Back in April The Spark carried an article sounding the alarm at National MP Tau Henare’s Private Member’s bill to require unions to run secret ballots for strike action. While the Council of Trade Unions gave its “support in principle” to the bill at the time, we warned that workers could become ensnared in pedantic legal challenges by employers trying to undermine strikes. No Right Turn blog had also given its backing to bill as “a bit of a no-brainer.”
Predictably, the moderate-sounding wording of the original has been amended by the select committee, so now employers could challenge strike ballots with injunctions. Now the CTU and their mates in the Labour Party are crying foul over the bill. Didn’t the 90 day “sack at will” law brought in by Henare’s party give them a clue about what were the government’s intentions with regard to employment laws? Are they really surprised that a bill proposing further restrictions on unions wouldn’t also include the right of employers to challenge the process?
The Labour select committee members complained that “there is no balance in the bill where there is a corresponding accountability for employers to hold secret ballots of their shareholders before a decision to lock out union members is made.” This shows how pathetic their concept of “Fairness at Work” really is: that somehow a lock out imposed by an employer could have the same legitimacy as the collective decision of workers to withdraw their labour, if only the shareholders were balloted first!
The idea of the right to strike (limited as it is) being balanced by an employer’s right to lock out is enshrined in the current Employment Relations Act, brought in by Labour. This “balance” ignores the huge discrepancy of power between employers - with all the control they exercise in the workplace - and workers, whose only real strength lies in their potential to organise. In addition, employers can generally rely on the support of the state - in the form of the courts, police, etc. - if things get really tough.
Also, it is by no means a “no-brainer” that strikes should require secret ballots. Workers ought to be free to determine what form of democratic decision making they adopt, without meddling from the state. Unite Union made a submission to the select committee stating that secret ballots are not always practical in dispersed casualised workplaces with a high turnover of personnel (like fast-food chains).
We cannot tolerate a situation like that in the UK where employers routinely slap injunctions on strikes on the most spurious of technicalities. One of the amendments to Henare’s bill states that the union must notify the result of the ballot to the members of the union who were entitled to vote. Sounds reasonable? Well, it was exactly this provision in the British anti-union laws that allowed BA to challenge an overwhelming vote for strike action in May.
If this bill becomes law, unions should pledge to defy any employer who uses the courts to try and trample on the collective decisions of union members.
As we were saying… April 2010 article: http://workersparty.org.nz/2010/04/25/oppose-strike-ballot-law/=