people have their offices. The It goes both ways I realise. The phone example can be used in favour of and against drug testing. If an employer has their heart set on implementing drug testing, they'll do it. It's simply up to the workers as to whether they see testing as a necessary end to company policy, and up to them to fight it's implementation if they don't.

Friday, December 24, 2004

James Hardie and compensation

A little bit late, but better than never (both this post and the compo): Hardie is the biggest maker of home cladding in the United States and is listed in Australia. It has moved its headquarters to the Netherlands. It ousted its top two executives after an inquiry found it had broken company law and hugely underfunded a previous compensation fund [for ex-workers affected by and members of the public who suffer from asbestos-related illnesses]... [more] This is good news for Kiwi workers affected too - they will be fighting for a share as well of the increased compensation.

NZ Nurses

Here's one good reason why the nurses' pay offer is justified: Hospital slated for avoidable death It really says something about the way we think about workers and really about problems in general: let's not do anything til we have to, and at least not until the public or the media force us to. Staffing levels are critical in any business, but you really have to wonder when health care organisations stuff around with staff levels or are unable to do anything about staff levels because of money issues. Like Span said: let's hope it starts a trend for these and other workers.

Appeal Court dismisses NZ Herald case

This from Scoop... The Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal by NZ Herald publisher Australian Provincial Newspapers, confirming an Employment Court ruling that union members may not leave a collective agreement while it is in force... [more] An interesting development in the whole sorry saga at the NZ Herald. Just goes to show that there's more to a union than pay rises and subscription fees. You get an employment lawyer too!

Happy Holidays

A safe and happy holiday season to everyone, I hope you have a well-deserved break. For those of you who are working, here is information regarding your entitlements during the season, as the whole thing can be a bit confusing. It's been a good year for workers, from the smoking legislation (for many service workers), the union bargaining legislation, to the rise in the minimum and youth wages. Spare a thought for next year though, election year. Every worker needs to consider what will happen to the rights and conditions of workers, what will happen if Labour retain power or if National take power. Here's my two cents: a vote to the right of Labour is a vote against workers. But don't take my word for it. Go research it yourself, read the speeches of the politicians, read policy papers and trawl their websites for policy statements and look at the viewpoint of their speeches: what kind of person would be pleased by this kind of speech, who benefits from this particular policy? Look at concern for minorities, concern for workers, for the elderly, there are a lot of things that you can glean about a political party by the way they state their position. Labour National Greens Alliance Act NZ First United Future But finally, don't be fooled into believing the rhetoric that strong unions are bad. That may have been true when workers had no control over their unions, but those days are well in the past. If your union isn't democratic, then there's a problem. If you can't voice your opinion to your union delegate or organiser then there is definitely a problem. The laughable thing is that you don't get an equal employer/employee by smashing unions. You get an equal relationship by improving conditions to the point where you don't need to go onstrike every year to get a pay rise. Anti-union aims such as those put forward by Don Brash, himself a hard-bitten economist with a bad reputation from the 90s, do nothing to endear National to workers. All I can say, is check it out, think about it, talk about it. It's worth doing so. Oh and don't forget to vote... Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 17, 2004

Back to three weeks' annual?

Another reason not to vote Brash in: a return to National's industrial policies of the 1990s? I don't think so. Brash is a hard-bitten economist, through and through. It is incredible that he entered politics and a sorry testament to the quality of the National Party that he took the leadership. He is no parliamentarian, with very little experience in Opposition and it would be an absolute disaster to make him PM.

Christmas Cherry with Westpac's Sherry

Westpac to the resucue! Great to see that Auckland's rescue helicopter has received a Christmas cherry, with the print version of the Herald showing Westpac CEO Ann Sherry getting a ride in the 'copter above Auckland. There's no doubt that the five-year sponsorship deal is good for Auckland with the helicopter staying afloat (aloft?) as a result, but there is the small question of whether Christmas cheer is extended to NZ Westpac staff as well. Their CEO is getting a (no doubt well-earned) A$2.4 million pay packet, while staff on the East Coast of the North Island are having chronic problems over the winter (and at other times) with stress and understaffing issues. One of the delegates from Gisborne said, " We didn’t have enough coverage over winter when people were sick or away. We had people on long service leave for four months and inadequate part-time coverage. People were stressed and working long hours – even weekends – trying to keep their heads above water. Doctors were telling staff to take stress leave and the bank was taking no responsibility for it. Not only that, but we were told that there was no budget for more help. Consultants left because of the low staffing and impossible targets. " See the November/December Finsec Flash for the rest of this story and other news from the banking industry. So, it would be nice to have Westpac's socially responsible purse strings pulled in favour of the staff as well.

Nurse's package offer

Great news on the pay front for our nurses and midwives: A proposed settlement package has been reached between the country's DHBs and the Nurse's Organisation, the primary representation body of nurses and midwives. What happens now? If the union members accept and ratify the offer, then the package will be rolled out through the New Year, backdated to July 2004. More from the Herald Especially heartening is this from Laila Harre: "We understood at that point [the August ultimatum by the DHBs] they had put all the money on the table that was available. We went back to our members with that position, who weren't satisfied and told us to go back for more." Ms Harre said it was the nurses' determination to take action that led to more money being offered from the government. (NZ Herald) This proves (if it ever needed proving) that the key to success is worker strength and organisation. And not even action, the ability for action is all that is required. The nurses didn't strike, but they were organised and in a position to strike and the DHBs could see that. It is a welome pay jolt for the nurses and health workers who will benefit - nurses' pay has been at a disgusting level for too long, and we've lost too many good workers through crap pay levels. This pay increase represents a significant restatement of the value we hold for nurses and midwives and the work they do. Hooray for them!!!

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Herald on Sunday

Interesting to see Matt McCarten's politically charged piece about call centres and unions today in the dreadful Herald delivered on Sunday - it was quite interesting, I thought - especially remembering the saga that is going on at the moment with APN and their collective agreeement. (I've posted about it previously) Very refreshing I must say, after trawling through the HoS - nice to see something like that near the back, just when you need that pep to keep you reading (and especially something of a pick-me-up after reading Deborah Coddington - a truly intelligent and articulate woman but one with whom I often disagree, especially when it comes to jobs and wages) Very interesting to hear Matt's comments on the role of unions as needing to be 'organising unions' rather than 'servicing unions' - it's a piece of wisdom I've heard in Finsec many a time. I quite liked what he said about SkyCity and employees forming their own unions with the assistance of organised unions. How about a union that deals primarily with call centres? One of the more deunionised industries in NZ, and one that is pretty bad in terms of conditions and effects on workers (average burn out for a full-timer = 2 years, average chage of job less than 2 years), especially in light of new research I've seen from Australia, looking at precarious employment in call centres in NZ. More on that later... I'm expecting something of a spike in visitors as a result of the Finsec Flash, so if that's how you got here, leave a comment and let me know. Again, if anyone wants to contribute, the door is wiiide open.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

China and Industrial Relations

A recent labour conference due to be held in China was cancelled, with CTU head Ross Wilson among those denied an entry visa. More... Some international reaction here and here. And a pretty helpful piece about the FTA deal between China and NZ by Fran O'Sullivan here.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Sky City and anti-union tactics

A little while ago I posted about Sky City issuing a worker with a written warning following the worker's refusal to take off a badge celebrating Labour Day. An email campaign ensued, with national and international union associates being urged to email the HR manager involved to communicate their feelings about this issue. The SFWU website has an update and excerpts from the email campaign. Part of my email:

I write in support of the Service and Food Worker’s Union member who has been issued with a disciplinary warning following his refusal to remove a badge celebrating Labour Day... I assert that your actions in this instance are unfair, because you have singled out one employee from a number of others members who were also wearing badges... If you victimise one union member, you anatagonise all... I appreciate that you may conduct your employee affairs as you see fit, however I ask you to rethink your actions in this case. Singular and targeted disciplinary action is not the way to build a cohesive worker-employer relationship. As a Finsec member, I remind you that your actions against union members at your site impact union members across the country.

One of the emails from the website:

"On the weekend of the 12th, 13th and 14th our Social Club ( 36 people) were going up to Auckland to spend the weekend at your Casino... I have been asked to inform you by the other members that due to your companys attitude we will now not be coming to the Sky City Casino and we will be sending out that same message to every one else we know."

The campaign appears to be active still, check out the SFWU website for details and some of the other emails that people sent through.

Sunday, November 21, 2004


Seen on the motorway out Penrose way: I was going to quit anyway | Yeah right heehee How about: I was going to get a raise | But then I got high

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

New Zealand's shocking workplace record

At last some coverage of industrial relations from the NZ Herald! 'The scale of work-related injury and disease in New Zealand is much higher than previously thought but a lack of data makes it difficult to know how big the problem is.

A report by the National Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee says between 700 and 1000 people die each year from occupational diseases such as cancer, respiratory disease and ischaemic heart disease. Another 100 people die from workplace injury...' Full article


Finger prints versus timecards I reckon this guy hasn't done himself any favours. Citing religious and ethical reasons, he has complained to the Employment Relations Authority that he was unfairly dismissed, following his sacking for refusal of a 'lawful and reasonable request' by his employer for him to be fingerprinted. Rightly queried by the Authority, he admitted that he would give the Police his fingerprints, thereby invalidating his own defence. Identification There are three ways to identify an employee: via something the employee knows (a password or code) , something the employee has (a key, or a swipe or identity card), or something the employee is (retina/finger scan). Combining the methods creates greater security. At my workplace, the first two are used: a swipe card and password. If I lose the card, then I can't get in, have to ring someone inside to get them to open the door for me (someone who will recognise me) or tailgate someone else inside (again, someone who recognises me). Without the password I can't get onto the computer and do my work. If I forget the password, I have to get it reset (a bit of a hassle). Disclosure of my password is a sackable offence, something that I agree is an appropriate measure. Admittedly, working in a call centre is a different situation to working in a factory. It is easy for someone to clock in for me at the beginning of my shift, but it's pretty hard to create statistics that prove I've been taking calls all night. Although clocking in does not currently require my password, I believe that the system could be easily changed to make it so. I would therefore be loathe to get someone to clock in for me, as I personally believe that it is impossible to keep up a charade like that forever. Perhaps a long time, but tongues blab and a dismissal would always breathe down my neck while at work... The point here is that it is possible to create a double-layer indentification system that is effective in combating fraudulent clock-ins. In the case of the factory, all that would be required would be to make a physical 'check-in' part of the clock in procedure. Either a 'sight-in' whereby the employer or a team leader sights the worker entering the factory, or the worker notifies the team leader that they have arrived for the day, in addition to clocking in. Fingerprinting I disagree that fingerprinting does not impinge on privacy. The difference is to what extent controls exist on what happens with the data afterwards. The primary difference between the Police taking my fingerprint and my employer taking it is that there are policies and legislation in place about what the Police can do with my print. Apart from the employment agreement and certain aspects of the Privacy Act, there is precious little else that stops the employer from extending the use of fingerprinting to more than simply clocking-in. Let's not forget that as a worker, you are entitled to a sense of privacy (if not actual privacy). At the moment, I stop work to go to the loo if I need to and I don't need to notify anyone. No-one knows whether I am in the building if I'm not at my desk and I haven't started up the computer. My swipe card is not used to track my movements (as far as I'm aware). I like it that way. I feel far less comfortable with biometric forms of identification because it connects me in terms of my physical presence to my name or to records, if that makes sense. My anonymity is reduced. I don't mind my name being available but I am kind of uncomfortable about having my photo available. I'm even less comfortable about biometric data being available without proper controls because it removes my anonymity completely. The story I disagree with the distinction between 'mathematical data' and 'actual prints'. If it can identify me, that's all that matters. The fact that the request was not unlawful is besides the point. I think that this was a disgusting assault on a worker's privacy and livelihood, as he is now without a job and without recourse. What the firm has done is justify his dismissal in legal terms, rather than in demonstrative terms. By that I mean that they have classified his refusal as 'gross misconduct' so that they can fire him without fear. He has not been fired by sexual harrassment or for wilful damage or something like that. You get interpretation everywhere you go. I know of several cases where employers have attempted to paint employees' actions as negligent or disobedient or fraudulent and have used the threat of dismissal based on these interpretations. Unfortunately, if you're without resources and on your own, there's not a lot you can do. Employers have to study employment law or pay someone to manage it for them so that wherever possible, they are not held liable for wrongful dismissal. Fair enough. The problem is that most employees don't have a clue. Knowledge is power. On a side note, I observe that the guy wasn't a union member, and the union's resistance against the fingerprinting was labelled as 'token'. Several points here: if the union doesn't have a majority membership, it's unlikely to be able to do anything more than protest. If the guy was a union member they would have done more for him - otherwise it would be unfair to all the union members who do pay their fees. Unions are not the unions of the old award system. Workers have to be active if they want to win issues, they can't rely on union officials to go in and browbeat employers into submission, they just don't have the legal powers to do that anymore. If the workers were really incensed by the requirement and organised themselves, they could all enforce (among other things) a moratorium on clocking in. That would prompt the factory to find an alternative solution very quickly. We see it in medical science and in artificial intelligence: advances are made before rules are in place to govern their existence or use. I would tell my employer to take a hike before I'd agree to be fingerprinted: passwords and swipe cards do the job well enough, as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Formal disclaimer

The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the opinions of Finsec, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions or any past or present employer of the contributors. If you have a problem with the content of this blog or a particular part of this blog, please contact the contributors to discuss it.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Work/Life Balance: A Rejoinder

Replying to Sagenz and Just Left on the subject of Worklife Balance (and some other stuff inbetween)

Sage, I would be hesitant to push for legislated overtime after 40 hours a week - as you say, it is an arbitrary number and interventionist. It impinges on people's right to contract certain hours of work. I accept that. The problem however, is to protect the ability for the worker to contract 60 hours a week with their employer, or 40 hours and overtime thereafter.

I'm sorry Jordan, I have to disagree with you here. One point to Sage.

However Sage, overtime is necessary. If you agree with your employer to work 60 hours a week and you are in a position to sustain that without overtime (ie. you have few family commitments, a financial goal in mind or are particularly driven), it affects workers doing a similar job who are not in the same situation. If you are in a small office environment with say, 4 other workers who do a similar job, your refusal of overtime affects their ability to claim it for hours that they have to do in excess of their norm (in this case, 40). Example, a bank officer. You as a green-eyed new recruit, have been employed on a fixed-term contract of 12 months in a bank branch, after which time you plan to go overseas. Becuase the bank is not open on the weekend, you make an agreement with your manager to come in an hour earlier and leave and hour later each weekday. During this time you will perform necessary tasks that the manager has otherwise had trouble getting done in the past. Win-win: you get more money, the boss gets those jobs done. In contracting this arrangement, you agree that those extra hours, even though they fall outside the normal work hours of your fellow employees, will be paid at T1 and not T2. Your manager is happy with this arrangement, and off we go. 6 months in (those odd jobs are recurring), your bank runs a particularly successful advertising campaign. Your branch is inundated with new customers and there is more work to be done. Essential day-to-day paperwork can no longer be done throughout the day, as customers have saturated your branch and you must complete interviews virtually every half hour for the new customers. As a young'un, you manage to stuff in the paperwork in between times because you're quick on the keyboard, however your fellow workers are having trouble keeping up. As a result, they must stay behind after the branch shuts at 4:30, even after 5pm, when the manager goes home. They have to stay until 6pm, like you, to get their paperwork done. When they approach the manager to put through their overtime, the manager points to you and says that you are working til 6pm and aren’t getting paid T2. Tough bickies, says the manager. I'll pay you the normal rate.

What has happened is that your contracting out of overtime has weakened the ability of your fellow workers to claim it. They are justified in claiming because they have other commitments and they are getting stressed by the amount of work they have to squeeze in now. They skimp on breaks or start cutting corners on the quality of service to their customers, and profitability suffers. It doesn't matter for you, because you 'feel the burn' and know there's an end in sight. For the others, it is their livelihood, and rather than go through the stress of job-hunting elsewhere in the banking industry (ideal employees are those who are younger or transient, who are more concerned with the short term cash in hand rather than long-term benefits such as a joint super scheme), they put up and shut up because they lack the confidence and skills to change industries. They get stressed, ergo worklife balance goes to shit.

End: Bedtime story of Overtime 101.

To clarify, a worker is unlikely to 'win on stress' at the Tribunal. A malicious employee would be more successful alleging sexual harassment and I would be the first to toss these wankers out where they belong. Small business employers are certainly on the edge with relation to grievance claims from exceptional malicious workers and they have my sympathy in this regard. The reality is that the retail sector is dominated by part timers, casuals and is for the better part deunionised. The nature of the beast is that the sector is high stress, high turnover, dominated by low wages and is characterised by temporary or short term employment, often by young people. If the work is too tough, a lot of people will stuff it and find another job somewhere else within the sector. High turnover does not give power to the workers. Any attempt to build solidarity with other workers with the aim of negotiating better conditions is continually undermined by turnover of staff. What remains constant is the employer. When one worker leaves, their position can always be replaced by another, sometimes at lower cost.

And market forces? Market forces will deliver the best goods at the lowest prices, as the nutshell goes. Where do the workers’ wages figure? In the costs. The employer who can stamp on the wages of their workers and keep them low will win. I don’t give a damn about quality of work or any other bullshit like that, in the end what happens with market forces is that they push workers’ wages down, not up. The employer will not go belly up because he loses one worker so valuable that his goods are no longer competitive in the market.

People who quote economic theory to justify market conditions determining wages piss me off. I get the feeling that they sit on their arse in a little dream world where the happy worker gets the candy and goes and spends his disposable income on lovely little gadgets and garments shipped fresh off the child labour line outside Mumbai or somewhere else. The notion that bastard managers can fuck up the whole process is beyond them, they fail to see how workers don’t benefit in a lovely, liberalised, free, labour market. They fail to see how the odd tosser of a boss can make people miserable.

Unemployment is low at the moment, so in theory that gives workers an advantage in bargaining. Five years ago I would point to the nearest retail shop as proof that workers have no advantage whatever the unemployment rate. Now, granted, I’m not so sure with the progress of the Employment Relations Act. However, many workers and especially young workers are absolutely unaware when it comes to their rights. Given that a majority of the retail sector is dominated by young workers, it leaves them highly unlikely to be able to organise effectively amongst themselves and ‘hold the employer to ransom’.

I would assert that it is in the deunionised sectors that employers are most susceptible to malicious claims by disaffected workers. Why? Because the presence of a union acts as a magnet for disaffected workers, and any lone ranger who started any monkey- business after getting fired cause they were crap and turned up late all the time would be heavily leaned upon by the union. They would be given no assistance by the union and might indeed cause the union to side with the employer (they’re not all evil, you know) (Is that unions or bosses?) (You choose).

In a workplace with a strong union, said monkey-business would have to have a damn good case to convince the union to assist them. Second point: union officials (and I would hope, a majority of the other union members) are anything but stupid. Ergo, the absence of a convincing argument would put said monkey-business out on a limb all by itself.

I’m sorry, but you’ve have to take me back to the days of compulsory unionism or at least a similar scenario to tell me that employees have the advantage these days.

Next point being: don’t even try to tell me that we’re there already.

The proposed ‘bargaining fee’ is not doom and gloom, a return to the shadowy days of compulsory unionism. Anyone who wants to tell me that it is, is welcome to try, but they’d better have a damn good argument before they open their mouth.

One: Employers will die in the ditch before they allow such a provision onto their agreements.

Two: Unions will know that employers will die in the ditch and so such a claim may not even feature on their list.

Three: A majority of union members need to be convinced that the bargaining fee is a valuable strategic claim and is worthwhile for dropping another claim to make room, such as long service provisions or sick leave or (why the hell not, how about it) overtime.

Four: The workforce in New Zealand is dominated by individual agreements, and is characterised by the lack of union presence, not the other way round. Even if some unions managed to get a provision onto their agreements, who would it affect? That company. Whoopee. It’s not like we’re gonna see workers in the streets waving flags.

Five: Get over it. Just get over it. We’re used to sensationalist arguments coming from the shadowy wings of the far right and the blubbering mess that is known as the National Party. Reasonable debate and contested argument is what should happen online, not petty slagging and the bollocks that we see in Parliament.

The point here is that workers simply are not in a position to make demands and hold their own against an employer. They can only do so under two scenarios: legislated minimum protections or collective bargaining. In the former they can expect the legislated minimums when they ngeotiate with their employer one-to-one, and little more. In the latter, they can expect (depending on the relative density and activity of the union) conditions over and above the legislated minimums. The propensity for collective bargaining is predominantly limited to the public sector and certain private sectors, it is not what you would identify as a characteristic typical of the New Zealand labour market.

To refer this back to the original issue of work/life balance: Parnell’s tradition of the 40 hour week is a tradition for a very good reason: it worked. 40 hours per week is what society has generally deemed the maximum acceptable to allow family time and relaxation outside of work. Start tuttuing with it and you run the risk of screwing the system for those nine to fivers who depend on the threat of overtime from screwing their family time.

Isn’t the ‘family’ argument one that is used against the Government all the time? Being ‘family unfriendly’ and all the rest of it, my gosh what about rights for the fags? You’d think from the way that some people carry on, Helen Clark and Michael Cullen were born at twenty one and didn’t grow up in a family.

Overtime is family friendly. Nuff said.

I know someone is burning to slag something I’ve said, so please do. I’m lying down and begging for it, like Bill English lies down and begs to be rolled from the National Party leadership.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Badge bother - tall odds

Sky City casino doesn't like badges. Especially those celebrating Labour Day. "A Service & Food Workers' Union (SFWU) member, working on the gaming floor at Sky City Auckland, faced disciplinary action this week after refusing to remove a badge celebrating Labour Day" (SFWU website) I'll bet they weren't happy having to pay overtime either - it's just a shame that some employers seem oblivious to the fact that their actions say more than they often mean them to. Perhaps the first line should be edited. No, they don't like Labour Day badges. But they do like other, non-work related badges such as Daffodil Day or Anzac poppies, just so long as they aren't union-related. Sky City gambling with the union(s) over industrial relations? The odds are with the unions, if you ask me.

Thanks for the fish!

Today, fisheries officers walked off the job - but don't think today will be a 'plunder day', because they've got their eye on you... "All members of police and Ministry of Defence commanding officers, ships and aircraft, are fishery officers." (Fisheries Minstry compliance manager Dave Wood) ie. if you're taking too much fish today, you might get a taxi to help you haul the load home - especially if you're fishing at Piha.