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April 2015, Vol. 6 No. 4
National Labour News
Unite Union negotiated a new pact with Restaurant Brands that ends zero hour contracts by July. Unite has 2000 members at the chain which includes KFC, Pizza Hut, Carl's Jr and Starbucks stores. "This is a gigantic step forward for workers in the fast food industry," said Unite National Director Mike Treen. According to the union, the proposal promises staff at least 80 per cent of the average hours will be guaranteed using a three month rolling average of hours worked up to a maximum of 32 hours a week. The union said McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's are still refusing to move meaningfully on the issue. "It is time for New Zealanders to tell these profitable multi-national chains that they need to stop taking advantage of their often young and vulnerable workers and put an end to a labour practice that the people of New Zealand have made clear they find unacceptable," he said. Union members approved an industrial and public campaign to pressure these companies into ending zero hour contracts. Unite also will join the international day of action by fast food workers on April 15.
NZ Council of Trade Unions April 1 presented a petition on the steps of Parliament with more than 1000 signatures which called on the Government to ban the importation of asbestos and develop a comprehensive plan for the removal of all existing asbestos in New Zealand. The petition was accepted by Labour leader Andrew Little and will go to a select committee which will study it and decide what should be done. "Asbestos is the biggest workplace killer in New Zealand. It kills at least 170 workers annually, more than twice as many workers as accidental deaths at work. The number of people dying from asbestos related diseases (lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis) is increasing and the Government projections are that it will peak at 300 deaths annually, higher than the road toll," said CTU Secretary, Sam Huggard. He said New Zealand was "out of step" with other developed countries which have banned all products that contain asbestos.
The Public Service Association (PSA) and the Southern Local Government Officers Union (SLGOU) announced their formal merger on April 1. PSA is already New Zealand's largest union and the merger brings the union's membership to nearly 62,000. PSA National Secretary Richard Wagstaff called the merger "good news" for members and the wider local government sector. "Through the merger, we have added nearly 2000 members from Canterbury and Otago who work for local government. This brings our total number of local government sector members to about 8000, or 13 per cent of our total membership," he said. Wagner said the merger gives the union a "stronger voice for quality services and jobs in local government" at a time when important issues affect the sector. Past SLGOU president Paul Cottam expressed pride over the union's past accomplishments and looked "forward to the next challenge of building a better future for all of our members."
The government should ban employers who exploit migrant workers, said the Union Network of Migrants (Unemig), a network of migrant workers within FIRST Union that aims to protect the rights and welfare of migrant workers in New Zealand. Unemig coordinator Dennis Maga the exploitation of migrant workers is much wider than believed and the government should to more to protect workers and enforce the law. He said "greater sanctions" are needed for employers who exploit migrant workers. "Migrant workers are often in precarious situations. Many rely on sponsorship from their employers and that means there is often reluctance to pursue complaints or grievances. Many migrant workers are also isolated from agencies that provide support and advice. Some workers lack the language skills needed to interact with agencies while others work on farms in isolated rural areas where agency help is sparse," he said.
New Zealand recently became part of the World Trade Organization's Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) which set off a new wave of criticism over international trade deals signed in secret. Parliament refused to hear submissions on the deal or engage in any form of public comment. The government rejected a request by the NZ Council of Trade Unions for public submissions on the GPA which has the potential to significantly impact the health sector. The New Zealand Nurses Organisation warned the GPA will require most (but not all) district health boards (DHBs) to put overseas providers on a level footing with local providers for major purchases. "That means DHBs may no longer be able to opt for New Zealand services or contractors as their first choice, and they may not be able to exclude suppliers who also deal in products such as tobacco," said the union. Ian Powell, Executive Director of the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS), called the deal "a fundamentally flawed process if people are denied an opportunity to assess the possible impact of trade deals like these. That's not how democracy is supposed to work."
Wellington-based Standards New Zealand issued a new guide on a "Rainbow-inclusive workplace" which is considered a "world-first standard" for gender and sexual diversity in employment. Standards New Zealand is the operating arm of the country's Standards Council, an appointed body that features ministerial appointees and other representatives from a wide range of sectors. The 28-page booklet, NZS 8200, was published in consultation with outside organisations that included the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions. The guidelines set out voluntary standards that business can aim for if they wish to be viewed as an inclusive workplace for people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. "Implementing this standard will help employers create safe workplaces where their staff can be themselves, be happier at work, and thus be more productive," said Michelle Wessing, Acting Chief Executive of Standards New Zealand.
Australia's Department of Agriculture staff April 2 opened a campaign of escalating industrial action when hundreds of biosecurity officers in airports, ports and regional centres stopped work for half an hour at 10.30 am. Their action highlights the fact that the Abbott Government cut 11,000 public service jobs last year and is now attacking employees' pay, rights and conditions, said the Community and Public Sector Union. "Biosecurity officers are on the frontline every day monitoring what's coming in and out of the country, protecting the food we eat and the goods that we export. They ensure Australia's multi-billion agriculture industry is free from infestations, disease and plagues. These people do tough, dirty work and the Government proposes to reward them by cutting their take-home pay, cutting jobs and attacking their conditions," said National Secretary Nadine Flood. She said tens of thousands of public service staff in 11 Commonwealth agencies are taking or planning industrial action. Bargaining for the pay and conditions of 159,000 public servants has been under way for a year but to date no agreement has been reached in any of the 117 agencies.
Several Canadian unions, including the Canadian Labour Congress, side with migrant rights advocates in a national campaign against the current four-year limit on the eligibility of foreign nationals to work in the country. Implemented in 2011, the "four and four" law restricts foreign nationals to four years of work after which they will not be granted another work permit in Canada for the next four years. As a result, tens of thousands of migrant workers face deportation this month. "Over the next few weeks and months we are going to see people laid off, we are going to see families being separated, we are going to see folks having to make the difficult choice of either leaving the country or having to remain here without immigration status," explained Migrant Workers Alliance for Change Coordinator Syed Hussan. The changes do not apply to all migrant workers, only low-wage workers in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and the Live-in Caregiver program.
The Vietnamese government agreed to amend a policy on social insurance coverage, which ended a week-long strike April 2 by up to 90,000 workers at a factory outside Ho Chi Ming City. The strike began March 26 at the Pou Yuen Vietnam footwear factory located in the Tan Tao Industrial Park. The Taiwanese-owned factory makes shoes for companies, including Adidas and Nike and brands such as Converse and Reebok. According to news reports, the strike, rare in the tightly-controlled communist country, was peaceful, with thousands of workers marching around the factory, spilling out onto nearby roads and blocking traffic under the watchful eyes of police. Workers opposed a new law set to go into effect next year that would have prohibited them from collecting a lump-sum payment of the insurance if they resigned. The walkout ended when the government announced the law would be amended to continue the lump sum payments if they no longer wish to stay in the state's pension program.
Pak'n Save workers walked a two-hour picket line April 2 outside the Alderman Drive store in Henderson, a major suburb of Auckland, over wage issues. Represented by FIRST Union, the workers receive the lowest pay out of all the unionised Pak'n Save stores in Auckland, said senior organiser Bill Bradford. He said Pak'n Save is "beginning to earn a reputation as Pak'n Slave." He said the store is only offering workers "a miserly" 32 cent pay increase at a time when Pak'n Save stores' revenues are "eye-watering." Bradford said the Alderman Drive stores can afford to lift workers' wages. "Yet workers receive a minimal share from the millions of dollars which pour through each store every year," he said, adding that workers need a substantial pay increase to keep up with other supermarket workers in the area. "Even with the minimum wage rising by 50 cents an hour, that is not enough to keep up with price rises in Auckland," he said. "FIRST Union members will not sit back while they are kept on poverty pay."
Workers at Orora Kiwi Packaging in Auckland, Hastings and Christchurch March 30 launched a two-week overtime ban after collective bargaining with their employer broke down. "Workers will refuse overtime for a fortnight. This could put a lot of strain on the supply of boxes for the kiwifruit, wine and meat industries," said Joe Gallagher, EPMU organiser for the packaging industry. He said the union and company were unable to resolve issues at mediation. Contentious bargaining issues involve erosion of overtime and penal rates and hours of work. He said the union also is bargaining for "a fair wage increase" above the "paltry" 1.8 per cent on offer from the company. Gallagher warned the ban could be extended if Orora, a $3 billion multi-national business, refuses to budge from its position. Orora is headquartered in Melbourne, Australia and was created in 2013 after Amcor, one of the world's largest packaging companies with a 150 year history in Australia, demerged their Australasian and Packaging Distribution businesses.