Friday 23 May 2014

Worker rights

Kiwi workers fare better than their Aussie counterparts, at least according to the ITUC.

The International Trade Union Confederation has come out with a new ranking, showing which countries' workers are most likely to experience rights violations. I'll disagree with the ITUC on some aspects of this: I don't believe that is consistent with any reasonable notion of rights to make it illegal for an employer to hire replacement workers during a strike, for example, and I'm not sure whether that counts as interference in strike action in their survey. But we'll agree entirely on others: freedom of expression is good, disappearance of trade unionists is bad, violence against workers or unionists is bad, and restrictions on freedom of movement are bad.

Countries are ranked 1-5, with countries ranked "1" experiencing only irregular violation of worker rights, "2" having slightly weaker collective labour rights than "1", "3" experiencing regular violations of rights, and so on.

Australia ranks a "3" on their scale; New Zealand gets a "2". Top scores to Barbados, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, and a few others.

I'd always had the impression that the trade union movement here was weaker than that in Australia. Australia's national awards system has no counterpart in New Zealand. And yet the big international trade union body put New Zealand ahead of Oz.

If New Zealand weren't clipped from their map (I hate it when folks do this), it would show up as the same colour as Ireland: a shade lighter than Oz. Remember this the next time the Council of Trade Unions talks about how terrible things are in New Zealand: NZCTU is an ITUC affiliate.

Update: I'm not sure how much weight we should put on any of these figures. Is it plausible that it's better to be a union leader in South Africa than in the United States? That Russia is friendlier than Canada? That Venezuela and Australia are on par with each other? Some of the big picture stuff looks ok: Europe is generally more pro-union than Canada, which is more pro-union than the US. But so much else looks to be out-of-whack; I expect it's better explained by pandering to Union-affiliated political parties in third world countries than by any real on-the-ground experienced differences in workers' rights. 


  1. No disagreement. Pretty sure that, if I were a labour organiser, I'd be way more worried about being disappeared in Russia than in the US. Venezuela also ties with the US in this measure.

  2. You do have to wonder whether the former USSR would have come out with a good score...

  3. So wait, South Africa has a ranking of 1. The same South Africa where police opened fire and murdered striking workers? the same South Africa where striking workers often beat and kill "scabs"? Riiiiiiiiight. Nice try

  4. Yeah, that makes no darned sense. This whole ranking's looking pretty dodgy.

  5. My take: Industrial action is ultimately a kind of blackmail and as I see it a somewhat perverse mechanism for achieving a more ideal outcome. The final results have nothing to do with what's supposedly fair and everything to do with the (latent) damage that can be achieve with brute industrial vandalism.

    At the least I think employers should be able to bring in help to cover industrial action, but really they should be able to demand no industrial action as a prior agreement to employment.

    At the end of the day, I think the only robust macro-scale "regulator" for better working conditions/pay is a tight job market. However unions do perform an important role in NZ by ensuring employers play ball with the contract. Many low-level workers need this help, especially for those who have limited english and education.

  6. Australian Unions own the Labor party outright.

    If Australia doesnt rank higher, and this was an honest study, then it could be because the Unions are such massively corrupt, criminal organisations that the plight of workers isn't high on their agenda.

    Alternatively, it could be that the Australian Unions requested a lower spot on the list to help their recruitment and fund raising campaign.

  7. I really wouldn't know about that, but don't the NZ unions have corporate membership in the NZ Labour Party? Why would NZ have not had similar incentives in that story?