The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Locked Out but not down

I've been itching to write about the Spotless lockout at hospitals around the country but haven't had time. Luckily the following bloggers have:

I've written before about the stupid undervaluing of cleaners, and their consequent low pay. In this case these factors are exacerbated by a particularly nasty employer who has a history of testing the law to its limit, trying to find a way around legislative improvements made in recent years (e.g. the introduction of relevant daily pay plus time off in lieu for working a public holiday). Cleaning companies are not known for their generosity to their workers - but all the rest have agreed to a national collective agreement and national pay standards. Spotless had to derail that deal, and now they are making it even worse by locking out their own workers - leaving them with no pay at all until the company decides otherwise.

What can you do to show you care?
  1. Join up with Idiot/Savant's Pledgebank here
  2. Put binary heart's badge up on your blog, code here
  3. Make a donation to the locked out workers by calling 0900 LOCKOUT ($10 per call), or making an electronic transfer directly to 02-0264-0294110-000 (BNZ Newmarket, use the reference LOCK OUT).
  4. Keep up to date with progress on the SFWU's website and post your message of support there.

These workers are staunch and it is great to see their strength. Long may it last.

(Pic Via)


Stephen said...

Not so sure about your last sentence. My sentiment would be 'over soon and clean please!'

Span said...

I definitely want the lock out to end soon (with the workers winning!) but I don't see that as mutually exclusive of the workers remaining strong?

Tane Wilton said...

Anyone know if there's any truth to the rumour that Matthew Hooton is doing Spotless' PR?

Certainly the tone of their press releases is very close to the National Party's...

Insolent Prick said...

The SFWU doesn't care about its workers. It uses them as a pawn in their drive to get more members and support the Labour Party.

In case nobody's mentioned it to you pinkos, there are considerable labour shortages right now. All the DHBs are advertising for jobs. If they are paying more than Spotless, then why don't the workers simply go and work for the DHBs, and cause Spotless to renege on its contract with the DHBs by not being able to carry out the work?

Workers should go work elsewhere if they want to earn themselves more money. That's the labour market in action.

Oh, that's right. It's not in the union's interest for its members to use their own brains.

millsy said...

I take it you want to bring back slavery and sweatshops, IP?

Insolent Prick said...

Quite the contrary, Millsy, I want to see low-paid workers being paid more. One way unions can do that is to inform their members about what skills they need to become more productive and more valuable in the workplace. They can actively advise members in low-paid workplaces where they can get higher-paying jobs elsewhere.

If Spotless couldn't hire staff because nobody was willing to work for them, and instead went elsewhere, Spotless would be out of business.

Except what do the unions do? They use their position to ensure workers remain at Spotless for the sake of advancing the union's own interests: forcing Spotless into a multi-site agreement negotiated by the union, so it can use its power to monopolise the union membership in every workplace.

I think the Commerce Commission should investigate the SWFU's attempts to create a monopoly of labour supply, and undue influence to the prejudice of low-income workers.

Millsy said...

So I take it you want to ban unions. Why is it you are so against workers asking for a higher wage from their worker? That is what they are trying to do. And who empties your rubbish bin when you go home from the office? Or who vacuums up your desk? or cleans the crap off your office toilet seat? Cleaners do a valueble job too you know. Its not easy cleaning up after people's crap, especuially when they look down on you and say you cannot have a better wage. God forbid that a cleaner earns enough to eat.

Gerrit said...


You are deliberatly misreading what IP said,

He does not underestimate what cleaners do and that they should be paid a fair wage for doing it.

The case he is putting forward is that the union is doing very little to forward the case of its members except by advicing them to go on strike.

The reson for this being that the organisors of the union are not prepared to look at alternative methods to gain access to the money that the DHB have been allocated for increasing cleaners pay.

Span will think this is a broken record but why doesnt the union take over the Spotless cleaning contract? That way the profits that would have gone to the contractor will flow into the cleaners pockets?

Simple really.

Anonymous said...

IP said “One way unions can do that is to inform their members about what skills they need to become more productive and more valuable in the workplace”

I’ve got some reservations about the union ‘Learning Reps’ initiative, from the perspective of who the learning is for, however it has great potential. Because of your deep concern with this issue, I’m surprised you haven’t heard about it since it started in 2005, and is currently being promoted actively by the NZCTU.

IP said “If Spotless couldn’t hire staff because nobody was willing to work for them, and instead went elsewhere, Spotless would be out of business.”

This statement has a great whopping assumption that you could drive a bus through. The market is not some divine instrument which does not favour in a multitude of ways including colour, class, or gender. It’s part of a system designed and maintained in order to keep privilege in place.

The 600kg primate in the room that many don’t want to acknowledge is that this is a system which actively discriminates. There is a class system in this country, there is racism in this country, and there is sexism in this country. Discrimination is part of the everyday experience of many workers in New Zealand. In particular jobs, traditionally done by women are paid crap wages precisely because this system does not value the huge amount of paid and unpaid labour done by them.

One of the biggest failures in IPs comment is the assumption that cleaning, catering, and caregiving isn’t vital work to healthcare. These people are responsible for ensuring that hospitals are healthy places to be. This work is absolutely essential, and should be paid accordingly.

IP said “They use their position to ensure workers remain at Spotless, for the sake of advancing the union’s own interests”

It doesn’t matter to the workers, who make up the union, if Spotless lose the DHB contracts (and they eventually will if they don’t smarten up quick). The workers will keep their jobs because of the vulnerable worker clauses wrung (and it was a struggle) from the government with the changes to the Employment Relations Act.

This statement also shows you have no understanding of what a union is. The union is the membership of 30,000* people.

“use its power to monopolise the union membership in every workplace…I think the Commerce Commission should investigate the SWFU’s attempts to create a monopoly of labour supply”

As stated the membership is 30,000* and includes a heap of workers from different professions and wages. Since union membership isn’t compulsory and unions can’t close shop I think you’re being rather odd with the idea that this comes anywhere close to a monopoly on the hundreds of thousands of workers in this country.

I have to say I don’t see the problem with hundreds of thousands of workers in democratic organisations fighting for better wages. Let’s not forget who actually does the work that keeps your precious market running.

“…undue influence to the prejudice of low-income workers.”

I’m not sure what you’re saying hear, its not very clear. I assume you are claiming that they are lying. I challenge you to find SFWU press statements which mislead workers or the public.

The paid organisers and clerical staff are working around the clock to ensure that locked-out members are supported in what is a dire situation forced on them by a ruthless employer who has one of the worst records in the hospitality industry.

The ones I have met are people who care deeply and passionately about the situation and the members they work for. Every single one of them has a far better idea than you of what it means for 800 poorly paid workers to be without pay for days on end (six days at the time of posting). To slander (and I don’t use that word lightly) their intentions, appears to me, to be purely ideologically driven nastiness.

* this is from memory


Anonymous said...

IP - the fact is the DHB's have washed their tidy hands of cleaners and CONTRACTED it out to Mega companies such as Spotless - bless their cotton socks. So the fact is that the workers CAN"T just trot off to the DHBs and work for them - even if they wanted to - the DHBS don't want to have anything to do with the cleaners or food preparers of whoever! The DHBs pay the contractors the agreed wage and the contractors then pass it on!. But Spotless - bless their cotton socks - want to monkey around with the conditions of employment - so that they get to keep some of what the cleaners etc are entitled to (and has been agreed to be paid by the DHBs).

Now as far as the necessity for unions etc are concerned - the fact of the matter is that those who work in the "hospitality" industry are the matchstick girls of the modern era. And if you don't know what that means then go and do some research into the history of Unions. And the fact is that with the messing around with labour laws in the recent past - our laws concerning employment and workers rights are about as primitive today in nz as they were in the 1900's when in response to the oppressive conditions for workers - workers began to organise themselves, and eventually achieved the conditions that were enacted for the benefit of most in the early post war years. The present govt has done little to advance the lot of workers - eroded by the Lange govt and then even further by the Bolger govt. So now, those at the bottom of the worker food chain are being forced to rethink the need for organised labour and are again becoming militant. - YOU CAN'T HOLD THE PEOPLE DOWN FOREVER!

Anonymous said...

Hi IP and Gerrit,

A union and its members are one entity. Unions are not for profit and democratically run workers' organisations. The SFWU cares about increasing its members' pay, not about creating profit for itself.

Of course unions want to have more members because the more workers who join a union at a worksite, the more powerful the workers become. This allows them to have more say collectively on the job and to gain improvements to their terms and conditions of employment.

Your argument about members seeking higher paid jobs elsewhere is flawed. You are essentially saying that the jobs they do are not worth much, so they should seek work elsewhere. This misses the point that the jobs they do are vital and in an essential service and that they should be paid a living wage.

Unions do not go about "advicing" (sic) members to go on strike, strikes are preceded by secret ballots.

Comments about the SFWU taking over the cleaning contract and getting the Commerce Commission involved demonstrate an ignorance of industrial relations and the function of unions.

The reality of the dispute is that Spotless is not willing to sign up to a deal that every other DHB and contractor has signed. That deal is funded by the Government and workers' taxes have contributed to that deal.

The workers have no choice but to stick up to this kind of nonsense from Spotless.

Gerrit said...


"A union and its members are one entity. Unions are not for profit and democratically run workers' organisations. The SFWU cares about increasing its members' pay, not about creating profit for itself."

You have the wrong end of the stick Anon.

A socialist aim is for all workers "to own the means of production".

Here is a golden opportunity for not a very large capital outlay and a bit of organising the administrative management, for the workers to own their workplace (means of production).

The profit would not go to the unions, Anon, but back to the workers who own the workplace.

Works for unions in the most deregulated workplace and home of capitalism (USA).

I just see the SFWU attitude holding back workers when with very little capital outlay (hint, the government gives loans to start businesses), a big dollop of motivation and a very big incentive with profit derived extra take home pay, the workers would be hugely better off.

I guess unions are not as socialistic as they make out, prefer to keep workers poor through outdated workers versus bosses ideology.

When with a little foresight and modern thinking they could do so much more.

Heine said...

Why are the SFWU always trying to put together these huge collective agreements? Didn't they try that with the supermarket lockout?

Why are unions trying this all over again? The last time we had this nonsense NZ was quite the laughing stock and we were known as the Poland of the South Pacific.

Span said...

Good stuff binary heart and Macro!

Clint, SFWU was not the union involved with the supermarket lockout last year. That was the National Distribution Union, although many other unions did offer support and the SFWU was one of them.

One of the key strengths of unions to negotiate better pay and conditions for their members is through having the numbers at the negotiating table. Another important strategy is to take an industry-wide focus, something many individual businesses are very keen to avoid in their race to the bottom (for wages and conditions). Put these two things together and unions are smart to organise for multi-employer collective agreements that give their workers both the numbers and the industry focus to make real change across their sector.

stephen said...

Would have thought you would be in favour of Polish style economies Clint. Or is your Polish knowledge stuck in the 1980s?