Supporting migrant workers

– Nick Kelly

In February 2007, management at Go Wellington introduced a new shift structure designed to reduce all bus drivers to 8-hour working days, to limit drivers’ access to overtime. At the same time, a document described by drivers as a “scab flat-rate contract” was introduced to weaken the Tramways Union at the Wellington Kilbirnie depot.

As a result of these changes, a number of drivers quit and the company faced a shortage of labour. To fill the gap they began recruiting migrant workers from Fiji. The company also recruited some drivers from agents in Fiji, who would tell applicants to avoid joining the Tramways Union if they came and worked in New Zealand. They were encouraged to join the scab contract with inferior conditions instead.

However, the migrant workers got wise to what was going on and the majority signed up to the Tramways Union.

Shortly before he passed away recently, Wellington Tramways Union secretary Phil Griffiths ended up in heated discussion with the depot manager about the treatment of the Fijian migrant workers.

The workers had paid agents to get work in NZ, and were given only temporary visas, which have recently come up for renewal. The Union protested at the way that the drivers had been brought out and how they been used an pawns by the company in a game of trying to undermine the Tramways union. The company distorted this position and claimed the union were opposing the Fijian drivers’ applications to renew work permits.

The attempts by NZ Bus to use migrant workers as cheap labour and discourage them from joining the union are designed to keep drivers divided and easier to boss around. One of the Workers Party’s key policies is for open borders and full rights for migrant workers. It’s absolutely vital that all workers stand together so the company isn’t able to weaken worker solidarity and unity on the job.

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