Labour bites

Union only pay rise

Non union teachers are angry that they will have to wait three months to get the pay rises that the government has offered to union members.

New Zealand Ministry of Education has confirmed that the proposed pay increases would take effect from 1 July for union members, but not until three months later for teachers who don’t belong to the unions. Union members, but not non union members, would also get $1500 one-off payments on 1 July.

Teachers who belong to the two unions, the NZ Educational Institute (NZEI) and the Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA), will start voting this week on whether to accept the new offer, which would lift the top of the teachers’ basic salary scale from $78,000 to $90,000 by July 2021.

But Justin Lindsay, who is philosophically opposed to unions, said the three-month delay in the pay rise for non union members is unprecedented and unfair. “We are the teachers who would like to see performance pay and individual contracts,” he said.

NZEI president Lynda Stuart said union members had fought for the pay increases and deserved to reap the rewards. “They have done the hard yards and they actually deserve to see union benefits from acting collectively,” she said. (Source: NZ Herald)

The creeping danger of underemployment

Unemployment remained unchanged in May but the seemingly positive numbers are hiding a growing scourge in our labour market: underemployment.

The unemployment rate for May remained at 5.1% according to recent ABS labour force figures and while close to the Reserve Bank’s 5% target, the underemployment rate jumped from 8.3% in April to 8.5%.

That underemployment particularly affects women and younger workers. The rate of underemployment for women of working age is around 10%, and for workers between 15 and 24 years, almost 20%.

The ABS definition of underemployment includes anyone aged 15 or older “who desires, and is available for, additional working hours”. They are counted as underemployed as long as they work less than 35 hours a week. Underemployment has long been a feature of the labour force, but in recent years it has grown, going from 6.3% in September 2008 to 8.8% in September 2018.

BIS Oxford Economics chief economist Dr Sarah Hunter said the underemployment rate is a key factor in Australia’s slowing wage growth.

But in recent months, unemployment has hovered around (and sometimes below) 5% with no change to wages growth, which Dr Hunter said is a sign that underemployment is stagnating wages.

AMP Capital economist Diana Mousina said “We’re trying to understand why we have this situation where unemployment rates have been declining in Australia, but wages growth hasn’t improved. One of the reasons for that is we still have this spare capacity, indicated by the underemployment rate.”

Strikers in saris shamed unions

A strike where unions were accused of institutional racism is being marked by a special exhibition in the UK city of Leicester. The Imperial Typewriters strike in 1974 saw hundreds of mainly Asian workers protest for nearly three months over on lack of promotions for Asian workers and unpaid bonuses but was sharpened by a “shameful” lack of support from unions.

Imperial Typewriters, a company founded in 1908, was bought by a US firm in the 1960s which then introduced Asian workers to boost productivity. The new employees, who made up about 1100 of the 1600-strong workforce, found they were not getting the same bonuses or flexible working arrangements white colleagues enjoyed.

During a May Day protest, 39 Asian workers walked out and they were soon joined by about 500 more. The local Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) refused to make the strike official and said the group had “not followed the proper disputes procedure” and “have no legitimate grievances”.

Week by week batches of strikers were fired and a two-week summer shutdown effectively ended industrial action. The factory finally closed its doors the next year.

Exhibition curator Ms Ghelani said, “The unions were accused of being institutionally racist and didn’t support the migrant workers. It’s a very shameful moment in British trade union history.”

Dr Evan Smith from Flinders University, who has studied the strike, said: “Imperial Typewriters is often seen as a part of a narrative of greater awareness by the British labour movement of the issues of racial discrimination. (Source: BBC News)

John Quessy