Unions for unions or workers?

11/01/2012

Unions are supposed to be to advocate for and support workers.

As the series of strikes by the MUNZ in its dispute with Ports of Auckland continues at considerable cost to the company, its customers and the workers, it looks like this union is working in its own interests rather than those of its members.

Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross  reckons MUNZ is biting the hand that feeds it:

Aucklanders can rightly be concerned at the increasingly rogue nature of the Maritime Union. However there are 500 men and women that work at the Port with even more skin in the game and a lot more to lose. The trade union movement evolved through a desire for workers to band together to protect their common interests. This is not a dishonourable goal. But when a union loses sight of its members long term interests and cavalier negotiating tactics start to backfire, the union itself begins putting its own member’s livelihoods at risk.

Unions still occupy a privileged position in New Zealand’s employment law; a relic of the last Labour administration which has not seen significant overhaul for some years. Few non-government organisations can boast clauses in legislation specifically designed for their benefit. Despite only 18 percent of the nation’s workforce being unionised, trade unions can look to whole sections of the Employment Relations Act written exclusively to aid union survival through legislative advantage.

Up until recently, cool heads and rational people sitting around negotiating tables have meant that little focus has been placed on the role that unions play in society. However, with the bare-faced mockery that the Maritime Union is making of civilised negotiations New Zealanders will soon begin to question what position unions should hold in the modern Kiwi workplace.

Macdoctor reckons the dispute isn’t about money, it’s about control:

Is PoAL controlled by the shareholders and the board, or is it controlled by the union? That is what the fight is about. The lives of the stevedores involved are a secondary consideration, as are the customers and the business of the port. Even less of a consideration are the ratepayers who will wind up all paying higher rates should PoAL be permanently damaged by this squabble.

Whaleoil and Keeping Stock both have posts quote POAL communications manager Catherine Etheredge who says:

I can confirm that the average remuneration for a full time stevedore, in the year ended June 30, 2011, was $91,480. The average remuneration for a part time stevedore (guaranteed at least 24 hours work a week) was $65,518.

53% of full time stevedores (123 individuals) earned over $80,000. 28% (43 individuals) earned over $100,000 with the highest earner making $122,000.

The averages were calculated by POAL’s payroll team based on actual payments, including for leave days, medical insurance and superannuation contributions. (For employees covered by the collective agreement, POAL matches their superannuation contributions up to a maximum of 7%.) We excluded those who had worked for less than the full 12 months e.g. had left part way through the year.

Employees are also entitled to 15 days sick leave per annum, accruing up to 45 days. All shift workers are entitled to five weeks annual leave. Training for all stevedoring tasks (crane driving, straddle driving and lashing) is undertaken in house and is paid for by the company.

One question that has been asked is how many hours you have to work to earn that $91,000. Stevedores who earned the average $91,000 in the 2010/11 financial year were paid for an average of 43 hours per week, excluding leave days. If you factor leave days in, that increases to 49 hours per week.

This leads to the key issue for the company – the high amount of paid downtime – an average of 35% of total hours paid. An employee getting paid for a 43 hour week is only working around 28 hours; for a 40 hour week, 26 hours. In a busy week, employees get paid for 66.5 hours but can only work for a maximum of 44.5.

On Monday 9 January, to give a recent example, we paid 26 staff a total of $5,484,80 for downtime, because they were entitled to be paid until the end of their set eight hour shift even though the ship had finished & they had gone home. In another example employees worked two hours of an overtime shift but were paid for the full eight hours.

This is not a cost-efficient nor sustainable labour model, especially when the company is not covering its cost of capital, cannot therefore justify further investment in order to grow, and its closest competitor has a labour utilisation rate in excess of 80%. (At Port of Tauranga stevedores start and finish work when a ship arrives and departs).

The company has offered an upfront 10% increase to hourly rates along with the retention of existing terms and conditions in return for more flexible rosters which would significantly reduce the amount of paid downtime. Employees would have the opportunity to plan their roster a month in advance. This proposal would result in a people being remunerated for fewer overall hours at a higher rate than they would currently get for the same paid hours. To be fair, until such time as container volumes recover/improve, the 10% increase to hourly rates would not (as some commentators have suggested) push average remuneration over $100K.

Catherine Etheredge
Ports of Auckland

It’s very difficult to understand the union’s position in the face of these numbers.

Have Maori seats passed their use-by date?

07/04/2011

Otago used to have special seats for gold miners. When the gold ran out the need for the seats declined and the seats were disestablished.

Maori seats were set up to give votes to Maori men when the right to vote in New Zealand depended on land ownership. When universal franchise was introduced these seats should have gone but they didn’t.

The most recent official view that there was no longer any need for Maori seats was the Royal Commission on MMP but its advice wasn’t taken.

Disestablishing the seats was National Party policy before the last election but it was set aside as one of the conditions agreed to in coalition negotiations with the Maori Party.

That party has good reasons for wanting the seats to continue even though Tariana Turia said in a discussion on Agenda in 2008:

I think what our people are starting to realise though is that when they voted Maori people into Labour they never got a Maori voice, they got a Labour voice and that was the difference, and they’ve only begun to realise it since the Maori Party came into parliament, because it is the first time that they have heard significant Maori issues raised on a daily basis.

The seats by themselves didn’t give Maori a voice. They have also often given them inferior representation, sometimes because of the MP and always because of their size.

Most of the seats are far too big to service properly. Te Tai Tonga covers 161,443 square kilometres – the whole of the South Island, Stewart Island and part of Wellington. Te Tai Hauauru is 35, 825 square kilometres in area, Ikaroa-Rawhiti covers 30,952 square kilometres and Waiariki 19,212 square kilometres.

But Maori representation isn’t confined to special seats, the majority of Maori MPs in parliament now aren’t there because of the Maori electorates.

Big News lists the 23 who now sit in the house and Kiwiblog notes:

So that is 23/122 MPs are of Maori descent, representing 18.9% of Parliament. Now this means that Maori are over-represented in Parliament, relative to their population proportion. Now I don’t think this is at all a bad thing. My belief is that Parliament should be diverse and broadly representative of NZ, but we shouldn’t have quotas trying to match the makeup of Parliament to the exact population.

But what it does show is how well MMP has worked for Maori representation. We now have seven Maori MPs in Maori seats, three Maori MPs in general seats (all National) and 13 Maori List MPs.

It also reflects my view that one could do as the Royal Commission recommended, and abolish the Maori seats (in exchange for no 5% threshold on the list for Maori parties). Even without the Maori seats, there would be at least 16 MPs of Maori descent in Parliament (and probably more).

Isn’t it interesting that National, the party so often derided for being the party for middle-aged Pakeha men is the only one to have Maori in general seats, one of whom is a woman and all of whom are young?

Whether it is MMP by itself or whether there would have been an increase in the number of Maori MPs under another electoral system because of changing times and attitudes, is a moot point.

But the numbers show we no longer need special Maori seats and who better to argue that than Botany’s new MP Jami-Lee Ross who said in his maiden speech last night:

Mr Speaker, as a new Member of Parliament, I join the ranks of members, past and present, proud to call themselves Maori.  But whilst I am an individual of Maori descent, I do consider myself a New Zealander first and foremost. I have Ngati Porou blood running through my veins, but I can assure the House that I am a New Zealander who believes strongly in one standard of citizenship.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi is an exceptionally important document in New Zealand. It has a very simple and succinct text, but one that must be read in its entirety. We often hear of the principles of kawanatanga as expressed in Article 1, and of tino rangatiratanga in Article 2. Sadly the often forgotten part of the Treaty is Article 3.

The Kawharu translation of the Maori version of Article 3 reads:

For this agreed arrangement therefore concerning the Government of the Queen, the Queen of England will protect all the ordinary people of New Zealand and will give them the same rights and duties of citizenship as the people of England.

I am not convinced that we have reached the point in New Zealand where we calmly and honestly, talk about the relationship between Maori and non-Maori in the context of Article 3. My strong belief in one standard of citizenship means that I believe in fair, full, and final settlements of treaty grievances, with a strong emphasis on the word final. Believing in one standard of citizenship means that I will treat every single one of my constituents equally, regardless of the colour of their skin.

It also means that I do not subscribe to the view that I, or any New Zealander of Maori descent, requires special seats to be elected to Parliament, to Councils, or any other body in this country. It is my hope that the people of New Zealand will be the given the opportunity, in the near future, to examine the role of Maori seats in Parliament by way of referendum. I am a New Zealander of Maori decent, and proudly so. But I hope to challenge the status quo in my time here. I will be criticised along the way, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying that all New Zealander’s should be treated equally. He iwi tahi tatou – we are all one people.

One people does not mean we don’t have differences but nor does it mean we need special seats to ensure fair, proper and effective representation for everyone.


Jami-Lee Ross MP

05/03/2011

Jamie-Lee Jami-Lee Ross will become New Zealand’s youngest MP when he is sworn in following his win in the Botany by-election.

AL-SAADY, Hussain PIR 28
BIGGS, Leo ALCP 58
BRIGHT, Penny IND 124
CAITHNESS, Robin JAMP 45
GOH, Robert IND 31
MURPHY, Lyn ACT 671
ROSS, Jami-Lee NAT 8,150
WOOD, Michael LAB 4,154
YOUNG, Paul NCP 1,572
YOUNG, Wayne IND 55

Jamie-Lee Jami-Lee won 55% of the votes but turnout was pitiful – only about half the number of people voted today compared with those who cast votes in the 2008 election.

As I predicted this morning, his strongest opposition came from apathy.


Jami-Lee Ross vs apathy

05/03/2011

By-elections don’t usually attract large voter turn-outs and the Botany one is even less likely to.

The Labour candidate conceded defeat the day after his selection, the Green candidate was minutes late in registering his nomination and last week’s earthquake has quite properly been of greater moment.

Polls predict the blue seat will stay that way today and it looks like the greatest opposition to National’s Jami-Lee Ross will be from apathy.


Botany selection tweets – Jami-Lee Ross wins

27/01/2011

Progress on National’s candidate selection for the Botany by-election is on Twitter.

It’s gone to the fourth ballot and is now between Maggie Barry and Jamie-Lee Ross.

Update: Jami-Lee Ross has won.


Attributes of a good MP

27/01/2011

Trusty, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind.

Those are the virtues a Guide or Scout should possess. They’re a a good start for an MP too but the successful one needs much more than that.

MPs require intelligence, confidence, common sense, diligence, flexibility, humility, versatility, energy, patience, perseverance, stamina versatility, vision and wisdom.

They must be adaptable, compassionate, decisive, dependable, fair, honest, honourable, innovative, open, polite, reasonable, tolerant and tough. They need the ability to find solutions to difficult problems and stressful situations without becoming emotionally involved and the strength to say “no” when they can’t help.

The position requires MPs to work with all sorts of people regardless of their abilities, backgrounds and views without fear or favour.

MPs need to learn how to not take personal attacks personally. A well developed sense of humour, including the ability to laugh at themselves, is essential.

They must be able to admit mistakes and apologise for them.

They need the support of family and friends who will lift them up when they’re knocked back and keep the grounded  if they start getting carried away with their own importance.

They need to be articulate, enthusiastic and persuasive. They require the ability to read quickly, understand complex and sometimes contradictory information and to sort what’s important and right from what’s not.

 MPs need to know what they believe in. They must be sure about what they will tolerate and what they won’t; what they stand for and what they stand against.

They must support the philosophy and principles of the party for which they are standing and not be like  Marilyn Waring who told Chris Laidlaw she stood for the National Party so she could get into parliament, not because she believed in it.

Supporting the philosophy and principles of the party doesn’t mean they’ll agree with every policy. They must be able to accept the need to promote policies they might not agree with and choose very carefully the rare occasions when they will not be able to do that.

Tonight 60 members of the National Party will be choosing one of five nominees who will be the candidate for Botany.

They are:  Maggie Barry, Aaron Bhatnagar, Darron Gedge, Jami-lee Ross and Edward Saafi.

I don’t know any of them well enough to have a view on who will be the best candidate.

The list of attributes isn’t exhaustive and none of the five will have all the ones I’ve mentioned. But I hope s/he has most of them because the man or woman who wins the selection will almost certainly be the next MP for the electorate.


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