New Zealand Labour Letter is published as a service to Labour by AIL of New Zealand Ltd.
A round of rolling national strikes by principals and primary teachers will hit the nation starting on November 12, announced the New Zealand Education Institute. The decision follows the rejection of a second offer by the Ministry of Education in late September and a national strike on August 15. "We're at crisis point for recruiting and retaining teachers in this country. I've had principal colleagues in tears with the stress of trying to ensure a teacher in every classroom. Meanwhile the huge workload and lack of resources for children with additional learning needs is driving teachers out of the profession," said NZEI Principals' lead negotiator Louise Green. She said the "unprecedented" level of industrial action underscores the severity of the nation's education crisis. NZEI President Lynda Stuart reported the union and the Secretary for Education have been in intensive talks facilitated by the Employment Relations Authority to reach an agreement before the strike deadline. Educators are asking for a significant raise of 16 per cent over two years, smaller classrooms and more resources for children with learning disabilities.
Offering further evidence of the need to strengthen worker safety and health, E tū welcomed a court decision October 31 to levy a large fine on Carter Holt Harvey LVL plant at Ruakaka in Northland after a member was seriously injured in October 2016. According to the union, Steven Vincent nearly died after he became trapped in a conveyor belt at the plant which crushed his chest and shoulder, causing multiple fractures, lacerations and lung injuries. A WorkSafe investigation later found the company violated health and safety procedures because the LVL press machine wasn't guarded. The District Court in Whangarei ordered CHH LVL Ruakaka to pay Vincent $55,000 in reparations and fined $371,000 plus costs. E tū organiser, Annie Tothill said there were more than 26 previous cases involving Carter Holt Harvey, some involving a lack of guarding, which in this case added another $60,000 to the fine. She said the fine sends a message that "workplaces must be safe and that a failure to meet basic safety requirements is unacceptable."
Passage of the Equal Pay Amendment Bill is a "critical historic step towards women accessing their right to be fairly paid," NZ Council of Trade Unions President Richard Wagstaff declared. The bill is successfully moving through parliament having completed the first reading last month. Wagstaff said the bill will "enshrine" pay equity principles into law that were agreed to by the tripartite Working Group comprised of business, Government and union representatives. "One of the core platforms of this Coalition Government is equality for women, including pay equity," he said. "This Bill, along with the recent settlements for mental health community workers, social workers and primary education support workers is all about delivering on those promises". He said the previous government had introduced pay equity legislation that "put barriers in the way" of equal pay. "There was no good reason for restricting the kinds of occupations you can look at to determine if your work is undervalued on the principles of skills, responsibility, effort, or conditions of work, as the National Party tried to do," he charged. He pointed out that unions have "always been at the heart of the equal pay campaign" and the labour movement expects to be at the centre of future cases under the new law.
National, Economic & Political Events
Citing child poverty as one of the primary reasons children are not thriving in schools, the New Zealand Education Institute hailed the second reading in Parliament of the Child Poverty Reduction Bill. The union, which made a submission on the Bill, said the legislation sets targets around the reduction of child poverty. "This is a great step by this government to try to reduce some of the inequities children and their whānau are facing. But this has been a long-standing issue after years of neglect from the previous Government," said NZEI President Lynda Stuart. The union referred to a new UNICEF report which ranked New Zealand in the bottom third of developed countries in inequality in education across all levels. The report noted that the gap between the highest- and lowest-performing students was made worse due to the effects of poverty. "NZEI has been saying consistently and constantly that children cannot learn when they are hungry and sick and live in cold, damp housing. One of the best things we can do for children is to pay their parents a living wage and this includes boosting family income - through pay equity processes - so that low-paid women can provide for their children," the union said.
The Law Commission on October 29 released a report that called for treating abortion as a health issue rather than a criminal action. The report was hailed by the New Zealand Nurses Organization (NZNO) which had made a submission on the issue and was part of the Law Commission's wider health sector consultations. Nurses play "a huge role" in women's reproductive health, explained NZNO Professional Nursing Advisor Kate Weston, and are more likely to have ongoing relationships with patients than the consultants currently required to approve abortions. The Law Commission outlined three alternative legal models for treating abortion. "NZNO's position is pretty clearly outlined in Model A, which would put decision-making around an abortion in the hands of the pregnant person in consultation with their health practitioner. This would remove red tape and harmful delays and better equip women to take charge of their own health," said Weston. The union applauded the Law Commission's report and "looks forward to playing a continuing role in developing legislation that recognises abortion as a health issue and protects women's reproductive autonomy."
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand and Financial Markets Authority recently issued a joint review of the "conduct and culture" in New Zealand's retail banks. Among other issues, the RBNZ and FMA endorsed the removal of sales targets from the New Zealand banking sector. The review also identified that none of the recent reforms announced or implemented in the New Zealand banking sector have gone far enough to improve a culture of good conduct. First Union hailed release of the report as a "significant, although not necessarily sufficient, step towards creating a customer-centric culture within the banking sector." First Union National Finance Sector Organiser, Stephen Parry, said the union looks forward "to reviewing the FMA's specific recommendations on target and incentive structures" in a further report due to be released later this month. "The Union echoes the concern raised in the RBNZ and FMA review about the lack of clear regulatory framework for culture and conduct within retail banking and calls on the Government to consider legislation to fill this gap," he said.
International Labour News
Australia's Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) called for a National Day of Respect for Public Transport Workers on November 5. Australians were urged to mark the day by saying "thank you" to transit workers. RTBU National Secretary Bob Nanva said the Day of Respect for Public Transport Workers was established two years ago following the tragic death of Brisbane bus driver Manmeet Sharma (also known as Manmeet Alisher). "The simple act of saying 'thank you' sends an important message to public transport workers," Nanva said. "Everyone deserves to be safe and respected at work." TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said most transport workers had experienced some form of violence and harassment from unruly passengers. "We hear far too many stories of verbal abuse, harassment and even physical assaults," Kaine said. "More must be done to make our public transport networks safer for both workers and passengers."
Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) members initiated a nationwide series of rotating strikes October 22 which has stalled and delayed mail service across the country. Tens of thousands of workers have participated in the industrial action, temporary shutting down post offices and cities and small communities creating a backlog of parcels and packets. Most are intended to last 24 hours, but Toronto area Canada Post workers went on strike for roughly two days. CUPW said its members will continue to deliver critical pieces of mail such as welfare and pension checks. The union and the postal service have been unable to reach new collective agreements for two bargaining units after 10 months of negotiations. The union's concerns include pay and work discrepancies between urban mail carriers and their rural counterparts, forced overtime, and inadequate health and safety measures. Before the strikes began, a federal mediator failed after two weeks to bring the sides together. The union also called for a national overtime ban for both of its major bargaining units at Canada Post, meaning postal workers will not work more than an eight-hour day and no more than a 40-hour week.
Lori Pelletier resigned as president of Connecticut AFL-CIO state federation to take a job with American Income Life, an insurance company that offers insurance products to labour unions and credit unions. She will serve as vice president and executive director of the company's labour advisory board. Pelletier was first elected president in 2013 and was the first openly gay state federation leader in the country. She previously served 14 years as secretary-treasurer. Union membership under her leadership climbed in Connecticut from 207,000 union members when she became president to 278,000, as of 2017. Sal Luciano, the AFL-CIO executive vice president, will serve as interim president until new president is elected in a special meeting.
Regional and Local Union News
Hundreds of ambulance workers will conduct strike action in St. John beginning on November 14 and "will continue until an agreement is reached," announced First Union. The union reported members have also voted in favour of two further strike actions. The ambulance drivers will insure the strike actions do not put patient safety at risk, the union asserted. The industrial action is in support of a claim to have shift recognition payments. FIRST Union Transport Logistics and Manufacturing Divisional Secretary, Jared Abbott explained ambulance staff work a 12-hour shift pattern that rotates over days, nights and weekends. They previously received shift recognition payments for night and weekend work, similar to other DHB related services like Nurses. St John, however, claims this payment has been incorporated into the hourly rate. "The starting rate is below $20 dollars an hour, if recognition payments for night and weekend work are factored into this, many ambulance professionals would have to be on below the minimum wage. To claim that the current rates account for shift recognition is incorrect. New Zealand's Ambulance Professionals are amongst the lowest paid in the developed world," he said.
A new labour organisation has been formed for workers in the technology sector called the Aotearoa Tech Union. In making the announcement, co-leader Kate Pearce said one of the union's priorities will be to address unequal treatment of women, Māori, and minorities in the sector. She also said that while some workers in the rapidly-growing sector are well-paid, many others are not. In addition, tech workers are more likely to be subjected to difficult working conditions, unstable or unpredictable working hours, and low job security. "People working in the sector are also concerned by the lack of pay transparency and pay equity, unfair, unsafe, and illegal behaviour from employers, and unfair working conditions, including excessive working hours and long on-call duties," she said.
Hundreds of bus drivers took strike action in Auckland and Waikato October 23 over pay and poor working conditions. In Auckland, Pavlovich and Ritchies Murphy bus drivers were on strike for 24 hours. Some 100 Go Bus drivers in Waikato walked out from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. FIRST Union said the problems in Auckland were over the Public Transport Operating Model (PTOM) which has resulted in over-worked drivers and unsafe buses. "Drivers are also seriously overworked with some split shifts requiring them to be away from home for up to 14 hours a day," the union said in a statement. Drivers in Waikato also are frustrated over low pay rates and bad working conditions. "Waikato bus drivers often either have to constantly fight for more hours or be partially retired so able to work part-time," said FIRST Union's Transport and Logistics Organiser Jax Oldham.