Saturday, October 11, 2008

The writing was on the wall in 1991

With the effective destruction of the union movement by the Employment Contracts Act of 1991, the fate of the employee was sealed. At the time, we all knew that, as the workforce was fragmented (in the name of "freedom of choice", of course), we would, little by little, lose all the gains made by the labour movement during the previous 100 years or so. We would, again, become mere minions - ciphers to be underpaid, pushed around, and dismissed at will/whim by the employer.

In the newspaper industry, the seemingly endless waves of restructurings and redundancies began in 1997. More than 10 years later, one can discern a sort of pattern in the successive upheavals. It is a pattern that sees each cutback establish a new "norm", which then becomes the basis, or starting point, for a new round of cuts.

Today, it was the turn of the staff of Dunedin's free weekly newspaper, D-Scene, to suffer. Only a month after Australian-based media company Fairfax bought the paper, the company confirmed, through Southland Times general manager Gareth Codd, that eight employees have been made redundant. They are the paper's news editor, three layout sub-editors and four administration staff.

An NZPA report quotes Mr Codd as saying production will be centralised at the Southland Times' Invercargill operation.

One staff member has reportedly since been re-employed in the Southland Times' Queenstown office, while three others have applied for positions at Fairfax's sub-editing "hubs" in Wellington and Christchurch.

Let's go back and look at those two innocuous-sounding clauses in the Employment Contracts Act that ended compulsory unionism, and radically shifted the balance of power in favour of the employer. Here they are:

(a) Employees have the freedom to choose whether or not to associate with other employees for the purpose of advancing the employees' collective employment interests:

(b) No person may, in relation to employment issues, apply any undue influence, directly or indirectly, on any other person by reason of that other person's association, or lack of association, with employees.

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