Breaking down Simon Bridges' claim of 'more strikes' under Labour

by Katie Doyle / 27 June, 2018

Nurses protest at Middlemore Hospital. Photo / Jessie Chiang

National leader Simon Bridges claims New Zealand has had more strikes and threats of industrial action under the present government than during the previous National government's entire nine years in power.

National is keen to paint the current government as union-friendly - and said that meant more strikes.

Mr Bridges said that in under nine months, 32,000 workers had either been involved in industrial action or signaled an intention to do so.

He said this number far exceeded the 27,000 workers who took part in strike action during National's three terms in power.

"This is remarkable. In nine months under this government we've seen more strikes in terms of people out there wanting to do it and doing it, than we saw in nine years under a National-led government," Mr Bridges said.

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters hit back, and said the claim was "nonsense".

"In this case, it's about negotiations. They have not gone on strike yet, whereas he's saying that industrial action and negotiations for a fair day's pay for a fair day's work and all sort of conditions around that, those sorts of negotiations are strikes, and they're not," Mr Peters said.

Crunching the numbers

Data on strikes is unreliable. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment do collect figures on the number of stoppages, but it's not an exhaustive list.

The Public Service Union estimated that under National there were one to two strikes a year across a range of organisations including Statistics New Zealand, Housing New Zealand, the Qualifications Authority and Community Living Trust.

Stephen Blumenfeld, who is the director of Victoria University's Centre for Labour, Employment and Work, said it was very difficult to get accurate data on strikes.

He said that historically, strike action was more common under Labour than National, although strikes were less common now than they were 1970s and 80s.

"Every time Labour forms the government, we do tend to have more strikes, but the main reason for that is that the only workers that can lawfully strike are those who are union members and the vast majority of union members going back about 14-15 years now, have been in the public sector," Mr Blumenfeld said.

The last National government made it clear public sector workers weren't going to get the pay increases, while Labour raised expectations of wage rises during the election campaign.

Thousands of nurses are now preparing to walk off the job on 5 July for the first time in nearly three decades.

The chief executive of the Nurses Union, Memo Musa, was asked at a press conference last week if nurses were taking action now because they thought a Labour-led government would be more sympathetic.

"I don't think it's about sympathy, it's really the fact that you had ten years of underfunding, we had three years of the last settlement which did not resolve a number of issues related to working conditions and safe staffing," Mr Musa said.

Mr Blumenfeld said public sector workers like nurses, public servants and teachers were threatening strike action - or considering strike action - because they believed they would have a better chance of being heard by this government.

"For nine years, under National public sector workers, including those in education and health, were squeezed pretty tight," he said.

"Earning pay increases that were just at, or below CPI, and overtime that builds up the difference between where inflation has gone over that period of time and where their wage rates have gone," he said.

The question now is whether other sectors will now follow nurses and staff at IRD and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment by planning to walk off the job in a bid to get better pay and conditions.


This article was originally published by RNZ.


The best thing to come from the Black Caps' defeat
108621 2019-07-20 00:00:00Z Sport

The best thing to come from the Black Caps' defeat…

by Paul Thomas

For New Zealanders, the Cricket World Cup final was a brutal reminder of sport’s great paradox. But there's hope on the horizon.

Read more
What New Zealand can do about the militarisation of space
108498 2019-07-20 00:00:00Z Tech

What New Zealand can do about the militarisation o…

by Duncan Steel

We may decry the notion, but the hostile use of space is creeping into the plans of various countries.

Read more
Five technologies from the space race that we take for granted
108506 2019-07-20 00:00:00Z Tech

Five technologies from the space race that we take…

by Peter Griffin

If US$154 billion to land 12 men on the Moon seems excessive, consider the things we use every day that had their roots in a Nasa lab.

Read more
Top investigator urges police to speak up about wrongful convictions
108539 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Crime

Top investigator urges police to speak up about wr…

by Mike White

Mike White talks to investigator Tim McKinnel, who says police often turn a blind eye to possible corruption out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.

Read more
Jacinda Ardern to focus on Australia deportations in talks with Scott Morrison
108570 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern to focus on Australia deportations…

by Craig McCulloch

PM Jacinda Ardern has doubled down on her criticism of Australia's deportation policy as "corrosive", ahead of her meeting with Scott Morrison.

Read more
How closed adoption robbed Māori children of their identity
108572 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Social issues

How closed adoption robbed Māori children of their…

by Te Aniwa Hurihanganui

Te Aniwa Hurihanganui looks at the outdated Adoption Act and its impact on Māori who grew up desperate to reconnect.

Read more
The new robotic surgery aiding vaginal mesh removal
108377 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Health

The new robotic surgery aiding vaginal mesh remova…

by Ruth Nichol

Women with complications caused by deeply embedded vaginal mesh are being helped by a pioneering surgical technique.

Read more
A beautiful mind: What people with Alzheimer's can teach us
108544 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Health

A beautiful mind: What people with Alzheimer's can…

by Fergus Riley

North Auckland farmer Fergus Riley has uncovered many important lessons in caring for his father Peter, who has Alzheimer’s.

Read more