On Tuesday 21st June Christchurch was yet again rattled by a series of severe aftershocks. Earlier that day Unite Christchurch put out a press release stating that “Since February’s devastating earthquake, the Unite Union office in the city has been flooded with calls from members describing cases of workplace bullying.” With the extra stress and increased demand of business the failure of “some of the biggest employers to train and support work-site management in dealing with the fallout has become alarmingly clear”.
The response from the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend was no suprise, “We’ve had no reports like that” of course they haven’t, but hey as Townsend stated in The Herald “That’s what you would expect from a union.” Yep, I would like to think a union worth its name would report a spike in bullying and shout about the fact that big business is happy to allow managers to burn out, or worse – lash out at their staff. In recent months individual Unite members in the city have received cash settlements from cases of unjustified behaviour at the work place, this is a normal practice but what is not is the shear number of such cases. The frustration is that the company’s are not accepting any blame or learning from their mistakes and are simply signing their seemingly endless cheque books.
The story had legs and national radio was still running the press release a couple of days later. On Thursday 23rd June President of the Council of Trade Unions Helen Kelly and the head of the Employment and Manufacturer’s Association Alasdair Thompson were interviewed on Newstalk ZB. Thompson came out with the now infamous line, “once a month women have sick problems” when he was trying to explain away the the 12% gender pay disparity in Aotearoa. What’s worth noting is the immediate response by the CTU President – this was a rare moment when the mask of the employers association slipped and in front of the CTU leader no less, so what did Kelly say? “I’ll let you go on that one…”. Thankfully TV3 weren’t so unforgiving and followed the story up. The first of TV3’s interviews made it obvious that Thompson’s approach to being put under pressure was incredibly controlling and aggressive. Sending in Mihingarangi Forbes, one of their strongest reporters for a second interview with Thompson has now become a must watch sensation on the internet and a brilliant move by the network.
According to Peter Townsend and his Employers Chamber of Commerce there is no bullying in the workplace, thanks to Thompson’s outbursts and the attention it has received there is now no doubt who the real bully’s are in our society. Pressure groups like the Employers Commerce and the EMA hold an incredibly high level of influence on the ‘pro-business’ National Government. They are the people, along with the dinosaur Roger Douglass and ACT, that are demanding the reintroduction of youth rates, mass sales of public assets, attacks on workers rights and free market capitalism. Thompson was clearly a target for the 100’s who attended this weekends slut-walk protests and Unite Union’s anti-youth rates pickets that took place throughout the country.
However the media have the habit of giving with one hand and taking with the other. Forbes’ interview may become a pivotal moment not just for Thompson’s career but may also put another chink in the NACT armour. But their almost hysterical reporting on the tai tokerau by election and Hone Harawira’s Mana Party has really tarnished any credibility the media may have had. What an amazing effort the editors and chief reporters of the Herald, TV3, TVNZ, Dominion Post et al put in to trying to paint the Mana Party leader as an Al Qaeda terrorist! And some are suprised at the media black out regarding the European uprising that is happening in Spain and Greece? If the media are prepared to put their integrity on the line for a social democratic party that still hasn’t even fully formed yet, you can only imagine what we could expect to see if the workers of Aotearoa began to organise against corporate bail outs and mass public spending cuts!
Racism, sexism, corporate bullies, mass protest in drag, media bias and the election of Al Qaeda all in the space of seven days? – it could only be a week in the political life of New Zealand/ Aotearoa!
…and I haven’t even started on what’s happening with the zoning and insurance madness that is beginning to grip Christchurch!
Matt Jones, Beyond Resistance and Unite Union Organiser for Christchurch and Marlborough