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Archive for June, 2010

The announcement of the winner of the Golden Toilet Brush Award is a highlight of International Cleaners Day in New Zealand.

It has been awarded in the past to building owners and cleaning companies who have failed to recognise that their profits are built on the backs of the thousands of workers who do the work of keeping New Zealand clean.

Although Trans-national cleaning company OCS won the 2010 award, easily defeating all the other nominations, they were too bashful to step forward to receive their trophy and make a speech honouring their cleaning workforce.

Mind you, if I was in the shoes of the OCS Chief Executive, I wouldn’t be claiming credit for consistent non-payment and late payment of cleaners’ wages, for refusing to play a constructive role in boosting cleaning wage rates, for using public hospital cleaners as pawns in the attempt to ring more money from the District Health Boards, for trying to force cleaners on to fortnightly pays and for arguing that Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act (which provides protection to cleaners during contract changes) should be repealed.

I would be so embarrassed by this long list of crimes against the cleaning workforce that I would immediately volunteer to go away for an SFWU education camp, where I would for one month agree to forsake my warm Remuera villa and $200,000 salary to live on $27,000 working from 9.30 p.m. to 6.00 a.m. in a cold central city office building cleaning up the muck created by hundreds of workers that I never get the chance to meet.

Today we joined with other fellow service sector unions around the world and celebrated cleaners as individuals, members of communities, mothers, fathers, aunties, uncles and grandparents.

We also gave other stakeholders in the cleaning sector something to think about.

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More than 1.4 million Australian low-paid workers have been given a $26.00 a week rise through a recent decision of the Australian Fair Pay Commission.

The Commission’s decision brings the minimum wage up to $15.00 an hour and all workers who are dependent on awards, some with pay rates well in excess of this, will immediately benefit from a pay boost of 65 cents an hour. Those who are on union-negotiated enterprise agreements can take action to pick up the increase or keep their current relativity with their industry award.

While many low paid workers told the Australian media that $26.00 a week was too low, Australian employer groups said it was “a harsh and irresponsible blow” to small business, would add $2.5 billion to their annual wages bill and jobs would be lost as a result.

However, at least the Australians have a body that makes decisions on fair minimum wage increases unlike the situation in New Zealand. We lost the right to go to an independent body for general wage orders in the 1980s and the award system was abolished in 1991.

Our wage setting system has never recovered from the brutal introduction of the Employment Contracts Act in 1991 and the loss by New Zealand workers of the right to be involved in collective bargaining and the setting of employment conditions across the industries (rather than each individual enterprise) in which they work.

The Employment Contracts Act embedded the individual worker-individual employer workplace relationship and the voluntary setting of employer-specific employment conditions and Labour’s Employment Relations Act has done very little to change that system.

Most New Zealand workers don’t have any say about their employment conditions. They are set by the boss and if the workers don’t like them then they leave. There are legal rights to collectively bargain with your employer, but you need to have the courage to get your fellow workers organised, find a union who has the resources to support you, engage in prolonged negotiation with your employer, strike if necessary and hopefully get an outcome before too many of the workers you organised leave their employment.

While the Australian system is not great, it is a helluva lot better in providing for the retention of minimum industry employment conditions that are set through negotiation/arbitration rather than the free and voluntary agreement of every employer in that industry.

It is interesting that the flow of workers across the Tasman is not made up of workers with particular trade or professional skills. Many of those workers who are leaving New Zealand for Australia are those in minimum wage New Zealand jobs that are entitled to much more in the same job in Australia.

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