Christchurch teachers take a lead, government’s education plans can be defeated

January 29, 2013

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Jared Phillips

Primary school teachers in Christchurch voted in late January to carry out a political strike in opposition to the government’s decision to close 11 Christchurch schools and put a further 24 schools through mergers. Teachers, parents, and school children want earthquake damaged schools fixed and reopened. A clear majority of teachers voted for the strike action, the vote was carried with 83% in favour.

As well as opposing the closures and mergers the teachers are campaigning against the introduction of charter schools and the continued use of the double-bunking system. Double-bunking refers to the practice of teaching different groups of students in the same classrooms at different times. Double-bunking was used in Christchurch to facilitate classes when schools were damaged by the February 2011 earthquake. Teachers intended for double-bunking to be an interim solution. It leads to classes being held in anti-social hours, which is negative for school children and teachers alike.

In a poll published by The Press 66% of people felt that the closure and merger process has been handled very poorly by the Ministry of Education and 19% felt that it had been handled poorly. Only 1% in the survey felt the process was handled well. A New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI) branch chairperson and teacher said that the support provided to children by teachers after the February 2011 earthquake is recognised by Christchurch parents and communities and is one of the reasons for the popular support that teachers are receiving.

The NZEI says that the government has failed to properly consult teachers. Both teachers and Christchurch communities have had little or no chance for genuine consultation over the government plans. In the same survey (as reported above) 43% of people were not at all confident that the consultation would improve the final outcome and 31% were not confident.

The future of schools, jobs, and children’s education will essentially be dictated by the Ministry of Education. The strike is set to take place on February 19, which is the day after Education Minister Hekia Parata is set to make the government’s announcement regarding the fate of each school. Read the rest of this entry »


Construction workers strike in Queensland

November 15, 2012

Many Kiwis see Australia as a land of high wages and great opportunities. But as the Australian economy has slowed down, workers there have had to struggle to maintain their relatively good terms and conditions, even in well-unionised industries. Employers have put up increased resistance over the renewal of Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBAs), the main form of collective agreements in Australia.

To get a result, workers took a 21-day strike at Laing O’Rourke, 18 days at Thiess, and two weeks at Lend Lease. In response to the strong resistance from employers there has been a lot of worker determination to secure agreements, particularly ones which include a subcontractor clause and job security benefits.

In early October, construction workers won an eight-week strike at Queensland Children’s Hospital in Brisbane. Early in the dispute, union officials had been served with injunctions by Abigroup (part of Lend Lease), and prevented from accessing the site, so they called in Bob Carnegie, a community organiser and a former Builders Labourers Federation stalwart. The strikers had to work around the anti-union laws and build new forms of organisational support for their struggle. Read the rest of this entry »


Cleaning the corridors of power

October 13, 2012

Jaine Ikurere“I’m getting too old to work lots of hours a night, I’ve been working all my life with a low wage and I can’t afford anything.” Those were the worlds of Jaine Ikurere, 63 years old, she works two jobs to make ends meet, and one of those jobs is cleaning offices in parliament. She is paid just $14.60 an hour, and that’s as a supervisor, most of her colleagues are paid just $13.85, just 35 cents above the minimum wage.

One of the offices she cleans belongs to John Key, the wealthiest member of parliament with a net worth of over $50 million. The union that represents the cleaners, the Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU) is campaigning to have parliaments cleaners paid a minimum of $15 an hour. With a pay rise Jaine Ikurere would quit her second job and spend more time with her grandchildren.

Parliamentary Services sees cleaner’s wages as an issue between them and their employer- Spotless Services, who is contracted to clean parliament.


Developments at the Ports of Auckland

October 11, 2012

Ports of AucklandBy Josh Glue

Earlier this year an attempt to contract out union work at Ports of Auckland (PoA) led to a strong union fight-back, to which management responded with a lockout. The lockout dragged on for months, management refusing to back down on its demands for individual contracts and greater ‘flexibility’ of labour. During this time port workers were stretched to the limit, eating up savings and strike funds to survive without regular wages, while the Ports of Auckland management eat up Auckland ratepayers’ money on fighting the union with advertising and PR advisers. Though the lockout ended in April, with the Maritime Union of New Zealand and PoA management agreeing to return to good-faith bargaining, little has happened since then.

As sole shareholder in the Ports through the ACIL Company, the Auckland City Council called for ACIL to face its Accountability and Performance Committee in September.

After the Employment Relations Authority rejected the union’s request to take the dispute to court, many were hopeful that ACIL CEO Gary Swift would at least be held accountable by the council for prolonging the lockout and refusing to accept the union’s opposition to contracting out work at PoA.

Instead Swift fronted up with the bureaucratic equivalent of the middle finger, saying that ACIL owns the port, not the council, even though the council owns ACIL. Despite a leaked email showing his high-level involvement in management of the lockout crisis, Swift refused to reveal how much fighting the union cost the company, and hence the council, claiming it was inappropriate for the council to be told those figures.

In the absence of a new collective agreement, the status quo of following the old agreement will expire by the end of September, leaving PoA workers more vulnerable than ever to out-sourcing work to those on individual contracts with lower wages, less guarantees of conditions and less security of hours and employment.

It is highly suspicious that bargaining since April has moved so slowly, especially with the union agreeing to many of managements demands for higher flexibility in work hours, despite the damage such employer-dictated terms may do to their conditions and work-life balance. One suspects ACIL has simply stalled negotiations to get past the collective’s expiry, meaning the coming months will be telling. Though PoA management will not want strikes or lockouts over the Christmas period, further attacks on collective negotiation are possible and it will be up to the Maritime Union of New Zealand, the wider union movement, and all concerned New Zealanders who don’t want their fellow workers sold up the river, to militantly fight any attacks on workers’ rights on the streets and docks of Auckland.


Hamilton Public Forum: Support the Miners, Support the DSM

October 10, 2012

Speakers: John Minto (guest speaker) and Bex Broad
6-7.30pm, Thursday October 18
Waikato Trade Union Centre, 34 Harwood Street, Hamilton

Koha or $10 solidarity entry to help fundraising efforts for the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)

Further information
Read the rest of this entry »


Telford staff join Lincoln collective agreement

October 9, 2012

Telford campusAdapted from TEU media release

Workers at Lincoln University’s Telford campus have negotiated successfully the right to be included on the Lincoln collective agreement. Prior to the merger of Telford Rural Polytechnic with Lincoln University, hostel and kitchen staff at Telford had no employment conditions providing rules around hours of work or shift allowances. Their new agreement will give kitchen staff time and quarter for working on the weekends and will give hostel supervision staff an allowance for weekend work.

Tertiary Education Union (TEU) deputy secretary Nanette Cormack says these terms do not yet match those received by other staff doing similar jobs at Lincoln University, but they are an improvement. The university has also committed in its terms of settlement to deliver equity with other employees in comparable roles.

“The changes agreed to in this Terms of Settlement are seen as a first step in that process” reads the ratified Terms of Settlement. The new agreement also affords members a 1.8 per cent pay rise backdated to the beginning of the year. The one-year agreement will expire on 31 December, at which point TEU hopes to continue to move Telford’s kitchen and hostel staff towards employment equity with other Lincoln staff.

Nanette Cormack says the most important step in winning these improved hours of work conditions was staff joining the union and negotiating to be covered by the collective agreement.

“When workers are members of a union and have collective coverage they have far more power to improve their working conditions. Union membership is crucial to winning pay and employment equity.”


Chicago teachers: A victory for solidarity and struggle

September 21, 2012

Elizabeth Schulte reports on the proud conclusion of the Chicago teachers’ strike. Mario Cardenas, Trish Kahle and Eric Ruder contributed to this article, originally published on Socialist Worker.

CHICAGO TEACHERS are returning to work after a nine-day strike-standing proud after driving back Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s attack on their jobs, their union and their schools.

Late on Tuesday afternoon, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly in favor of suspending their strike and going back to work on Wednesday. The tentative agreement that the CTU reached with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) now goes to members for a ratification vote over the next two weeks.

“I’m excited, and most teachers echo this sentiment,” said Lawrence Balark, a teacher at Moos Elementary on the city’s West Side. “We are going back to work, and standing strong in solidarity in doing so. It was definitely a victory. So many other unions have had to accept merit pay, but I’m proud to say that we held that off.” Read the rest of this entry »


Interview: Right to sympathy strikes

September 11, 2012

In its platform, the Workers Party (NZ) calls for the unrestricted right to strike. Here Ian Anderson, a writer for The Spark, interviews socialist and union delegate Andrew Tait, on a recent resolution supporting the right to sympathy strikes.

The Spark: Can you talk a little about the Engineers, Printers and Manufacturers Union (EPMU) itself, and how you got involved?

AT: I’ve been keen on unions since I was a kid, back in 1991 when the Nats tried to smash unions. I love the idea that we can work together to make a better world. I’ve also been a socialist since I was a teenager. I joined the International Socialists Organisation in 1994, and have always joined the union at uni or at work. In about 2007 I joined Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union when I started work at the newspaper in Dunedin, and after about four years became a delegate for my floor. The EPMU is the biggest private-sector union and one of the most diverse. It covers posties, airline workers, and timber workers as well as engineers, printers and manufacturing workers. The EPMU is a major supporter of the Labour Party. It’s the biggest private sector union because in the 1990s it merged with a whole lot of unions but it has been hit pretty hard by redundancies, especially in manufacturing. The big loss in Dunedin recently was the closure of Fisher & Paykel.

The Spark: You had a resolution passed on the right to strike. What does this resolution mean?

AT: The resolution was that the union lobby for the introduction of the right to conduct secondary (sympathy) strikes. The immediate inspiration for it was the Ports of Auckland dispute, where Rail and Maritime Union workers were forced to supply the ports when they were run by scab labour. If this resolution became law, the RMTU workers could refuse to supply the port and not be penalised. It would massively increase the industrial effectiveness of strikes. Read the rest of this entry »


Australian teachers show how to fight

September 8, 2012

By GRANT BROOKES, in Melbourne

20,000 striking teachers marched to the Victorian state parliament in Melbourne on September 5. Outside the capital, 20,000 more stopped work in regional centres. It was the biggest teachers strike in Victoria’s history.

They were protesting over very similar issues facing teachers and support staff in Aotearoa, including a below-inflation pay offer and “performance pay”, based on scores from “national standards” testing. Their action shows how to respond.

For the first time, teachers from Victoria’s independent and private schools took action alongside their public sector colleagues. This was in defiance of a ruling which said the strike by the Independent Education Union members might be illegal.

Another first was united action by all of the public school staff in the Australian Education Union (AEU) – teachers, principals and education support staff, together. Read the rest of this entry »


Industrial News

September 5, 2012

Government leaves Oyang crew uncompensated

A year after the crew of the Oyang 75 jumped ship in Lyttelton alleging mistreatment including physical and sexual abuse aboard the Korean owned vessel, the government has stated officially that sorting out unpaid wages is a matter for the shipping agent. Most members of the Indonesian crew received annual incomes of between $6,700 and $11,600, well below the New Zealand minimum wage despite a guarantee that they would receive it.

This announcement could affect as many as 97 fishermen. In May the government legislated a ban on foreign fishing vessels that will be transitioned over the next four years, citing the issues that have occurred with the treatment of workers, as well as safety (another boat, the Oyang 70 sunk last year claiming the lives of 6 fishermen) and other concerns such around fishing regulations. Prior to the ban foreign chartered ships which catch fish worth $650 million a year.

Wages barely keeping up with inflation

The Labour Cost Index (LCI) released last month and representing the year to June shows that wages and salaries are no further ahead compared to inflation than they were six months ago, and 2.5 per cent behind where they were in March 2009.

“Inflation is low, and wages certainly aren’t pushing up prices. But the economy is going nowhere with unemployment remaining high and at current settings likely to remain there for a long time.” Said Council of Trade Unions (CTU) economist Bill Rosenberg. “Most union members on collective employment agreements are getting increases in their pay rates, though there is a big range in the size of the increases.”

“In the EPMU, the largest private sector union, for example the big Metals multi-employer collective agreement covering over 1000 workers in over 100 engineering and manufacturing firms, has been settled at a 2.8 per cent increase in the first year, guaranteeing all those workers that rise. Progressive supermarket employees in FIRST union are in their second year of a 5 per cent annual increase”

“Many state sector employees are getting much less often between 1 and 2 per cent because of the government’s actions in suppressing pay increases, meaning many have fallen behind the increased cost of living. The LCI for the public sector rose only 0.3 per cent in the June quarter compared to 0.5 per cent for the private sector.” Read the rest of this entry »


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