Labour bites

What they really want

More than half of major employers would like to freeze employees’ wages or offer below inflation pay rises that are a cut in real terms, according to a new survey by a leading industrial relations law firm.

The Herbert Smith Freehills bargaining survey found that 60% of employers want to freeze wages, and many more are looking to cut other conditions from workplace agreements.

The survey also found widespread dissatisfaction with the Fair Work Act and the enterprise bargaining process among its 60 key clients, which include large companies across the construction, infrastructure, mining, retail and healthcare sectors.

Wages in Australia have stagnated. Figures released in August show that in the past year wages grew by a record low of 1.9%. In February the governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, Philip Lowe, called on businesses to lift wages to “boost household incomes and create a stronger sense of shared prosperity”.

The Freehills survey found 93% of companies wanted to remove some “unproductive or inflexible” conditions in their next round of bargaining, with 20% of those seeking significant change.

Dissatisfaction with the Fair Work Act was evident. Just 34% of employers said the bargaining process struck a fair balance between the rights of employers and unions – and only 26% said it allowed their organisation to improve productivity. Arbitration by the Fair Work Commission was also unpopular. (Source: The Guardian)

Government sacks 16,000 nurses

Zimbabwean nurses have called off a strike against poor working conditions and will return to work according to the Zimbabwe National Union (ZINA).

Vice President Constantino Chiwenga recently announced the sacking of 16000 striking nurses, accusing them of a “politically motivated” walkout.

“To pave way for the re-opening of negotiations and protection of our workers, we have decided to call off the industrial action,” ZINA said in a statement, calling on its members to report for duty by Monday.

The union said it had filed a court application to force the government to reverse its decision to fire the nurses.

The nurses’ strike came days after junior doctors wrapped up a month long walkout over pay and working conditions. (Source: Reuters)

Workers at bottom of food chain

Amazon has denied allegations it penalises staff for toilet breaks or absence due to illness, saying “we completely support our people”, after an author who worked undercover as an Amazon warehouse picker claimed UK workers “peed in bottles” for fear of taking breaks.

James Bloodworth was commissioned to write a book entitled Hired on the realities of low-wage life in the UK for Atlantic Books in 2016. Published last month, it is based on the six months he spent living and working across Britain in 2016 “taking on the country’s most gruelling jobs”, including a stint in the Staffordshire Amazon warehouse. Bloodworth has described working 10-and-a-half-hour days in the e-tailer’s fulfillment centre in negative terms, claiming workers are “carefully monitored ... from how long you took to go to the toilet to how many items you picked off the shelves each hour”.

A survey conducted by campaign platform Organise based on interviews with 241 Amazon warehouse employees in England between December 2017 and March 2018, asked workers whether their health had changed since joining the company. Altogether 55% of respondents claimed they suffered from depression since working at Amazon and 57% said that since joining the company they had been “a lot more anxious”.

The survey report stated 74% of respondents “avoid using the toilet for fear of missing their target and receiving a warning point” and cited the testimony of one employee who claimed she was given a point (given for infractions, previously applied to absences) for “being ill in pregnancy”.

The survey report was hand delivered to Amazon HQ recently accompanied by a petition signed by almost 4000 people protesting the treatment of warehouse employees.

An Amazon spokesperson said: “Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace for thousands of people across the UK with competitive pay and benefits from day one. We have not been provided with confirmation that the people who completed the survey worked at Amazon and we don’t recognise these allegations as an accurate portrayal of activities in our buildings. (Source: The Bookseller)

Compiled by John Quessy