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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

SFWU claims victory over Air NZ outsourcing and cuts

The Service and Food Workers' Union (SFWU) is claiming victory in its battle with Air NZ . The company has conceded that the 250 SFWU check-in and services workers must remain on their existing contract (and conditions). Despite intense pressure from many quarters, Air NZ has failed to force these workers to accept cuts in their pay and conditiions under threat of outsourcing (which would have meant cuts to their pay and conditions). These workers decided neither option was acceptable, and were willing to fight outsourcing.
Meanwhile the Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) is putting to the vote a deal they have negotiated to voluntarily give back conditions of the 1500 Air NZ baggage handlers and frontline staff they represent. If they had stood firm with the SFWU they could have stopped outsourcing (with a public campaign to put pressure on the majority owner, the Government, and the Board) AND held onto their existing Collectve Employment Agreement.
It would be good to see the EPMU members reject the Air NZ/EPMU deal that cuts take-home pay by several thousand dollars per worker (on average) - probably too much to hope for although the SFWU stand has won support from EPMU members.
SFWU northern region secretary, Jill Ovens, and EPMU general secretary, Andrew Little, aired their views on the Checkpoint National Radio programme last Monday. This is the link to the radio broadcast:


James said...

Len, you're being thoroughly dishonest here. You know very well that the Servos' current position is a direct consequence of the EPMU's efforts to keep the work in-house. If the EPMU had behaved like the SFWU the work would have been outsourced. The SFWU is just lucky to have been small enough to be ignored. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

And by the way, where's this SFWU publicity campaign you speak of? I saw the Stop the Cuts campaign that was planned, directed, and paid for by the EPMU, but where was Jill's campaign?

Len Richards said...

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 (that would result in wage cuts), AND also reject making concessions to Air NZ (that would result 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 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" that would 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 compnay and, despite company law, is vunerable 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 negotited 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 payout. Under the EPMU/Air NZ deal only those leaving the job will get the full payout. 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, 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 deliberatey 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.

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