Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

New Zealand: Unions need a strategy to beat back National’s attacks

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Since 2009 the National-led government has carried out a series of attacks against workers and their unions. The measures have included the introduction of probationary employment periods, the reintroduction of youth rates and drastic changes to access to sick leave.

By Jared Phillips, Hamilton, New Zealand

They have also made union access to workplaces more difficult, changed the way that unjustified dismissals are determined and made changes which mean that film industry workers are no longer considered to be employees covered by employment law. In every instance workers rights and conditions have been undermined.

Building upon these changes the government has now put forward the Employment Relations Amendment Bill. If this bill passes into law it will allow employers to refuse to conclude collective bargaining and remove the requirement for employers to put new employees on the conditions of an existing collective agreement.

Employers will also be able to withdraw from multi-employer collective agreements and remove protections for vulnerable workers. Employers will be able to reduce pay for the duration of partial strike actions, extend strike notice rules to non-essential services and reduce the information available to workers in redundancy processes.

On top of all this, National Party MP Jami-Lee Ross has put forward a member’s bill which, if passed, would legalise the outsourcing of scab labour during industrial disputes. This is an attempt to undermine workers ability to bargain collectively.

The bill seeks to repeal a section of the Employment Relations Act 2000 which prevents employers from using volunteers, contractors, or other casual employees during industrial action. Under current rules the employer can only use its direct employees to carry out the work of striking or locked-out workers.

The main threat however is not the member’s bill at this stage, it is the government bill. So far the union leader’s response to the government’s attacks has mainly been to call one-off weekend rallies. At best they have utilised the two legal stop-work meetings that are provided for in the legislation for union members each year.

The union leaderships that dominate the movement at this point in time have no plans to use these activities as ways to build towards actions like strikes that can actually put the government and employers under pressure. The strategy of calling one-off national days of action without pushing forward to industrial action and broadening the fight has only given the government the confidence to go further with their attacks.

If the movement continues to retreat the government will only come back for more. This is what big business is demanding as we move into period of even greater economic uncertainty. They want laws in place that protect their profits and put the burden of the economic crisis on the shoulders of working people.

We can not allow workers to have their conditions wound back any further. On the contrary we need to fight for better wages and conditions and more job security. The best way to do this is to escalate the campaign against these laws and against the government.

The NZCTU needs to call a 24-hour general strike as a first step with major rallies in all of the major city centres. Stop work meetings should be used to explain the attacks and build the strike to make it a success. A one day general strike can give workers a taste of their own collective power and build confidence in the ranks of the unions.

An action like this would also grind the economy to a halt and send a strong message to the government and the employers who are behind this push. If they refuse to back down it should be made clear that further 24 and 48 hour strikes will be organised.

Side by side with a proper industrial strategy the union movement needs a political strategy. Workers can not rely on any of the capitalist parties. We need to build our own party, a party that will stand in elections but more importantly an organisation that fights in workplaces, schools and communities for a world that puts people’s needs front and centre.


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