Unions Under Attack

Eva Rawnsley

Paekakariki Columnist Warns

of Attack on Workers’ Rights

Government plans to changeNew Zealand’s labour laws

will mean cuts in vital rights for local workers, says our Paekakariki columnist Eva Rawnsley. Here is her report….

Trade Unions

By Eva Rawnsley

The trade union movement started in England in the first half of the 19th century.

At that time the English farm workers worked under such terribly hard conditions that their families were often poor to the point of starvation. This made some of them unite to try and better their conditions.

Over decades the unions have improved working conditions for all, not only for their own members. However non union workers have exploited the benefits others have fought for and paid for.

Workers  Under Notice

Workers have been given notice that the Government is going to change the labour laws enabling all employers to hire workers on a trial period for three months.

Employers will not need to give a reason for dismissal. Union officials will not be able to see workers in the workplace without permission from the employer.

Another change will be that workers will be able exchange their holidays for pay. This may seem innocuous but it is really seriously detrimental to those who take this offer up.

People need holidays for mental and physical health  reasons. Family relationships suffer if workers cannot spend time at leisure together. Without holidays people become stressed.

It is also self defeating from the employers point. Stressed workers don’t perform well. As productivity is constantly stressed as essential,  run down workers are hardly the way to improve productivity.

“Little protection from exploitation”

At present the private sector union membership is approximately 21,000 thousand. This is a very low figure and leaves workers with very little help and protection from exploitation at times of high unemployment.

What many younger workers today may not realize, is that without the battle the early trade unions fought, workers could still be working six twelve hour days a week, with no sick leave and no annual leave.

Their working conditions could be unsanitary, over crowded and dangerous.

Unfortunately in times of economic downturn and a large unemployed workforce, employers are in a strong position. By no means all employers take advantage of this but unfortunately, human nature being what it is, some employers do use high unemployment to their advantage.

If workers want to help themselves,  they can join their union and keep a log of good and bad employers.

When the economy improves again and unemployment decreases, the poor employers will struggle to find workers and the good ones will get the pick of the best.

Today with email, Facebook and other social networking tools, it is so easy for people to get information out, to keep in touch and let each other know of the conditions in their workplace.

They could tell each other of the good places to work in and of the ones to shun.


Good post and so on the money!

Unfortunately, generations X, Y & Z don’t seem to be much interested in history so will be condemned to repeat it especially in the area of industrial relations, and to think this could occur in the land where the eight-hour day was started by a humble carpenter in Petone who refused to work more than eight hours in one day.

The reason I believe the 90 day rule has been promulgated is that most employers are inept when it comes to applying current industrial law. They do not understand the steps in trying to correct performance of staff and the steps that must be taken before dismissing someone, i.e. verbal warning, first written warning etc and try to short-cut the system thereby laying themselves open to personal grievances. The National government acknowledges this ineptitude of employers by enacting such legislation.

You are right of course about four weeks’ leave being sacrosanct as this allows most workers to have a decent summer as well as winter break and to allow the `cashing-up’ of the fourth week of leave will put more workers under pressure even if providing a short term financial windfall. It could also be perceived as the incipient stage of winding back four weeks’ leave to three weeks’ leave should the economy get any tougher.

Robert’s comments need to be read in conjunction with your post because our current economic paradigm cannot continue given the hard geological fact that fossil fuels are fast depleting, and the comforts we enjoy from this windfall of cheap energy, from which most in the world have been excluded, are coming to an end.

Most people in the future will work on the land because there will be little fuel for farm machinery and draught animals will be very important not only for their strength but for the natural fertilizer they provide. Agricultural unions will need to form to ensure workers are fairly treated with regard to pay, safety in the course of work and decent rest breaks.

That the government refuses to apprise the public of the future bottleneck of energy is mendacious at best and treasonous at worst. The National government will not bring this unpalatable news to the fore because bad news does not win elections, but by not being up-front about future energy shortages may well see the demise of the National party.

The past 100 or so years have seen improvements in some workers conditions that is for sure, but by far the most workers are still living in the land of reality, which is that there simply is not enough ‘stuff’ floating around the global economy to provide an even distribution of wealth and harmonious working conditions, Eva’s comments are only relevant to a very few employees … maybe less than 1 billion of the worlds 7 billion people.
You don’t see ideal working conditions in many many countries, such as the ship graveyards in India or the rubbish tips of Mexico City, or the high rises of Dubai/China etc … WHY?
Because unlike the ‘west’ most countries have not been able to exploit the worlds resources, mainly cheep energy, moving up the scale from animals – slaves – coal then to oil and gas, without the more or less free energy we have consumed this past century we would all be living like we were 100 – 200 years ago … except with a lot less people (maybe 500 million – 1 billion at the most)
We in the ‘west’ are living at the top of the food chain, we exploit everyone and everything we can and have to, to maintain this grandiose obscene lifestyle, we exploit the tin minor who has to crawl down a hole with an EverReady touch tied to the side of his head, to find the tin that the union leaders have in their cellphones etc to fight for ‘workers rights’, we ignore the 30,000 children dieing every day from the lack of clean drinking water or food, we ignore the 800 million people going hungry each and every day, so we can have coffee breaks ever 2 hours (as is our RIGHT) we ignore the children living on the streets of many cities in the world …
New Zealand is living very very much in cloud cuckoo land, we borrow 240 million a week, don’t you think if India or China or Mexico or any African country could borrow $60 per week per citizen on a continued basses that their collective populations would be living as well as we do? Not a hope in hell … because as I said at the start there simply is not enough ‘stuff’ for us all to have a ‘fare share’ … that sort of thinking is for the left wing pillow hungers to afraid to face the reality of life.
Our current living conditions are an accident of birth, we in the ‘west’ have been ‘lucky’ to have been born here and now, and just like all bacteria we will exploit our luck until we can’t … like yeast in a bottle of wine … once the food runs out and we totally pollute the planet we have borrowed from future generations it will be game over … what a legacy we have left the kids.
Humans have the same rights as fungus … and nature well see to it that we all get what is coming – when we break the rules of life, it ends ).


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