I’ve been largely away from the news today – and from computers generally, hence the lack of posts today – however, I did have the opportunity to muse over what would it take for this situation to de-escalate.
Now, I’m not saying this is how things are going to play out, or should play out, but I thought it to be a useful exercise all the same.
- The Government needs to rescind its invoking of the Labour Disputes Act 1992, referring the matter to arbitration. This seems to have been done primarily to try and stop the movement in its tracks and/or intimidate workers. This seems to have failed and, rather than putting a brake on the incident has acted as the proverbial gasoline poured on a fire. Rescinding this action has to be the first step to de-escalating matters.
- The Government should, along with the BTUC, release the list of BTUC proposals that were rejected by the Government, and Government should clearly state the reasons why they chose to reject them. The BTUC should release their rejected proposals anyway and put forward their arguments as to why they should not have been rejected.
- Government should accept that it has to take furlough days off the table. The unions have made it clear that this need only be a temporary matter and is something they can talk about going forward. I read that as the unions saying their members need a relief, at least for the coming year, and they wouldn’t be opposed to re-introducing them next year if warranted. Government should have approached the unions this time last year to begin discussions about extending the MOU on furloughs – trying to dictate the extension the way the Government has done was counter-productive. It’s quite possible that the unions would have actually been flexible on this issue on Monday. I don’t think they would have agreed to a full-on furlough system, but I think they might have been amenable to a 50% furlough system. This would still have been a hard sell to their members, but I think that it would have been doable and a possible compromise. Government’s standing up the unions on Monday night however seems to have ruled out the flexibility there.
- Minister Bob Richards announced last year that he would be pushing for a 7% budget reduction in 2014, a 5% reduction in 2015 and a 3% reduction in 2016. I questioned that as being designed from a political perspective – do the big cuts early and they’ll be forgotten sooner to election time. I argued that it would be easier for members to adjust if he’d adopted a 5% cut per year for five years – same amount of total cuts, but spread out easier and posing less of a risk to fragile economic recovery. I don’t see any reason why he has to stick to his 5% cut for this year. He could go with the 3% cut this year (I think we have that with the already agreed BTUC+Government cuts), avoid the furlough, and maybe do the 5% next year, possibly with the furlough at that time. Alternatively, we could go for a 4% cut this year and a 4% cut next year. Still the same amount of cuts, just more spread out. This gives both sides the flexibility they need. Government can stick with its overall cuts program and the unions can get much-needed relief for their members, and both can leave this incident with face.
- If Government insists on pursuing furlough days, including acting unilaterally, then if they want to de-escalate matters then they need to offer some significant concessions. This could be taking some serious actions to reduce other cost-of-living matters, be it through using its regulatory powers to reduce electricity bills (taking note of the cost of oil dropping by almost 50%), taking measures to encourage banks to provide more small-loans or adopting a more progressive approach to mortgages. What can be done to reduce the cost of food for example. beyond the current discount system?
- In addition to the above, I think that due to Government’s mishandling of the issue, they need to make some additional concessions here. Of the top of my head, if I was the unions, I’d be pushing for, at a minimum:
- Progressive campaign finance reform laws (to come into effect immediately).
- Extended maternity leave AND introducing equal paternity leave. The Employment Act 2000 already ensures maternity leave, but this can be improved. And there is some paternity leave within certain collective bargaining agreements, but are not national. Now’s a good time to push for them.
- The repealing of Section 27 of the Trade Unions Act 1965. This ties in with campaign finance reform and allows unions to engage in political action equal to corporations (but under new campaign finance laws) – the idea being to reduce the domination of our politics by capital, and thus ensuring greater democracy.
To me, the above at least lays a plausible foundation for de-escalating the situation.
What do you think?