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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Air NZ workers forced to accept "marriage-breaker" deal

Under threat of closure of their workshop the Christchurch Air New Zealand engineers voted to accept a union-management deal that one worker described as a "marriage-breaker" because of the onerous weekend shift work involved.
Dennis O’Brien told the NZ Herald business reporter that the sacrifice he and the other workers were being asked to make was "extreme". Under the "job-saving" scheme promoted by the leaders of the EPMU and AMEA unions, he and others will have to work part or all of 47 weekends a year. At the moment they only work one weekend in three. Mr O’Brien said the new shift-roster will put unreasonable strain on family life. Wages will also be cut by about $15,000 a year.
Mr O’Brien originally voted "no" to the deal but last Thursday he changed his vote to "yes" for a slightly modified offer. "There was a small carrot and a very big stick," he said. He thought it was better to live to fight another day.
Air NZ will now keep the wide-body airframe maintenance work in New Zealand, but 200 jobs will go. The unions had previously brokered a deal that saw 110 engine-maintenance jobs lost. The Prime Minister, Helen Clark, had added to the pressure to accept the deal by urging workers to change their vote. Nevertheless, nearly one third of the Christchurch-based workers still voted "no".
The unions’ acquiescence over the engineering job cuts has been taken as a green light by the company for hundreds of other job cuts. Another 500 office-based job losses were immediately announced after the union acceptance of the 200 engineering job cuts. Andrew Little of the EPMU said it was "unbelievable" that these cuts were to be made. But the lack of resolve by himself and other union leaders over taking action to save the engineering jobs, means the company thinks it can do whatever it likes with impunity.
Little could have led a political and industrial campaign to mobilise support from the public to save the jobs. The Government should have stepped in to take full control of Air NZ, a company that is already 80 per cent publicly-owned. The unions could have fought for that to happen instead of selling members pay and conditions to save some of the jobs threatened.
There have now been 900 job cuts involving cleaners, engineers and office workers. More are to come. The cost-cutting plan put forward by former chief executive Ralph Norris more than two years ago was for 1500 jobs to go. Airline analyst, Peter Sigley, from the financial company Goldman Sachs JBWere, praised the new chief executive, Rob Fyfe, for being an aggressive manager of costs and for not being afraid to make difficult decisions. "Fyfe has stepped into the guts of the business in terms of its cost base," he said. Some might say he is ripping the guts out of the business.
Despite fuel cost rises, Air NZ chairman John Palmer announced that the airline balance sheet was in good shape with more than $1.1 billion cash in the bank and a projected profit expected this year of $140 million. The total savings made through the job cuts are less than $50 million.
As the Alliance says, the loss of jobs is completely unnecessary. It is not about the engineering operation or the airline as a whole losing money. It is all about return on capital. The heavy engineering workshops have been one of the main revenue earners for Air NZ for years.
The Government has the responsibility to stop the wanton economic vandalism by Air NZ management. The job cuts are a major blow to our strategically important transport infrastructure. It is a matter of concern for all New Zealanders and should be top priority for this Labour Government.
No jobs should go and no cuts should be made to workers’ pay and conditions. The Government must step in and take control of the situation.
The Alliance believes the cost-cuts are being made to get the airline ready to be sold back into full private ownership.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Thanks from Air NZ worker

Hi Len,
Thanks for your support on the ANZES (Air NZ Engineering Services) issue. You're one of the few outsiders who can see this disgraceful situation for what it really is. I have attached a document to this email which shows the type of bullying we are expected to endure!
Kind Regards,
John Kooloos

You're welcome John,
You and your fellow workers are being subjected to unwarranted and uncalled-for pressure from all sides. The Government is acting disgracefully. Helen Clark's outburst is tantamount to 'scabbing' on your members' justified fight to retain hard-won conditions in the face of an employer determined to increase profitability at the expense of the workforce.
The Government was elected by a massive turnout of workers in the election. They should put the workers' interests first. As majority shareholder, they should step in and sack the present management if it will not back off from its plans to cut jobs and slash conditions in this vitally important industry.
Andrew Little of the Engineers Union, and even some of the AMEA union officials, are reluctant to put the government on the spot and would rather concede than fight. I still think industrial action based around an occupation of the workshops could mobilise support from the general public against the wanton economic vandalism being proposed by Air NZ.
Good luck and best wishes from myself and the Alliance Party.
Yours in solidarity,
Len Richards
Alliance Co-leader

Helen Clark blames workers for job losses

Prime Minister Helen Clark has blamed the workers for refusing to accept the wage cuts and loss of conditions involved in the union-management deal that was negotiated to try and save half the 600 threatened Air New Zealand engineering jobs.
It is scandalous that the Government, a majority-shareholder in the company, refused to intervene to overturn the decision to close the Air NZ heavy engineering maintenance workshops. Instead, Ms Clark has said she was disappointed that a "small majority" of workers rejected the brokered deal.
The fact is hundreds of Air NZ workers voted down the deal which would have meant their shifts could be changed with little notice and their pay would be cut. Why should workers have to take cuts to save their own jobs?
The loss of the engineering jobs is completely unnecessary. It is not about the engineering operation losing money. It is all about return on capital.
The heavy engineering workshops have been one of the main revenue earners for Air NZ for years. The projected savings from the workshops' closure are only $20 million a year in a company that made a $250 million profit last year.
It is the Government's responsibility to stop the wanton economic vandalism threatened by Air NZ management. The loss of our country's heavy aircraft repair capacity would be a major blow to our strategically important transport infrastructure. It is a matter of concern for all New Zealanders and should be top priority for this Labour Government.
No jobs should go and no cuts should be made to workers' pay and conditions. The Government must step in and take control of the situation.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Supersize success

The "Supersize my pay" rally/stopwork meeting held at the Auckland Town Hall yesterday would have to be described as a resounding success. The NZ Herald said 300 attended, but closer to 500 eventually turned up. There were quite big contingents of Maori Party and Green Party supporters: Pita Sharples spoke, as did Sue Bradford. Most of the activist left turned up and of course quite a few (50 -100??) actual fast food workers who were the ones the rally was supporting. Matt McCarten spoke, providing a couple of good quotes for the Herald - "serfs in our own country" and - "There comes a time in everyone’s lives, when we have to make a stand for justice. This is one of those times." The CTU was represented by its vice president, Carol Beaumont. The CTU gave the campaign to raise the wages of the low-paid its full support. Laila Harre spoke from the NDU. She had a delegate with her who told how they organised a supermarket chain. Other unions like the SFWU and AUS had banners or spoke giving support. Child Poverty Action Group had a speaker as well.
The reggae rapper band pumped out the sounds. Rosita Vai of NZ Idol fame (former KFC worker) sang two songs. Michele A'Court and another comedian did their turns and there were some excellent video and slide presentations about the pay campaign.
Sharples spoke strongly against poverty and in support of the low paid and beneficiaries but Sue Bradford said only United Future had so far decided to support her bill to abolish youth rates for 16 and 17 year-olds. She said she hoped Sharples' speech meant the Maori Party would vote for the bill going to the select committee. The word is that Labour will probably support it going to select committee as well. Some Labour MPs and the CTU are backing the bill.
Workers' Charter were distributing their new tabloid newspaper. I congratulated John Minto, its editor, on the quality - 12 pages in colour. Jill Ovens' article about the SFWU pay equity campaign for low-paid hospital workers, with a picture of her on a picket line, was prominent (on page 3). The big question is how the paper will be able to sustain itself, and how frequently they can get it out. Dean Parker wrote a piece in this first edition about the Wharfies Transport Worker paper that was published in the run-up to the 1951 stoush. It was a true worker's paper. It had the social base of an important section of workers.
Workers' Charter might struggle to emulate the popularity of the wharfies' paper; one edition of that paper had a run of 100,000 copies (the union only had 7000 members).
The Workers Charter (draft) features prominently in poster form as the centre-fold. The charter is starting to sound more and more like the Alliance manifesto as it is amended (by whom?) with each new public appearance. It talks of the battle for democracy and human dignity. It calls for a complete transformation of society, with democracy extended into every sphere of the economy and the state. The demands include "The right to public control of assets vital to community well-being" and "The right to organise for the transfer of wealth and power from the haves to the have-nots".

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Alliance is a party for the working class

by Len Richards – Alliance Co-leader

The Alliance contested the 2005 election as a party for the working class. As such, the Alliance campaigned for the defeat of National and the extreme right-wing elements that supported Brash’s campaign.
It was the large turnout of working class voters, especially in South Auckland, that assured Labour enough seats to form a government. Labour must repay that support with measures to improve the lot of the working class people, many of whom are struggling to survive on pitifully low incomes.
The Government has said it will raise the minimum wage to $12 in 2008 "if economic conditions permit". This is not good enough.
The immediate abolition of youth rates would be start, and Sue Bradford’s private members bill to that effect should be supported by all who claim to be "with the workers", including Labour MPs.
The Greens and Workers’ Charter are pushing for an immediate increase in the minimum wage to $12 an hour. This, the Alliance supports as well. However, if the minimum wage was set at two-thirds of the average wage ($21.13 in November, 2005), in line with the ILO Standard, it would be $14 an hour, and this would make a real difference to hundreds of thousands of workers.
Despite six years of a Labour Government, low hourly rates and the loss of overtime rates mean low-paid workers are worse off in real terms then they were 15 years ago. Workers have to work long hours just to make ends meet.
In real terms, wage rises are barely keeping up with rising prices. Unemployment may well be low by international standards, but many jobs are part-time or casual. Insecurity haunts working class suburbs.
Casual workers often miss out on basic entitlements such as sick leave or parental leave, and they are easily dismissed.
The State has allowed wages and conditions to be driven down by contracting out services such as cleaning in hospitals and doing nothing to ensure workers get a living wage and decent conditions.
The Alliance says we need to:
Increase the minimum wage: The Alliance policy is for a minimum wage of $15 an hour. We oppose discriminatory youth rates. Everyone (those with jobs and beneficiaries) should get an income they can live on.
Control excessive hours: We supports the introduction of a 35-hour working week with no loss of pay and immediate introduction of 4 weeks annual leave. Workers should have the right to refuse unreasonable hours or shift work, and mandatory overtime rates.
Introduce responsible contracting: Where employers get public money to deliver services, we think they should be required to meet national standards in pay and conditions.
Protect casual workers: We fight for protections for casual and part-time workers and make it possible for them to carry over service from job to job so they qualify for public holidays, sick leave and parental leave.
Secure a right to redundancy: All workers should have the right to a minimum redundancy payment, but many do not have the power to negotiate this. Our policy is for minimum redundancy of 4 weeks pay, plus 2 weeks pay for every year of service.
Address pay equity in the private sector: Pay inequities in the private sector as well as the public sector will be reduced when we have free childcare, after-school care and when the work that women commonly do is rewarded with decent pay.
Extend Paid Parental leave: We fight for 12 months paid parental leave for all women workers, including casual and seasonal workers. We also support 2 weeks paid parental leave for partners.
Legalise the right to strike: Workers should have the right to strike to enforce their Collective Agreement, to oppose lay-offs, to support other workers, and for political reasons.
Introduce workplace democracy: Workers should have a say in the way work is organised. The Alliance will push for stronger employment legislation to ensure greater workplace democracy.