UNITE union organiser convicted of selling P

October 17th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

3 News reports:

A prominent South Island union organiser has been sentenced to community detention for trying to sell methamphetamine.

Sharna Butcher, 36, was sentenced on a charge of conspiring to sell a Class A drug in the Christchurch District Court this afternoon.

The Unite Union South Island organiser requested name suppression, arguing the publication of her name would affect her employment, however the plea was ignored by Judge Paul Kellar.

Good.

Ms Butcher is well-known around the South Island, having both organised and attended several protests across this year. She attracted media attention in May after blocking the drive through to a McDonald’s restaurant in Dunedin while lobbying for better pay rates and guaranteed hours for workers.

She will not be able to leave her home between 7pm on Fridays and 7am on Mondays for the next four months.

Does being a convicted Class a drug dealer mean she won’t keep her job with UNITE, or do they not have a problem with that?

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Unite complains McDonalds hires too many Indians

July 13th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Unite Union has said:

Unite union will be holding a protest outside Lunn Avenue McDonald’s at 1pm today Friday, exposing racist and discriminatory hiring policies, that harm both migrant workers and local people desperate for jobs say Unite Union organiser Joe Carolan.

“There is huge unemployment of Maori, PI, Pakeha and other groups in Glen Innes, yet seven new hires this week in McDonald’s Lunn Avenue all come from only one ethnic group, the same ethnic group as the anti union store manager. …

“Our local delegates are Fijian Indian and Maori and they are furious that there is not even one other worker from another ethnic background. They will be joining supporters from the local community at a picket outside the store today at 1pm.”

So the union is complaining that McDonalds has hired Fijian Indians. Personally I think employers should be colour blind and hire the best people for the job, regardless of their ethnicity.

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Quoting at 28 year old position

May 24th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Matt McCarten in the Herald on Sunday wrote:

Abolish 15 per cent GST. Replace with 1 per cent financial transaction tax as recommended by the New Zealand Bankers Association. Same money.

Earlier this week I ran into a couple of executives from NZBA. They had the good sense not to read Matt’s column, so were surprised when I told them that Matt said they supported a Financial Transactions Tax.

They do not, of course. It has been a disaster in the couple of countries that have tried it.

They complained to the Herald on Sunday about the misrepresentation, but their complaint was decline on the basis they they once did support an FTT – in 1985!

Would anyone reading that column think that was a 30 year old position, rather than a current position. Of course not. Entirely misleading.

I don’t know why print media are so loath to run corrections. I think it helps your credibility when you do.

I look forward to the Herald on Sunday and Matt McCarten talking about how Labour supports privatisation, because they once did in 1985.

Worth noting one other policy of Matt’s:

 Abolish PAYE on wages and salaries. Replace it with a wealth tax and a capital gains tax when shares, businesses, land and property are sold. People are taxed when they’re cashing up, not when they are making it.

I’m sure Matt does want PAYE abolished, as UNITE doesn’t pay it anyway.

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Is it time for UNITE to be struck off?

May 12th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Whale blogs:

As at 31st May 2013 the Unite Union have failed to file their 2011 and 2012 Financial Accounts.

Observation by the Owl

This is a breach of the laws regarding being a Union and being registered with the Incorporated Societies Office.

Any employer could if they wish not negotiate with the Unite union until their status was confirmed.

Interesting question for the Registrar and lawyers to debate.

Unions have great legal privileges under the law. The requirements are few – mainly to be an incorporated society. This means obeying the Incorporated Societies Act.

Not only has UNITE acted like the worst of employers, taking PAYE off its own employees and failing to pass it onto the IRD, they have a pattern of non-compliance with submitting their annual accounts to the Registrar.

Their financial year is to 31 March, so you would expect annual accounts to generally be done, and accepted within six months, say 30 September. Instead this is how many months it has taken them to file recent accounts:

  • 2001 – 18 months
  • 2002 – 18 months
  • 2003 – not done
  • 2004 – 7 months
  • 2005 – not done
  • 2006 – 7 months
  • 2007 – 23 months
  • 2008 – 18 months
  • 2009 – 14 months
  • 2010 – 24 months
  • 2011 – 26+ months (not yet filed)
  • 2012 – 14+ months (not yet filed)

Surely is is time for the Registrar to strike them off for non-compliance?

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McDonalds pay

May 1st, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Clare Rogers at Stuff reports:

Unionised McDonald’s staff will protest at the Queen St store in Auckland tomorrow before a countrywide strike threatened for next week. Unite union spokesman Joe Carolan said its 1500 members at McDonald’s planned to walk off the job next week over pay rates and working hours. McDonald’s had offered a 25-cent pay rise across the board, which was not enough, given the company had reported an almost $32 million annual profit, he said.

An inane comparison that tells us nothing. Tell us what the unions’ proposed pay increase would cost over the entire company, and then you’re getting a bit closer to useful information. Also tell us what that profit is as a percentage of both capital and revenue.

The proposed pay rise was less than an eighth of the cost of one of the fast-food chain’s cheapest items, a small serving of fries at $2.20.

Also a meaningless comparison, that the media parrot. And actually they have a number of items they sell for $1. But again what the hell does the price of a product have to do with how much staff get paid? By this logic staff at BMW should get paid 100 times as much as those as McDonalds, as their items costs $30,000 each.

Carolan said McDonald’s workers wanted parity with staff at KFC, where pay rates were considerably higher. For example, KFC employees received a $1 pay rise on the minimum wage after about six months in the job, compared with a 25c lift at McDonald’s.

if I worked at McDonalds and could earn more at KFC, I’d move over to KFC. I’m sure they have job vacancies come up all the time and would welcome experienced fast food service staff. Market pressure can be a very good way to get a pay increase.

According to records filed with the Companies Office, McDonald’s Restaurants made a net profit of $31.8m in New Zealand last year – flat on the previous year – as revenue edged up 2.7 per cent to $204.7m. The results are understood to include fees paid by franchisees to the company and sales at company-owned restaurants, not sales for all 160-odd McDonald’s stores in New Zealand.

Good to have some data at the end. But we’re still not told what the cost of an extra $1 an hour would be overall. Also if those figures exclude franchises, thet are of little value.

UPDATE: A reader does some calculations:

There are 160 McDonalds in NZ. A McDonald’s site for all the restaurants in Michigan says they employee an average of 61 people restaurant in Michigan. I assume this would be similar in NZ, or not far off. I can’t see why NZ restaurants would be more, or less labor intensive. That would be 9,760 employees approximately. In the US wages and benefits take up 31.9% of all revenue for the corporation and 25+% for the individually owned franchise.

I don’t know how many hours the average employee works, some are part time and some a full time, but some restaurants are open 24 hours as well. 

If you assume an average of 30 hours per employee you have added wage costs of $292,800 per week, or $15,225,600 per year. Those are approximates, but I think based on reasonable assumptions. This would effectively, based on the article you cited, mean a reduction in profits by more than 50%, all things being equal. If you assume that prices will have to rise to pay for additional wages then you can assume consumption will decline. Depending on the demand curve, which I think is somewhat flexible, sales would decline below what they would be otherwise. Given that sales in NZ McDonald’s have barely increased over the last year it could well mean a reduction in total sales and income, making the wage increase even more expensive. Both are likely to reduce the demand for workers, thus giving the increase to one class of workers at the expense of those who lost their jobs. 

I wish we got analysis like this in the media. It shows how importance context is.

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At least Burger King pays their tax

August 21st, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

More than 40 protesters held an hour-long working conditions “teach-in” outside the Burger King outlet at Aotea Square in Auckland yesterday.

After the speeches, two protesters tried to enter the store but found the door blocked by security guards.

The Unite union national director, Mike Treen, said the protest was to speak up for the company’s workers about a culture of exploitation over pay and individuals being intimidated not to join the union.

I’d say an exploitative employer is one who deducts PAYE from its employees pay packets, and instead of paying the PAYE to the IRD as legally obliged – they instead spend it on political campaigning.

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Occupy Christchurch

October 15th, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press reports:

Hundreds of protesters could spend several days occupying Christchurch’s South Hagley Park.

The Occupy Christchurch event comes after thousands began camping out in New York’s financial district last month to protest against corporate greed, social inequality and climate change.

Christchurch Unite Union organiser Matt Jones said today’s event would focus on international concerns, national issues, including the 90-day employment law and the Rena oil spill, and local problems, such as insurance and land zoning after the earthquakes.

“When you boil it down, people just feel alienated and disenfranchised from the system. People don’t feel engaged with party politics.”

He expected at least 25 Unite Union delegates would be at the protest, as well as up to 50 union members.

They’re overlooked one of the issues they should protest about.

They should protest against scum employers who take PAYE from their employees, and steal it – spending it on political activism, rather than paying their tax to the Government like the other 99% of taxpayers.

UPDATE: Keeping Stock has a copy of a form being circulated amongst Auckland “occupiers” which strongly suggests they are planning violence.

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UNITE’s taxes

July 27th, 2011 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Paul McBeth reports:

Inland Revenue is chasing unionist Matt McCarten’s Unite Support Services for $150,750 in unpaid taxes after the department forced the company into liquidation last month.

McCarten’s vehicle, which supplied administrative support services to the youth-orientated union Unite, was put into liquidation by a High Court order last month after the IRD pursued it for “failure to provide for taxation,” according to the first liquidator’s report.

As far as I now this is not just unpaid income tax and/or GST. But it includes unpaid PAYE, which is quite horrific as the employer acts in a trustee capacity for the employee who actually pays the tax. An employer that spent the employees’ PAYE on other activities would be lashed by unions as a bad employer.

You also have the hypocrisy of a union (and its spin off the Mana Party) advocating that people should pay more taxes, when they don’t even pay their own taxes, and effectively stole the PAYE tax from their employees.

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Is UNITE solvent?

June 17th, 2011 at 7:30 pm by David Farrar

Matt Nippert at NBR writes:

Part of left-wing polit­i­cal Machi­avelli Matt McCarten’s Unite union empire has gone under owing money to the taxman.

The Auck­land High Court con­firmed Unite Social Ser­vices was placed into liq­ui­da­tion this morn­ing at the request of the Com­mis­sioner of Inland Rev­enue at 10.56am.

The Offi­cial Assignee was appointed as liquidator.

Unite Social Ser­vices is sep­a­rate from the union Unite Incor­po­rated, but finan­cial accounts filed with the Com­pa­nies Office show the two enti­ties are linked.

The 2008/09 accounts for UNITE showed a huge debt to the IRD, including shamefully unpaid PAYE tax which they hold in trust for their employees.

Their 2009/10 accounts are yet to surface, even though it is 15 months since balance date. Their AGM is officially October, so they should have been approved eight months ago. They have until this October to file them, before the Registrar of Incorporated Societies will take action.

I admire some of what UNITE union has done – effective advocacy for low paid workers. I also like the fact they are more about their principles than just being a wing of a political party – mind you that has got blurred recently with the Mana party.

Hat Tip: Whale

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Slagging your employer off on Facebook

February 5th, 2011 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

3 News has a story on Julie Tyler who is facing the sack from Burger King after she said on Facebook “Real jobs don’t under pay and over work people like BK does!”.

They also have a copy of the official letters from BK.

Sometimes an employer can over-react to comments on Facebook, but in this case I don’t think Burger King is over-reacting. She directly slagged her employer off in a public forum.

If she had not named the employer, then that would not be an issue. Likewise if an employee just posts about a bad day at work, then an employer might be over-reacting to take action. But the comments made by Tyler undermine the good faith needed in the employer/employee relationship.

As it happens, she was also on a final warning for swearing and customer relations.

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CTU asks UNITE to explain unpaid PAYE tax

December 3rd, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

In a follow up to the story I blogged about yesterday, Rebecca Stevenson at the Dom Post reports:

The Council of Trade Unions wants an explanation from Unite on why it failed to pay the IRD more than $36,000 in PAYE on behalf of its employees.

Unite, one of New Zealand’s largest unions, owed IRD over $130,000 for the year ended March 2009 (its most recent filing), including more than $57,000 in unpaid GST. For the same financial year its liabilities outweighed its assets by more than $170,000.

It is the unpaid PAYE that will be causing most concern, as this is in fact money owed by the employees to the IRD, and UNITE has appropriated it for its own purposes. It is the sort of stuff that the newspaper boss Maxwell did – but on a much smaller scale.

Unite head Matt McCarten confirmed yesterday that the union owed money to the IRD but said he had made choices to pay for union campaigns rather than clear the debt. “I don’t shy away from these decisions, I make the calls.”

He said Unite paid $8000 in PAYE each month to the IRD but kept incurring late payment penalties. He claimed not to know exactly how much it owed the IRD.

The late penalties do add up – as many businesses know. But if it was a deliberate decision to keep running campaigns, instead of paying off the debt, then few will have sympathy.

He agreed it was not a good look for a workers’ union to fail to pay its employees’ tax.

I don’t think Matt realises how bad a look it is. The next time UNITE or Matt calls for greater government spending, this issue will arise.

CTU president Helen Kelly said Unite did good work in an area that was difficult and expensive to organise. That required it to juggle its finances. “All unions are always short of resources.”

However, when questioned on Unite’s tax failure, she said: “I need an explanation for that”.

I’m not sure I would say all unions are short of resources. The combined wealth of the union movement puts the Business Roundtable, Business NZ, and the Chambers of Commerce to shame. I did a blog post a couple of years back comparing them.

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Is UNITE solvent?

December 2nd, 2010 at 3:41 pm by David Farrar

Daniel on Twitter pointed me to the audited accounts for the UNITE union, which are filed with the Registrar of Incorporated Societies.

The accounts to 31 March 2009 reveal the following:

  • Their liabilities exceed their assets by around $172,000
  • Their bank account is over-drawn to $63,000
  • They owe the IRD around $130,000
  • They have an agreement with IRD to pay the debt off at $8,000 per month
  • They have a $30,000 loan from the National Distribution Trust, which presumably is associated with the ND Union.

This is a very bad look for a trade union, as some of their unpaid tax is PAYE. That means that have been taking the tax off their staff, and rather than pay it to the IRD, have kept onto it.

Employers who do that are labelled thieves and bad employers. It is seen as worse as not paying income tax because it is not tax on your own income, it is tax on behalf of your employees and you are acting in a role as trustee to deduct and pass on.

The 2010 accounts have not been filed. Hopefully they have paid back the IRD.

I like Matt McCarten – he is a genuine advocate for his beliefs. But to advocate that the state should be spending far more money, and have your own union not paying their taxes, exposes you to charges of hypocrisy.

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Hooton on “good faith” industrial relations

November 1st, 2010 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

In the NBR (behind the paywall) Matthew Hooton wrote last week:

“Good faith” remains at the centre of New Zealand’s labour laws and, until now, has delivered relatively benign industrial relations.

The problem is that the Employment Relations Act’s authors couldn’t have anticipated a person such as Australian Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance boss Simon Whipp.

Australian unions are overbearingly powerful and notoriously corrupt, with historic links to organised crime. It was to people with that cultural inheritance that New Zealand’s actor unionists turned – implausibly, they claim, simply because they wanted a chat with the New Zealand Screen Production and Development Association.

In fact, Mr Whipp then conspired with other union bosses in Australia, Canada, the US and the UK to arrange a global boycott of The Hobbit, which would have cost more than 2500 highly-skilled, highly-paid jobs and unravelled an industry worth more than New Zealand’s entire exports of beef, butter or cheese.

But the problem has been solved, or has it?

Good faith is meant to be a mutual obligation, requiring parties to interact constructively. It covers the whole relationship between employer and employee, not just formal bargaining, and includes not only current but intended employers and employees – including those working under commercial contracts who want to become employees. …

Not even in their fevered imaginations could it be considered good faith to conspire with militant union thugs across the English-speaking world to organise a global boycott of a vitally important project which already pays above industry averages – and all without even giving prior warning to the employer of their intention to do so.

Actors aren’t alone in making a mockery of “good faith.” Similar conduct is under way in secondary schools from the PPTA, a union with a history of communist connections. It has no intention of dealing in good faith with the Ministry of Education because its true objective is industrial havoc in election year. The primary teachers’ union will no doubt also find a pretext for havoc in 2011, probably over national standards – a policy which, like few others, has received overwhelming mandates from parents and voters. Other unions plan to sabotage the Rugby World Cup.

So good faith seems to be rather lacking from the unions, Hooton says.

The government may also need to consider whether the law around “good faith” should be reviewed in the light of union antics. The provisions imposing good faith obligations on unions as well as employers could be strengthened. Or perhaps employers could be able to apply to the courts to have organisations like Actors Equity and the teacher unions proscribed and the requirement to deal with them in good faith removed. Or perhaps “good faith” needs to go altogether.

That would be a shame – but it would be Ms Walsh, Ms Ward-Lealand, Ms Malcolm, Ms Kelly and Mr Whipp who would be responsible.

By coincidence (or maybe not) I also had a phone call on Friday, saying that the laws around good faith need to be reviewed as the unions make such a mockery around them. Is it possible Mr Hooton is flying a kite for certain people within National who want to see change in this area? If so, they have certainly been given an opportunity to do so by not just the MEAA, but also PPTA and NZEI.

Like Matthew, I think this would be a shame. I think good faith is important in the employment realm. But it does need to apply both ways, not one way.

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McCarten for Mana

October 27th, 2010 at 12:53 pm by David Farrar

So Matt McCarten is standing as a UNITE backed Indpendent for Mana. What does this mean for the by-election?

The only certainty is that it means it will be a lot more interesting and even exciting, and will have more media coverage of it. Beyond that, it depends on a few things.

Most would conclude it is a slap in the face for Phil Goff and Kriss Faafoi. Rather ironic to have the candidate who won thanks to the union block votes, to now face a candidate from another union.

Does it mean Labour could lose the seat? To be honest, at this stage no one knows. It is safe to say that Matt is unlikely to pick up many votes from Hekia, so that helps National and Hekia.

What we don’t know is whether he will get 500 votes or 5,000 votes. That may depend on what issues he campaigns on.

It is even possible this could help Faafoi and Labour. A battle on the left could get more left wing voters voting. And if Labour are tactically cunning, they could try and position themselves as the moderate party between National and McCarten.

So this announcement is a slap in the face for Labour, and no one in Labour will be happy with McCarten’s candidacy. But that does not mean this has suddenly become a three-horse race, or that it is suddenly a marginal seat. Mana is very tribal Labour and UNITE has fewer activists on the ground here than in Auckland.

As I said, the only guarantee is things will now be more exciting. I wasn’t planning to attend any of the Meet The Candidates meetings, but now I might just go along to see what stunts Matt gets up to with chicken suits and the like.

UPDATE: The Electoral Commission has announced eight candidates for Mana. They are:

Kelly Buchanan Alliance
Julian Crawford Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party
Colin Du Plessis Act
Kris Faafoi Labour Party
Sean Fitzpatrick Libertarianz
Jan Logie Green Party
Matt McCarten Independent
Hekia Parata National Party

Nice name for the Libertarianz candidate!

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Exploiting the earthquake

September 21st, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press reports:

A Christchurch business has rejected union claims it told staff to come to work on the day of the Canterbury earthquake.

Unite Union alleged Garden City Bowl staff had been told in “no uncertain terms” to come to work after the 7.1-magnitude quake.

“Staff came in under duress and didn’t feel very confident. The company realised they weren’t going to make any money that day and sent the workers home. For that whole weekend they received no pay for lost hours,” Nelson-Christchurch Unite organiser Matt Jones said.

Keeping Stock has been doing an admirable job blogging on Matt Jones, and his antics in Christchurch.

At a time where most of the community are working together, Jones seems to be exploiting the earthquake to gain publicity. It is rather nasty.

However, Julie Williamson, group human resources manager, denied those claims.

She said workers were advised not to come to work on Saturday, other than two technical staff who were paid.

Williamson said staff scheduled to work on Saturday were paid and “given the required period of notice” the centre would not open on Sunday.

Some of these businesses may go under and all the staff lose their jobs. I’ve worked for a small business. Even a week of no income can be devastating.

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Unite and Rugby World Cup

June 6th, 2010 at 9:51 am by David Farrar

The HoS reports:

McCarten said hospitality industry workers should be paid a minimum of $15 an hour and hotel workers get a cut of room-rate hikes.

An employer who sets a permanent wage rate on the basis of a one off event, won’t be in business for long.

Rates will be higher during the World Cup. And unions are quite free to ask for a profit share. In fact I like profit shares. But they normally go both ways.

If there is a month with little demand for rooms, and hence room rates are discounted 50%, would Unite be willing to accept lower wage rates for that month?

Risk and reward are linked. If you want extra reward, you need to accept some risk also.

The workers earned low wages and would be expected to work long hours and extra days during the tournament.

Now there is one key thing missing from that sentence. The statement that workers will get paid extra money for every extra hour and extra day. Hotels are not going to (or able to) make people work longer hours for the same pay. So workers will be getting paid more during the RWC – by working more.

“They’re talking about room rates of up to 10 times what they’re charging now, so there will be a lot of money around.”

There’s talk, and there’s actual bookings,

And Tourism Auckland chief executive Graeme Osborne said no one would be making “silly money” from the tournament.

The industry had emerged from a “tough” few years, and the average room rate was about $140 a night, lower than it was five years ago.

As I said,if you want more money during the peaks, will you also take less money during the troughs?

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The great capitalism debate

May 25th, 2010 at 3:59 pm by David Farrar

The Unite union has organised a fun debate on campus in Auckland on the topic of

IS CAPITALISM WORKING?

Affirmative

  1. Matthew Hooton – political commentator and former National Party speechwriter
  2. Fran O’Sullivan- Senior Business Columnist, NZ Herald
  3. Nikki Kaye – Auckland Central National MP

Negative

  1. Matt McCarten – left-wing Herald on Sunday columnist and National Secretary of Unite union.
  2. Mike Treen – Global Peace and Justice Auckland organiser.
  3. Maxine Gay – from the National Distribution Union.

The details are:

Date: Wednesday, May 26 2010

Time: 7.00pm – 9.00pm

Location: Library basement Theatre B15 @Auckland Uni

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UNITE, VUWSA and the Workers Party

May 26th, 2009 at 3:37 pm by David Farrar

I blogged on the 15th about how the Workers Party had expelled VUWSA Jasmine Freemantle from their ranks. I quoted:

The WP has tried to argue that I needed to consult with the Party and the Wellington branch before putting forward claims in collective negotiations. While it would be completely inappropriate for any VUWSA President to do such a thing in conjunction with their political party, such actions would be absolutely unprofessional in light of Unite’s relationship with the WP.

Now this sets up a real conflict of interest. Half the executive of the Workers Party are on the UNITE payroll or involved with UNITE. So what you have is UNITE through the Workers Party trying to control both the employee and the employer. The Workers Party basically says that if you are a member and the VUWSA President, you must give in to all the demands from UNITE.

Now since I blogged about this around two weeks ago, I’ve had a number of interesting documents fall my way, including details of the changes that Freemantle is trying to negotiate to the UNITE contract – these changes that are so anti-worker that she has been expelled for.

First of all is requiring consent for annual leave to be sought in writing in advance. My God – how draconian. I mean what is wrong with the employer just working out when you don’t turn up, that you are on annual leave?

Then we have the unlimited sick leave provision. Now this is not just sick leave for yourself. Or for your family members. But also for your pet. Yes unlimited sick leave for you if your pet is sick. So restricting sick leave to seven days a year is obviously just complete fascism.

Then we have the oppressive salaries. The VUWSA contract has automatic salary increases every year. Anyone can rise to the top of the scale – from the accounts clerk to the Salient Distributor.

The proposed top of the scale is $37.04 an hour – a fulltime salary of $72,500. This is not deemed high enough by the Workers Party who called it “Anti-worker and reactionary”. Even someone in their job for just a year, such as the Salient Editor gets $43,800. This may explain the lack of coverage of this issue in Salient :-)

So the proposed change is that moving up the pay scale be considered as part of a performance review. And this is unacceptable to the Workers Party.

Somewhere in all this we should think of the poor Vic students. They are forced to join VUWSA and hand over $2 million a year to keep it going. They would like to think that they have an Association Executive that actually tries to get value for money out of the staff they fund. But when you have UNITE controlling the Workers Party, and the Workers Party trying to dictate to Executive members what they must agree to (or face expulsion), it is no wonder it is the student who gets done over.

As far as I know, the contract negotiations are stalled. So will UNITE call a strike over the right of staff to have unlimited sick leave for their pets?

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VUWSA and the Workers Party

May 15th, 2009 at 9:34 am by David Farrar

I was surprised yesterday to be forwarded a press release from the Workers Party announcing that they have purged VUWSA President Jasmine Freemantle from their ranks – they have expelled her. Salient has a copy of the release, which includes:

Current VUWSA President Jasmine Freemantle has been expelled from the Workers Party. Freemantle contested the VUWSA election last year on a Workers Party platform. Since then, however, she has acted entirely as an individual rather than abiding by Workers Party policies and decisions.
A number of Workers Party principles have been breached, most particularly around the VUWSA Staff Collective Agreement which she drew up and which represented an attack on VUWSA employees’ rights, and around her role on Anzac Day where she failed to support action by WP members. In the case of Anzac Day, while she failed to consult in any way with the Party, she consulted with the RSA, seeking their endorsement of motions for a Student Representative Council.

Good God – she consulted the RSA – she must be lynched.

Since she was elected as president of VUWSA running on the WP platform, we believe she should resign from her position of President of VUWSA and seek re-election on her own record and platform.

Jasmine has done a very lengthy blog post on her experiences with the Workers Party, how members have treated her, the links to the UNITE union, the VUWSA involvement. It is worthy of scrutiny. Some extracts:

A particularly bad case involved an Auckland WP member and Unite Union activist. This specific member had made unreceptive advances to me off and on for a number of years. Mid last year he completely barraged me with text messages and phone calls at all hours of the night, demanding sex and revealing very upsetting and highly emotive details about his own personal life. This continued for quite some time, despite the fact that I alerted the Party’s leadership to the problem. After a few months of this carry on, I received a spate of drunken phone calls from him, which consisted of him yelling at me, “You’re not my comrade, not anymore”. When I asked why this was, he replied “You’re not my comrade because you’re fucking my mate” (in reference to the fact that I’d started going out with another Party member, Nick Kelly.)

This particular member had developed a drinking problem largely due to the stress and long hours created by his employment at Unite.

Surely UNITE, of all employers, would not be requiring staff to work long hours and work in a stressful workplace?

In 2008 Joel Cosgrove and VUWSA Campaigns Officer Sonny Thomas authored a “Consultation document for a revised structure of VUWSA business”, AKA their now infamous (at least within student politics circles) ‘Change Proposal’ report. Joel has admitted that this document was lifted from one written by Victoria University management who were restructuring and laying off a number of staff at the College of Education. According to Joel, the Change Proposal’s aim was “minimising financial risk” and “maximising efficiencies”. In practice this meant the contracting out of VUWSA’s clubs and activities to the University, and laying off at least 3 core VUWSA staff members – though other redundancies were also planned.

That was a very good proposal (in my opinion). I think I even endorsed it. I always thought it was Sonny’s, not Joel’s.

I anticipated that having one WP member handing over to another would result in a relatively smooth transition. Failing this I at least expected an adequate one. From the beginning of October to the end of December 2008 I worked full time (the first two months without pay) at VUWSA as the incoming President. The theory is that this time provides an opportunity for the outgoing President to train the incoming President in everything from operational matters to high level business.

From basics like working the fax machine through to arranging various meetings with the University, I soon found I either had to organise it myself or work out what was going on by asking others. Joel was no help at all.

Joel would often come into the office late, leave early and spend much of his time watching YouTube videos. Despite the VUWSA President being a full-time job, Joel habitually turned up about 10am and left again around 2pm. He spent most of his time in his office sleeping with his door locked. He would often tell me how he just wanted everyone (i.e. VUWSA staff, Executive members, students, etc) to leave him alone and stop “bugging” him.

And people wonder why I support VSM.

There was a mountain of outstanding admin, grievances and complicated issues left from the 2007-2008 period. When I checked the President’s landline and cellular messages I discovered that Joel hadn’t even bothered to check them since September 2008. I spent a depressing evening listening to literally hundreds of messages, a number of which were fairly urgent, including one from a highly distressed student that had been referred to VUWSA by a counselor.

Staggering.

For a number of years now Wellington’s Unite Union has been fairly stagnant. As already mentioned I was part of a Burger King organising campaign back in 2004 which fell over due to a lack of commitment and professionalism by the Union. For a number of years now Unite Wellington has opted to focus on soft sites, such as the SPCA and VUWSA.

Staff at VUWSA are fairly well paid, with many staff receiving at least double that of the President’s salary. This is despite VUWSA hardly being a wealthy students’ association (in fact VUWSA has run at a deficit in 5 out of the last 8 financial years, some of them quite hefty). VUWSA Presidents are almost always either Labour or left thereof. No VUWSA President and few Executive members want their year in office marred by a big fight with the staff.

The annual VUWSA staff collective negotiations are a case in point. What usually happens is that Unite goes in to negotiate the collective, the Executive quickly cave in – and the rest of the year Unite gets involved in the petty office politics at VUWSA instead of doing the real work of organising fast food workers.

While not agreeing politically with UNITE, I’ve actually respected what they have managed to achieve in the fast food sector, and have a hell of a lot of time for Matt McCarten. But this looks very messy.

Days into taking over the VUWSA presidency, it became extremely evident that basic office procedures were either dreadful, or completely non existent. It has been common practice for staff to not turn up to work days on end without any notification, then return and apply for annual leave. The concept of office hours was apparently completely foreign. Trying to get basic operating norms in place was greeted with hostility and threats of industrial action.

So Jasmine was expelled for trying to get staff to actually notify in advance when they take leave?

In early 2009 Wellington’s Unite organiser left, and was replaced by two new organisers: one being WP member Don Franks, the other an anarchist called Matt Jones.

I like the idea of an anarchist being an organiser :-)

The WP has tried to argue that I needed to consult with the Party and the Wellington branch before putting forward claims in collective negotiations. While it would be completely inappropriate for any VUWSA President to do such a thing in conjunction with their political party, such actions would be absolutely unprofessional in light of Unite’s relationship with the WP.

Here we get into really serious issues – the Workers Party demanding they approve what the President puts forward. Could you imagien the outrage if a student association president was a National Party member, and National insisted on approving the industrial negotiating position?

It is very clear that the relationships between VUWSA, UNITE and Workers Party are very murky and unprofessional.

The fact of the matter is that the majority of the WP’s Auckland branch are Unite organisers. As stated above, Don Franks is also an organiser in Wellington; a number of other WP members are Unite volunteers. Just under half of the national Steering Committee are on the Unite pay role or have close involvement with Unite. Anyone else noticed a conflict of interest?

Indeed.

By way of background: I caught Joel Cosgrove and Kassie Hartendorp running a copy of the draft staff collective through the VUWSA photocopy machine on Sunday 26 April. When I questioned them as to what they thought they were doing photocopying a document that they had no right of access to in the first place, they said it was none of my business. Joel then grabbed the documents and ran off. When I questioned Kassie as to what photocopy code she was using, she said she was using the women’s rights budget code (but that apparently she would pay it back).

Just gets worse.

If you have the time, I suggest you read the entire post. My politics are a world apart from Jasmine’s, but you have to feel sorry for all the crap she has to endure in just doing her job.

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Election Eve

November 8th, 2008 at 7:38 am by David Farrar

Had a fun time out drinking last night. A very mixed group with Chris Trotter (wearing a Labour rosette!), Keith Locke (Greens), Joe Hendren (Alliance/NDU) and a couple of UNITE staffers plus Ben Thomas (NBR) and Hamilton Blonde (SAHM-WLP).

We were at Galbraiths and I was disappointed to learn I missed Helen doding a flying visit at 6pm. But regardless was a good time with lots of interesting conversation. We all wrote election predictions down on a beer coaster. God knows who has it – I can’t even recall what I predicted.

Today I need to do three things – haircut, vote and swot up on 2005 results – not in that order.

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McCarten on KiwiSaver law

July 27th, 2008 at 4:34 pm by David Farrar

Matt McCarten looks at the fight over the proposed law change to ban total remuneration packages from including the employer contribution to KiwiSaver:

My union, Unite, represents thousands of minimal-waged workers and few have joined despite a $1000 start-up from the Government and up to $20 a week tax credit.

That’s because someone on the minimum wage would have to contribute 48 cents an hour which they can’t afford when food and petrol prices are soaring.

And this law change will make it illegal to pay them more money if they do not go into KiwiSaver.

I think Thompson is genuinely outraged that KiwiSaver discriminates on age. Workers under 18 and over 65 don’t get the scheme’s subsidies. Mallard claims that as youth rates have been abolished and as older workers are entitled to Government superannuation that somehow makes it acceptable. Well it’s not. It’s clearly discriminatory and unfair.

So this is the head of the Unite union agreeing the the EMA Northern that the scheme dsicriminates agaianst the poor, young and old!

It is an outrage that young workers and older workers who pay their taxes are not allowed to join a scheme their colleagues can. Thompson’s view, which has some merit, is that the workers who aren’t entitled or can’t afford to join KiwiSaver don’t get the subsidy and therefore, effectively, an employer is paying some workers a higher benefit than others.

Exactly. The overall costs to the employer should be the same.

The only way the scheme would be fair was if it was compulsory for all employees so any contribution by employers would be paid to everybody.

It is becoming close to de facto compulsory and I suspect it will become compulsory at some stage.

If KiwiSaver became widespread it would inevitably lead to the weakening and abolition of universal superannuation.

KiwiSaver is privatisation of superannuation by stealth. The poor and those unable to take up employment will miss out and will end up with some state-funded pauper’s pension.

I support KiwiSaver partly because it is an effective privatisation. And McCarten is right that it will inevitably lead to a move away from the current universal publicly funded superannuation scheme. A 25 year old today will earn more money in retirement from KiwiSaver and NZ Super than they will during their working life. That is nuts, and inevitably public superannuation will be made less generous as more and more people have KiwiSaver.

I accept that the Government and trade unions don’t trust employers not to use their compulsory contribution as leverage in contract negotiations. But it seems better-off workers can receive a taxpayer subsidy as well as their employer’s subsidy while their poorer colleagues get nothing.

Indeed. Employers should be able to offer a total remuneraton package where if an employees chooses not to go into KiwiSaver, the employer can pay them extra cash.

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McCarten lashes CTU

May 4th, 2008 at 8:59 am by David Farrar

Matt McCarten has lashed the CTU for not supporting the junior doctors on strike – all but calling them scabs:

There is a sacred principle among trade unionists: when a group of workers is on strike you support them to the hilt. To side with the boss is the most serious of all crimes.

Working-class history is full of epic struggles that led to better wages and conditions. Crossing a picket line banished the offender to lifetime alienation as a “scab” with whom no working person of good character would associate. …

So last week I was gobsmacked to see the head of the trade union movement publicly attack the junior doctors’ two-day strike and their union leadership. It’s not as if CTU president Helen Kelly doesn’t know any better – her parents were staunch unionists.

This is harsh stuff from the head of UNITE Union about the head of the CTU, especially as UNITE is affiliated to the CTU. This may be the opening shot in replacing the Government friendly leadership with more aggressive leadership.

Kelly says she hopes the strike “doesn’t give unions a bad name” and the doctors’ union is not a “modern union”. This is because it focuses too much on getting better wages and conditions for its members and lacks professional advisers, “such as policy analysts, economists, lawyers and advocates”. Its crimes include not attending talk-fests with Ministry of Health and DHB officials and other unions to “work towards a better health system”.

She seems to think a modern union levies its members to employ “professional advisers” so they can have meetings with the ever-expanding health bureaucracy. Maybe the doctors are smarter than she thinks. I’m told that if all the DHB bureaucrats had to go into hospital there wouldn’t be enough beds available. I’m sure you need a talk-fest to see what the real problem is.

McCarten is right that there are more administrators than hospital beds.

The doctors’ union says it costs the taxpayer $100 million for locums. They say the $300-$500 an hour paid to locums during the strike, for the jobs that pay them $23 an hour, is more than their entire wage demand.

So instead of attacking the union, the president of the CTU should be demanding that Cunliffe stop lining up with the hospital bosses and make sure the doctors get a decent salary.

Otherwise, the doctors’ accusation that the CTU president seems more interested in looking after her mates in the Government than workers does seem to have a ring of truth to it.

Hasn’t a CTU official just been made a Labour candidate? Really what McCarten seems to be saying is that the CTU should put the interests of “labour” ahead of “Labour”.

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A new super union

April 14th, 2008 at 9:21 am by David Farrar

The Hive has an interesting piece on the proposed merger of United, the NDU and SFWU. They say it will be around the same size as the EPMU, and in a position to take the presidency of the CTU with Laila Harre as the candidate.

One big question is whether the combined union will join the Labour Party. Unite is not an affiliate member, but NDU and SFWU are I believe.

On a related issue, NZPA reports today:

Council of Trade Unions (CTU) president Helen Kelly told the party’s congress today it would run a major campaign, with its affiliate unions, to help the Government win a fourth term.

The Australian unions spent $10 million helping get Labor elected there. Who knows how much will be spent in NZ, but remember money in politics is only bad, if it is used to campaign against Labour, not for it.

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