Prime Minister John Key announced a new attack on workers’ rights at the National Party conference in Auckland on Sunday July 18. (Could there be a more appropriate place for the Nat’s get together?)
Of greatest concern are plans to extend the 90-day fire at will law to all workers and restrictions on the rights of trade union officials to visit their members or access a sight to recruit members. These attacks on workers rights are designed to cower New Zealand’s already timid, disorganised and poorly paid workforce even further.
Step out of line in the first three months, perhaps by complaining about poor health and safety or joining a union, and you could be out the door, no questions asked, no reason given.
In response, 500 trade union members protested outside the National’s conference. Here’s a report from one protester:
Despite a heavy police presence, a group of about 40 managed to push through lines of police and Sky City security guards, to enter the lobby of the conference building.
Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly addressed the protest and commented on the large size of the crowd considering the short notice. She announced an emergency meeting of all trade union leaders on Thursday to discuss a campaign against the proposed law changes.
The head of the Dairy Workers Union speaking to the crowd, made a statement that the DWU have decided that if any new worker in the Dairy industry is dismissed under the 90 day law, that the union would immediately call a stopwork meeting, “Where we will then decide what we would do.”
“If you remove due process you can expect that we will take direct action.” he said.
This militant declaration, from a union not noted for its militancy was met with loud cheers and applause. Of course such action would be illegal under the current Employment Relations Act.
All in all this protest was a tremendous success and a great first start to this campaign.
A protest in Christchurch, called on Friday night, brought together 40 unionists and called an organising meeting for Monday. A Wellington protest is also due to take place on Monday.
The fire at will law was first introduced early last year, but can only be used by bosses with less than 20 employees. Unions made a token protest at that time, but at lot less than they had a few years earlier, when the idea was first raised in a private members bill by National MP Wayne Mapp. One apparent reason for this was that some unions were, at the time trying to cooperate with National around the so-called Job Summit. That spirit of partnership got them about as far as John Key’s cycle way.
Sunday’s spirited protest was a good first response. But what comes next? Will this be the start of a sustained fight to defend workers rights? Or do we just wait for the next election and campaign for a Labour-led government?
Chris Trotter is optimistic union leaders will follow through with their bold words at Sunday’s protest and take to the streets.
Sue Bradford has warned that both the unions and the Labour Party leadership will need to do a better job than they did in response to the benefit cuts and Employment Contracts Act back in 1991.
UNITYblog welcomes readers ideas on how workers and their unions should respond to the government’s attacks.