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Court rejects bargaining power benefit to workers

MEDIA STATEMENT FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE,
TUESDAY 13 JULY 2004

Court rejects bargaining power being a benefit to workers

An Employment Court decision affecting Auckland rail workers shows the need for an urgent law change to recognise that multi-employer collective agreements (MECA) are the best deal for workers, a leading union said today.

The court has ruled against the Rail and Maritime Transport Union’s bid to have the Auckland metro rail system workers covered by a MECA under their new employer, Connex.

Transport giant Toll Holdings will relinquish the operational management of the Auckland suburban rail business, Tranz Metro, to Connex. The Auckland Regional council owns all the assets of Tranz Metro Auckland.

Under the transfer agreement, the 116 staff were to move from Toll NZ to Connex on employment conditions which were the “same or more favourable”. The union said the easiest way of facilitating this and maintaining the workers’ current bargaining power was for Connex to be added as an employer party to the MECA.

The workers have been part of the largest private sector MECA in the country, which covers around 3000 transport workers. Toll Holdings, which is part of the MECA, challenged in court that the MECA was part of the “same or more favourable” conditions and refused to let Connex become a party to the MECA, said RMTU general secretary Wayne Butson.

“Under the transfer agreement, the workers must transfer to Connex on the same or more favourable conditions,” Wayne Butson said. “The court has found that a MECA – or the form of a collective agreement – does not form part of the conditions of employment for workers.”

Unions strongly disagree with the decision, he said. “Unions know that MECA are the best way to protect and improve wages and conditions for workers.

“We are gutted that, after battling so hard to get the MECA, an employer can get away with this kind of behaviour,” Wayne Butson said. “Union members are hamstrung from using industrial muscle to protect the transferring workers because we are within contract.”

The court acknowledged that although current employment law intended to promote collective bargaining and to address the inherent inequality of bargaining power in employment relationships, it was clearly not strong enough to achieve this aim.

Employers who concede to MECA’s in bargaining can now use this decision to outsource and thereby destroy the MECA whilst the union is hamstrung from taking industrial action due to being in contract. This decision undermines the objectives of the Employment Relations Act 2000.

ENDS

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