Month: June 2021

‘Sense of mourning’ as Norske Skog mill set to close

Workers at Norske Skog’s Tasman Mill now know they’ll be losing their jobs in little over a month’s time.

On Wednesday afternoon, workers were told the mill will be stopping production from the end of June, with most taking redundancy from 16 July once a clean-up has been completed at the site.

The closure affects about 160 workers, including more than 30 E tū members who work in maintenance.

Delegate and E tū industry spokesperson Bruce Habgood says while there’s relief from some workers that there is more clarity around what their future holds, the sense of loss is real.

“There’s a strong sense of mourning that the mill is shutting down – it’s been a big part of the town’s history for several generations and is the reason Kawerau township was built in the first place.

“While the mill now isn’t the huge employer it used to be, there’s many other businesses that have been created to support it – and they may really suffer ‘death by a thousand cuts’ once the mill’s gone.”

Bruce says the closure highlights the importance of workers being unionised, so that they have access to collective agreements that contain redundancy provisions and protections.

“Some of the workers at the mill are of an age and skillset that means they aren’t so employable anymore and might never work again. We also really need businesses to have their own transition plans going forward so that workers have choices and alternatives.”

Outplacement services will be available to workers, but E tū will be looking at how to formally recognise workers’ skills gained on the job so they can take up other employment opportunities, Bruce says.

E tū organiser Raymond Wheeler says E tū will also be discussing re-skilling and training opportunities for all mill workers.

Having a ‘Just Transition’ plan in place is crucial to ensuring workers have a future when businesses close, and this includes provisions such as social insurance as the Government proposed in Budget 2021, he says.

“A Just Transition is vital, both now and for future generations to come, and is a concept which the Climate Change Commission has recognised is key in transitioning to a low-carbon future.

“We also need to continue to progress the Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) for the forestry and wood processing sector and see what can be done to bring more of the manufacturing supply chain back to Aotearoa New Zealand.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Raymond Wheeler, 027 597 5404

Commission lays foundation for necessary Just Transition

E tū welcomes the latest Climate Change Commission, He Pou a Rangi, report to the Government as it lays firm foundations for a Just Transition to a low-carbon economy.

Ināia tonu nei: a low emissions future for Aotearoa sets out a policy direction for a fair, inclusive, and equitable transition for workers and their communities.

E tū researcher Sam Huggard says the advice covers the core components advocated by E tū for a Just Transition: proactive transition planning with all parties at the table, widely accessible education and training, dedicated support for workers in transition, and better analysing the distributional impacts of climate policies on population groups.

“For key industries in transition, a collective approach is needed to map out the transferable skills across a workforce as a whole and actively manage the process of redeployment into new work.

“Workers know that change is coming to their jobs as a result of climate change and other trends, such as automation — that’s why a Just Transition is so necessary.

“We welcome the Commission’s recognition of the call from unions and others for this work to be secure, well paid, and decent work.”

Sam says the union also endorses the Commission’s views on the need to partner with iwi, hapū, and whānau to design an equitable transition that works for Māori, and to ensure Māori social and economic interests are protected and Te Tiriti is upheld.

“This report shows that the foundations have been laid for genuine involvement of workers in designing their future, which is necessary to give people confidence we can achieve this.”

However, key challenges remain, with significant investment needed to develop new industries or support existing ones to transition to a low-carbon future, he says.

“We think further government investment, beyond that set aside in Green Investment Finance and the Regional Strategic Partnership Fund, will be needed,” Sam says.

“Many of the support measures needed to mitigate the impact of decarbonising will come with a cost, and so we also need an honest debate and further action on tax reform, to ensure we are bringing in necessary revenue to fund the transition.”

ENDS

For more information and comment:
Sam Huggard, 021 462 148

Profile: Lalopua Sanele QSM

E tū leader, delegate, and cleaner Lalopua Sanele has been awarded a Queen’s Service Medal (QSM) in the Queen’s Birthday honours list 2021, for services to the union movement and Samoan community. Here’s a little bit more about Lalopua and her story of service.

Lalopua Sanele came to New Zealand in 1972 and was immediately involved in the Wellington Samoan Community based around her church – St Anne’s Catholic Church in Newtown.

From 1972 until 2010 she was an active member of the St Anne’s Church Choir and she joined the Samoan Mother’s Group in 1974, where she played a leadership role and was elected as their treasurer. She was later elected as the treasurer for the Church Samoan Community, a role she held until 2000.

In 2010 she moved with the Samoan Catholic Community to St Josephs Parish in Mount Victoria, where is still an active member of Iesu le Tupu choir.

Lalopua has been employed as a cleaner at Wellington Hospital since 1987. The majority of Wellington Hospital cleaners have, for the past 40 years, been mainly from Samoa or other Pacific nations.

Due to Lalopua’s ability to organise and advocate she was elected as a workplace union delegate.

Her involvement in the union lead her to become a leader in the Wellington Hotel and Hospital Workers Union (later becoming the Service and Food Workers Union and then E tū) Komiti Pasifika. She was elected on to the union’s regional executive and later the National Executive.

Lalopua represented her union at biennial NZ Council of Trade Union Komiti Pasifika Fono and also at the South Pacific and Oceania Council of Trade Unions Conference.

Lalopua is very active in advocating for the improvement of employment rights for workers, especially for vulnerable workers, such as cleaners. She was prominent in the campaign 1999-2004 to gain an amendment to the Employment Relations Act (Part 6A) in 2004 to protect the jobs and working conditions of cleaners during tendering processes. She was able to articulate the issues for cleaners from her own experience at Wellington Hospital in going through the process of contract change and the insecurity and stress that this caused the cleaners and their families.

She appears regularly before Parliamentary Select Committees on behalf of the union supporting improvements in statutory annual leave, rest breaks and improved rights for elected workplace representatives.

Lalopua is now a cleaning supervisor at Wellington Hospital and has completed 34 years service, including working through the recent Level 4 lockdown overseeing the infection control measures put in place for hospital cleaning.

Why New Zealand needs Fair Pay Agreements

By E tū Assistant National Secretary Annie Newman, as published on Stuff on 3 June 2021: https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/prosper/300323156/why-new-zealand-needs-fair-pay-agreements

It has been 30 years since the Employment Contracts Act 1991 removed sector-wide bargaining from our industrial relations system, implementing one of the most radical individualised employment relations systems in the world.

In-work poverty simply was not a reality of New Zealand life at the time, but in the intervening 30 years it has become an albatross around this country’s neck, dragging down household incomes, local economies and national standards at work.

The recently proposed law to establish Fair Pay Agreements is about sector-wide bargaining for minimum standards that ensure decent work, where workers earn enough to live on and receive the protections that any developed country should expect for its workforce.

Sector-wide bargaining is just that – it means negotiating employment agreements that cover whole sectors and industries, whether that’s security, cleaning, home-care work or retail (those workers we have come to appreciate as our essential workforce in the age of Covid-19).

Most developed economies have some form of sector-wide bargaining and the OECD promotes the concept as benefiting workers, businesses and the wider community. This is a reversal of the position they held in the 90s, when the experiment of deregulation ran wild. It’s time now for us to catch up to the 21st century.

Closer to home, the case for sector-wide bargaining was put forward in independent research conducted by Business and Economic Research (BERL). The evidence is clear: there is no economic reason not to implement sector bargaining but many social and individual wellbeing reasons to do so.

Fair Pay Agreements will not be a return to the awards system, nor to the much-maligned compulsory unionism of yesteryear, but rather they will help us re-establish notions of decent work, where workers and their families can thrive and fully participate as active citizens in society, safe in the knowledge that stability, security, safety and liveable incomes are assured.

One problem that highlights the need for workplace transformation is the contracting model. Services like cleaning and security are delivered by businesses that contract to a third party, the “client”. The in-built competitive tendering for services drives the cost of the contract down in a race to the bottom, where the most vulnerable workers bear the cost in loss of hours, poverty wages, and inadequate health and safety practices.

Some employers report that they would much prefer to pay decent wages but cannot do so while being undermined by the “cowboys” paying the bare minimum. Fair Pay Agreements would mean services compete on the quality of the service rather than the cost of the labour.

Most unfortunately, some commentators have chosen to misrepresent Fair Pay Agreements. It is important that we set the record straight, in order to have a properly informed public conversation.

It has been suggested that only a small number of unions and employers will have a say in the negotiation of a Fair Pay Agreement.

This is categorically untrue.

Every single worker and employer will have the opportunity to be represented in negotiations and to vote on the agreement itself.

Fair Pay Agreements come into force through a majority ratification of the parties.

Only when bargaining is protracted and ratification fails twice, or because the parties choose to, is there a determination through the Employment Relations Authority.

To suggest that a much-improved system for workplace democracy is somehow unfair is quite disingenuous.

Some argue that Fair Pay Agreements would add an extra layer of complexity for affected employers. In fact, the status quo, which sees most workers on individual employment agreements, is far more complex.

By collectivising and centralising the bargaining process, employers can simply apply the terms and conditions set in the Fair Pay Agreement, knowing they are meeting the market standard.

It is time we normalise decent work and discourage arguments that anyone – the worker, the business or the economy – benefits from exploitation and poverty. We all lose. The current pandemic has exposed how interconnected all our lives are in this small country.

Fair Pay Agreements are just a mechanism to normalise decent behaviour at work, things like the Living Wage, protection against unsafe practices, 10 days of sick leave and the right skills to do the job. Who can argue for less?

Nelson Mandela said: “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.” Let’s normalise a decent life with Fair Pay Agreements.

The Government is expected to take Fair Pay Agreement legislation to Parliament before the end of the year.

We must be on the lookout for bad faith arguments and ensure that our collective will to improve our working lives is the winner on the day.