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Unite–NDU–SFWU Merge To Form 50,000-Strong Union

Unite – NDU – SFWU Merge To Form 50,000-Strong Union

By Jamie Melbourne-Hayward, AUT Journalism Student.

New Zealand’s most active unions have announced they are intending to merge in order to create the country’s largest private sector union. AUT's Jamie Melbourne-Hayward speaks to Unite's Mike Treen, NDU's Laila Harre, and the BNZ economist, John Pask, about what the merger means to workers, businesses, and the Government.

The National Distribution Union (NDU), the Unite Union and the Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU) have stated the merger is intended to represent the lowest paid sectors in the country and increase their lobbying power.

Click to enlarge

Unite Union's Mike Treen. Scoop file image by Selwyn Manning.

Mike Treen, Unite Unions director of organising, said: "The poor are powerless and not listened to by government, which is why we are here. We are hopeful to have the merger wrapped up before the end of the year."

Mr Treen said they are looking to take the positives from each unique union and combine them to gain a better culture and more lobbying power for the rights of the nation’s lowest wage earners.

The merger will create a 50,000 strong membership, the country’s second largest union.

Laila Harre, National Secretary of the NDU, says the unions are going from strength to strength.

"We just keep on winning. We are 100 per cent for the merger,” said Ms Harre.

Political campaigns are planned to place raising the minimum wage to $15 as a key election issue for the various unions.

Under Labour there has been an increase of 71 per cent from $7.50 since they took office in 1999.

Mr Treen played down last week’s raising of the minimum wage as a victory parade, saying they were pleased with the forward movement, but believed it was not adequate.

“New Zealand companies have been able to get away with it for too long; these multimillion dollar profits are on the backs of struggling families and underpaid youth,” said Mr Treen.

John Pask, economist for Business New Zealand, said: “Our views were well known. We are opposed to any increase in the minimum wage.”

Mr Pask “strongly disagrees” with a Royal Commission’s recommendation that two thirds of the average wage should be the minimum, which equals $15 dollars per hour.

The figure was devised in 1973 by the Royal Commission into Social Security, the International Labour Organisation and the European Social Standard.

"Employers are still trying to evade it, but we want $15 minimum wage to be a key election issue this year,” said Mr Treen.

Mr Pask said productivity is the key to building our economy, and despite a recent rise, is still not high enough.

“The raising of the minimum wage is a burden for business as it raises the bar for entry level workers … which is detrimental to them being trained up to a level where they can be more productive in the work force.”

He said New Zealand’s wages were much lower than Australia’s for a range or reasons, including lack of mining, pharmaceutical, and military industries.

“Were not involved in any of that,” said Mr Pask.

Last week the country’s lowest paid celebrated the raising of the minimum wage to $12, an outcome spearheaded by the Unite Union’s ‘supersize-my-pay’ campaign.

Ms Harre says we are a long way behind the international western standards with regards to workers rights, with the exception of the United States.

“The unions are not happy to settle with this, they believe pushing for an end to poverty in New Zealand should become a key issue in the upcoming election.

“We have extraordinary poverty for such a rich nation.”


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