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Interim Injunction To Prevent PSA Ratification

News release
18 July 2002

Customs Officers’ Association Wins Interim Injunction To Prevent Ratification Of Psa Agreement With Employers

The Employment Relations Authority has awarded an interim injunction in favour of the Customs Officers’ Association (COA), preventing the Public Service Association (PSA) from ratifying a collective employment agreement it reached last week with the NZ Customs Service. The PSA has also been ordered to act in good faith towards the COA in terms of the consolidated bargaining process which began in May 2001.

Kirsten McKenzie, Chairperson of the Customs Officers’ Association, says the determination, reached yesterday by ERA member Tom Woods, has significant implications for the union movement in New Zealand and for the interpretation of employment law. “It explains the limits on bargaining in an area where the Employee Relations Act is silent – the point at which consolidated bargaining is determined to have come to an end,” she said. “The three unions have been directed back to continue consolidated bargaining – as they should be, because this was the approach initiated by the Customs Service and there was no formal indication by anyone that good faith negotiations had broken down.”

The injunction follows a lengthy process of employment negotiations between the Customs Service and the three unions to which its employees belong: the COA, the PSA and the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE). The COA has some 55% of all Customs Officers as its members; NUPE has around 6% and the PSA the balance of union members. The COA has members at every port and international airport except Invercargill and Queenstown.

In the first week of July, the COA gave notice of strike action which was to have taken place yesterday. This was done on the basis that some of the union’s members had received no real pay increase for 11 years, and despite an independent consultants’ report from Hay Group which indicated that Customs Officers’ remuneration was 23% less than the median for public service workers, insufficient funding had been made available by government to meet the shortfall because the Customs Service had not requested the full amount. “We felt the strike action (which has now been withdrawn) was necessary to draw attention to the totally inadequate remuneration provided to the people who do a critical job keeping New Zealand’s borders safe,” Ms McKenzie said.

Shortly after the strike action by the COA was initiated, the PSA took the view that this industrial action would slow down the consolidated bargaining process, and began negotiations in its own right with the Customs Service. These were concluded in a very short timeframe, giving no opportunity for the COA to consider its position or respond. The PSA and the Service reached a settlement on 10 July. “Given the unusual speed with which the PSA and the Service progressed their bargaining, it is obvious to me that there must have been collusion between them which, in my view, amounts to a breach of good faith,” Ms McKenzie said.

“The Customs Service circulated an email on 12 July to all staff indicating that it would not do a deal with one union and then agree to a ‘better’ deal with another union. The proposed settlement between the Service and the PSA is not acceptable to the COA membership in some key areas – there are some critical areas which face COA members which do not affect PSA members. If the PSA’s collective agreement were to be ratified, it would be virtually impossible for us as a union to have proper negotiations with the Service to conclude an agreement on any different terms. Unless we have the opportunity to resolve these issues, it will unfairly disadvantage the COA’s members – some 55% of Customs Officers who are union members,” she said.

The ERA’s Tom Wood upheld the COA’s argument about consolidated bargaining.

Kirsten McKenzie says negotiations with the Service are continuing.

For further information:

Kirsten McKenzie
Chairperson, Customs Officers’ Association
Phone (09) 256 5223 or 021 614 964

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