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Real People Are Hurting, Says Union

Media Release

Tuesday, 7 September 1999


Workers will be better off and fairness and balance will be restored in the workplace when Labour's becomes the government says Service and Food Workers Union National Secretary, Darien Fenton. Labours policy recognises that the majority of workers in NZ are in atypical jobs, in small workplaces and don't have any power in their employment situation. The Business Roundtables notion that these workers will 'hold the country to ransom' is utterly ridiculous", said Ms Fenton. "All they want is some fairness and balance in their employment situation." In just two weeks, the Service & Food Workers Union has been involved in several appalling situations, involving thousands of low-paid, vulnerable workers, that illustrate the unfairness and imbalance of power of National's Employment Contracts Act. (See attached.) Workers who choose to have a voice through unions should be free of fear, intimidation or interference by employers. Those who try to increase their negotiating power through collective organisation are routinely harassed, retaliated against and sacked by powerful employers. Labour's policy will come as a relief to workers like these. Good employers who try to do the right thing, who are prepared to negotiate collectively, are subjected to unfair competition by other employers in the same industry who pay poverty wages. New Zealand is doing badly under the ECA. There's plenty of evidence overseas that when workers have a voice through their union, they help companies produce better goods and services and their productivity is higher. "Under the ECA the Chairman of the Lottery Commission is able to negotiate himself of package in excess of $400,000, meanwhile, workers on $9.00 an hour at Auckland Airport are worrying about whether they will have a job in a few weeks time." "This is the reality for most workers this country," said Ms Fenton. "The debate on employment relations in the lead up to the general election should focus on these workers and how their lives will improve under a Labour led government."

For further information telephone Darien Fenton, National Secretary of the SFWU, on 09 355 1861 (day) or 09 810 9226 (eve) or 025 360 089.

STORIES FROM THE SFWU FROM 30TH AUGUST TO 6TH SEPTEMBER Why Labour's policy will make a difference to vulnerable workers.

Contract Cleaners - Example of why good faith provisions are important. In August, contract-cleaning employers imposed a three-year cleaning collective on 8000 cleaners. This was done successfully with supervisors going out and asking non English speaking cleaners to sign, standing over them with a pen and implying (and in some cases saying) that not to sign would not be received well. One group of cleaners in Wellington (in the Ministry of Defence Headquarters) were locked out. It was also done at the same time that the union was in negotiations for a multi employer contract with the contract-cleaning employers. Contract cleaners are extremely vulnerable. They work in twos and threes in locked buildings that are impossible to access and their pay is just $9.40 an hour. The industry is growing and diversifying, with an increase in franchising and other arrangements. Over the last nine years, cleaners have had their employment conditions stripped back to a basic wage rate and not much else. Home Care - Example of why multi employer bargaining and good faith is important for vulnerable groups of workers. The Women's Division of the Federated Farmers has changed its name to become a new organisation called Access Home Health (AHH). It operates throughout the country with hundreds of home care workers, including around 800 in the Waikato alone. It has now delivered new individual contracts to all staff that reduce their pay and conditions. AHH argue that every new client a worker takes care of is a new contract between the workers and the AHH. The workers are scared that if they don't sign the new IECs, they will not get new clients - which means no work. The CEO of AHH is Colleen Singleton who is a National Party Council member and earns over $100,000 a year. The workers earn between $8.50 and $9.50 an hour. This is one case of problems for the thousands of Home Care workers, who have no workplace and opportunities to get together and certainly, almost no chance of sitting down as a group with their employer to "negotiate" - let alone have access to the funder - the HFA.

KFC - example of how wage competition is forcing down wages for young workers KFC (Restaurant Brands Ltd) also own Pizza Hutt, Starbucks and Delco and they employ 2500 workers at KFC. KFC competes with other fast food outlets such as McDonalds who have successfully driven down wages over the last nine years through the use of take it or leave it individual contracts.

In negotiations they have successfully reduced the adult start rate from $8.42 to $8.00 which in turn would drive down the youth rates to a start rate of $5.80 per hour. KFC is one of the most profitable and productive employers of its kind in NZ and overseas. KFC is the last fast food collective contract in NZ. Most of KFC staff are young, female and non-pakeha - many will be the kids in their first job with no idea of their rights. So much for productivity! Under the ECA, the workers had no chance of changing KFC's mind about this - if they refuse, they will most likely implement the contract anyway by paying existing staff a payrise and approaching every worker individually to sign a new contract.

Rest Home industry - another example of the destructive wage competition and how better employers are forced to respond. The industry is expanding, with a proliferation of new, glitzy enterprises - mostly non-union and paying low wages. Good employers, who try to do the right thing, such as many Religious and Welfare Rest Homes, are finding it harder and harder to compete in the intensely competitive world of contracting with the HFA. Paying better wages as a result of collective bargaining is a problem for them, leaving them with two choices - either attack the workers and try to drive down their wages, or close down. Many are choosing the latter option.

United South Auckland Washup - an example of how employers are able to absolve their responsibilities through sub contracting and refusing to bargain. United South Auckland Washup contracts with Caterair, who in turn is contracted by Air New Zealand to provide airline meals. Caterair has terminated the service contract with United, leaving around 50 workers with an uncertain future. Caterair is "allowing" the United workers to "apply" for their own jobs and if they don't succeed, they will be terminated with no redundancy pay. The workers have been trying to get United to re-negotiate their collective contract for over a year, while Caterair, when it took over the work for Air New Zealand, signed workers up to a "bogus" take it or leave it collective contract. The reality is that groups of workers who work in small workplaces have almost no change to negotiate, because they are simply powerless. The Service and Food Workers Union sees Labour's provisions for multi employer and good faith provisions as the best hope of restoring some balance and fairness for workers like these.


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