Fair wage plans are upsetting for some on the left, too

Some business people are uneasy about Government proposals to introduce fair pay agreements. Far-left commentators – as it happens – aren’t too chuffed about what’s going on, either.

Their concerns are encapsulated in the headline on a weekend post at Scoop which shrilly warns: Labour government to extend bans on strikes

Beneath the headline, John Braddock, from the Socialist Equality Group, complains that New Zealand’s Labour Party-led government has “defrauded” voters by preparing to further restrict the right to strike for broad sections of workers when it overhauls the country’s industrial laws.

If you read on, you will learn more about who are the goodies and baddies in the formulation of labour market policy, as viewed through a Socialist Equality Group prism, than about anything  the Government wants to hide from us.  Braddock writes:

The creation of new “Fair Pay Agreements” (FPAs) was the cornerstone of Labour’s industrial policy during last September’s national election. It was fraudulently promoted as a measure designed “to give power back to workers.”

Labour’s election advertising highlighted the fact that 40 percent of children in poverty live in working households, and that in real terms, wages had declined for two-thirds of workers over the previous year.

The FPAs, established through negotiations between unions and employers, overseen by the government authorities, will purportedly provide minimum terms and conditions of employment for all workers in an industry or occupation. Labour claims FPAs will improve pay and conditions by preventing a “race to the bottom” caused by employers competing with each other to lower wages.

This is a fraud. The real role of the FPAs will be to establish a corporatist framework of employer-union-government wage setting, while outlawing industrial action. This process will entrench low pay across entire industries, enforced by draconian legislation. The unions, as they have done for decades, will impose the deals and suppress resistance from workers.

How Government’s decisions on fair pay agreements may differ from Labour’s election promises can only be a matter for conjecture. As Braddock acknowledges, Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway announced on June 5 that a 10-person working group, led by former National Party Prime Minister Jim Bolger, would design the FPAs.

“Details of how the agreements will be established, negotiated and enforced are all to be decided by the group, which will report back later this year.”

Braddock goes on:

The government has repeatedly insisted that strikes and lockouts will be banned across entire industries during FPA bargaining. Under draconian provisions in the Labour Relations Act, passed by the Helen Clark-led Labour Party government in 2000, strikes are already illegal, except when employment contracts are being re-negotiated or for health and safety reasons. These repressive provisions will now be expanded.

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU) actively supports the FPA plan.

And:

The pseudo-left International Socialist Organisation (ISO), which supported Labour in the 2017 election as a “progressive” alternative to National, has endorsed the FPAs.

In every country pseudo-left groups like the ISO, which have close ties to the union bureaucracy, bear direct responsibility for ongoing betrayals of the working class by promoting the lie that union leaderships can be “pressured” to the left. In fact, the unions are an industrial police force of governments and the corporations. They defend capitalism and have for decades imposed attacks on jobs, wages and conditions.

The upper-middle class layer for which the ISO and other pseudo-left organisations speak fear any action by the working class that threatens to break free from the unions’ control. Hence their slavish promotion of Labour’s corporatist industrial policy, and the role of the unions within it.

Lees-Galloway has made no secret of that fact that, unlike existing collective bargaining, industrial action will not be permitted in negotiations for a Fair Pay Agreement.

The right to strike on existing grounds (negotiation of a contract agreement or health and safety, for example) remains unaffected.

A full press conference can be revisited here:

The CTU, true, hasn’t advocated a right to strike and perhaps there’s an important point of principle to be addressed.

New Zealand has constrained the right to strike more than many many overseas countries.

But practicalities rather than points of principle are to the fore in this matter.

The minimum wage – for example – typically covers non-union members.  Striking where large portions of the affected workers are not union members doesn’t make much sense.

Similarly, most people who would benefit from fair pay agreements are likely to be non-union members.

And if it is such a bad deal, then there’s good news for Braddock and his comrades: National has signalled its readiness to repeal any model it considers unacceptable. 

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