The unions have their sights set on the gig economy as a court ruling delivers another win for workers ahead of the Fair Pay Agreements bill becoming law, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday morning, sign up here.
Uber drivers are employees
Yesterday, the Employment Court ruled that four Uber drivers were employees of the ride-sharing company and not contractors. The case was first filed in July 2021 by First and E tū unions. The judge described the relationship the drivers had with Uber as one characterised by “a significant degree of subordination and dependency” but noted that the judgement applies to the four drivers named in the case and is not a sweeping ruling on all Uber drivers in New Zealand. It still has the potential to set a precedent. The judge drew on previous rulings in making her decision. The NBR’s Dita deBoni writes (paywalled) that the ruling sets an international precedent. Uber has said it will appeal the decision.
Drivers now invited to join union, collective bargaining on the cards
Rebecca Macfie has a great overview of the ruling this morning. One of the drivers, Julian Ang says the ruling has “implications for the wider gig economy across a range of sectors, including home support work, cleaning, gardening and so on, to reduce the risk of workers in these industries being ‘Uber-fied’.” There are 7000 Uber drivers in New Zealand. First Union strategic project coordinator Anita Rosentreter said it was now accepting these drivers as members and would initiate collective bargaining with the local arm of Uber. The union is also acting on behalf of Uber drivers to claim back-pay for wages, holiday pay and other entitlements. New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU) president Richard Wagstaff said the ruling was a massive win.
Fair Pay Agreements Bill expected to pass into law today
Wagstaff and the NZCTU, along with other unions, have been proponents of the Fair Pay Agreements (FPA) bill, pointing to recent industrial action by SkyCity workers and the bus driver shortage as examples of where FPAs could help. It’s fair to say it’s a controversial law, opposed fiercely by Business NZ and the National and Act parties, but is expected to become law today. Stuff’s Tom Pullar-Stecker has a good cheat sheet on FPAs and points out remaining areas of uncertainty when put into practice. Charlotte Muru-Lanning has looked at how they might work for hospitality workers. Green MP Jan Logie pressed the government last Thursday to pass the bill urgently as part of a call to close the gender and ethnic pay gap.
2022: the year of union resurgence
At the beginning of this year, Rebecca Macfie wrote a prescient piece about increasing industrial action in New Zealand in the face of rising inflation. At the time, the annual rate of inflation was 5.9%. It’s now 7.2%. I don’t think this next observation requires Nostradamus levels of prediction power, but the resurgence of unions is one of my early picks for themes that will end up characterising this year. Te Whatu Ora Health NZ chair Rob Campbell spoke to company directors in August about unions becoming more significant than they have been for a long time. Speaking to Q&A, historian Jim McAloon said the last 30 years had been unusual for their lack of industrial action. Worth a watch as he outlines what he thinks are the conditions that have led to the uptick in industrial action this year.