The Blues go Black.

The announcement that National will undertake labour legislation reform has revealed the dark side beneath its happy face veneer. Riding high in the polls and 14 months before having to call an election, the Key-led government has dropped its populist pretense and unveiled its anti-worker credentials with the thrust of its proposed reforms. It also violates a 2008 campaign promise not to substantially revise the Employment Relations Act (ERA). In fact, the reforms are a return to the old Employment Contracts Act (ECA), one of the most draconian, overtly authoritarian pieces of labour legislation seen in the modern liberal democratic world. Rather than address all of the proposals, to include making dismissals easier, narrowing the scope of personal grievance claims and extending the 90 day probationary period to all industries, I would like to focus here on just one: the proposal that unions must secure the permission of an employer before accessing a work site. 

Due to the asymmetric power relationship between employers and workers, collective action is the best way for the latter to secure rights and protections within the productive process. Collective action requires organisation, and the ability to organise is contingent on the ability of prospective agents to access workers in an effort to persuade them to act collectively in defense of their common interests. Access does not mean compulsory membership or even recruitment success. It just means that prospective collective agents have the ability  to approach workers at their work places in an effort to organise them collectively.

Under International Labour Organisation Convention 87 on freedoms of association, such access is defined as an absolute democratic right for both workers and agents. In fact, it is a cornerstone of most democratic labour legislation that employers not have the right to interfere with the right of workers to organise, including organisation efforts by collective agents such as unions. Thus National’s proposal that unions must secure employer consent before approaching employees on a work site, and that such consent must not be withheld “unreasonably” (with the definition of reasonable left purposefully vague), is a direct violation of one of the most cherished international labour standards.

There is a historical precedent for this move, and that is where National’s real darkness shows. The 1991 ECA entered into law by the Bolger government had exactly such provisions. In 1993 the ILO upheld a complaint that the ECA violated convention 87 on rights of association as well as convention 98 on freedom to bargain collectively. The Bolger government ignored it and it was not until 1999, after the 5th Labour government came into office, that the more egregious anti-worker sections of the ECA were eliminated in the revamped ERA.

National’s black side runs even deeper. The ECA explicitly borrowed many of its provisions directly from the 1979 Chilean Plan Laboral. The Plan Laboral was the Pinochet dictatorship’s labour code, and was championed by its then Labour Minister Jose “Pepe” Pinera, the father of the current Chilean president. Under the pretense of promoting “labour market flexibilisation,” the Plan Laboral was an outright assault on the Chilean union movement, using both structural as well as politically-focused clauses to atomise the Chilean working class and forever break union influence on economic decision-making. To a large extent, and even with subsequent reforms by successive post-Pinochet democratic governments, it largely succeeded in doing so.

Pepe Pinera, somewhat unsurprisingly, was a friend of Roger Douglas and made regular Business Round Table visits to NZ in the 1980s and 1990s before his death. Ruth Richardson, the main instigator behind the ECA, was also an admirer of Pinera. These two individuals, with their direct and immediate past dictatorial connections and coalition relationship with National, are believed to be the prime movers behind this attempt to return to the ECA as the framework in which the social relations of production are determined. In other words, National is proposing changes to the labour relations system that have their origins in the Pinochet dictatorship, and which were suggested by people with direct links to that dictatorship. Beyond the violations of ILO convention 87, that alone should give reason for concern.

Hence, while some of the other proposed reforms can be the topic of honest debate keeping in mind where the balance between efficiency and fairness in production should be located, the attempt to curtail union access to workplaces is an overt assault on working class collective rights. This proposed clause is not about getting unions to ring employers up in order to make an appointment to see employees. This is about shutting them out.

It remains to be seen if this time around the CTU and other mainstream unions will offer more than token resistance to these proposals (as was the case when the 90 day probation period was introduced). It also remains to be seen if the NZ working classes will do anything other than bow meekly to the powers that be. But if ever there was a moment to rise up against the resurgent union-busting, anti-worker tide, that time has come. Remember: the reforms embodied in the ERA where at best minor adjustments meant to “humanise” the ECA. But the thrust of NZ labour law under the ERA was by no means a bold step towards worker’s control of production, and in fact retained much of the pro-business biases of its predecessor. Thus the current labour reform proposals are very much about putting the boot into the working class, and the union movement in particular.

It may take defection from mainstream, Labour-affiliated union ranks to more independent and militant unions for any effective resistance to happen, but whatever the case, if the worker’s movement stands silent on this one, then further rollbacks of worker’s rights can be expected the longer National is in power. For workers, those will be dark days indeed.

36 thoughts on “The Blues go Black.

  1. Pablo, your title is particularly apt given this image, shamelessly stolen from Keith Ng:


  2. Gosh Lew, that is a great image. i just wish I had your technical acumen when it comes to inserting images in posts (not that I would have found this one). I have only recently learned how to insert links!

  3. National have made desperate people with nothing to lose out of the union movement and, more importantly, out of it’s leadership.

    And that is a dangerous thing, because no act of resistance is any more damaging than extinction. I’ve always held that sometimes a bit of political violence is good for democracy. Maybe that time is now.

  4. Huge over reaction. Do you think there are some honest employers out there who are not sure they want to take on a new member of staff who will decide they can take a chance with limited cost and hassle of it does not work out under the proposed changes? Or do you defy basic logic of risk? Do you believe this will add jobs or not?

  5. Tom – that’s what they said in 1991 with the ECA. The Unions sat back and took it.

  6. Phil: I have no doubt there are plenty of honest employers who would not take advantage and exploit a vulnerable (often young) work force. I also think things like requiring better certification of medical leave is reasonable. In fact, I am not completely opposed to trials periods in jobs (most NZ universities, for example, take the first three years of academic employment as a trial period after which a person is either continued, given a one year period to get up to par, or are terminated). What I am completely opposed is the attempt to withdraw a fundamental right under democratic labour legislation, which is the freedom to have access to collective representation without the bosses approval of who and when.

    Lew: YOU DA MAN!

    Hugh: I took the liberty of correcting your “ERA” back to “ECA,” which is what you meant to write. And on the point itself, you are absolutely correct. That is the problem of having a union movement dominated by partisan party political rationales, particularly when that party buys into the market-driven logic (and in fact, originally imposed it).

  7. Pablo – I agree with part of your concern. I see it as being reasonable that unions provide advance notice rather than simply turning up at a time that is not convenient to the employer. The key will be the definition of “unreasonably withheld and the sliding scale of penalties against obviously unco-operative employers. You are quite wrong to believe it is a fundamental right. Employees can meet unions off site in their own time, that is simply less convenient for them. I am curious as to why any reasonable person thinks that a person feeling strongly enough about something should not be prepared to spend some of their own time doing something about it.

    The reality of course is that it simply makes it easier for unions to organise among basically disinterested workers. That is the heart of it.

  8. Phil: If the logic of your last statement is correct, then why would the ILO (which is by no means a socialist organisation and in fact has a very clear pluralist and pro-capitalist orientation that is well manifested in its long opposition to Stalinists of all stripes) adopt convention 87 as one of its most basic international standards?

    The reason could well be that in modern capitalist production employees are not serfs, and their willingly participation in production is not only considered essential to economic success, but also a sign that firms are not “owned” by employers in the way, say, a house or car may be. In capitalism a person “owns” their labour, which they commodify and sell in exchange for a wage. The employer needs workers to perform the tasks that allow the firm to grow. Workers need jobs in order to survive and thrive. Workers sell their labour services to employers for a wage and (sometimes) other benefits. The employer appropriates the surplus value of the product produced by worker’s labour, some of which he pays in wages, some of which he takes as profit, the destination of which is his prerogative. The exchange occurs within the boundaries of a given labour legislation framework.

    Thus capitalist production is a transactional process, involving an exchange of labour services for money in what is an implicit contract between the worker and the employer. That means that both parties have rights because contracts, be they implicit or explicit, are externally enforced. Phrased differently: the sale of labour is made in exchange for a wage once an agreement on the terms of the job is reached, which means both sides have rights and contractual obligations that are enforced by labor laws. Individuals may theoretically be able to freely choose to contract their labour services individually or collectively, but that also is a function of the labor relations system in which they operate, which enforces the rules of workplace engagement between employers and workers.

    Capitalist enterprise, in the ILO pluralist vision, is a cooperative venture between senior and junior partners (owners and employees respectively), both of whom have rights. Since the senior partners have a structural advantage due to their ownership of the means of production (but not necessarily the methods or relations of production), freedoms of collective association and voice are essential for workers to exercise the junior partner rights within the working space. And that requires union access to the working conditions in which they operate, which is often denied by employers absent legal prohibitions on such refusals. Because many employers do not want their employees to organise collectively, do not want unions to have access to both organised and unorganised employees in the workplace, and do not want unions to be able to verify working conditions with their own eyes, convention 87 has been enshrined in international labour standards as a baseline right of workers.It is designed to ensure that employers hold up their end of the implicit contract involved in the employment relationship.

    I should note that, generally speaking in democracies, the larger the firm the more it is amenable to having union representation and the more likely it is to negotiate a timetable for union access to workers on the shop floor. Conversely, the smaller the firm the more opposed it is to those rights. This has to do with relative efficiencies and symmetry of representation once economies of scale are involved, which favour centralisation of representation and certainty in the terms by which employers and working class agents interact with each other. That is, for example, why unions practice wage restraint in exchange for more voice in workplace decision-making with regards to both production and non-production related issues (e.g. workplace safety). Access to the workplace is one means by which they formulate the criteria upon which collective negotiations on wage and non-wage issues can occur.

    The point being that all of this requires union access to workers at the point of production (rather than at home, a cafe or even the union hall), and even if we agree that it cannot be an unfettered access that could interfere with production or be abused, it also should be clear that said access cannot be left to the discretion or whim of the employer precisely because it could interfere with workers’ rights to have effective collective representation should they deem it necessary.

  9. Pingback: Key, Unions and Pinochet « The Standard

  10. National’s introduction of labour reforms did strike a sense of deja vu.

    Your comments helped me get a grasp of the reasons behind the reforms. Not allowing unions on site, does send out too many mixed signals, and asking for a medical certificate is a bit over the top, though again, sends mixed signals. Most who would want a “day off” would choose a Friday (party mode day) or a Monday (hang-over day). It is fair to ask for a medical reason for one day or a week off.

    But the problem is that National is sending mixed messages and its voters will not want this.

    Overall, I think the reforms sends a message of fear and mistrust between employers and employees -and that I opine, is not good for labour relations and the economy.

  11. Quentin, if an employer has reasonable grounds to believe an employee is faking it they can already request a medical certificate on day one. “Reasonable” is quite loosely defined. So that aspect of the proposed lawchange solves a nonexistent problem, and in my assessment simply serves as an explicit signal to workers and employers as to who holds the cards.

    It will give employers the authority to write all “sick leave requires a medical certificate” in their standard employment policies. Couple that with a hostile management culture and an inconvenient system for reimbursing that expense, and you have a disincentive at the margin.

    Your final assessment is bang on. But that’s just the sick leave policy; the overall reform is a much more profound shift than just a hardening of employer-employee relations.


  12. Pablo, I’m not so sure the unions will bend over and take it like they did back in 1991.

    Surely, they have learned from the 9 long years of wages and conditions being undermined and workplaces deunionised under the ECA.

    In 1991, one of the strongest advocates of the conservative response was the Labour Party affiliated EPMU. But at the union rally on Sunday outside the National Party’s conference, I saw the EPMU’s Bill Newson get up and say:

    If employers in this country want chaos, we can do chaos.

    Here’s hoping that signals a more militant response this time around.

  13. If employers in this country want chaos, we can do chaos.

    That line is crucial because it apportions responsibility for whatever chaos emerges to those who think it’s a good idea to abandon a decade’s co-operative, some would even say “compliant” good-faith negotiation on the part of the unions with governments on both sides of the aisle.


  14. A few tidy ups:
    • The ECA replacement the ERA was more a neutral effort, though it did contain good faith bargaining and multi employer agreement provisions, but it did not tip the balance in favour of unions. Employers screamed in 2002 and Labour listened.
    • Current legislation requires union reps to fit in with work flow and convenient times for the employer, it is definitely not a ‘walk on anytime’ situation.
    • in 1990/91 (the ECA was enacted in May 91) thousands of workers marched and rallied and met. Technical democracy reigned at a special NZCTU affiliates meeting in Wellington and a nationwide stoppage was narrowly voted down, abbeted strongly by CTU Secretary K Douglas ‘failure of nerve’. There was a disconnect to put it politely between the public sector and Engineers union top leaders and the bulk of the members. The rest of the unions were broadly in favour of a general strike. The air went out of the campaign for confused workers and months of organising was derailed. Tragically it was years later revealed by ECA architect Bill Birch that the Nats had been expecting to make major concessions to the EC Bill. Talk about own goal.

    So the CTU has what could be realistically considered a final chance to redeem itself. I hope they take it. Sometimes it is time to fight because not to fight would be worse.

    I find it amusing the number of sudden experts on industrial law and practice, something about this issue draws people in that usually couldn’t give a toss about us poor old workers. Even the prime minister is into trying to demonise meatworkers, one of the most loathsome occupations imaginable, for their sick leave habits. Since when has John Key ever been into detail? Luckily the tories have made a tactical blunder by not stopping at up to 50 workplaces and including everybody. So even ‘change’ voters and Nat supporters will get a taste.

  15. Phil Sage is right. The reason Unions don’t want to organise meetings after work hours is because no-one will turn up. The Unions weakness is apathy among its members.

    Yet the Unions now threaten that they will cause militant action with those same apathetic members. Over what? The union rep can’t turn up out of the blue and call a stop-work meeting? Good luck with that.

    More likely is that career protesters like Minto, Bradford, John Darroch etc will use the opportunity to get loud and physical, and love every minute of it.

  16. yet the Unions now threaten that they will cause militant action with those same apathetic members. Over what? The union rep can’t turn up out of the blue and call a stop-work meeting? Good luck with that.

    Have you ever been a Union organiser Pat? Because I have, and I can tell you two things. First of all, middle class unions are hard to get to take action – because they have mostly turned themselves into status hungry debt serfs. But they WILL strike, if organised and motivated. Trust me on that. Bosses of middle class professionals are terrified they’ll unionise, because it doesn’t take many mission critical experts to cripple a large organisation – hence, union penetration need not be high to make a big difference. These middle class organisations will be the first to use obstructive and aggressive HR policies to police the union off the premises and keep their key workforce docile, atomised and above all fearful.

    Secondly, those with the least to lose – blue collar workers – are far more militant than your smug right complacency seems to lead you to think. These are the people who will strike for weeks, and suffer genuine hardship, to get the boss to damn well listen to them. And you know what? Blue collar workers are significantly more ideological in their battle with the bosses than your arrogant assumptions of untermenschen workers would assume. Why are they more open to ideological fights? Because not for them are any illusions the system is there to work for them – they understand the brutal and exploitative nature of the capitalist employer class. The only agent missing from blue collar workers is an organising one. And that is why he bosses are petrified of the idea that blue collar workers might get organised, for they are the most formidable of all, and why the capitalist class are so keen to keep their jackboot stamping on the windpipe of the union movement.

    The best response from the union movement, IMHO, would be to announce they are going to starting lobbying for any future Labour government to re-introduce compulsory unionism.

  17. Finsec Union rep in mid 80’s, organised a 6 day strike for my branch in 1985 against the Auckland/Wellington allowance.

    Interesting that you think blue collar workers are going to get all militant to protect their union’s right of passage. Workers are more likely to get militant for increased pay and conditions.

  18. The right can spin this all they like, but the fact is that if we cut through all the feel-good PC language we get the basic bottom line:

    Employers will only employ a worker if they can get rid of them easily.

    The attitude among bosses is that the labour force is essentialy disposable. If they dont like a particular worker they can just throw them away and get a new one (Rather like Paris Hilton throwing away a pair of shoes because they dont match her dress).

  19. Union issues sure bring out the ugly in around 50% of New Zealanders if the blogosphere and their voting habits are anything to go on. Partly attributable to the nation’s class composition which includes thousands of self employed and tinpot small business operators (SMEs in modern parlance). This group tend to think like aspirational capitalists while in reality being firmly under the thumb of finance capital and various regulatory authorities. They are trapped in certain ways, all the while parroting the “big boys” rhetoric. They resent unions and their members in a general sense for so many reasons–breaking free, being empowered, and of course organized workers wanting things that affect their bottom line (wage rises, a safe workplace, and worst of all-a say).

    The hardwired dark kiwi psychology, not restricted to males, is the other factor, recent settler self sufficient past, instinctively reactionary rather than progressive, suspicious of collectivism, in denial about their colonial origins, subservient to authority, resentful of ‘progressive’ ideas and individuals.

    When people say “let the unions meet after work” as Pat did here, they are in fact describing what the NZ Dairy Workers Union had to do at Open Country Cheese
    and what unions routinely do in the United States and all round the world. Union rights are effectively human rights as Pablo alludes to. “Fire exit door chainer” types of employer are unfortunately not a rarity.

    The tories have made a lovely tactical blunder however, the true supporters of niggling attacks on union power are the under 50 worker sites, but they have extended it to cover the larger corporate sites where residual private sector union organization tends to be found. While the large employers would love to see unions eradicated they can usually live with them for housekeeping reasons, using their available HR resources.

    This is a fork in the road for organized labour and the NZCTU has a final chance to redeem itself for its abject failure in 1991*. I hope it takes the fight option (in a suitably flexible tactical manner) because this is one of those pivotal times when to not fight would be way worse. Legislated unionism is likely long gone, but worker organization will continue as long as there is a class society.

    * To clarify, thousands marched rallied and met in 1990/91. The ECA was enacted May 1991. Workers were willing to act but in an act of “technical democracy” at a special NZCTU affiliates meeting in Wellington leaders of the public sector unions and Engineers voted against the wishes of their members, and against a national stoppage, the vote was narrowly carried, assisted by Secretary K Douglas failure of nerve. The air went out of the campaign after media announcements, apart from some militant sectors, and was derailed, as was the NZ labour movement for years. Tragically ECB architect Bill Birch admitted years later that he had expected to make substantial concessions to the ECB.

  20. Thanks Robert. Some sort of mental slip going in there, as I misspell his name regularly. I have corrected the spelling in the post, although I do not know how to do the ~ sign on a Mac.

  21. Interesting that you think blue collar workers are going to get all militant to protect their union’s right of passage. Workers are more likely to get militant for increased pay and conditions.

    That’s true, in that workers won’t strike or protest for anything that they aren’t convinced will result in at the least a consistency in pay or conditions, if not an improvement. However, it’s pretty easy to sell the idea that being able to fire people without worry of a wrongful dismissal suit will drag down wages, or result in a repression of worker mobility that allows employers to depress working conditions in some cases.

    I definitely think what happens will depend on whether the big unions line up to fight this, and how risky this law looks for employers in the long-term. If unions say they’ll lobby for compulsory unionisation when next power changes hands, or other measures that will change the balance with employers, this law begins to look less attractive in the long term, especially if the Labour Party doesn’t shoot the ideas down. (of course, if the big unions are all behind something, it would be hard for them to do it, but they’re not exactly the unions’ natural ally any more)

    Ideal case is that pressure on employers scuttles the bill. Worst case if that sort of pressure comes on is that a “compromise” bill comes out again that’s not so easy to fight against.

  22. Partly attributable to the nation’s class composition which includes thousands of self employed and tinpot small business operators (SMEs in modern parlance)….. They are trapped in certain ways, all the while parroting the “big boys” rhetoric. They resent unions and their members in a general sense for so many reasons–breaking free, being empowered, and of course organized workers wanting things that affect their bottom line (wage rises, a safe workplace, and worst of all-a say).

    As a former union delegate, and currently one of your self-employed, impoverised SMEs, I’d say many SME people actually support workers rights.

    It’s when companies start having “managers” with responsibility to negotiate with employees that “good faith” becomes very nebulous. These are often short term appointees who have no loyalty to the business, and just want to maximise their personal bonus.

    Off-site union conveners I’ve encountered alway contacted the employer before coming on site, all part of good faith. Sadly, such faith will soon evaporate.

    Recent Union problems have also been due to the apathy of workers, and also the feeling that some members have of not getting value for money from the not-inconsiderable union membership fees. Especially as employers usually ensure individual agreements also have similar benefits to collectives.

    Many members treat Union fees as personal insurance for situations if/when they are in dispute with employer, and don’t participate in other efforts. Those people will accept the proposed changes unless they directly affect them. Some still perceive unions as left-wing hot beds, but the lowest-energy path to benefits is via a collective agreement.

    It’s amazing how few members will become delegates, or participate in strikes/pickets, but the others will criticize delegates and union performance. In some workplaces, many employees have moved to individual contracts to match their specific needs at the time, often at minimal cost as their employer prepares and presents the agreement to them.

    The major issue in these new proposals may become the sick-leave certificate, because quite a few employment agreements allow illness of dependents to count towards paid sick leave. Many workers in unions have families, and if parents have to take unpaid leave, or get a certificate for each family ailment, they may start to think less kind thoughts about their employer.

    These changes may be just another reason why young, skilled, families may choose to cross the Tasman.

  23. Remember: the reforms embodied in the ERA where at best minor adjustments meant to “humanise” the ECA. But the thrust of NZ labour law under the ERA was by no means a bold step towards worker’s control of production, and in fact retained much of the pro-business biases of its predecessor.

    It may take defection from mainstream, Labour-affiliated union ranks to more independent and militant unions for any effective resistance to happen, but whatever the case, if the worker’s movement stands silent on this one, then further rollbacks of worker’s rights can be expected the longer National is in power. For workers, those will be dark days indeed.

    Absolutely true. Remember, New Zealand workers have few of the statutory rights that Australians have in workplaces, even/because of – they had every opportunity to do so – 9 years of Labour Government. No overtime. No penalty rates. Limited union access. Huge restrictions on the right to strike. No compulsory wage awards. The fiction of equality in employer/employee relations.

    In Australia a similar process has occurred, after the Coalition workchoices law was scrapped in favour of a law which entrenched the effective barring of union access to workplaces. The more sensible unions in Australia are now quietly deserting the ALP, but there are still a lot of ALP apparatniks in the movement and it will be a long and painful process (if indeed it does occur). Which means that the work that the Coalition has to do in order to permanently destroy Australia’s unions is actually not all that much. There, as in New Zealand, small changes which they can advertise as tweaks, or reasonable, can be sold to a largely complicit business owned press as minor reform.

    This is about killing New Zealand’s weak organised labour, one which has a false friend in the New Zealand Labour Party. Because of the high level cronyism between the NZLP and the union movement, there is no independent voice. Any moves against legislation are invariably seen by the commentariat as transparent moves to bolster the electoral fortunes of Labour, which they often partly are.

    I expect to see a more effective resistance to these changes from the Unite Union than from the entire membership of the CTU. I hope, that for once in my life, I am completely wrong.

  24. Pablo, the tilde is ALT + 165 in Windows.

    I’ve just discovered that there appears to be no number lock or numeric keyboard on this new laptop. Damn, I wasn’t thinking about those when I played with it in the store.

  25. ‘I hope, that for once in my life, I am completely wrong’

    High opinion of yourself much?

  26. Tiger M, interesting background thank you. Having been out of New Zealand for some years I was unfamiliar with the state of current law. I suggest to you that the access may well be a Birch like ploy that is aimed at ensuring industry wide 90 days is acceptable.

    My experience in management with a number of industries and SME confirms Bruce’s comments about the standards of some managers. The vast bulk of companies are trying to get along and ensure workers get a fair days work for a fair days pay.

    I would add that as the workforce gets larger it becomes more attractive to the paid agitators who can make very small petty things take on huge importance.

    It never ceases to amaze me how the confrontational attitudes of both union and management can cost both parties a substantial amount of money. There comes a point, as with BA in the UK now, where no amount of compromise on behalf of management will make a difference and savage cut backs are required.

    A good employer recognises that worker satisfaction is important. Worker satisfaction does not necessarily mean being the highest paid workers, it simply means both sides treating each other with respect.

    The German and scandanavian unions are much better examples than anglo saxon or french unions of how co-operation boosts income for all.

  27. Phil: just in case you were thinking the same thing, my partner read my last response to you and said something along the lines of “now THAT’s blinding ’em with bulls@#t!”

    Except that it is not b.s.

  28. ‘I hope, that for once in my life, I am completely wrong’

    High opinion of yourself much?

    No, I didn’t mean it like that at all! :) I’m frequently wrong, on both minor and major matters.

    I meant that since I was born in the early 80s, I haven’t seen the kind of militancy from the CTU and union establishment that has been needed against attempts to destroy them on National’s part, and successful attempts by Labour to mediate/restrict their power in the face of threats from New Zealand’s business elite.

  29. As I work in an industrial area, and travel to work early and late ( to avoid traffic congestion ) some of the economic markers that I use are the number of Auckland-Wellington overnight trucks arriving/leaving each day, and the number of factories working extended hours. Over the past two years, both have been declining.

    Another marker is the extended hours worked by a small % of employee ( whether paid or unpaid – indicated by some cars in factory car parks, office lights on, road traffic density, etc. ), and they have also declined dramatically recently, especially only over the last 3- 6 months.

    Curious, so I chatted with some local factory workers, and it’s clear they initially worked harder and longer for the same wages to help their employer make it through the recession, and keep their jobs, but some workmates were laid off, or given reduced hours etc.

    Some workers reported that their bosses had worked long hours to keep businesses ticking over and talked honestly with them about the business state. Some employers were cash-strapped ( no holidays, carefully counting all expenses, including their own, etc. ).

    Those workers had no problem still working alongside the boss, who clearly appreciated the extra effort. Still no wage increase, but knowing the pain was shared, and rewards would be shared in better times.

    Other workers reported their managers, over the last year, spent tearoom time talking about the present being a good time for buying investment property, planned/actual overseas holidays, and upgrading their home, car, etc.

    However, when employment negotiations were due earlier this year, the company management introduced the tough economic times, recession, need to lower wage costs, etc.

    Some workers felt their extra effort over the previous year was unappreciated by those managers, who often were not the owners, or even their immediate boss, but company employees who had continued to work 9 – 5.

    Those workers, who had contributed over-and-above agreed work, now feel that pain and rewards were not equitably shared, and felt at risk of being undermined by cheaper new employees when demand improves.

    Some have decided to focus on their own economic/home priorities, and have less enthusiasm for unappreciated extra endeavour, such as extra unpaid time just to finish jobs. Indications of under-appreciation were obvious management benefits and the hiring of a consultant/manager to conduct employment negotiations.

    Most employees sense when their employers no longer believe that workers are the asset who walked through the door at 0800, but considers workers the liability who depart at 1700.

    Those workers don’t need to join unions to manage their workplace lives, and unions can’t change management attitudes. They’ll just keep working wilst waiting for whatever better times may bring. Workplace employment laws can’t fix such broken faith.

  30. So in other words, Phil, no need for all these pesky laws because the managers truly have the worker’s best interests at heart?

    Yea, nah.

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  32. Pedro great info about Douglas and Pinero. We knew of the ideological connection at the time but didnt see the personal connection.
    I don’t think that access is the real issue. Even if the ILO says it should be. Nor sickies. I don’t see people taking sickies during the 90 days.
    The issue is ‘fire at will’. No amount of union access is going to stop this.
    The fire at will has to be met with militant action in defense of workers who get fired and are prepared to call for support. In that event we are already talking pickets and police. The unions wont have to go in the workers will have to come out.
    That’s why its not about the CTU trying to get back to the Labourite nirvana of ‘balance’ in the workplace, but the new generation of young workers around Unite and some of the other unions, that will make the difference this time.
    Tmountain. I don’t think Douglas sell-out was a ‘failure of nerve’ in 91 it was more like FP Walsh’s sell-out – a guy who was into becoming a boss himself.

  33. Dave B: I agree that the looser provisions governing dismissals need to be challenged. In the post I just wanted to concentrate on the freedom of access issue since it is a baseline standard by which the ILO judges different countries’ labour laws, and because denial of access was integral to the Plan Laboral that was used by Douglas, Birch and Richardson as the blueprint for the ECA.

    My impression is that the CTU and Public Sector unions will bark a bit about these latest proposed reforms, but most likely will not bite. As I noted in the post and you reiterate, it may take Unite and other militant unions to mount the challenge to the NACTional attempt to return to ECA-style labor relations.

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