Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: March 6

Locked-out meat workers protest outside the Affco meat works at Rangiuru, near Te Puke in the Bay of Plenty. Photo / Alan Gibson
Locked-out meat workers protest outside the Affco meat works at Rangiuru, near Te Puke in the Bay of Plenty. Photo / Alan Gibson

Just how high the stakes are in the Ports of Auckland dispute is evidenced by the secondary action taking place in other New Zealand ports and, potentially, in other countries. Not only have Maritime Union members refused to unload the Maersk Aberdeen in Wellington after it was handled by non-union labour in Auckland, members of the separate Rail and Maritime Union have also protested and refused to handle ships in Tauranga and Wellington. Such secondary action, or blacklisting, was banned under National's 1991 Employment Contracts Act and also in 2000 under Labour's Employment Relations Act. That means these actions expose the unions to legal action and potentially even being sued for damages. Matthew Dearnaley, in Port strike backed in NZ and beyond, reports that there is also international interest and support from unions around the world. He quotes Ray Familathe, a Vice Chairperson in the International Transport Federation which has 42,000 members in the US and Canada. Familathe says 'this is really a battle about the working class in New Zealand - you can see the same attack taking place in ports throughout the world'. So striking workers will do without pay, and the port company will struggle to find shipping companies willing to run the gauntlet, and this is where the dispute will be won or lost. Public relations will be important, but secondary to this very traditional class struggle.

The two other major industrial disputes continue to escalate with 200 more meatworkers locked out at Affco's Rangiuru plant in the Bay of Plenty and with up to 1500 caregivers, nurses and service workers due to strike against Oceania Group tomorrow - see Paloma Migone's Care workers to strike again. TVNZ quotes Dr Stephen Blumenfeld from Victoria University saying that it's the number of people involved in the strikes, rather than the number of strikes that has attracted media attention. He notes that the disputes are not really about straight pay rates, but mainly involve attempts by employers to claw back conditions achieved over many years of collective bargaining - see TVNZ's Affco workers face lock out today.

In revealing the legislation required for the partial sale of assets, the Government has not dampened any of the criticism of the process from the opposition parties. It has, however, appeared to placate its coalition partner, the Maori Party, despite the exclusion of private shareholders from Treaty obligations. The party says it is satisfied with the outcome despite its threat to walk if Treaty protections were not included. On TV3's Firstline this morning Pita Sharples went so far as to describe the coalition as a 'first class relationship. It's a relationship with integrity' - see: National, Maori Party relationship 'first class' - Sharples. Tariana Turia has admitted that although they initially wanted Section 9 to apply to private investors and that this was the message from the consultation hui, the party was not aware that these investors could never be bound by the Treaty. Mana Leader Hone Harawira has, of course, called for the Maori Party to honour their pledge to walk from Government because of the private shareholder exclusion. He is backed up by iwi leader Haami Piripi of Te Rarawa, who says 'There's nothing here for Maori. It's a sleight of hand. It cuts us out of the 49 per cent' - see Adam Bennett's Push for referendum on asset sales.

Morgan Godfery agrees and sees it as one of the final nails in the Maori Party's coffin. It's a 51 per cent win for the Maori Party according to John Armstrong, but he says that the threat to walk will open them up to accusations of crying wolf the next time they use it. He also wonders how exactly one group of shareholders can be 'immune from the effects of decisions impacting on other shareholders' and says the process has a feeling of déjà vu - the Fourth Labour Government was also 'flying blind' when it established SOEs in the first place.

There are two rearguard actions being fought against the asset sales. The New Zealand Maori Council want an urgent hearing with the Waitangi Tribunal to stop the process - see Yvonne Tahana's Crown asks tribunal to dismiss SOE sale claim. And an alliance of groups including opposition parties are looking to force a Citizens Initiated Referendum on the sales, although it is likely that many will be sold before a referendum is actually held.

The next big issue will undoubtedly be who will get to buy the shares (see: John Hartevelt's http://bit.ly/zgJf2s, with the Government having promised small kiwi investors will be prioritised but the legislation itself having no mechanism to guarantee this. John Key has said that officials are still working on how this will be done in practice. The Government will be keen to avoid a repeat of the last time National sold off a public energy company. Contact Energy Shares were initially bought by hundreds of thousands of small investors, but within a few years the spread of shareholding had dramatically reduced and the company is now largely overseas owned and run.

The question of the SOE sale price is discussed today by Gordon Campbell in his column On the mixed-ownership model for state assets. He argues that foreign ownership is a distraction from the real issue, namely that the Government's attempts to make the policy politically palatable will substantially reduce the sale price taxpayers will receive for these assets, already under pressure in a depressed international economy.

In other recommended articles for today, Guyon Espiner has an interesting interview with Grant Robertson where Labour's Deputy Leader tries to shake off his reputation as a 'cautious politician', Derek Cheng looks at the savings the Government is looking to make in the broader justice system (Public service cuts: Big changes to win savings in justice), Colin James says that the state sector reforms are about more than cuts but that the Government has yet to get that message across to voters (Think national, act local - change is coming), and Chris Trotter explains the public's desire for reactionary welfare reform (Living In One Dimension).

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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