'Make the union irrelevant'
By Keith Locke
AUCKLAND — Australians should be worried about New Zealand's anti-union legislation crossing the Tasman.
The first company to conduct a national campaign against unions under the Employment Contracts Act is Lion Nathan, the company which purchased Bond Brewing in Australia.
Lion Nathan is refusing to negotiate with the Distribution Workers Federation for a new Deka retail chain contract.
Deka's personnel manager, Allan Nicholson, wrote in a recent memo to branch managers: "Please remember our strategy is to make the union irrelevant. We do not want a head to head confrontation and you need to spend time with staff reminding them that Deka has already provided at no cost what the union now proposes to charge them for."
Under the act, Deka workers individually had to sign statements authorising the union to be their bargaining agent. About 600 of the 1300 workers did so, but the company has indefinitely postponed any negotiations with the union (in the meantime, the old conditions apply).
The union could resort to industrial action, but under the act this is illegal until the date the old agreement formally expires.
The employers obviously want to sign up as many workers as possible on new non-union contracts. New employees in this high-turnover industry will be particularly vulnerable. "They may get an inferior contract because they won't have independent advice", says the union's assistant secretary, Peter Conway.
The act allows for workers in the same shop doing the same job to be employed on any number of different contracts. The drive in the big retail firms is to get rid of penalty rates, particularly with the expansion of weekend shopping.