Hon TAU HENARE (National)
: I move,
That the Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill be now read a third time. When we get to the end of the debate we will be asking ourselves, in these words, “The question is that the motion be agreed to.” This is not an attack on unions. We have heard this through the first reading, the Committee stage, and then, in a roundabout fashion, talk from some of the staunchest unionists in the Labour Party. I have a great respect for those who go out of their way to help people and who stand up for other people, but in this debate this is about workers, employees, union members, non - union members, and full-time, part-time, and casual workers—you name it. It is about them. It is about their rights. This is not a debate about whether or not the union organisation is right or wrong. This is not a debate about whether the Labour Party, the National Party, New Zealand First, or the other parties in this House are right or wrong. This is a bill that states quite categorically that when strike action is to be taken, there must be a secret ballot. That is the least that we ask of our country when we go to the polls—voting by a secret ballot.
It is about choice. Choice is about making a decision without the sword hanging over the top of you—if it does. And nine times out of 10 there is no sword hanging over anybody. It is about that individual making that choice for him or herself. That is all. There is no conspiracy. There is no conspiracy against the union movement; there is no conspiracy against anybody in this bill. All it does is allow a couple of things: one is choice, and we have covered that; the other is freedom—freedom to choose without fear of somebody else putting the hard word on you. And that putting the hard word on you—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Order!
Hon TAU HENARE: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not using the word “you” as in you. I am using the word “you” in the context of what I am saying. I think you need to listen carefully to the speech.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): I am listening carefully to the speech, Mr Henare, and I am just, if you like, trying to get the member to debate under the terms of the Standing Orders and Speakers’ rulings.
Hon TAU HENARE: It is about freedom. It is about walking into a place and deciding for yourself—not you, Mr Assistant Speaker, but for yourself. It is about making that decision, given all the information. Nobody has ever said in this debate that it is about the unions putting pressure on you. It is not actually about that. It is about the freedom of choice. Every employee, every worker—whether they be casual, full-time, part-time, contract workers, or whatever—should be accorded due respect, but we should also respect the employer and also the union organisers. At the end of the day, this is what we wish for every democratic society around the world. Is it too much to
ask for? Is it too much to ask for that workers—employees—get the right, when they are asked to withdraw their labour, to do it in such a way that it is secret to them?
Su’a William Sio: Well, they’ve got to have a job first.
Hon TAU HENARE: Oh, OK. This is the sort of thing that I would expect from William Sio, the failed ex - Hillary College first XV half back. Actually, we did not have a first XV; we had a second XV, and he could not even make that. [Interruption] Yes, I was in the third XV, and I was very proud of it.
I have just returned from Uganda—
Kris Faafoi: What position did you play?
Hon TAU HENARE: In those days it was called flanker. I have just returned from Uganda and Egypt. No one would decry the folk from Egypt and Uganda of democracy, freedom, the right to choose, and the right to make a decision by themselves without fear of somebody standing over them with a sword, or even the inkling that somebody might be at the back with a sword. That is all.
So I say to members of this House that it is about the one thing we hold dear to ourselves, and that is freedom of choice—freedom to choose. We all hold that dear to our hearts, whether you are red, white, black, or green. I know that the folk in Egypt and Uganda have had to struggle hard to get just a whiff of freedom, struggle hard to get just the thought that they might be able to make a decision for themselves.
I want to say to my parliamentary colleague Andrew Little that his disparaging remarks about my wife and my wedding—
Hon Annette King: Put them into context.
Hon TAU HENARE: Yes, I will.
Hon Annette King: Read the whole quote.
Hon TAU HENARE: I certainly will. The bringing up of family and personal stuff in a debate that has nothing to do with it is shameful. I have got to say to Andrew Little that if he thinks he is going to be the leader of the Labour Party, he has got another think coming if he is going to act like that.
I do have a word for the organisers in the Talley’s dispute and also the owners of Talley’s themselves. It is time to get back to the table, boys and girls. It is time to stop this “I’m bigger and I’m stronger than you.”
Hon Annette King: Give them backing.
Hon TAU HENARE: Pardon?
Hon Annette King: Give them some backing.
Hon TAU HENARE: Give them some backing. At the end of the day—
Hon Annette King: Don’t sell out.
Hon TAU HENARE: Do not sell whom out? What are you talking about? What a load of rubbish. This is from the member who wants to be the Mayor of Wellington. She said: “Don’t sell out.” What? Does she not like the present mayor? Oh, that is right. She is going to retire very, very soon, and put her name in for the Mayor of Wellington. Why does she not just leave now and do us all a favour? Why does she not leave right now? She is done like a biscuit—she is done like a biscuit. She is, and she will go the same way as Cunliffe and Shearer.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Order! The member is a longstanding member. He knows that he must use a member’s full name or their title.
Hon TAU HENARE: It is David Shearer and David Cunliffe. In winding up, this is about what everybody in the world wants, and that is freedom of choice. This is about democracy. If it is good enough for your nation to have a vote by secret ballot every 3 years in a general election, why is it not good enough to have a secret ballot when somebody is withdrawing their labour? It is the question you have to ask yourself. Why should we not expect the same rules and regulations and standards to apply when we are
asking members of the workforce to withdraw their labour? That is a decision. I do not mind people withdrawing their labour. That is the one and only tool that a lot of people have, but it should be their choice. It should not be another person’s choice, and there certainly should not be any inkling of fear when you make that decision. So this is not an anti-union, anti-left, anti-labour bill. This is actually pro-worker. This is about democracy, and I am reminded of the words from Martin Luther King—
Darien Fenton: Oh no.
Hon TAU HENARE: Well, we do not want to hear about Martin Luther King! He is only a person in a byline of history. What he said was: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”.
DARIEN FENTON (Labour)
: What a glorious finale to a long process of a bill, the Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill, that was never needed. It is a bill that was never needed and a problem that never existed, except in the member Tau Henare’s mind, except in his experience of 30 years ago when he was a union organiser with the Clerical Workers Union, and except in his mind as to what things used to be like, when he was, in fact, the worst union organiser in New Zealand history. I doubt if he has been near a union since the time in the 1990s when he sold out and changed sides. Ever since then he has been standing up for the National Party, and the National Party’s attacks on workers. He has never voted against them. He has never spoken against them.
Here he is, saying this is a pro-worker, pro-union, freedom bill—freedom to choose. Well, I have got news for the member. Workers do have freedom of choice. They have freedom to join a union or not join a union. They have freedom to strike or not strike. They are not coerced. They are not marched out the door with their arms behind their backs and made to strike. They do have freedom.
They do have democracy, even though the member is trying to insert democracy into unions. It already exists. Most unions already have secret ballots. If he had bothered to read a few unions’ rules, he would see that most unions already have provisions that allow members to call for a secret ballot, and they do. It is not a problem. But what he has done is create a problem.
The unions will comply with this bill. They comply with the law, so of course they will. They will have to go through the expensive and unnecessary process and compliance cost of changing their rules. We had this discussion during the debate and during the select committee process. The unions cannot just get a piece of paper, change their rules, and send it off to the incorporated societies’ office. They actually have to go through a democratic process. They have to meet their members. They have to vote on the rule changes. This takes some time. In my old union we used to do something like 60 or 70 meetings all around New Zealand to change the rules. That is the process that is required, and that is the process that this bill will put the unions through at a time when there are far more important things to be worrying about.
The unions will do the job, but the people who will not cope are their members. The people who are not coping at the moment are union members—the members who are already struggling to get a decent pay increase and a fair deal at work. I was interested to hear the member Tau Henare give a message to Talley’s AFFCO—which was a little bit better than his Minister was prepared to do today. Talley’s AFFCO has actually locked out those workers. They are now in their third month of being locked out. I am sure those workers would have liked to see some democracy in action from Talley’s, with the board of Talley’s actually voting on whether those workers should be locked out. On the one hand the Government wants workers to have to vote for a strike, but shareholders do not have to. So, as always, in the employment relationship we have yet more imbalance.
It is the old view that workers should not have a voice. The view that we see increasingly from this Government is that workers should just shut up and be grateful to have a job. What is major and really upsetting at the moment is the most toxic industrial relations environment we have seen in two decades. I have mentioned the AFFCO workers. We have seen rest home workers having to go on strike—workers on $13.65 an hour. Those people are having to get out in the street, and the people they care for, the older residents they care for, go out with them. And, of course, we have the ongoing Ports of Auckland dispute, with some of the most incompetent management I have ever seen in my time being involved in industrial relations.
If Tau Henare had bothered to go and talk to any of the AFFCO workers on the picket line in Moerewa, in Wiri, in Horotiu, in Imlay, in Feilding, in Wairoa—in these poor communities—they would have said: “This isn’t an important thing for us. This doesn’t matter to us. What matters to us is that we can go back to work and earn a living, and be treated fairly at work.” But instead that is not going to happen.
I want to mention that this bill comes at a time when this Government is planning to bring in some new industrial laws. One—another ridiculous proposal—is to fine workers for partial strikes. A partial strike, for example, is the old work to rule. For example, workers could decide they are not going to answer the telephone during their meal breaks and rest breaks. I mean, that happens. They are often expected to do far more than they actually get paid for. What this Government is going to do is have this ridiculous process now where, first of all, the workers have to be balloted as to whether they are going to have a partial strike—in other words, refuse to answer the telephone. Then, under the Government’s proposal, the unions are going to have to give written notice of the strike. They do not have to give notice at the moment. They are going to have to give written notice, regardless of whether they are an essential industry or not. And that in itself can become the subject of an Employment Court or authority hearing—the notice, and whether it was right or wrong—as, indeed, the strike ballots can. The notice will have to provide the employer with all the details about how much time those workers spend answering the phone during their tea breaks, and the employer is going to have to calculate how much money that costs every day. They will have to identify that and notify the workers, and then they will have to work out what proportion of the workers’ day it is, so that they can cut the workers’ pay, because it is called a partial strike. And even if the workers are completing all of their hours, they can be paid less than the minimum wage under this proposal.
This proposal is so ridiculous. The Government is planning to change three pieces of legislation, all to stop another problem that does not exist, a problem like the one the member has tried to address—one that does not exist in the first place. This is a problem about so-called partial strikes. There have been five, on average, every year for the last 20 years. What we have got is a problem that does not exist. Someone has said to the Minister or to the Government “Oh, we had a bit of a problem, because they refused to answer the telephone and we couldn’t cut their pay.” So now we are going to spend a whole lot of time, a whole lot of Parliament’s time, bringing in a new provision that will further restrict the right to strike.
It has got nothing to do with democracy. It has got nothing to do with workers’ rights. It has got nothing to do with workers getting better pay and better wages. It has got nothing to do with catching up with Australia, or any of those other things that the Government has said it wants to do. It has got nothing to do with democracy, because, as I said, if it was about democracy, the member would have accepted my amendment to require shareholders to hold a ballot where there is a lockout. He would have accepted my amendment—my very sensible amendment—that instead of having a
whole bill, we just have a requirement that the unions have a provision in their rules. That would have stopped this stupid bill for an unnecessary problem.
What this bill is really about is reducing unionism and collective bargaining in New Zealand. That is the agenda of this Government. That is the agenda of this Government—
Hon Tau Henare: Nobody believes it!
DARIEN FENTON: That is your manifesto. Why does the member not read his manifesto and see what his Government is planning to do?
I am afraid that even if Tau Henare had gone and visited the Talley’s AFFCO workers, I doubt he would have listened. What is happening to them is indefensible, just like this bill—this is not defensible. It is going to make life tougher for unions and workers. When you combine it with the Government’s plans to weaken collective bargaining, to weaken the unions, and to cut people’s pay, it is going to be a disaster.
Hon Tau Henare: Rubbish! Nothing to do with it.
DARIEN FENTON: Well, I encourage the member to please go and see the Talley’s AFFCO workers. You will find that what they are concerned about is feeding their families. It is poor communities and poor workers who are supporting them at the moment. Their families are living on $30 a week. Guess who is providing the money? It is other workers, who—
Hon Tau Henare: What are the meatworkers doing, then?
DARIEN FENTON: The meatworkers union members are providing the money. The Council of Trade Unions and the officials are providing the money, as well. So instead of arguing, go and talk to some real workers, Mr Tau Henare, and find out what the real life of workers and unions is all about today.
DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East)
: The last speech from the Hon Tau Henare finished with a quote from Martin Luther King and I just want to give a few more quotes from Martin Luther King that will assist the members of this House. Martin Luther King Jnr said: “A right delayed is a right denied.” Martin Luther King Jnr said: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Following on from the good work of Tau Henare, I think one of the quotes from Martin Luther King Jnr that actually relates to Mr Tau Henare and is also important is: “I am not interested in power for power’s sake, but I’m interested in power that is moral, that is right and that is good.” It is the member Mr Tau Henare who is leading the charge by putting up a good bill that is in the interests of workers, that is in the interests of the New Zealand public, and I think we should congratulate him on bringing this Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill forward to the House to its third reading and look forward to it passing through the House today.
This is good for workers, it is good for New Zealanders, and the Labour Party members should be supporting it. The Labour members on the other side say that workers have freedom of choice, that they are not coerced. I am sure that they have freedom of choice when it comes to political donations and all other things that unions engage in. There is no freedom of choice. The union is there as a mechanism to uphold and represent workers. That is good in many ways, but it also needs to have a degree of individuality and a degree of anonymity—I guess—in making some of the decisions, so that the workers feel that they have the freedom to stand and make the decision that they believe in, rather than the decision that they are told they should believe in. That is the fundamental difference, I think, between the Labour Party and the National Party. The National Party lets people believe in things, wants them to believe in things, and gives them the opportunity to show that they believe in things. On the other side of the equation you have the Labour Party, with their colleagues in New Zealand First, who do
not want to let people believe in things, who do not want to give people freedom of choice, who do not want to give people the ability to stand up for their own opinions, but want to have them coerced, to be represented by one group, and to be led and to be told what they should do. That is the difference in this debating chamber. That is the difference that this bill represents. This is good legislation, because it represents the fundamental values that the National Party stands for, and the fundamental values that this House should stand for.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: You remind me of Heydrich.
DAVID BENNETT: And what are we getting from the New Zealand First Party? There is a lot of calling out and bickering over there. I want to see those members being constructive in this House and voting for good legislation, so that the New Zealand First Party actually represents the views of the public, not the views of the Labour Party. When it comes to the Labour Party, its members are very good to tell everybody what they should think, and they love unions to be able to tell everybody what they should think, but when it comes to giving people individual rights, the ability to think by themselves, or the ability to even act by themselves—which would be even worse than thinking by themselves—that is not allowed. This bill goes to the heart of the problem with the Labour Party and the New Zealand First Party. They do not give people the ability to be the individuals that they need to be. This bill is good for human beings in this country. It is good for our workers, and I commend it to this House.
I just want to pay especial credit to the leader of this bill, the person who has brought it forward, the Hon Tau Henare. He has a strong background within the union movement and he has a strong background within the political movements of this country, and he has seen a gap that is out there. He has seen an issue that needs to be addressed and he has dealt with it in this manner through the House. It is very good to be on the committee that Tau was a member of last year, the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, where we had submissions on this bill. During that time his work was very constructive in getting this bill to the stage it is at today. The Labour Party also had a few members on that committee. They tried to stop it and to be disruptive to that process, but, in the end, we found that common sense prevailed and that everybody got the result we needed.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Come on, Heydrich, make it more interesting.
DAVID BENNETT: So the New Zealand First Party wants it more interesting, is that right? Maybe we could sing it for you. Would that make it more interesting? We look forward to the New Zealand First Party standing up in front of this House. I know what those members are going to do. They are going to come in here and they are going to say everything that you want to hear, but then they will vote against it. They will say they believe in individual rights, but then they will still vote with the Labour Party.
When it comes to this bill, there were some changes made at the select committee. I think those changes are very important. The select committee listened to the suggestions that were put forward, and it looked at what the opportunities were to make this bill the best legislation it could possibly be. There have been a number of changes. They go to the requirement for unions to hold a secret ballot before a strike. There were changes with new section 82A, in clause 7, to clarify the intent of the bill and set out the process relating to the requirement for a union to hold a secret ballot. That is important, and was one of the things that the select committee came to a conclusion on that helped make this bill better. There was a new clause 8, which was put in in regard to having a strike taking place in breach of proposed new section 82A, and whether that is going to be unlawful or lawful. The determination of that was an important part of what the select committee was working on through that process.
The select committee looked at the title of the bill, as well. When we look at the title Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Act, its context is something that does not define it as being anti-worker or anything like that that the Labour Party may try to portray. This is about giving the ability to workers to have freedom of choice and to express their freedom of choice in a secret manner, and, as the promoter of the bill, the Hon Tau Henare, said, it is good enough for us to have elections every 3 years in secret ballots, where everybody has that choice, but it is not good enough for union members to have that when they want to vote.
It is very sad that the Opposition takes that approach. There are two standards: one in regard to what those members want to see happen in regard to their own positions, and one in regard to what they want to see happen in regard to ordinary New Zealanders, who are working hard to make the best of their endeavours that they are undertaking.
The Labour Party talked about how they wanted to see shareholders make similar decisions. Well, it is not really up to shareholders to make such decisions, because there is a fundamental difference in a company between management and governance. Management decisions are made by the management of the company, whereas in the case of a union it is the individuals who are the ones who are striking; the workers are the ones striking, so it is only fair and relevant that they have that ability to vote on it. It should not be left to their union representative to make that choice for them, because it is fundamental to their workplace and their desire. The difference between shareholders and companies against unions and union advocates is quite distinct and quite different. The argument put forward by the Labour Party that they are the same is just not the case.
Phil Twyford: OK, so make the board of directors vote, then.
DAVID BENNETT: So we will have the board of directors vote. That suggestion came from Phil Twyford. I just want to mention to him the difference between management and governance: the board of directors provides governance. Phil Twyford obviously does not understand that. It is a management decision, Phil; the board of directors is not the management of a company. The board of directors appoints the management, which is the CEO. It is good that Phil made that comment. It is always good when Phil makes a comment in the House, because then we can correct him and just let him know how things go.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Order! The member should know now that he cannot refer to a member by his Christian name. It must be the full name.
DAVID BENNETT: That was Mr Phil Twyford. I am not sure what seat he represents, but he is in this House trying to make comments about governance and management, and they simply do not stack up. This bill is good for our workers. I would like to thank the Hon Tau Henare for putting it forward, and we look forward to seeing the New Zealand First Party voting with the Government this time, on this bill.
Su’a WILLIAM SIO (Labour—Māngere)
: That last contribution by David Bennett could be best summed up as, really, a waste of time—time-wasting. The public listening to that would have made up their minds that that was a lot of time-wasting. I want to say to Mr Tau Henare that I genuinely was listening to his arguments on this Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill, and I want him to know that he needs to remember his roots. I ask him to remember his roots, I ask him to remember where he came from, I ask him to remember the unions that he worked for, and, as he sits next to Mr Key and Mr John Banks on that other side, I hope that he does remember his background and the people who supported him to the place where he now sits.
If I accept the argument that Mr Henare made that this bill is not about attacking the unions, then you have to ask yourself why we are spending time debating this particular bill. Why are we spending time debating a bill that simply endorses what is already the common practice of organisations out in the workplace? Why are we doing that? That will be the question that serious people listening to this debate need to ask Mr Henare, because there is no evidence, as I understand from the reports of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, to show that there is anything wrong in the workplace in terms of how unions conduct their secret ballots. There is no evidence of anybody complaining about these sorts of situations. I have to say that we have to ask why we are spending time on this particular bill, which people might describe as being frivolous. Why is that?
I would put it to you that there will be a lot of people thinking that this Government has run out of ideas. Only last week the household labour force survey was released and we saw figures: 160,000 people unemployed—6.7 percent. That is 55,000 additional people unemployed since December 2008. We now have a situation where we have not only thousands of people underemployed but also 160,000 unemployed, and then we have got another several thousand people jobless. I think that is the issue Mr Tau Henare should be emphasising, or should have brought forward, rather than debating something that already exists out in the workplace. I would say the debate should have been about jobs, but that is not what we are hearing from this Government. What we are hearing about, though, is more Draconian labour laws, Skycity pokie machines, and more mining of our environment. All that gives us is more gambling, more environmental disasters, and lower and lower wages.
I heard somebody earlier say there were plenty of jobs available. That might be right. You might see those jobs, but you have to ask whether those jobs fit the skills of the 160,000 people who are unemployed. Do those jobs fit the thousands who are underemployed, working part-time, who are wanting more hours? The answer is no and this Government is sitting idly by, not doing a single thing about it. We heard earlier today that 1,000 people are going to Australia every week—every week. What plans does this Government have in order to make sure that we are keeping our best brains here in Aotearoa New Zealand? This bill reflects the lack of any new ideas. This bill reflects the lack of any serious undertaking by this Government to address the real issues that thousands of New Zealanders are facing at the moment. They want jobs. There are not enough jobs available. Our young people do not have sufficient skills, education, and training to match the jobs that are available. We have qualified people who cannot find full-time work, and if they are finding jobs, normally the jobs would be part-time and these people would be overqualified and underpaid for many of those particular jobs.
Look, if this was serious—we had 12 people make submissions, five presented themselves to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee—National should have taken into consideration the Supplementary Order Papers that were put forward. If National wants freedom for the workplace, if it wants freedom for workers, then let us talk about democracy in the workplace. Let us talk, because that is what it should have been about—democracy in the workplace. Hey, we see in this bill that National is prepared to force workers by law to take a secret ballot—something that many unions are already doing—but National is not prepared to compel boards of directors and the shareholders of these companies to take into consideration the impact and effect on families when they lock out workers. We saw that in Auckland, with the Ports of Auckland. We saw the impact that had on families. We are also seeing it now with AFFCO. When companies lock out workers, it is OK for them to do that without any legal obligation for them to take a vote on that.
So what is the bill really all about? That is what I am asking Mr Tau Henare. I think that when you hear the contribution by Mr David Bennett earlier—a lot of time-wasting; it was frivolous—this is not the kind of legislation that we should be debating. We should be debating serious legislation on the right track for this country, so that people do have jobs and do have incomes that can sustain their families, and so that our young people, the next generation coming through, have opportunities for education and training, and have equal access to them, rather than what we are seeing now—things becoming tougher and tougher, and harder for many, many families. The Government could start by simply stopping sacking public sector workers. In the Pacific community many public sector workers are supporting large families. Many of them have been impacted by this Government’s austerity measures and the wholesale cuts across the board to Government departments, with people now on the unemployment roll, and you have to ask how this bill is going to support those communities, those people without jobs. It does not—it really does not.
Members opposite laugh and think it is fun to poke fun at the public when the public are asking where the jobs are. On Saturday I and the Hon Phil Goff attended an event by the Migrant Action Trust out in Onehunga. A couple of hundred people from both the ethnic Pacific and the Māori community attended that, and the message that came from that community, who are struggling under the economic austerity measures of this Government, is that they want to work—but where are the jobs? If they do find work it is usually part-time and people are unable to support their families on the wages from those jobs. I would say that that message is not confined to just Pacific or Māori or ethnic communities. That message is now felt by people across this country of ours, just because this Government is not doing anything to address the real issues and the real problems that our communities are feeling.
Mr Henare, I did take seriously the argument you put forward, that this bill was not an attack on trade unions, but when you line it all up with everything else your Government has done—Draconian legislation such as the 90-day bill, under the guise that it will somehow create jobs, there have been none. Mr Bennett might shake his head, but go out there and talk to the people, Mr Bennett. There are no jobs. All we are hearing about is more pokie machines, more drilling, more mining, lower wages, and fewer and fewer jobs. That is not a recipe for success. That is not a recipe that New Zealanders want in this country, and that is why, today, David Shearer said that thousands are leaving the shores of Aotearoa New Zealand. They would not leave if there were job opportunities for them. They were not leave if our salaries were not falling downhill. They would not leave if that was not happening. So the member’s speech was very, very frivolous and a waste of time. I think that the public listening to the debate on Mr Henare’s legislation will make up their own minds. I would ask Mr Henare to withdraw his bill, and let us talk about something really, really serious.
DENISE ROCHE (Green)
: The Green Party will be voting against this bill, the Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill. We will not be voting for this bill because we do not see the need to meddle with stuff when there is no reason to meddle with it. This bill is a solution looking for a problem, as others have said before me. There is no problem, so I cannot see why we are dealing with this time-wasting bill and why it is being passed.
In the last few months there have been three main industrial disputes. One has been around rest home workers, care assistants, nurses, cleaners, and cooks, who between them care for the most vulnerable and frail seniors in our communities. The work is hard. It is demanding, both physically and emotionally. At Oceania rest homes across the country, some of those workers have been paid as little as $13.61 an hour. That is just 11c above the minimum wage. Today comes the news that the Human Rights
Commission is looking at these workers’ pay and saying that they may be discriminated against because they are underpaid and their work is undervalued. Over the last few months, these workers, members of the Service and Food Workers Union, and members of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation have been attempting to negotiate a decent rate of pay, and they have had several quite short strikes to shoot home the message. Each time there has been a strike—and it takes a lot to get rest home workers, caregivers, and nurses to go on strike—those union members have had a vote, and each time it has been a secret ballot.
When the Ports of Auckland Maritime Union members went on strike when their negotiations over their collective employment agreement broke down over the ports’ unreasonable demands about casualising the workforce, they had a vote to decide whether they would take action. Each time that they have elected to strike, they have had a vote. Each time, it was a secret ballot. By contrast, these workers have been locked out several times, and they have been locked out illegally, as well. They have been through mediation and facilitated bargaining, and they have a court case pending regarding some of the employer’s unspeakable tactics to cow the workers into submitting to casualised employment, including the threat of losing their jobs altogether by being locked out. At no time was the Ports of Auckland board of directors required by law to first hold a secret ballot when it decided to lock out those workers and when it decided to take its own industrial action against the Maritime Union members.
Currently, we have the New Zealand Meat and Related Trades Workers Union members who work for the Talley’s AFFCO - owned meat processing plants in small towns right across New Zealand who have been in the throes of a particularly nasty dispute with Talley’s since Talley’s locked out 700 of its 2,100 staff on 29 February after only 10 hours of negotiations around their employment contracts. The Meat and Related Trades Workers Union has a longstanding core collective employment agreement with AFFCO. Alongside this, there are site-based agreements that provide for things like daily production levels, work speeds, staffing levels, pay rates, start times and finish times, and shift patterns. Core pay rates range from only $13.48, below the minimum wage, to $15.76 per hour and, on top of that, workers are paid a rate based on the numbers of animals killed each day. The work is not secure; it is seasonal—2 to 11 months per year, with many short days and short weeks, even during the season. Seniority—the “last on, first off” principle—is enshrined in the collective employment agreement, and helps ensure some kind of job security for the workers who live in these small communities.
Talley’s behaviour since it took 100 percent ownership of AFFCO has been, quite simply, appalling. The company has bullied workers into processing more lambs per minute, without consulting them. It has chosen not to consult on staffing levels, length of the working day, wages, productivity payments, and penal rates, and it has taken to re-employing inexperienced workers on individual employment agreements while not re-employing experienced workers who just happen to be union members. Many inexperienced workers end up getting hurt and leaving the industry.
Like Ports of Auckland, Talley’s has actively set about to bust the union. Managers have offered meatworkers a 3 percent pay increase, a $1,000 attendance allowance, better jobs, and more training if they leave the union. Workers have been taken aside for one-to-one meetings, where they have been told to adapt to new work practices or be replaced. Understandably, many workers have felt compelled to accept individual agreements and leave the union as a way of trying to appease the boss. And while this has been going on, Talley’s management has undertaken a strategy to lock out some of those members some of the time while expecting other union members to carry on working. This classic divide and rule tactic has unleashed exceptional hardship to over
5,000 children of the union members who have been unable to work because they have either been locked out or been on strike to support their colleagues.
Since the first lockout, AFFCO workers have taken five separate 1-day strikes, one separate 2-day strike, and, more recently, two 5-day strikes. Striking workers are ineligible for Work and Income support. They are suffering, and their families are suffering. Each and every time they have taken strike action, there has been a secret ballot. We do not know what, if any, process or procedure the Talley family went through to make its decision to take its industrial action against these workers. This bill is not even-handed. It does not even address that issue. This bill is not needed. Secret ballots already occur.
As the Employers and Manufacturers Association stated in its submission to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee: “The Employment Relations Act requires a union to have rules that are democratic (Section 14(1)(c)(ii)). It also states a unions’ role is to promote their members collective employment interests (Section 12(a)).” Modern unions are democratic. They have to be, not only because of the Employment Relations Act but also because with voluntary unionism they will lose members or not attract members if they are autocratic or lacking in accountability and transparency. Votes around strike action are at the very heart of that democratic practice. Unions or union officials do not try to impose strike action on union members. This is a decision made by members, and it is never made lightly, because to take strike action means to lose pay, and there are very few workers who can afford to do that.
Not only is this bill unnecessary but it is also meddlesome. One of the aims of the Employment Relations Act, in section 3, is around reducing the need for judicial intervention. Unions are incorporated societies. We believe that this bill intrudes on the functioning of voluntary associations far more than is necessary. It is an undemocratic Act.
We oppose this bill because it goes against all good international practice. In fact, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation in its submission went so far as to say: “By implication, this bill contravenes fundamental rights of workers protected under the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social And Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Articles 6, 7, and 8, to which Aotearoa is a signatory.”
Finally, we are concerned that this bill, if it becomes law, will allow unscrupulous employers—and there are some, like Talley’s—to frustrate union members’ industrial action by taking legal challenges. As union members from the Meat and Related Trades Workers Union or the Ports of Auckland can tell you, there is quite a delay in getting your case heard in the Employment Court. This bill is anti-union, it is anti-worker, and, above all, it is anti-democratic. I urge you to vote against it.
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National)
: This bill, the Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill, really does warrant intelligent debate in the House, and certainly we will have intelligent speeches from this side of the House. I hope we will hear some from members on the other side of the House, and one of the things that they might like to include in their speeches is an answer to why not. Where is the problem? But we will come back to that.
One of the difficulties that bedevil any discussion on trade unionism, on industrial relations, is the stereotypes that exist in so many people’s minds. Some of us—and I know I am not the only one—can go back quite a long way in our memories and in our experience of industrial relations. One of the first introductions I had to it was a film called
I’m All Right Jack, which was a delightful romp through the industrial relations of postwar UK. Some saw it as an attack on trade unions; they really did. It showed an attack on the shop steward, brilliantly played by Peter Sellers, and an attack on the obsessive aspects of unionism at the time. The reality of the film—
Andrew Little: Not in Scotland now.
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE:—was a point missed by so many, but I am sure Andrew Little got it, because, gosh, he got right up trade unionists’ noses. The point of the film was that it was stereotypical of all the ingredients of industrial relations, not just unions—not just.
Was it fair? Well, I can recall stereotypical behaviour at times of industrial stress. I remember a radio programme interview between a wharf unionist in Timaru and a sociologist. When the sociologist was complaining of a lack of democracy in the way union decisions were reached, it was disputed by the trade union official. The sociologist said: “But I was there. I was a student, working here, and you called for a vote and you said: “Scabs and blacklegs”—sorry, correction. The unionist called for a vote, saying: “Scabs and blacklegs over there. Brothers and comrades over here.” He said that was not a fair, unbiased way to call for a decision. There are equal expressions, and I can rate them, on the other side, particularly my experience in rural employment where even answering back an employer was enough—
Hon Trevor Mallard: What about in New Zealand?
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE: This was in New Zealand. It was enough to get you told “Down the road.” That is a dreadful situation, where your position can be treated as lightly as that. It is ghastly stuff. In fact, I find myself, with something of a surprise, agreeing with Trevor Mallard when he said that New Zealand does not have a bad track record of union strikes. I remember the Zanetti report in 1974, when he told the Ruakura conference that New Zealand had a pretty good run with unions and had a particularly good representative in the late Sir Tom Skinner, who did not do a bad job.
As an exporter we were always grateful to the unionists who gave us early warning that wharf strikes were going to come along, so that we could get our containers on the boat and away. And they did that regularly. We had a good relationship with them. There have been times of industrial stress over the decades. I recall that the unlimited immigration from the UK brought a whole new flavour to unionism in New Zealand. Every union representative whom you heard speaking had an English accent, it seemed. Those were the days—
Hon Trevor Mallard: And this member is talking!
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE: That is right. Those were the days—you will remember them, Trevor—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Order!
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE: Sorry. The Hon Trevor Mallard will remember the “Punch-a-Pom-a-Day” campaign, or the days when the Hon Norm Kirk said: “Kiwis”—what did he say—“Kiwis have had a gutsful of trade unions.” Is that what he said? I think that is what Norm Kirk said when he was Prime Minister. I think the late Sir Tom Skinner then said to the newspaper and media reporters: “Go and ask the Prime Minister again, and I think you’ll find he’s changed his mind.” That man had power. I think those days have sensibly gone. But I agree with the Hon Tau Henare that this bill will, in fact, be of assistance to thinking trade unions. It will be of assistance to them, in that it will make difficult any criticism that they are not conducting themselves in a truly democratic manner and are supporting their members.
I am very pleased to support my colleague the Hon Tau Henare. I congratulate him on this fine bill and its noble intent, because the intent is very straightforward. It is consistent with this Government’s commitment to creating positive work environments for all workers, and a platform for workers to speak their minds, regardless of the opinions that they hold. This bill codifies best practice. It is a basic clarification, but one that ensures best practice on the part of all—the kind that quality unions probably already prescribe to voluntarily and quality unions are glad to do so. But not all of them.
Not all unions allow their members the freedom to have their own opinion. I note that if it was not for the—just to get the name right—Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Act 2011, which this Government very proudly supported, which the Labour Party disgracefully tried to filibuster—
Moana Mackey: Rubbish!
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE: —which the Labour Party disgracefully tried to filibuster—then members of particular unions within this country would have had only a limited ability not to have joined a union, had they not wished to.
I recall the Hon Shane Jones voiced support for the intent of the bill, but followed the party line and was not allowed to vote with his heart. Workers covered under this bill will have no such problems. In the case of voluntary student unionism, as in this case and in many others, the National Government and its supporting parties have been the only ones ensuring the freedom to respectfully dissent is codified, rather than assumed.
As I said, this bill is straightforward but important. It will alleviate concerns regarding whether a proposed strike action has the support of those who will bear the brunt of its effect. I do not think it is an unreasonable thing to do. Again, I ask the question—[Interruption] Let us ask the vociferous member, Andrew Little, what the problem is. I ask him once more what the problem is. He has not been able to reply. We heard from the Hon Tau Henare and from my esteemed colleague David Bennett that the bill is not an attack on unions. I do not think it is an attack on unions. It is a safety net that enhances the process that many unions already have in place.
My colleagues have quoted a great man whose legacy shaped the world, and, instead, I would like to switch back to the quote from the Hon Trevor Mallard, during the second reading on this bill. He said: “… strikes are relatively rare in New Zealand compared with most countries, and, actually, most employers are satisfied with the ballots that occur.” This bill ensures not just that employers and union bosses are satisfied but also that workers, communities, who are without vital service or a much-needed cash-flow are also there of their own volition. The workers who do not support the whims of handsomely paid union leaders, and who need the protection that a secret ballot gives to ensure that they can voice their opinion free of judgment from anyone else, will benefit from this bill.
The bill will provide a protection mechanism for workers who may feel intimidated—and people would feel intimidated—through the voting process, and put workers in a position where they know they can, and will, be heard. The bill supports a transparent democratic process, and this Government supports those workers. Where, again, is the problem?
I would just like to close by mentioning the, I thought, somewhat unfair criticism made by Darien Fenton, normally a very balanced speaker, I would like to suggest. She criticised my colleague the Hon Tau Henare for taking a principled stand. I thought that was out of character for her. The abuse she gave is typical of the type thrown at those whom this bill intends to protect, and they are the people who dare to have hearts and minds and are not in step with the well-heeled union drum—the Labour Party drum. They are the people who speak out, whether in this Chamber or in a union meeting. I support my colleague and I support this bill. Thank you.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Just before I call the next speaker, I wish to advise the House that New Zealand First will split its call between the Rt Hon Winston Peters and the honourable member Brendon Horan—Standing Order 118(2).
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First)
: Tau Henare was an organiser for the Clerical Workers Union. He marched against the Employment Contracts Act. He voted against the Employment Contracts Act because of his strong, pro-union
convictions, yet today he walked in here, quoted Luther, and spoke like Lucifer. This is a man in a most sad circumstance, because this Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill is not a Government bill; this is a member’s bill. This bespeaks someone who is being used. This bespeaks someone who has been purchased off. This is a man who is happy to sell his soul for a few pieces of silver, or promotion. He was against all these things, and this is a member’s bill.
Strike action must be preceded by a secret ballot, and he said that one thing we hold dear is freedom to choose. That is what Tau Henare said. Well, did the Ports of Auckland’s real owners have the freedom to choose recently on the lockout? No. Where is the fairness between both sides in this legislation? Where is the balance? There is no balance at all. You have someone who is prepared to come along and put his name to a member’s bill. You know, I can remember way back the song “Part of the Union”. It went like this:
Now I’m a union man
Amazed at what I am
I say what I think, that the company stinks …
With a hell of a shout, it’s ‘Out brothers, out!’
But with Mr Henare it is: “With a hell of a shout, I sell out.” That is what is happening here: “I sell out.”
It is not, as Mr Sio said, too late to withdraw this bill. But when I saw Mr Henare today it reminded me of that classic and most sad, historic, and biblical event. When St Peter is asked whether he knows Jesus, the Bible says “and the cock crowed three times, and he knew him not.”
And all the workers and all the unionists whom Tau Henare used to work for in the old days when he had character and integrity, when they came to him and said to him: “Are you going to act for us?”, he knew them not.
You know, Mr Henare, one of these days one of your grandchildren is going to ask you: “Grandad, when they came for the ordinary people, when they came for the worker, when they came for us, what, as a member of Parliament, did you do?”. That is what that grandchild will ask. If he withdraws this bill, he will not have to splutter and cough and make out he cannot hear the grandchild. Oh, no, he will be able to look that child in the eye and say “When they came for people like you and me, I stood up for the ordinary people. I stood up for ordinary New Zealanders, the people whom, with my background, I knew I should respond to.” He will not have to look nervous and walk out of the room because the grandchild is asking such a serious question. He will be able to say, as he looks the grandchild in the eye, that he did something to stop these elitists ripping people off.
He could withdraw this bill, but he will not. He will not. But it is not too late, even now, for him to actually do what is his duty. And it is not hiding behind the skirts of women. It is not praising the white man who came from Merrill Lynch. It is not cuddling up to all those wide boys next to him now. No, no, it is the time for duty, and the clarion call of all those who ever came to New Zealand First is “Honour thy people”. That is why we will oppose this legislation.
BRENDAN HORAN (NZ First)
: This bill, the Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill, is a bill of contradiction. The member in charge of the bill comes from a party that told New Zealanders before the election that it promotes free enterprise. But rather than freedom, honesty, and transparency—inseparables—he brings before this House a distortionary piece of legislation more akin to fascism.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: No balance.
BRENDAN HORAN: No balance. I would draw New Zealanders’ attention to the stance taken by the Māori Party before the election.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What do they say?
BRENDAN HORAN: Well, here is a quote: “Why would we intentionally want to support legislation that the unions tell us could be disadvantageous for low-income workers …”.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Who said that?
BRENDAN HORAN: The Māori Party said that. “Our priority in employment legislation is that we give due consideration to initiatives that enhance labour relations rather than threaten to impact negatively on one side and advantage another.” Then it goes on: “For all these reasons, we have given this bill serious and due consideration.”, and it finishes with: “We are, therefore, opposed to this bill.” Where is the Māori Party now? Flip-flop. I think flip-flop may be contagious, and we are in danger of Whānau Ora needing more money for that disease.
Simon O’Connor: Which bill are you talking about?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: This bill—the one you haven’t read.
BRENDAN HORAN: Ha, ha! No, well, it is interesting, is it not? There we have the National Party riding on the backs of the Māori Party, of the “Dunne nothing” United Future, and of ACT over there. It is very interesting that the honourable David Bennett was quoting Martin Luther King before, because Martin Luther King also said: “A man can’t ride your back unless it’s bent.”
A lot has been said on this proposed legislation, and some cutting and cruel remarks have been said about the Hon Tau Henare. I would like to send some warm thoughts his way—a little bit of love from this side. It is not the National Party kind of love, which says: “This is our candidate, but vote for someone else.”; it is not the Labour kind of love, because it is not a labour of love to enjoy the Hon Tau Henare’s company, but more the love one would have for a prodigal son. But—
Hon Member: Be careful, he might come back.
BRENDAN HORAN: Ha, ha! But the driving criteria to determine New Zealand First’s feelings about this bill are threefold. One, is it fair? Two, is it harmonious? Three, will New Zealand be a better place because of this new legislation? Is it fair? No. Is it harmonious? No. Will New Zealand be a better place? No. And there is an irony here, because already that is three strikes.
JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany)
: Sometimes one comes across an aged individual who is still of sound mind, is able to make lucid commentary, and is somebody who can wow us with their knowledge and wisdom. Sadly, the speech from the Rt Hon Winston Peters was not one of those occasions. [Interruption] Ha, ha! I say to Brendan Horan that he should not have yielded his 5 minutes to the Rt Hon Winston Peters, because the House gained nothing from that 5 minutes.
Today is liberation day. Today is liberation day for New Zealand workers who are members of unions that have not yet embraced the democratic principles of holding a secret ballot when strike action is being considered. I say it is a shame that members of the Opposition are not supporting this bill, the Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill.
They made a wise choice to support the bill at its first reading. In fact, I was going through the
and saw a relatively cogent speech from the Hon Trevor Mallard, one of the few of that type of speech you hear from him. But they bottled it in the second reading speeches, they are bottling it today in the third reading speeches, and it is clear that rational thought processes were dropped by the wayside when they came to considering whether to support the bill at the second and third readings.
Today is the day when members opposite need to decide which side of this issue they support. Do they, on the one hand, stand by the very workers who will benefit from this bill—stand by and support workers’ rights? Do they stand for giving workers the
opportunity to vote on a question of going on strike free from intimidation, free from coercion, and free to make up their own minds? Or are members opposite instead going to be standing by their union masters by opposing an absolute and genuine pro-worker piece of legislation?
We know what the Labour Party thinks about employment relations. We know what Andrew Little thinks about employment relations. In fact, I am looking forward to the speech that we are probably going to get from Andrew Little. I am looking forward to him telling the House what he thinks of employers. The fact that he said on Facebook that the only parasites out there are employers—that is what the Labour Party thinks of the very people who give New Zealanders jobs; who create the jobs for New Zealanders to work in. [Interruption] Those members do not like hearing about what their own members are saying out there in the community. Their own members are out there calling employers parasites. Well, I say that is appalling.
This bill is a pro-worker piece of legislation, because it says to workers that we value them having the ability to determine their own destiny. We value Joe Smith, worker, being able to assess for himself, free from any outside influence, his own personal situation and deciding for himself whether going on strike is the right thing to do.
Going on strike cannot be easy. It can be financially and morally devastating. It is not a decision that should be taken lightly, and it is not a decision that a worker should have to make without having the freedom to do so without someone standing over the top of them. It was a shame to read a number of the submissions to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee from folk who tried to say they supported the concept of having secret ballots but then said they do not support the bill—a bizarre situation that the Labour Party is finding itself in, as well.
I know why we are getting interjections from members on the other side. I know why they do not support this bill. They are concerned that one day they might have to have a secret ballot for their leadership vote, because the only way they are keeping David Shearer in there at the moment is by using the bully-boy union tactics that they are concerned this bill is going to stop.
The submitters who found themselves in a position where they were saying they supported the secret strike concept but could not support the bill really should ask themselves this question: is giving workers the ability to decide for themselves without someone standing over the top of them a good thing or not? It absolutely is, and I say to the Labour Party that it should be supporting this piece of legislation today.
We have learnt a few things this afternoon. We have learnt that the Labour Party does not support individual freedom. It does not support freedom of choice, the Green Party does not support freedom of choice either, and the New Zealand First Party does not support freedom of choice. If they did support freedom of choice, they would be standing up in the House today and supporting this bill.
If members want to stand in this House and say that they do support the concept of secret ballots, which is what a number of speeches have been saying in both the first and second readings—and we have heard it a few times this afternoon as well—and that they think it is a good thing that a number of unions already have secret ballot provisions in their rules, then they should go the step further and support this bill, and do the right thing by giving workers the freedom that they deserve.
I want to address the comments that we have heard about an imbalance between employers and employees, because the people who have been making those comments clearly did not read the first drafts of the Employment Relations Act. They did not read the Employment Relations Act as it was passed by the last Labour Government. If you want to talk about balances between employers and employees, you can see absolutely that the Employment Relations Act moved the balance so far in one direction that it has
taken this Government a number of years to move it back towards equilibrium, where it should be.
I want to also touch on the Ports of Auckland for a moment, because I think it is important that we talk a little bit about what has become the key and well-known industrial dispute this year. It is fair to say that the Ports of Auckland dispute probably would not have got as bad as it did if there was the opportunity for those Ports of Auckland workers to have a secret ballot for their strike.
Hon Members: Oh!
JAMI-LEE ROSS: They do not like to hear it, but the fact of the matter is that dozens and dozens of Ports of Auckland workers have left the union and gone back to work. A lot of those workers wanted to go back to work. A lot of those workers wanted to get back on the cranes, they wanted to get back on the straddle-trucks, and they wanted to get back and serve the Auckland community on Auckland’s port, but they could not. They could not do so because there was not the opportunity to have a secret ballot on the question of whether they should go on strike. They had people there intimidating them and coercing them into voting for strike action. They were not able to make their own minds up free from intimidation, free from coercion—
Darien Fenton: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just seek your advice on that, because the matters the member is raising are actually currently before the Employment Court, and they are a matter of facilitation, and also a court case.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): I just caution members, if that is the case. I am not aware of that myself, but I just caution members to be very careful in what they say. The second thing, while I am on my feet, is that while interjection is acceptable, this is a robust debate and there are some strong feelings on both sides. I ask that, instead of the shouting, the interjections be reasonable, so that I can actually not only hear the speaker but also hear the interjections as well.
Denise Roche: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am just wondering whether there is a Standing Order that caters for the circumstances where the person who is speaking is telling untruths.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): No, you cannot say—[Interruption] Order! This is an honourable House, and members are taken at their word. If the member has some conflict, or does not agree with what the member is saying, that is a rebuttal point in a debate. These are matters of opinion and matters of debate. You cannot say that someone is lying. There is a Speaker’s ruling to that effect. You cannot say that someone is telling lies or lying. These are debatable points, and the opportunity arises in debate—and I know that the party has an opportunity shortly—to respond by way of a 5 minute call. If the member or a member from the party is taking a call, that is the chance then to rebut what has been said, but you cannot say that a person is lying or has told lies.
JAMI-LEE ROSS: I take it that the opposition from the Green Party earlier was about my reference to it not supporting freedom of choice, and I absolutely stand by that comment. I absolutely stand by the comment that the Green Party does not support freedom of choice, because it is not supporting this bill. It is not supporting workers having the option to make their own decision by way of secret ballot when it comes to deciding whether or not they go on strike. If Green members do support freedom of choice, if they disagree with the comments I have made here this afternoon, they should be voting for this piece of legislation.
Finally, I want to congratulate the Hon Tau Henare. In fact, I probably should call him the Hon “Martin Luther” Henare, given the number of comments and quotes he has made with regard to Martin Luther King here this afternoon. But he has done the right thing by putting this piece of legislation into the ballot, shepherding it through the
parliamentary process, and bringing it to a third reading here this afternoon, where we in this Parliament are able to help liberate workers and give them the freedom to make their own decisions during strike actions.
Mr Henare has done a good job, and this bill will go down in history as a piece of legislation that he can look back on and remember for doing something good for workers in New Zealand. I look forward to it being read for a third time this afternoon.
ANDREW LITTLE (Labour)
: I want to begin by acknowledging our colleague Tau Henare. I know that in his comments earlier this afternoon, he referred to comments I made in the second reading debate that he took offence at. So I want to begin on a positive note by acknowledging that, and by saying to Tau Henare that I apologise for any offence caused by the reference to him and his wife and that I certainly wish him the best.
The thing about Tau Henare is this, and the Rt Hon Winston Peters acknowledged it, too: Tau Henare spent some time in an honourable and noble cause working for workers in the union movement. I have long had a philosophy as a union secretary that those who have worked for working people and in their cause are entitled to have that acknowledged and respected, because it is difficult work. It is hard work. It is also for that reason, though, that I wonder how it is that Mr Henare has found himself in the position where he is promoting this legislation, the Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill, which is not about supporting workers and which does not add, create, or generate any greater freedom of choice.
Although Mr Henare quoted Martin Luther King—and even he acknowledges that he is not his equivalent, as Jami-Lee Ross had suggested—my favourite union quote comes from an outstanding union leader of a period gone by, John L. Lewis, the first head of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. He said—and I remember it in my best recall, which is slightly better than John Banks’—that “It ill behooves those who have sheltered in the house of labor and supped at its table to criticize with equal fervour and fine impartiality labor and its protagonists when they are locked in deadly embrace.” There have been benign remarks about those employers who have embarked on vicious lockouts this year, Talley’s AFFCO, the Ports of Auckland, and Oceania Group, referring to them in benign terms, when actually that is the most vicious action that an employer can take on workers. And this legislation says that it is about promoting freedom of choice for workers! Well, let us get the concepts right.
David Bennett, the current chair of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, which considered this legislation, said in his comments that it is about freedom of choice. Workers have freedom of choice. They have the freedom of choice to belong to a union. We have voluntary unionism in this country—freedom of association. That is the choice, in just the same way that people have the freedom to do so many other things. But once they have exercised that freedom of choice, we do not then get the Government to go interfering in all the other decisions that they get involved in. We do not get it involved in the Papakura Chess Club when it comes to elect its president for the year, decide who the committee is, or decide how it will spend its money. We do not have legislation that does that.
We allow people the freedom of association to belong, and we allow workers the freedom to make that choice, to stick with their colleagues, and to stick with their workmates. Here is the real truth about National: it does not like it when workers not only have freedom of choice but also exercise it, because it upsets its corporate mates.
I might add this too, for those who criticise me. I have worked in my time with thousands of workers and with hundreds of employers. The hard-grafting employers are trying to make a crust and are trying to make stuff they can sell on the international
market. Every day they are battling against the economic conditions that are the responsibility of this Government, not the least of which is an extraordinarily high exchange rate, which this Government cannot care about, because it is led by a Prime Minister who made his money—made his millions of dollars—off gaming exchange rates. It will not do anything about it. But there are so many employers who struggle to make ends meet, who look after their workforce, and who are trying to export into markets, who, when they price a job, do not know when they come to supply whether they are going to make money off it. National does not care about those employers. It cares about the moneymen, the ones who can write out the big cheques—the ones who look after it.
I have worked for the strugglers and the battlers, the employers and their workforces, to make it work, to make it good, and they are the ones we should care about. This bill will do nothing for them or their workforces. Workers have the freedom of choice, but they should not then have that freedom of choice interfered with by silly, meddling, meaningless, fruitless, pointless legislation like this, because it will not help.
The difference between Labour Party and the National Party is that we are not locked in a 1970s mentality of the workplace and workforces, as it is. Those members just do not get it. With all due respect to Tau Henare, who is the great modernist of the National Party, he has not worked for a union for nearly 20–for over 20 years.
Moana Mackey: 30 years.
ANDREW LITTLE: Thirty years—it is now 30 years. No wonder those members do not get it. No wonder they think that it is really smart to pass a law like this, because they are just out of touch and they just do not care.
We can see what this legislation is about. We saw it because of the submissions that National unleashed from its corporate employer mates in Business New Zealand. Let us see what it said. It said: “Oh yeah, don’t stop at legislating for a secret ballot.”, which so many unions now have. They are unions like the New Zealand Amalgamated Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, the Service and Food Workers Union, the FIRST Union, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, and all those other decent, good, hard-edged, leading unions. They already have them. What did Business New Zealand say? It said: “Don’t stop there. Introduce more hurdles. Make it a 75 percent threshold before you can take strike action.” Well, I do not see Business New Zealand calling for a 75 percent threshold for its boardroom decisions. Oh no! It would not want that. It is too hard. Of course, the party of the corporate dollar sitting opposite would not want to do that, either.
The right to withdraw one’s labour is absolutely fundamental. It has been recognised in our laws for over a hundred years. It has been recognised internationally through that great institution, the International Labour Organization. Blood was lost to secure it in this country and in so many other countries, and even today in many countries around the world, working people are losing their lives, losing their limbs, to fight for the right to organise, to work with their colleagues, and to stand up to their employers to get a fair and just settlement of their conditions.
The dividing line between a society that allows workers to withdraw their labour or does not is legislation like this. This is about increasing the domination and control by employers. There is no call for it. It is not necessary in modern and effective workplace regulation, which recognises and respects the choice that working people can make. The right to withdraw labour—the right to make the collective decision with your workmates to withdraw your labour—must be upheld and must be safeguarded. This bill is ill-informed. It is out of touch. It is a silly gesture designed to obstruct the observance of this basic right. It is unnecessary.
Workers can make their own decision. They will make a decision if they think it is right to go on strike, and they will make a decision if they think it is not right to go on strike. If the member who is promoting this bill was genuinely concerned about fairness and equality, then we would also have in this bill equal requirements on employers before they lock out. That is not there, and that lends the lie to those who say that this bill is about greater freedom and greater choice—it is not. It is not.
The language that Mr Henare used when he made his comments was: when workers are “asked to withdraw their labour”. I can tell you, as someone who has been at those meetings, that at difficult disputes and at difficult negotiations, you do not ask workers to withdraw their labour; they demand it. Actually, for most union leaders their job is to counsel workers about what the implications are of industrial action, because it is hard, nasty, ugly stuff, and you do not get into it light-heartedly. I have yet to meet a worker, of the thousands I have dealt with, who light-heartedly or wantonly votes for industrial action. They just do not do it.
The difference between this side and that side is that those members do not meet workers. They do not talk to workers. They do not meet meatworkers, either. They should do, because they would hear quite a good story about how a nasty, vicious employer is treating its workforce. If you want to know the reality about that dispute, here is the email I got from a very wealthy person north of Auckland, who has been to a stock agent to talk about selling his stock. He was told this. The stock agent said: “Don’t. They are offering very low prices, which are nothing to do with the international trade. It is due to the strike.” There is a backlog of cattle awaiting slaughter. By refusing to deal with employees and the union, the owners of the company were able to manipulate the market down.
That is what Talley’s is doing. It will use industrial law to do it. This Government is supporting and promoting it, and this law is just a furtherance of that objective. It is wrong; there is no call for it. It should be scrapped, and if any member opposite has a conscience and understands working people and the workplace today, they will gladly rise and say: “We don’t need this and we will vote against it.”
SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki)
: There is always a paradox when we talk about Luther and conscience, as in that call from the honourable member, Andrew Little, as I stand to speak here today. I think it is good to start by saying that this Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill is not a bill that talks about the right to strike or freedom of association. This is about the process of making the decision to strike. I think that is an incredibly important distinction. I cannot think for the Opposition or others, but this may help defuse some of the tensions that are there at the moment. Again, it comes back to the whole principle that you have the right to strike, and you can strike. When circumstance allows, a person can strike.
This bill, though, in the name of the Hon Tau Henare, is looking at the process about how a person moves to make the decision to strike. In doing so, it is with a great conscience—and I hope I sleep well tonight—that I stand in support, positively. It is always good to be positive, I think—
Hon Nathan Guy: That’s right.
SIMON O’CONNOR: —absolutely—in support of this member’s bill, the Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill. Again, I just want to acknowledge Tau Henare and the work he has done not only to bring this to the House but also to take it through the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, and to take, I believe, suggestions that have come from the floor and elsewhere and to incorporate them into the bill that we have in front of us now.
I wanted to address a couple of the thoughts, questions, insights, if you will, that were being put out through this debate. One was that we do not have any problem, so
why do we need this bill? You know, why put the law in place if it is already running perfectly? The first reason is clarity. I have always thought that one of the great principles of democracy and of this House is to have clarity in the law. There is no harm in taking the time, at an appropriate time in this House, to clarify the law, to codify it, to give it some structure, and also to make success clear.
I acknowledge what an honourable member was noting earlier, that some major unions are conducting secret ballots, and that is an excellent thing. That is something to be acknowledged. But this House can be about success: celebrating it, clarifying it, and codifying it into the House. To use an analogy, if it is going well for others, why not draw that into legislation? Why not put that across all the unions in this case so that they can share in that success? I have heard some say “No, there’s still no need; there is still no need.” You know, we have to look at it and say: “Well, look, analogously, some people look after the environment, some people are concerned about different aspects, so let us not do any legislation around it because, you know, some are already doing it well.” That does not really work. It is not a logical conclusion.
I find that law is often about exceptions. We put law in place to deal with exceptions. People have been talking about their backgrounds, and a small part of my recent one is around contracts. The whole point of contracts is not to work with what is happening day by day; it is to work with exceptions. In some ways this is what this law is about. It is about trying to take the exceptions in the unions, where democracy is not fully expressed, and allowing it to become the norm, to follow the example of many unions in allowing secret ballots.
But also this law is about providing certainty. It is not trying to rely on the moral goodwill of unions or individuals—union leaders, in particular—to do the right thing. It does not work. Moral goodwill does not always work. Again, this is one of the points why we have this legislature: to come along and provide certainty. I want to add, too, that when we got on to the aspects of morality a bit earlier from one of the speeches, we cannot go about in this House constantly linking every issue to the UN, to human rights, to the change in oil prices, or whatever. This is really a fairly simple debate.
I also want to add that this is not about the particular strikes that we have had currently, in the past, or in the future, and I say that because this is about democratic process. This bill is very simple. It is about the democratic principle to vote, and to vote secretly. I think it really comes down to that. I was always a great believer in principles, because what this is about is the Employment Relations Act. It is about modifying it to allow individuals within the unions to exercise a democratic right to vote secretly.
Strikes are a serious undertaking.
Andrew Little: So are lockouts.
SIMON O’CONNOR: Yes, anything like that, lockouts, strikes, they are a serious undertaking, and I am sure the honourable member would agree, therefore, as a consequence, that these decisions of a lockout or a strike should not be taken lightly. In terms of a strike, these are communal actions. Strikes are a communal action, but each individual person is affected. So to that end, in my thinking, it is paramount that each individual has the complete freedom to act as they see fit.
Looking at the democratic principles, a secret ballot enables that. They have the right, therefore, to exercise, democratically, their vote secretly. I cannot perceive the threat, the concern, or the problem with that, because, ultimately, secret ballots ensure freedom. They ensure a democracy. There are plenty of analogies—and many of them have been flown across the House today and in weeks past—around the secret ballot.
This is not something new. This is not new to our democracy here in New Zealand or around the world. I think, actually, the last time that I stood to speak on this bill, I noted that the idea of secret ballots had been around since the 18th and 19th centuries. Being
the type of person that I am, I decided to pick up old
Hansard records from the past and read through the debates. It is fascinating how, in some ways, history repeats itself. The same arguments against secret ballots continued back then; they are continuing here today.
Personally, a secret ballot empowers people. It empowers our democracy and the action of voting to bring us here to Parliament, and I cannot see any problem with exercising it in any unions, because, as has been noted many a time, it is already enacted in many unions. Let us codify it, let us simplify it, and let us express it in law. Personally, as I stand here in the 21st century, I do not know why we would look backward, if you like, and oppose this sort of democratic lineage. I think it is great to be part of a Parliament that is expanding and working to expand and enable this democratic process. You know, it really is a privilege to be in this Parliament. It is a privilege to be in this Parliament that is helping develop the democratic process.
But I thought I would just turn very quickly to some of the other issues that were being brought up, because there has been a bit of a discussion around lockouts versus strikes, and board stakeholders versus unions. I have been trying to give this some thought, but it is somewhat on the hop, so I will have to apologise in advance, if need be. People are saying that there is no symmetry here and that there is no similarity between the boards and the unions.
What I was thinking, though, was that boards are making decisions for others. The board is making a decision for others. When workers consider a strike, they are making a decision for themselves as individuals, and I think that is an important distinction. If individuals are going to be making their decision to strike, they need those universal principles that we talk about in the UN and others, these human rights—the ability to associate freely, as the Opposition agrees—but also the ability to express their democratic franchise as they see fit. In a union vote, when union members are making their vote to strike, they are making a direct and deliberate action of and for themselves. But when we look at a board, even when we look at shareholders—be it in a company, be it in a friendly society, or whatever—they are not making a direct association with themselves. It is indirect.
I think that is an important distinction and one that we do need to think about, because, at the end of the day, this bill does sit within a context of a National Government committed to all New Zealanders. We are not here to make random and rash decisions on people, to fire ad hominem names around. We are here to work for all New Zealanders. We have progressed to increase the minimum wage, we have put through the 90-day legislation to improve those opportunities, and we have worked to enable workers to have the right to choose—secretly or otherwise—how to use their fourth week of leave. I think it is important to put this debate within that context.
But I come back exactly to where I started from: that this really is a bill of principles. It is a principle of democracy. It is the ability as an individual to vote as you see fit, freely and secretly, and to take the success that the Opposition has spoken of, in the New Zealand Amalgamated Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union and others, and say: “Hey, let’s codify this into practice. Let’s celebrate what is a good way of working, in order that people will make their right decisions.” [Interruption] I am going to stop there, just before there are more interjections, because, you know, we want to get down to the real business of getting this passed. Thank you.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): I understand that the next call is a split call. I will ring the bell at 4 minutes with a minute to go.
PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū)
: I just say to that member, Simon O’Connor, that there is just about time to get to the airport and get a plane to Auckland to the public meeting in his electorate, at which about 300 people will condemn and
abuse National for its destruction of the community in Glen Innes. So, Mr O’Connor, you have got just enough time to get to the airport and get to that meeting. I urge you to get there; there will be a lot of your constituents there who are very keen to see you this evening.
It is generally a good idea and it is generally an accepted principle in this House not to make up unnecessary legislation for imaginary problems, but, sadly, that is exactly what is happening in this House tonight. The lion of
Te Atatū—I think of him more as the sphinx of Te Atatū; he has got the energy levels and the productive output of a sphinx—comes down to this House tonight with the
Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill.
What is this bill about? The
New Zealand Herald
reported that the bill’s proponent, the Hon Tau Henare, says that “the idea came from his time as a union organiser in the 1980s, when he stood before workers before a show-of-hands strike vote with a presence that ‘would have made them think twice about voting no’.” So the sphinx of
Te Atatū comes to this House with a bill that is setting out to solve a problem that is 30 years old, from when he was an organiser in the
Clerical Workers Union, when he was a bully and a thug for the Clerical Workers Union, as reported by the
New Zealand Herald.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): Order! I do not know whether referring to a member as a thug is acceptable.
PHIL TWYFORD: Can I speak to the point of order?
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): No. I know in the context of this debate it is robust, but I think calling someone a thug is unparliamentary. I will just ask the member to continue.
PHIL TWYFORD: As the
New Zealand Herald
pointed out, what motivated the man who brought this bill to the House was his own behaviour of intimidation and bullying 30 years ago, as he told the
New Zealand Herald. There is no evidence that has been put before this House or the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee that there is any kind of problem to be solved here, other than Mr Henare’s own behaviour 30 years ago.
This is an unnecessary bill in response to an imaginary problem. Dozens of hours—dozens of hours—of this House’s time have been wasted debating a bill that should never ever have been brought to this House. We have got record numbers of New Zealanders heading across the Tasman, we have got 160,000 people unemployed, we have a faltering economy, and we have dangerous levels of private sector debt. And what does this National Government think is a priority? What does it think is an important matter to be brought to this House? A ridiculous bill that is looking for a problem to solve.
We have been talking this evening about the fact that this bill is based on a blatant piece of discrimination. It tries to impose on workers’ organisations a cumbersome and expensive compliance mechanism that interferes in the running and the constitution of workers’ organisations. Why? There is no good reason. It imposes on unions the obligation to have a secret ballot. It sets in place the opportunity for employers to take frivolous and vexatious legal claims against the unions. But it does not place the same kind of obligation on corporate governance structures.
We have heard tonight dancing on the head of a pin from that side of the House. We have heard a pathetic lecture from David Bennett about corporate governance theory. Each one of them, Jami-Lee Ross, Simon O’Connor, and David Bennett, have utterly failed to justify why this bill places the obligation on workers’ organisations and nothing like it for businesses, either for shareholders or for boards of directors. That simple contradiction exposes why this bill is based on blatant ideological prejudice from
the National Government. That is what this bill is about. There is no good reason for it, and it is a waste of this House’s time.
CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green)
: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. I am delighted to have an opportunity to address this issue. Before I go to the bill, the Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill, I would just like to assist the member from Auckland Jami-Lee Ross. His experience is obviously rather limited about what happened at the Ports of Auckland. I suggest that maybe he has not got a lot of union experience, but he might like to go and count the number of secret ballots that have already been held by the union in industrial disputes. He might like to go down there and check it out before he makes those statements.
The Green Party considers this bill to be in the same category as the Immigration Amendment Bill, which suggested that boatloads of migrants would arrive en masse via the Tasman Sea. This is a bill, again, looking for a problem—or is there a more sinister dimension?
Hon Members: Oh!
CATHERINE DELAHUNTY: Indeed! Is the bill trying to legislate a time-honoured practice of the secret ballot over the right to strike so that it can chip away at the right to strike itself? The technicalities in the bill allow this outcome. If a union can be challenged legally for failing to follow the letter of this law, or even cannot prove to the employer that they held a secret ballot, the strike decision can be undermined. The Green Party holds dear the International Labour Organization position on the right to strike. The right to strike was won through sacrifice and suffering, and any moves to use the law to technically undermine its power is basically abhorrent.
Union membership is voluntary. No one has to join, and no one has to strike. Unions hold ballots. That is their business, and not the business of the employer or this Parliament. How the unions conduct secret ballots to decide their industrial action is an internal matter.
Like all bills, this bill has a context, and that context is a Government that sees unions as a problem, rather than an essential part of the industrial relations arena. If you cannot strike, or decide to strike, without the interference of the law, there is not a lot left. The bottom line for workers in this country, and indeed in the world, is the right to withhold your labour—our labour. No one wants to do this because—light bulb moment, perhaps, for some people—when workers are on strike, they do not actually get paid. They do not get paid, and they cannot feed their families. Have a talk to the AFFCO workers right now about feeding their families. They only take this collective agreed action at the end of the road. Now, under this bill, their decisions will be made subject to the negative scrutiny of people who do not want that strike to take place in the first place.
It appears there are always new ways to make workers’ rights and striking unlawful. On 13 November 100 years ago Frederick Evans was beaten to death in Waihī by the strikebreakers and the police. His death was an example of what is, fortunately, a rare occurrence in the labour history of this country—but not of the world—but it acts as a warning to anyone who thinks this is a frivolous matter, to anyone who thinks that going on strike is something that we take lightly. The workers from the Ports of Auckland, Oceania Group, and Talley’s are enduring stress and financial hardship through lockouts and strikes. They are struggling in an effort to negotiate fair pay and conditions and, crucially, the right to make collective decisions, including the right to strike. The fundamental rights of working people to organise themselves and to decide action for themselves, without interference from the Crown or employers, are what these now voluntary, membership-based organisations need to have legally upheld.
I am afraid the Green Party believes this bill is not a helpful contribution. It is not the result of many working people who are union members begging Mr Henare for assistance to help them with their right to organise. The question of who would actually benefit from this legislation always has to be asked, and the answer would be the employer. It is no surprise when employers want to have a go at the right to strike, but let us not dress it up as something else. That is what is sinister.
I stood on the picket line with the aged-care workers of Oceania Group, the people doing the most vital job, caring for our elderly, for the minimum wage. They were not there because they were coerced. They were not there because they were manipulated or through shonky ballot. They were union members at their wit’s end on how to live on low wages. Let us respect their rights and the rights of unions to withhold their labour.
The chant outside this House on Friday was “When workers’ rights are under attack, stand up and fight back.” The National-led Government has repeatedly engaged in attacks on workers since it was elected in 2008. I can think of the 90-day bill, the holidays bill, the right of unions to visit the workplace, and workers’ ability to take sick leave without being interrogated.
SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel)
: What an honour and a privilege it is to conclude and be the final speaker in this, the third reading of the Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill, so capably introduced by my colleague the Hon Tau Henare and guided through the House by him with such style and grace.
This is an important piece of legislation. On the face of it, it appears to be quite a small piece of legislation—simple in principle; simple in action. But it is very important, because it strikes, if you will pardon the pun, at the very heart of our democratic process and our democratic institutions, and of one of the things that we hold dear in our society and our community. That is the right of people to make decisions on important matters in group collectives, but by secret ballot. That is something that we all hold dear; it is a very fundamental part of our democratic process. And if it is good enough for every other aspect of our society, why is it not good enough for unions? Indeed, most unions actually already are enlightened and do conduct secret ballots on important matters, such as strikes. So this simple piece of legislation simply codifies this very foundation stone of democratic process: that when an important matter such as a strike is to be considered, that the ballot about that decision should be held in secret. It is a simple, effective, and time-honoured process.
The bill supports the creation of a positive workplace environment, and that is important because these days we live in enlightened times where we know that positive, constructive, collegial workplace environments actually benefit employees and employers. They create a great environment for business and enterprise to prosper and succeed. So this bill encourages that. As I have already said, many unions already do adopt a secret ballot process in matters to do with strikes. So the question I ask, and the question that this bill seeks to remedy, is: why not all of them? That is what this will do. I am very, very pleased and proud to be able to speak in support of this legislation today. Unions do it already because they know it is the right thing to do. They do it already because they know it is the right, proper, and correct democratic thing to do. It is only the rump, a few minor, less progressive, and less enlightened unions, that do not have secret ballots.
Hon Tau Henare: The EPMU.
SCOTT SIMPSON: TheEngineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, the Hon Tau Henare tells me, is one of them and I am sure that is right.
This is not about union bashing. It is not about attacking unions. It is not about having a go at unions. It is not about being vindictive or attacking unions. It is about
democracy and about what is important, not about being punitive or punishing unions. It is about democracy and freedom, and it is about a basic fundamental right of any organisation and any member of any organisation in our society. It is for freedom of choice. That is what we on this side of the House hold dear. That is why we are members of the National Party. Even though I am a new member in this House it has been obvious to me, through listening to the debates, that on this subject the Labour members are very clear: they do not like choice. They do not like freedom of choice, and they do not like democracy when it does not suit them.
In a less enlightened time, and more years ago than I care to remember, I was a member of a union. It was in the days of compulsory unionism, and I was a member because I was compulsorily made to be a member of the union. I was working in a holiday job while I was at university, and I was working for a chartered club. It was the Commercial Travellers Club, actually. My job was in the bottle store. [Interruption] My job was in the bottle store. Andrew Little may well have been the union rep, and my job in the bottle store involved spending most of my working day in the beer fridge—in the chiller. What would happen was that once a week a big truck would arrive and offload 25 or 30 pallets of beer—quart bottles in wooden crates; the sort that we used to drink. My job then was to unload those box by box, crate by crate, and store them in the chiller. Then over the rest of the week my job was to bring them out of the fridge and put them on the counter, or into the boot of the customers’ cars.
What I did not know was that just before Christmas, at the busy time for chartered clubs, the union would usually go on strike. It would usually go on strike to cause the maximum impact and damage to the employer, and they would do it just before Christmas when customers were celebrating Christmas festivities, and at a time designed to cause the most strife and concern to those employers. I was very keen to go to work. I liked the dignity of work. It was a holiday job, and it was in the days before we had student loans and what have you, so I needed the money and I wanted to work. But the union that I was compulsorily a member of wanted to go on strike. So we had a stopwork meeting, which I was duly forced to attend. We went to the stopwork meeting; I remember it well. It was held in the public bar of a fairly seedy pub in South Auckland, and there gathered several hundred people. And guess what? After some rousing speeches by the union organisers calling on the brothers and the sisters to strike, what happened was that a vote was called for to strike.
At first there was a voice vote—voices were asked for—so the overwhelming number of people there voted in favour of the strike by voice. There were only a few of us who actually voted by voice against going on strike. I remember it well. What I remember then was that after the voice vote was taken, somebody called for a show of hands—and it was not the people who were in the minority; it was the people in the majority who asked for a show of hands. They wanted to know who had the temerity to vote against them. So then a show of hands was called for. What happened then was that even fewer of us had the intestinal fortitude to raise a hand when a show of hands was called for. So we went on strike. I lost several days’ pay, the employer was incredibly inconvenienced, and I had a personal situation where we had standover tactics—the intimidation, language, and physical abuse that followed.
I am the first to admit that that was a less enlightened time. It was a less enlightened time, and now we have unions that are more modern in their view and their aspect, and they do handle things more appropriately. But if it was not for a few old-fashioned unions that still insist on a show of hands vote—standover tactics—then that would mean that we would not have to have this legislation. So I want to thank the Hon Tau Henare. I want to thank him for bringing this piece of legislation to the House. I want to thank him for his work and for being an advocate for open and free democracy.
I am told, even though I was not a member of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, that there was vigorous debate there, and that Labour members tried everything they could to halt the progress of this bill through the select committee. That is shameful. That is very shameful. Tau Henare did an excellent job. National is focused on ensuring that there is a fair and flexible employment environment. Democracy is a good thing. Democracy is a good thing in all that we do, and it is amazing to see Labour members, who normally take such a high and mighty moral high ground on such matters, try to argue on the head of a pin that in this case democracy should not occur.
This bill is about transparency, it is about freedom, it is about democracy, and it removes the potential for criticism of the ballot process. No decision is more important in the lives and day-to-day activities of union members than the decision to go on strike or not to go on strike, and so the few remaining unions that do not have secret ballots need to be brought into order. This is a bill for freedom from intimidation, freedom from coercion, freedom to choose, and freedom to vote. Today, as my colleague Jami-Lee Ross said, this is “Liberation Day”, it is “Freedom Day”, and it is “Democracy Day” for New Zealand workers. In the words of Martin Luther King, already quoted in this House by the Hon Tau Henare: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” [Interruption]
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): Order! [Interruption] Order! Members, this debate is concluded.
DARIEN FENTON (Junior Whip—Labour)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like to move that this vote be conducted by secret ballot, so the National Party members who have been coerced into voting for it do not have to have their vote recorded.
- A party vote was called for on the question that the Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill be now read a third time.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): Order! The votes are taken in silence.
A party vote was called for on the question,
That the Employment Relations (Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill be now read a third time.
||New Zealand National 59; ACT New Zealand 1; United Future 1.
||New Zealand Labour 34; Green Party 14; New Zealand First 8; Māori Party 3; Mana 1.
|Bill read a third time.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): I declare the House in Committee—[Interruption] Order! Order! We are in a process where I am announcing what the next debate is going to be, and this is taken in silence.