Strikes and Lockouts

As reported last week, has a bill which will remove the prohibition on temporary labour during a strike or lockout.

Now I don’t have a problem with employers being able to use temporary labour to remain operating during a strike. Without that ability, a union can cripple an employer.

However I do have a concern over the possibility than an employer would lock out current staff, and use temps to force them onto a new contract.

Personally I dislike both strikes and lockouts. I think it is incredibly hard to have a harmonious workplace if either side resorts to the ultimate action of a strike or lockout. I am happy to say I may even dislike lockouts a little bit more, as I don’t like employers trying to force current staff onto a new contract. A shift from a current contract should be one that is mutually agreed to.

There’s even part of me that wonders if employers should have the ability to do a lockout? But as unions have the right to strike, I guess you need an equivalent power for an employer.

But how often do we have strikes and lockouts?

The average numbers of strikes every year since 1986 has been 66. The average number of lockouts is 2. So very very few employers ever resort to a lockout, as it should be.

The average hides the dramatic change over time as this graph shows.



You can see the impact of the Employment Contracts Act in 1991. It brought to an end the era of three strikes a week. The 4th Labour Government say 176 strikes a year. 4th National Government saw it drop to 52. 5th Labour Government was 35 average and the first term of 5th National was just 19 a year, or one every three weeks or so. It’s good we have fewer strikes that in the past, but just a few years ago there were 60 in one year under Labour.

Anyway the number of lockouts is extremely low. For the last decade an average of only one a year. So any claims of employers locking staff out should be read in that context.

However if the bill gets through a first reading, and makes it to select committee a possible option to be considered is to remove the prohibition on temporary labour for strikes, but not for lockouts? I’d be interested to hear debate on the pros and cons of that.

To my mind, that could be a good compromise as it would discourage both strikes and lockouts. If an employer can use temporary staff, then a union is less likely to resort to a strike, which is good. Strikes should be a last resort. Once you’ve had a strike it is very difficult to have a trusting employment relationship.

However if you allow employers to use temporary labour for lockouts, that could encourage some employers (not many I am sure) to do a lockout – and I view that as undesirable also.

So repealing the ban on temporary labour for strikes, but not lockouts, would seem to be a good compromise.

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