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Mitre 10 chair Dippie's own stores still at odds with union after 3 1/2 years

Friday 26th May 2017

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Mitre 10 (New Zealand) chairman Martin Dippie's Jacks Hardware and Timber is still wrangling with First Union over details of the hardware store operator's first collective agreement some 3 1/2 years after talks began. 

Jacks Hardware, which trades as the Mitre 10 Mega stores in Dunedin and Mosgiel, was sent back to the negotiating table by the Employment Court in late 2015, and in July last year agreed most of the 14 issues with the union, while the outstanding points were the inclusion of a trial period provision in the agreement and how a wage clause should be included.

They made some headway at meetings in October and November facilitated by Employment Relations Authority member Peter van Keulen, but couldn't agree on the wording of a trial period provision, the wage clause, and term of the collective agreement. 

In a written recommendation last week, van Keulen backed wording on a trial period to show Jacks Hardware was 'likely to' use a 90-day trial period rather than 'may', saying that "implied that First accepts that a trial period provision is likely to be appropriate in most cases". 

Van Keulen also recommended a two-tier wage clause, recognising the difference between minimum starting rates for youth workers over the single-tier sought by Jacks and the three-tier preferred by the union. He turned down a request by First to make a recommendation on rates, saying he didn't have enough information and there hadn't been enough bargaining for his intervention to be necessary. Similarly, he said it was too early to recommend the term of the collective, saying 12 months was too short and three years was too long. 

The union started talks with Jacks on behalf of 25 of the company's 170 staff in October 2013 because employees were unhappy with the hardware and building supplier's control of rosters and the amount of notice given for changes to shifts. Negotiations broke down when Jacks Hardware declared the talks to have ended to avoid a pre-Christmas strike, something the Employment Court said breached its good faith obligations. 

The prospect of a collective agreement had been new for Jacks Hardware as a family-owned store, with the company baulking at the union's initial proposals, estimating they would add $2 million to its annual wage bill of $5.6 million if passed on to the wider workforce, an evaluation later found to be out of date and inaccurate. Many of the staff were paid between $14 and $16 an hour, marginally above the minimum hourly wage. 

First southern region secretary Paul Watson today accused Jacks Hardware of "playing games within the current law" by "not making a genuine attempt to bargain" and said the union was looking at other options to achieve a conclusion. 

"We’re no longer prepared to waste time with a company and employer who has no desire to genuinely conclude a collective agreement with staff who are union members. We’ll be pursuing an alternative legal remedy," Watson said in a statement. "Where an employer simply refuses to genuinely negotiate a collective agreement, working people have few remedies. Even if they get a result, in the end, it can take years of back and forth."

The government changed employment law in 2014, dropping a requirement that all non-union members are employed under a collective agreement in their first 30 days, letting firms opt out of multi-employer agreements, removing the duty of good faith to require a concluded agreement, and letting partial pay reductions for partial strike action.

Officials' advice to ministers about the changes was that removing the requirement to conclude an agreement and introducing partial pay cuts for partial strikes was "likely to have the biggest impact on the bargaining environment" and would reduce bargaining where there were strained relationships between employers and unions or low unionisation, stoking litigation in the short-term to test the legal boundaries. Workplaces with productive bargaining relationships would likely see little impact.



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