National’s tea-break-busting bill will pass through parliament this week. What will this mean?
The Government’s Employment Relations Amendment Bill makes several changes, including removal of guaranteed tea breaks and meal breaks. Such breaks have long been part of union awards and agreements but were not in New Zealand law until Labour introduced them in 2008.
The Employment Relations Amendment Bill makes other changes, mostly to the disadvantage of workers and union organisation. Changes include rights for employers to opt out of multiemployer agreements and removal of the requirement to offer new employees the same terms and conditions for 30 days of employees doing the same work as those covered by a union.
The bill also requires written notice of industrial action, which must include a start and finish date.
And workers lose their existing right to transfer to a new contractor taking over their work and to bargain for redundancy payments.
What to do?
Going on past form, we can expect Labour Party chiefs will tell us to wait until they get back into government and then they’ll sort it out.
That’s not good enough. For starters, the way they’re going at the moment, Labour may never win another election!
Seriously though, Labour has repeatedly shown it can’t be trusted on these matters. They promised to remove the Employment Contracts Act, but only changed its name and left most of the anti-worker provisions intact.
There’s another danger in waiting patiently for Labour to get in. These latest government handouts to bosses are happening because we have been too quiet.
Capitalism is not a humanitarian system. If the bosses can easily squeeze a bit more out of us, well, they will do that.
At the moment a petition against the tea break bill is circulating. It helps keep the issue alive, but that’s all you can expect from a petition. Governments shrug such things off.
To win this one we need to stand up and give the other side a bloody nose.
Direct action is the only thing bosses respect.
I believe this anti-worker law could be made inoperable, by a people’s movement. A movement where everyone agrees to TAKE TEA BREAKS REGARDLESS.
If everyone in an office just took a regular tea break together, a lot of bosses would probably let it go as not worth the hassle.
Strength in numbers
Others bosses would dig in. It would then get nasty, but there’s strength in numbers. Even if your job is not currently a union job.
If we all signed up to this attitude as a tea break club, we could prevail by mutual support. We could all put some money in to help defend victimised club members.
We could get the message out on the street with T-shirts and badges. And stalls, with free tea.
History has shown over and over that a popular idea can become a material force and change society.
A victory on the tea break issue would make our side stronger to resist the other bad things in the bill.
Yes, we’d have to break the law. Yes, some people would get hurt. Like the suffragettes, like the workers before us who formed the first unions.
The question really is: what legacy are we content to pass on to the next generation of toilers?
Further reading: Whatever happened to the leisure society?
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