Unions reflect on their loss of power

[Yesterday was] International Workers’ Day, celebrating the labour movement and the eight-hour day.

The day is a public holiday in many countries.

New Zealand has its own Labour Day holiday in October, marking the anniversary of this country adopting an eight-hour working day.

However, many organisations still celebrate solidarity between workers on what is colloquially known as May Day.

Council of Trade Unions economist Bill Rosenberg said people’s working conditions in New Zealand were not improving.

“There’s no effective protection in the law and for many people, if they do work long hours, there’s no recognition in higher rates of pay or overtime pay,” he said.

Something salaried people have been used to for a long time. And lots of self-employed people also know that the extra hours don’t always translate into extra money. Somehow, “workers” expect more.  

“There’s a lot of concern about the number of people working in insecure conditions who don’t know how many hours they’ll have next week.”

Unions have steadily lost power at the bargaining table, said Annie Newman, Living Wage campaign coordinator for the union E Tū.

“In a sense the Living Wage is a rate – it’s $19.80 – but what we’re also trying to do is create a better force behind bargaining,” she said.

“The whole idea of the Living Wage came about because bargaining under the law currently is an absolutely failed mechanism for delivering decent wages for working people.”

Job automation is a real risk, she said, and unions needed to have a greater stake in workers’ rights to prevent that.

Unions came about due to Industrialisation. As we are not in the post-Industrialisation period, unions are becoming irrelevant in most cases.

How they expect to protect workers against automation in a constructive way is an idea that nobody has figured out yet.

In the end, workers of the future require good education, flexibility and a willingness to deal with change.

Joining the factory floor as a 16-year-old and retiring at the same company as a production planner 35 years later is still something unions believe should be part of the Future of Work.

It is their need to stop the world from changing that makes them irrelevant.




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  • Miguel

    The 8-hour working day was a significant achievement, to be sure, but it was achieved many many decades ago. If this is still the unions’ crowning achievement, so wonder they are increasingly irrelevant. Trading on former glory get tiresome after a while.

    • BigDogTalking

      Actually when you think about it their current gripe is that there is not an 8 hour work day. They are either complaining about too much work (workers having to do long hours) or too little work (workers in insecure positions not knowing how many hours they will be doing next week)
      Seems to be the Goldilocks problem, too cold, too hot, not just 8 hours right.

  • jcpry

    “Job automation is a real risk, she said, and unions needed to have a greater stake in workers’ rights to prevent that.”
    Good lucks with that. If businesses don’t automate they will not be in business for long and neither will the unions that promote this Luddite attitude.

    • Annoyed

      It all makes sense now. If employers don’t automate they won’t be competitive internationally. That’s why they want to shut down the TPP etc, so they can go back to protecting local union controlled businesses. That it’ll shrink the economy and result in everyone’s standard of living going backwards seems to be lost on them. At least they’ll have power.

  • Justme

    If Unions were so concerned about their members, they should be out there encouraging them to upskill, and provide positive value to their employers.
    If a company is going the way of automation, then the union should promote their members to gain skills that can be utilised with the new technology, not to remain as they are and be left behind.
    The employee that embraces the new technology is the employee that gets retained.

    • Mick Ie

      If unions were so concerned about their members, they’d also be concerned about their member’ children and encourage education even if it meant attending Charter schools.

  • Aucky

    Remember when there were thousands of compulsorily unionised P&T workers who worked 8.30-4.30 with all of the breaks and overtime pay five days a week. They installed your phone (choice of one model in three colours) after a six month wait if you were lucky. That’s what Andy has been charged to do by his union puppetmasters – return us to those glorious days.

    • Stuarts.burgers

      You could get your install a bit quicker if you had a mate in the P&T and were will to part with a box of Steinies.
      Were you involved in a corrupt act, most likely but the cable was out side your house and you really did want the phone on and your mate need something to do on an overtime Saturday so what was the problem.

      Next Little Angey Andy will want us lining up at the Post Office to buy Postal Notes, but only one a day per person,so we can pay Amazon for our Kindle books, it will keep lots of PSA members in a job.

  • R&BAvenger

    Unions got too greedy and took their support for granted. I belonged to the PSA and through their actions and our strike action we got a pay rise and better working conditions one year – 1985 IIRC.
    In 1990 when our particular department was being disestablished and we were being made redundant, the PSA rep rocked up at the end, basically told us that there was nothing the PSA could do and sloped off again.
    From that day forwards I have never bothered with union membership.
    Apart from one employer since then, the rest have been excellent and my conditions of employment have improved too. My pay has gone up every year over the past 5 years since I started with my current employer, all through considerable hard work and improving my performance and taking on extra responsibility in order to justify said increases.
    The same occurred with my previous 2 employers as well.
    Unions are struggling for relevancy in this day and age, as they are still banging the same drum.
    Much has been achieved by them, it has to be said, but the employers are all bad and trying to rip you off line, doesn’t ring true most of the time.

    • I have always wondered why the rabid unionists don’t form a group and start their own business/es, then they could employ people under the conditions they try to enforce on others.

    • Miss McGerkinshaw

      “Much has been achieved by them, it has to be said, but the employers are all bad and trying to rip you off line, doesn’t ring true most of the time.”

      This what annoys me the most, the idea that all employers are bad and with that that the implied ‘truth’ that all employees are saints and being exploited. Neither is true – there are good and bad on both sides of the fence, as with all life.

  • Urbanviper

    Let’s go back to basics. Most unions won’t touch a workplace with under 5 unionized staff. It isn’t worth the resources. Sure they might help you with some basic employment advice and the raising of a Personal Grievance but then that is nothing that the internet and the government funded Community Law Centers can’t do. So tell me again why a worker should take a hit to their pay every week to get nothing for something? As the economy changes, the needs of the people are different. Simple. Unions are no longer one of those needs.

  • cows4me

    I wouldn’t cry for these union tits they have another leftist outfit purpose built for this plethora of wasters. H&S is nothing more than the control of production and work conditions. This fascist outfit has the stench of the same ideals the union heavies so love when they go about to cripple a business. And to make it worst they have been let lose by a supposedly right wing government, they should be tried as traitors to the country.

  • Deja Voodoo

    My wife, a non-unionised nurse, was having a discussion at work the other day about working long hours. The others, unionised nurses, were complaining that there wasn’t enough reward for working back-to-back shifts. They were pining for the old days when if asked to work you could negotiate your pay for the second 8 hours, whereas now you got a fixed rate and a dinner. They didn’t have much to say when it was pointed out this was considered a win for the union

  • JustanObserver

    “In the end, workers of the future require good education, flexibility and a willingness to deal with change”
    IMO … Workers of the Future, the exact same as workers now require one attribute above ALL OTHERS.
    A Willing Attitude.
    Willing to be alcohol & drug free, willing to be safe, willing to turn up every day, willing to follow legitimate instruction, willing to learn, willing to do what they are paid to do, willing to better themselves, willing to work.
    For this, they WILL be well paid.
    Unions have done the biggest ‘Con-Job’ over workers over the years, they made people believe Unions were the only way anyone could get ahead, and so many believed them. Well not anymore, most people understand that they have the ultimate power themselves.
    … Remember the way the Inter-Island Ferries used to get everyone ahead at School Holidays/Christmas etc

  • Left Right Out

    I would love to know what the cost benefit is for being in a union….. by this I mean what a union actually gets you verses what it costs you

    On the outside looking in it looks like a negative for the member but I could be wrong. It almost seems you pay more in union fees than what ever pay rise they get you.

    Most unions use bully tactics and prey on the perceived weak buy telling them if it wasn’t for the union they would have very little….. yet I can’t actually ever remember hearing a union be happy with any outcome they have negotiated….

    They are past their use by date

    • Urbanviper

      They will quickly chuck back “solidarity” with you. You might not personally gain but it is about supporting the “movement” so workers of the world can unite or some similar lingo. But I think you’re right. Unless your a drop kick who always needs a union rep at disciplinary meetings because you screwed up again, you’d spend more in fees than you’d get in pay rises.

  • Whitey

    The 8 hour day was an achievement worth celebrating (though it was a long time ago now), and yes, in an ideal world people would get paid for all the extra hours they do. In my experience, however, the real world doesn’t work that way and the only way to succeed is to accept reality. With many union members you get an attitude where they simply refuse to do any extra – the minute their 8 hours are up, off they go out the door no matter what happens. That attitude is a very big part of why so many union members are stuck in low skilled, low payed jobs, in danger of being replaced by robots.