“If the Government changes it so the boss can just walk away from collective bargaining your wages are going to take a hit, and your conditions won’t be far behind,” he says.
Gary works as a field technician on the Telecom network for Downer EDI in Invercargill.
He was a union member at Telecom back in the 1990s when the then National Government introduced the Employment Contracts Act and he saw first-hand the impact on workers.
“Before the ECA we used to negotiate every year in good faith and usually without too many issues. Then in 1991 the law changed and it put that to an end. The company wouldn’t even come to the table any more. They didn’t have to negotiate so they just chose not to.”
Eventually the collective expired and Gary and his workmates were put on individual contracts. “For a period of about eight years we had virtually no pay rises,” he says, “and our allowances and conditions were gradually eroded away.”
In 2000 the Employment Contracts Act was abolished, but Gary says he and his workmates are still recovering. “Before the 1990s we had 75% union membership and our conditions were strong. We’re only now starting to slowly build that back up.
“Things are tough right now, but people need to understand that if this law goes through they’re going to get even tougher.”