Charitable organisation, St John, which operates ambulance services nationwide, as well as other medical services, has been engaging in anti-worker actions during recent industrial negotiations to conclude a collective agreement.
On 5 January, St John announced that workers wearing apparel bearing a pro-union message “Healthy Ambos Save Lives” would be docked 10% of their wages;
St John Ambulance officers who ditch their uniforms as part of ongoing strike action will have their pay docked by 10 per cent.
The First Union, which represents 1000 ambulance officers across the country, has condemned the move as “astounding”.
But St John says it didn’t take the step lightly, and it was done out of concern for the health and safety of staff and patients.
The wage deductions come as ambulance officers enter their third month of industrial action, following stalled collective agreement negotiations with St John.
Striking workers are continuing to respond to emergencies and call-outs as normal, but are breaching St John policy by refusing to wear uniforms.
Instead, unionised St John workers have been wearing T-shirts reading “Healthy Ambos Save Lives”.
St John clinical operations director, Norma Lane, ‘spinned’ the wage-docking as a “safety” issue;
“It is important ambulance officers are identifiable in an emergency environment where circumstances can change rapidly. Not complying is a health and safety risk not only to the employee but to fellow officers and other emergency workers. While there is only a very small number of ambulance professionals refusing to wear hi-vis vests, we have advised First Union and our staff that those employees not complying with this requirement will receive a 10 per cent deduction of wages.”
How cutting wages improves safety for workers is not made clear by Ms Lane.
St John’s threats echo that made by AFFCO employers, almost exactly a year ago;
An AFFCO worker has been suspended without pay, and will probably be sacked after filming workers in union t-shirts being refused entry to work, the Meat Workers’ Union says.
AFFCO said it was company policy that union t-shirts were not worn on site, and that they were associated with inappropriate and threatening behaviour.
One Union member made his/her feelings perfectly clear with this image posted on First Union’s Facebook page;
What is clear, though, is that St John is engaging in all-out repugnant industrial warfare against the First Union.
St John Station managers have used emotional blackmail, legal threats from law firms, and deliberate mis-information in a calculated strategy to undermine First Union and its members’ resolve. As Ambulance Professionals First spokesperson, Lynette Blacklaws, revealed on 7 November last year;
“When a crew arrived in mufti at a station in Auckland this morning their manager snapped that ‘if someone dies because they didn’t let you in be it on your heads’. This comes on the same day station managers in the Bay of Plenty told several ambulance officers over the phone that industrial action was cancelled, even though this isn’t true.”
More aggressive anti-union activity was to come.
On 24 November last year, St Johns announced on it’s media page that it had concluded a successful collective agreement with the Amalgamated Workers Union NZ Southern (AWUNZ), Central Amalgamated Workers Union (CAWU), NZ Ambulance Association (NZAA), and the Ambulance Officers Workplace Union (AOWU).
First Union was not a party to the new collective agreement. St John stated on it’s webpage,
It is our preference to have nationally consistent terms and conditions for all St John employees, accordingly, St John and the four union parties have made provision for the First Union members to become party to the new Collective Agreement should they wish
The statement continued with this ominous ‘rider’;
If First Union decides not to become party to the new Collective Agreement, St John will continue to work through the various options available.
On 7 January this year, First Union learned what “various options” St John had in mind. As reported in The Daily Blog, St John was flexing it’s industrial muscle using new anti-union laws passed by National in 2015.
The union representing over 1000 St John Ambulance staff has today received confirmation from the Employment Relations Authority that St John has lodged an application to withdraw from bargaining without concluding a collective agreement.
If St John were to be successful they would be the first company to withdraw from bargaining without concluding a collective agreement under the 2015 amendments to the Employment Relations Act.
Simply put, National’s so-called “reforms” allowed employers to cease negotiations to conclude a collective agreement with a union, by applying to the Employment Relations Authority;
Before the law change, parties bargaining for a collective agreement were required to conclude that agreement unless there was genuine reason not to. The change means that a collective agreement does not have to be concluded, however parties must still deal with each other in good faith.
The Act provides some protections against parties that end bargaining by deadlocking on one issue. Specifically, either party can seek a declaration from the Employment Relations Authority (the Authority) about whether bargaining has concluded. The process is discussed in more detail below.
First Union officials were not impressed. They understood the agenda that St John was playing out;
Jared Abbott, spokesperson for Ambulance Professionals First, the network within FIRST Union representing ambulance officers, said the application confirms what the union suspected: that St John had no intention of reaching an agreement.
“St John have spent less than two hours with us at the table since we started our protest actions. Applying to conclude bargaining now is outrageous. This is no way to treat your staff.”
Mr Abbott said that despite writing to the company on several occasions and requesting a proposed collective agreement, St John repeatedly refused to make a formal offer.
Ambulance Professionals First has also written to St John highlighting how no collective agreement was presented to the ratification meetings for the smaller unions who agreed to settle, a requirement under the law for a collective agreement to become operative.
“We’re astounded with how unprofessional St John has been. Ambulance staff just want fair recognition for the hard work they do. This is only going to get more staff off-side,” said Abbott.
“We don’t believe St John’s application will be successful.”
St John is using ‘the stick’. Other employers opt for ‘the carrot’ to break legal strikes;
Whether by ‘carrot’ or ‘stick’, the bosses’ agenda remains the same: to smash unions and undermine workers’ rights. The end result – dampen wage growth and wind-back hard-won worker’s conditions.
St John management’s unscrupulous behaviour makes a mockery of that organisation’s so-called “five values”;
We do the Right Thing – Whakaaro Tika
We take responsibility. Make the tough calls. Think of others.
We stand Side by Side – Whakakoha
We respect, value and support what others contribute.
We Make it Better – Whakawerohia
We find solutions- step up, own it, do it.
We have Open Minds – Whakahangahanga
We listen openly. Encourage ideas. Welcome feedback.
We are Straight Up – Whakapono
We act with honesty, courage and kindness.
They even have ‘badges’ proudly displayed on their webpage;
Obviously St John’s “five values” do not extend to their own workers.
Curiously, whilst St John proudly announced it’s collective agreement with four other unions on its “News Articles” page, it made no mention of it’s application to the Employment Relations Authority to abandon negotiation with First Union;
Neither has it disclosed to the public on it’s website that it is taking draconian steps to dock ambulance drivers’ pay packets by 10% for wearing shirts bearing union messages.
Is St John ashamed to present this information on their website, where public eyes can see what the organisation is doing to it’s ambulance drivers? It is evidently not a “good look” that an organisation nearly a thousand years old, and dedicated to helping people, is screwing its own staff.
According to Norma Lane, the wearing of the First Union shirts constitutes “participation in a partial strike” and thereby justifies docking ambulance drivers’ pay.
Which is about as mean-spirited as a charitable, non-profit organisation can get. As Jared Abbott correctly pointed out;
“The wage deductions are pretty astounding. The actions ambulance officers are taking cost St John nothing.”
At first look, St John’s actions appear to contravene the Wages Protection Act 1983 which prevents employers from arbitarily docking workers’ pay;
Deductions may only be made from an employee’s pay if they are required by law, agreed to by the employee or are overpayments in some circumstances.
However, it appears that St John is stretching an exemption to what is known as a “partial strike“;
Employees strike when a number of employees totally or partially:
- break their employment agreement
- stop work or don’t accept some or all the work they usually do
- reduce their normal output, performance, or rate of work.
Employees don’t have to stop work completely for them to be on strike.
However, one suspects that more reasonable-minded people would find it difficult to define a “partial strike” as wearing a shirt. If that is St John’s justification for docking ambulance drivers’ pay, then it may be on very shaky ground, both legally and morally.
Whether by luck, or clever design, this has all transpired over the Year’s End/New Year period when current affairs programmes such as The Nation and Q+A are on hiatus, and even Radio NZ is operating on a “summer holiday programme”. The later is closer to listening to The Breeze rather than serious news and current affairs.
Once the public begin to understand the machinations of St John’s management, that organisation’s reputation may risk a real hit. “A good reputation” as Colin Beveridge once reflected on, “is hard-won and easily lost. But the lost reputation has invariably been given away by the actions of the holder, rather than been taken away by somebody else.”
Words that St John’s management would do well to consider.
St John – heal thyself.
It will be interesting to find out what salary increase St John’s CEO will have this year or next.
St John: Ambulance Services
St John: A quick snapshot of what we do
Radio NZ: Worker suspended over union t-shirts
Facebook: First Union – Healthy Ambos Save Lives
First Union: St John threatens jobs… over wearing a badge
The Daily Blog: St John apply to end bargaining with FIRST Union
Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MoBIE): Amendments to the Employment Relations Act 2000 (March 2015)
Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MoBIE): Law changes to collective bargaining
St John: Vision & Values
St John: News Articles
St John: The Order of St John
Employment NZ: Deductions
Employment NZ: Strikes and lockouts
Fairfax media: Big pay rises for district health board heads
Facebook: First Union
Facebook: Ambulance Professionals First
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 15 January 2017.
= fs =
… when a worker has to beg to get his job back, and his employers are displaying all the tyrannical traits of slavemasters?
To any National Party voter reading this, can I ask you; is this what you were wanting when you voted National last year? Is this what you were wishing for your fellow Kiwi?
This is not the New Zealand I grew up in.
= fs =
Interesting image on that TV3 news item…
Anyone notice the incongruency of the image – and the caption beneath?
” Affco CEO Hamish Simson said the union has not declared its total income, but was wrong “
= fs =
Talleys AFFCO appears to be up to a spot of mischief-making…
AFFCO chief executive, Hamish Simson, has informed the media that AFFCO has laid a complaint with the Serious Fraud Office to investigate the financial accounts of the meat workers’ union. According to Simpson, there are “irregularities” in the Union’s financial accounts.
Simspson claims that,
“It appears from the union’s published financial statements that only a fraction of its total income has been declared. Affco union members paid $5.95 a week each to the union, which totalled more than $500,000 a year.Affco workers represent less than 10 per cent of the 23,000 members the union says it has and yet it only declares revenue of just over $700,000 per annum.More and more of our staff are starting to question where their money has gone. With the union now asking the public for donations, every workers’ dollar must be accounted for. ” – Source
It is noteworthy that the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants has already investigated a similar complaint and found no evidence of wrong-doing.
When interviewed on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint, Hamish Simpson appeared less than forthcoming on several important matters. He could not even state how many “AFFCO union members” had “started to question where their money has gone“.
Meatworker’s Union, National secretary Dave Eastlake, was not impressed, and replied
“It hasn’t taken into account that the Meat Workers’ Union’s made up of four independent branches that collect the union fees off the members.They run autonomous accounts and have them audited and pay a capitation to the national office. All the complaint is about is the national office accounts.”
It doesn’t take Quantum Physics to figure out what is happening here.
AFFCO are playing silly buggers. Dave Eastlake is right; this is a publity stunt.
But more than that, this is a carefully orchestrated attempt to wreck the reputations of meatworkers and their Union in the publics’ mind. It is a similar ploy to the so-called “Fact Sheet” that Ports of Auckland Ltd published which alleged that port workers were “remunerated” $91,000 p.a.
It is noteworthy that in his media statement, Simpson referred to “the union now asking the public for donations“.
And that, I submit, is what this is all about; a battle for the hearts and minds of the public of New Zealand. It is a battle that POAL lost soon after the 5,000 strong street march on 10 March, and when the Employment Authority came down hard against the Port management and Board.
POAL have lost the struggle for public support.
POAL have all but lost the battle with the Courts.
Talleys AFFCO are witnessing a similar campaign to build public support for locked-out meatworkers, in the media, on Blogs, and in the community. Perhaps they understand that locking out workers, who were supporting families, is not a particularly good look. In fact, this blogger goes as far as to suggest that Talley’s management have stuffed up Big Time, and are only now beginning to comprehend their precarious position.
The fact that a public boycott of Talley’s products can actually damage their brand name and impact on their profitability is only now beginning to dawn on them?
With this blog, and others, and social media supporting a boycott – Talleys AFFCO is in trouble.
Which explains their incredibly clumsy ploy to smear the Meatworkers Union. Bad form, Talleys.
This blogger hopes that when the Serious Fraud Office dismisses the allegations, that the SFO will then prosecute Talley’s management for wasting Police time. That is a crime.
In the meantime, I refer folks to a previous blogpost on how meatworkers can be supported in many little ways.
If you’re reading this and are pissed of at Talleys AFFCO’s dirty tricks campaign, you can make a quick $5 donation by calling: 0900 562 5688 . It’s a nice, easy way to vent your anger and support the locked out workers at the same time.
‘Karma’s a bitch‘ as they say, and at $5 it’s pretty damned cheap as well.
* * *
+++ Update +++
That takes care of this piece of BS.
As this blogger predicted yesterday, the SFO found nothing untoward or “irregular” in the Meatworkers Union accounts. Talleys AFFCO agenda was to smear and discredit the Union – nothing else. The Serious Fraud Office must be mightily annoyed at being dragged into an industrial dispute as a pawn by company bosses.
One hope the SFO invoices or prosecutes Talleys for wasting Police time.
= fs =
A reader emailed me a copy for a job vacancy at of Oceania’s rest homes,
This advert appeared in a local community newspaper, this week, and offers the following inducement for people to apply; “competitive remuneration“.
I nearly spat my coffee over my monitor and keyboard when I saw that.
Aside from the fact that Oceania has been in a dispute with it’s employees, over demands for a wage increase, the wages paid to rest home workers is hardly flash,
$13.61 an hour?!?!
Competitive with who – China? Bangla Desh??? Somalia? Someone should tell Oceania’s management that the cartoon below is supposed to be a joke – not an action plan to be implemented,
No wonder the flow of New Zealanders escaping from this country is increasing.
$13.61 an hour.
= fs =
For a better New Zealand…
~ Cleaner rivers
~ No deep-sea oil drilling
~ Less on Roads - more on Rail
~ A Living wage at $20.20/hr
~ Marriage equality - Yay! Got that one!
~ Strong, effective Unions
~ No secret free-trade deals
~ Breakfast/lunches in our schools
~ Introducing Civics into our school curriculum
~ Cut back on the liquor industry
~ A fairer, progressive tax system
~ Fully funded, free healthcare
~ Ditto for education, including Tertiary
~ Fund Pharmac for Pompe's Disease medication & other 'orphan' drugs
~ No state asset sales!
~ Rebuild public TV broadcasting!
~ Keeping farms in local ownership
~ Reduce poverty, like we reduced the toll for road-fatalities
~ State housing for life
~ Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!
~ Stronger communities
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