One reason why National would be a calamity

A couple of years ago I met a university student who’d been working in an airport down country. As she told her story, we uncovered numerous breaches of various pieces of employment law by her employer, who ran the airport cafes and bar. I was amazed at the arbitrary behaviour of her managers and their blatant disregard for the law.

Now we have accusations that union members have being harassed by senior management and supervisors at Auckland Airport. Their union Unite lists the following:

* Union members being told they would be denied roster changes because they have taken strike action.

* Members being declined preferred shifts because they have taken strike action.

* Members accused of acting against non-union members.

* Members being “actively encouraged” to resign from the union by supervisors and management.

* Staff being told preference would be given to non-union members.

It is, of course, in breach of the Employment Relations Act (just as it was under the ECA) to attempt to pressure anyone to belong to, or not belong to, a union. (Note, however, that the Business Round Table argues that it should be legal to sack workers for belonging to a union, or not.) The misuse of rostering in this way is by no means unknown in the hospitality industry.

These are exactly the workers who most need the protection of unions and the law. They are the ones who find themselves subjected to exploitation and abuse. For them, the playing field is never level, whatever the right-wing economists and lawyers on their six and seven figure salaries say.

On the one hand, Labour has tried to make the playing field more level by promoting collective bargaining and thus unions. It has been only partially successful, with union membership bumping along at 21–22% of employees, albeit in the fastest growing labour market for eons. A survey discovered that many of these workers would join a union if they could.

Labour moved in 2004 to provide some protection to low paid workers in the event that their work gets sold. Recently, it has moved to return the tea and meal breaks lost in the early 1990s and provide some protection to casual and temp workers — disproportionately low paid.

On the other hand, National wants to allow small employers — again, where you find the low paid for the most part — to sack their workers at whim. And reduce their contributions to their employees’ kiwisaver accounts.

The choice couldn’t be clearer, could it?

Postscript: You won’t find this on kiwiblog.

PPS This is my 100th post.

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4 Responses to “One reason why National would be a calamity”

  1. AndrewE Says:

    Just out of curiousity, why aren’t the employers being prosecuted?

    Andrew,

    At the airport down country, the workers have no effective union to go to as Unite doesn’t operate in that city (yet). And you can see what happens to them when they do try to organise. Go to the Dept of Labour and you simply wouldn’t get rostered on again.

    At Mangere, the employer may yet be prosecuted in the Employment Court, but it’s an unequal contest in terms of resources, as Unite is run on the smell of an oily rag.

  2. MacDoctor Says:

    The hospitality industry is the worst in this regard, mainly because they work on wafer-thin margins for the most part. The lion’s share of the profits usually go straight to the property owners, rather than the proprietor. In addition, cafe owners, especially, tend to be very inexperienced, as are their workers. My daughter has been on the pointed end of this, both as a full time worker and as a casual employee.

    However, the problem is endemic to the industry right now, so I can’t see a 90 day rule making things worse. And the sort of anti-union activity that you have mentioned will still be illegal.

  3. Ari Says:

    MacDoctor- has National made any commitment that it will stay that way? They’re not exactly big fans of unions.

  4. Inventory2 Says:

    Congrats on your 100 JP, you pinko, leftie lickspittle apologist (please, can I join the Kiwiblog Right?). No, seriously, well done, and keep’em coming.

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