Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre McIvor: Mean bid to deny a basic right

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Jami-Lee Ross. Photo / Robert Trathen
Jami-Lee Ross. Photo / Robert Trathen

Industrial strikes were a part and parcel of growing up in the 1970s and 80s.

My first job as a journalist at the age of 18 was to report the outcome of a meeting between the management and the union at a freezing works company in Palmerston North.

I had been sitting outside the conference room for hours, waiting for the parties to emerge, when legendary union leader Blue Kennedy popped his head out of the door. "Has the girl gone home?" he asked, meaning the secretary.

"Yes, Mr Kennedy," I squeaked.

"Well, can you make us a pot of tea and bring in some biscuits, then?" he asked nicely.

I did and an agreement was reached and the workers and bosses were happy - and so too was I, because my interviews with the protagonists made Morning Report.

I grew a little tired of covering strikes as a regional reporter; sometimes the reasons for strikes seemed trivial in the extreme.

But I would hate to think MP Jami-Lee Ross' private member's bill will ever see the light of day. He's looking to allow employers to bring in volunteers and contractors to do the work of striking employees, a move now barred under section 97 of the Employment Relations Act.

Unions don't take strikes lightly these days. It's no longer "all out brothers" at the drop of a cold pie on a smoko floor. It's a measure of last resort, usually employed by low-paid workers or those in dangerous or physically strenuous jobs.

It should be a fundamental right of a worker to withdraw their labour if they feel they are being unfairly and unjustly treated, without the employers being able to hire scabs.

New Zealand is the country that introduced the world's first compulsory state arbitration act and created a Department of Labour to improve working conditions and protect vulnerable workers.

Unlike Jami-Lee Ross' mean-spirited bill, that was legislation to be proud of.

- Herald on Sunday

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