Memo to Herald: Industrial Relations 101

This morning the Herald reports:

“District health boards have announced a settlement to the long-running and bitter employment dispute with junior doctors, but the doctors’ union says they are only considering an offer.
… Deborah Powell, for the doctors, said the boards had simply made an offer which had been taken back to union members.”

Powell is right. It’s the law:

Section 51 Ratification of collective agreement

(1) A union must not sign a collective agreement or a variation of it unless the agreement or variation has been ratified in accordance with the ratification procedure notified under subsection (2).

(2) At the beginning of bargaining for a collective agreement or a variation of it, a union must notify the other intended party or parties to the collective agreement of the procedure for ratification by the employees to be bound by it that must be complied with before the union may sign the collective agreement or variation of it.

It is not uncommon for the members to reject a crappy pay deal, even with the unions’ endorsement (and from memory the Herald has reported such a case in the health sector in living memory), or for unions to take back to their members settlements where they are uncertain of their members’ response (say, because the management representatives are adamant that the workers will accept).

It is not clear here whether the RDA is recommending acceptance, or whether it will simply say “this is the best offer to date, if you want more than this you’ll have to take strike action again.” From what Powell says, it sounds like the latter. In which case the DHB’s representative is being previous, and possibly mischievous.

The point that the Herald seems to be missing is that the union is, at the end of the day, governed by its members. Despite what some people think, union members are not puppets dangling on the ends of union officials’ strings. That charicature may arguably have had a modicum of truth thirty years ago, but it is time to lay it at rest.

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One Response to “Memo to Herald: Industrial Relations 101”

  1. Dylan Says:

    I just don’t think the NZ Herald journalist has really thought about the press release they obviously just cut-and-paste from.

    The NZ Herald serve to reinforce the public pressure which the press release was presumably designed to exert on junior doctors.

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