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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Reply to comment on SFWU, EPMU, Air NZ dispute

Thanks for putting the EPMU position James. The point is that outsourcing and the deal cooked up in response to this threat by the EPMU and Air NZ both had the same outcome for the workers involved - wage cuts of several thousand dollars per year on average.
The SFWU position was to reject outsourcing (resulting in wage cuts), AND also reject making concessions to Air NZ (resulting in wage cuts).
The EPMU position was that it was better for the union leadership to engineer (excuse the pun) the wage cuts than let Swissport do it. The result was similar for the workers.
EPMU members and non-union workers on IEAs now face taking significant cuts in take-home pay while SFWU members' conditions are protected by their existing CEA up until it expires at the end of June, and for twelve months after that date or until a settlement on a renegotiated CEA is reached.
The point about the publicity campaign is that there wasn't one - not against outsourcing as such - because the EPMU stepped in and offered to negotiate a "competitive in-house solution" to achieve the same or similar labour-cost savings, so outsourcing was removed from the agenda (except as a background threat).
The SFWU opted out of this "in-house" process in January. At this point the EPMU could have done likewise, called the company's bluff on outsourcing and mounted a robust legal, public and political campaign against the company's attacks. After all Air NZ is a publicly-owned company and, despite company law, is vulnerable to public and political pressure. There was nothing to lose and everything to gain from such an approach. The jobs were not able to be outsourced off-shore; they were not under threat of disappearing altogether.
It seems the EPMU's greatest worry (listen to Little on Checkpoint radio) was that many of the members wanted to take redundancy. Even in this respect the negotiated deal lets workers down. If the jobs were outsourced to Swissport every single Air NZ worker leaving the job OR transferred over to the new employer (at least those covered by CEAs) would have stood to gain a redundancy pay-out. Under the EPMU/Air NZ deal only those leaving the job will get the full pay-out. The $3000 (or $4000) incentive payment will not make up for that loss of redundancy pay for many workers who want to stay on.
This is not to say that I am arguing for outsourcing. An inspection of Air NZ board minutes from 18 months ago revealed that the outsourcing bogey was raised precisely and only to extract concessions from workers - one way or another. There was, I believe, an illegal breach of good faith involved in this whole process of deliberately setting out to break an existing CEA. Air NZ should be before the courts on this account, not just on the grounds that they did not provide adequate information etc.
My contention is that the combined legal, political and industrial muscle of the SFWU and EPMU should have been brought to bear on the management. Back room deals with the employer by one union can only undermine workers strength.
Don't forget there are important issues for all unionised workers involved here - not the least the sanctity and value of a negotiated and signed-off CEA.
"An injury to one, is an injury to all", the old Wobblies' slogan, comes to mind.

1 comment:

James said...

Hi Len, thanks for your thoughtful reply.

As an EPMU delegate at Air NZ I was deeply involved in the process from day one and I can tell you the EPMU did mount a publicity campaign, but withdrew it after legal action from the airline. However, by that stage it was clear a publicity campaign would not have stopped the outsourcing - the government made that very clear to all concerned.

Regarding the airline's breach of good faith, the EPMU did take very expensive legal action on these grounds and pursued it for some months, but it was found that even then all it would have done would have been to delay the outsourcing decision by a few weeks.

But all that is beside the point. The real point is that we at Air NZ would have faced far larger pay cuts if Swissport had taken over, and we would have been in a far worse position in terms of clawing those cuts back in future because the company could have used the retendering process to drive down our wages even further.

The way things have turned out fucking suck, to be honest, but I think the EPMU did a bloody good job under the circumstances. I don't agree with every step taken, but at least they didn't drag us into a fight we couldn't win like Ovens did to her members.

I repeat: the SFWU has not 'won' this dispute, no matter how Ovens tries to spin it. She's acted immaturely and irresponsibly, and the SFWU's position now is a result of pure chance.

And one final note - for all the hard left beats up on the EPMU, you can't fault them on their democratic processes. Every major decision taken was done in consultation with the membership, and even minor decisions were taken to us as delegates first. If you have a problem with the outcome of this process, I suggest you take it up with my workmates.