New Zealand telecom workers' fight

Submitted by AWL on 20 August, 2009 - 11:08 Author: Mike Kyriazopoulos

The Telecom workers’ dispute is heating up. Auckland has seen striking workers marching up Queen St and picketing the Telecom HQ. On 18 August, around 300 headed for Alexandra Park for an unpaid meeting called by their union, the EPMU. The mood was upbeat and defiant. Their direct employer, Visionstream, is intent on forcing workers into a “dependent contractor” employment relationship. Workers would be expected to provide their own vehicle and materials, without any guarantee of work available. The union sought a legal opinion, which found that “each individual could be facing a pay cut from 50-66%.”

Visionstream has tried to claim that large numbers of workers have taken up the offer, but in reality it is only managers (who will be salaried) who have shown any keenness for the deal. EPMU national secretary Andrew Little told the Auckland meeting that the employer refuses to disclose to the union what number have signed up, claiming it’s “commercially sensitive”. Anyone who takes a copy of the contract is counted by the company as an “expression of interest”.

Telco Industry Organiser Joe Gallagher spoke of his pride in the members’ resolve over the last couple of weeks. At one protest, workers had taken down the corporate flag at Telecom HQ and hoisted the union one instead. And he paid especial tribute to the large number of unionists on Work Permits who have remained staunch throughout the dispute: “Our migrant brothers and sisters, despite being under intense pressure, have brought a whole new dimension to this dispute. With their chanting and drum beating, they even managed to get Noise Control called to the picket line!”

Ray Bianchi of the Northern Amalgamated Workers union expressed solidarity greetings, and said that members of that union could be next in the firing line for dependant contractor status.

The telecommunications industry is truly global, so internationalism for unions is a must. The Australian Electrical Trades Union has pledged to raise levies in large worksites to support the Visionstream workers. And Visionstream’s part owners are a German company that have an international agreement with the union over there that is opposed to independent contracting.

This is the type of unionism that has the potential to lift the New Zealand Trade Union movement out of a rut. On the back of the militant campaign against Visionstream, the EPMU have just signed up 60 new Telecom members in the Taranaki-Wanganui area alone.

Monday 24 August has been designated as the next national day of action. Auckland workers and their supporters will assemble from 7.30am at the corner of Hopetoun street and Ponsonby Road.

Mike Kyriazopoulos is a socialist activist based in Auckland.

For more on the dispute see the Workers Party (New Zealand) website.

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