WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Editorial: industrial action and the Gospel

Cecily McNeill
April 2012

Three major industrial disputes in the country at the moment highlight changing working conditions brought about by increasing employer demands for casualisation as they struggle to remain competitive.

At the heart of the Ports of Auckland dispute with the Maritime Workers’ Union is the issue of contracting out or off-shoring. More flexibility in the workforce is also an issue in the Affco dispute and rest home workers in the Oceania group are seeking to boost their $13.60 an hour by more than their employer’s offer of around 1 percent increase a year.

As Phil O’Reilly of BusinessNZ said in the Dominion Post last month, a weaker economy brings survival issues for employers and employees into sharper focus.
Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly pointed out in the same article, March 9, 2012, that 350 Ports of Auckland workers were handling a third of New Zealand’s container trade and staff time per container had reduced 16 percent in the past four years.

‘Last August they achieved the highest container rate ever.’

Let us look at this against the backdrop of the international economy.

Since the 1970s the international workforce has become increasingly casualised as employers seek to respond more flexibly to the demands of a global economy.
Professor of Human Resource Development at the University of Auckland Nigel Haworth who has also served on the board of Ports of Auckland told Radio New Zealand’s Kathryn Ryan on March 12 unions have been stressed since the 1970s and, with the Employment Contracts Act 1991, membership halved.
‘When China and Eastern Europe, Russia and India joined the global economy (from the 1970s) the global workforce doubled.’

With increasingly skilled cheaper labour on offer overseas, unions whose members have only their labour with which to bargain, struggle to protect workers’ rights.

Phil O’Reilly says the answer to business competitiveness is for employer and employee to work together but Nigel Haworth suggests this goal was put on hold on the Auckland waterfront because of ‘a lack of trust on both sides’.

When Pope Leo XII wrote Rerum Novarum (On capital and labour) in 1891, analyst Gerald Darring says, he was convinced that the present age ‘had handed over the working poor to inhumane employers and greedy competitors.

‘He saw the working poor as needy and helpless and insufficiently protected against injustices and violence’.

Working together with respect for each other’s position is a gospel approach to living which unions and employers would do well to honour.

The rest of us in this global family need to read the newspapers to understand the issues alongside the scripture passages that show us how Jesus treated those around him.