The need for a farm workers union

The Spark April 2010
Byron Clark

Recently released figures from Federated Farmers have shown that although the number of farms with written contracts between the farmer and farm employees grew by 9% since last year, fewer than a quarter of farms have a contract with their employees and only 40% keep records of the hours their employees’ work. [Read more…]

Strike rights threatened

Mike Kay

A Private Member’s Bill introduced by the National Party MP Tau Henare has been drawn from the ballot to be debated in Parliament. The Bill proposes to amend the Employment Relations Act as follows:

“A strike may not proceed under this Act, unless the question has been submitted to a secret ballot of those employees who are members of the union that would become parties to the strike if it proceeded.”

The Council of Trade Unions has announced its “support in principle” for the bill, “as it largely reflects current practice.”

The British experience may be of some use in analysing the effect of secret ballots. Over there, the law has required a secret ballot prior to strike action for nearly 30 years. I asked an official with the Postal section of the Communication Workers Union his opinion on the issue. This is his response: [Read more…]


Public Meeting: 7.30pm, Tuesday, April 7, Trades Hall. 147, Great North Rd, Grey Lynn AUCKLAND

Recently there have been decisions by companies to make NZ workers redundant while continuing to employ migrant workers on temporary visas. There have been calls by both the Labour Party, National and some unionists for these migrant workers to be laid off first. The immigration service has revoked the work visas of some workers who kept their jobs. Migrant advocates have raised concerns that racist sentiments are being fostered and ask the question why migrant workers shouldn’t have their rights protected. New Zealand-born or permanent residents ask why they should be sacked when temporary visa holders keep their jobs.

 This raises questions on how unions should be approaching migrant workers when there may be conflicting claims for support from different groups of workers who are their members.

 Addressing these questions will be speakers involved in the union movement and in advocating for migrant workers. These include:

 –         Laila Harre, National Secretary of the National Distribution Union

–         Dennis Maga, Migrante Aotearoa

–         John Minto, Organiser, Unite Union

–         Mike Treen, Global Peace and Justice Auckland (Chair)

 For more information contact Dennis Maga,  021 971 070 ,


Will the Council of Trade Unions put workers first?

-Don Franks

For some weeks now, top union leaders have been muttering about a possible National government attack on unions’ access to worksites. The present law allows union representatives to enter workplaces to visit existing union members and recruit new members. Union officials must produce identification, tell the employer the purpose of their visit and not take up too much time, or enter at very busy times.

These rights were denied by National’s Employment Contracts Act and restored by the last Labour government. Restoration of right of entry was the one big concession Labour made to the union movement. Now, it is increasingly being rumoured, John Key’s lot will remove unions’ right of entry again.

The rumours came out in the open in Council of Trade Unions President Helen Kelly’s Dominion Post column of February 23rd. There, in an article headlined; Will Government put the country first? Kelly claimed:

“National still intends to reduce worker’s rights by making union access to a workplace dependant on employer approval.”

[Read more…]

The 90-day bill – us and them

-Jared Phillips

Continuing with the New Zealand employers’ labour-flexibilisation drive, Prime Minister John Key has announced the introduction of a 90-day probationary employment bill that will allow new workers to be sacked without appeal, and it will come into force in March 2009.

What it means for workers

Those whose conditions will be directly attacked are the employees who are or will be in their first 90 days of employment at firms employing less than 20 people.

Slightly more than 30% of employees are employed in firms with less than 20 employees. The Council of Trade Unions has observed that of all employees, approximately 100,000 are in the first 90 days of employment, with a small employer, at any one time.

[Read more…]

Declare your job a 90-day free zone!


National plans to introduce a sacking bill before Christmas. That would mean that employers with fewer than 20 staff could sack in the first 90 days of employment without legal recrimination.

National has its 90-day sacking bill on a list of legislation it wants passed in the next 100 days.

This bill is an overt attack on workers’ rights. Workers in small job sites currently enjoy few rights as they are mostly not unionised and the employers consequently have a great deal of power.

The CTU is responding with a petition and looking at putting adverts in the major newspapers. This falls well short of what is needed.

Direct action by workers is the way to respond to this attack.
Unite union is taking the lead by saying that any worker can join Unite for $2 a week and get phone advice and back up where needed. If workers are wrongly sacked in the 90 day period Unite will organise pickets in defence of these people. Any employer who sacks under this legislation could find themselves confronted by a rowdy picket line and Unite’s 20 foot rat.

Employers plainly want to put the pressure on workers; it’s time to push back.


Solidarity to rebuild unions

-Daphna Whitmore

During the 1990s under the National government union membership fell by 50 percent. In 2000 just after Labour came in to office 69 percent of the public sector workers were covered by collective agreements and 21 percent of workers in private sector jobs.

Did that situation improve during nine years of “a worker-friendly government”, as the CTU leadership describe Labour?

Not at all. This year 59 percent of public sector workers have collective agreements, and a mere 10 percent of private sector workers.

The table below shows the grim reality.


And while the public sector collective agreement coverage declined, it is still significantly higher than the private sector.

A really serious trade union movement would look at assisting the private sector through subsidies from the much better off public sector. We need a union movement that takes the interests of the whole of the working class. That’s the sort of solidarity that would help build up unions in the private sector, which is where exploitation of the working class originates.

Cleaners get a dirty deal

– Laurie Garnett

When the Contracts Act was repealed in 2000 it was hoped that not only would collective bargaining flourish, but multi-employer agreements (MECAs) would be rebuilt.

But with strikes outlawed except around bargaining, collective agreements can be a device for employers to lockdown wages and prevent strikes for years on end. A multi-employer agreement can do that too on a big scale.

[Read more…]

Silence of the Lambs

– Don Franks

Before the election, NZCTU President Helen Kelly had much to say about the two main parties. On April 13th she told the Labour Party Congress:

“Working people have been given the chance to get back on their feet with this government. This is not just because of good policies. It is because we have a Government made up of people who care about workers, who understand the difficulties they face, and who try to make things better.”

Kelly was not ­ quite – absolutely obsequious in her praise of Labour, adding:

“Of course this does not mean that we live in paradise! There is more to do. And workers are really feeling the pinch at the moment with high food prices, rising petrol costs and high rents and mortgage payments.”

Then, even this mild admonition was hastily qualified into nothingness, with the soothing:

“So we need more change and with the continuation of a Labour led government we know that will happen. Labour is the Government with a proven record of change for the better and we need more of it.”

And, after the vision of heaven ­ the warning of hell:

“We have seen National’s industrial relations policy and it is dramatic and will have a major negative impact on working people.”

“National’s plans for industrial relations are the same as in 1991”.

Just before I began writing this, I took a look at the NZ Council of Trade unions website, to see if there was any comment on the election result. Still, after two weeks, not a peep. As we supposedly teeter on the brink of another 1991! It would seem that if National’s plans for industrial relations are really the same as in 1991, so too are the plans of the CTU. Determined inertia. Remember when the top leaders refused to take up calls for a general strike to defeat National’s Employment Contracts Act?

If National is poised for launching a major negative impact on working people, wouldn’t it be the task of union leaders to start rallying and mobilising opposition from day one?

[Read more…]

How to stop National’s threat

– Don Franks

Under the guise of “giving young, inexperienced people or new immigrants a better chance at a job”, National is proposing a new restriction on workers.

“We will introduce a 90-day trial period for new staff, by agreement between the employer and employee, in businesses with fewer than 20 people,” National party leader John Key announced in a 24 July press release.

During this 90-day trial period, either party may terminate the employment relationship for performance without a personal grievance claim being brought.

National’s proposal should be rejected by all workers and fair-minded people.

The personal grievance procedure is no fail-safe protection against unfair dismissal, but it does provide a narrow avenue for workers to contest injustice. National’s election promise to deny new staff access to their day in court would move the bar even further in the employer’s favour.

National’s industrial proposals have been roundly condemned by trade unionists. NZ Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly says: “Cuts in workers’ rights and entitlements and privatisation are all this party has to offer to date.”

She says National’s industrial policy “really will clarify for workers and their families which parties have their interests at stake”, concluding that “instead of supporting the current approach balancing employer and employee interests, [National] is trying to drag us backwards”.

Helen Kelly is quite right to condemn National’s anti-worker 90-day trial. But she ignores the fact that National promises to retain significant current labour laws which she supports, and will:

*continue to allow union access to workplaces with an employer’s consent, which cannot be unreasonably withheld

*continue to support the social partnership with Business NZ and the CTU to work together on issues of mutual interest

*retain the Mediation Service.

[Read more…]