Posts Tagged ‘Employment relations’

Memo to Herald: Industrial Relations 101

September 10, 2008

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.


Striking times

September 1, 2008

More warnings of a summer of strikes in this morning’s Herald:

“A surge in workplace strikes could hit New Zealand because of tough economic conditions, an employment relations specialist says.”

Fred Adelhelm points to workers struggling with rising food and fuel costs and a few recent high-profile wage deals putting unions under pressure to seek increases of 5% or more. This may lead to strife he says:

“The gaps between what employers are prepared to pay and union demands are unusually wide and are unlikely to be bridged by negotiations alone.”

“These opposing forces are going to make wage negotiations fairly robust for the rest of the year. A spike in strike activity for the remainder of 2008 is a distinct possibility.”

This analysis echoes Andrew Little’s warnings in April. I posted at the time on the gap between Little’s rhetoric and the reality of a quiescent workforce. Adelhelm has raised the issue again, and there is more justification to make such a prediction now.

But I’m still sceptical about a summer of discontent. Workers may be amenable to arguments about the bottom line if employers are willing to share financial infomation and do deals around job security, work/life balance and other important issues.

One point in passing. The Herald reporter implicitly makes a pitch for the Employment Contracts Act 1991 and gets things wrong:

“For the year ended March, there were 26 work stoppages, down from 40 over the same period last year, reflecting an overall downward trend since the early 90s.”

Take a look. Stoppages (as measured by NZ Statistics) started falling in 1977 and continued falling to historically very low levels before 1991. The ECA did not result in a marked decrease in industrial action. Them’s facts.

National’s IR policy is bollocks, but could be worse

July 24, 2008

National have released their “full” industrial relations policy. There’s nothing much there of surprise to readers to my earlier post. Here’s my take on the not-so-bad and the ugly…