In late March workers at the Auckland warehouse of clothes retailer Cotton On defeated an attempt to remove rest and meal breaks from their collective agreement. This came after the government passed legislation last year to remove a worker’s entitlement to breaks during their working day.
Organised by FIRST Union, workers pushed the issue in the media and ran a community campaign to force the company to back down. The unpopularity of the attack was demonstrated by an outpouring of support across the country. Even the right-wing media lined up to criticise Cotton On. Workers also received solidarity from Australia, where Cotton On has been resisting attempts to unionise their distribution network.
The government’s pathetic response was that if any worker is offered a contract that does not contain rest breaks ‘they should just say no’. Any working person knows that if you’re not in a union saying no to one aspect of a contract is the same as turning down a job.
Within a fortnight the company had backed down and removed their claim. The challenge ahead for workers is to use similar tactics to win more, not just to defend what they already have.
By Joe Kelly