The Qantas dispute and New Zealand Industrial Relations

Press Release – Victoria University of Wellington

The following is commentary from Dr Stephen Blumenfeld, Director of Victoria University’s Industrial Relations Centre, on the Qantas dispute. Please feel free to use the quotes below or contact Dr Blumenfeld directly for further comment. “Would the New Zealand …31 October 2011

The Qantas dispute and New Zealand Industrial Relations

The following is commentary from Dr Stephen Blumenfeld, Director of Victoria University’s Industrial Relations Centre, on the Qantas dispute.

Please feel free to use the quotes below or contact Dr Blumenfeld directly for further comment.

“Would the New Zealand Government be able to call a halt to a similar work stoppage involving Air New Zealand, as happened this morning in Australia in the Qantas dispute with its unions? Not likely.

“In New Zealand, even if the proposed industrial action were deemed to affect the public interest, including public safety or health, the only option the Employment Relations Act foresees for dealing with such situations is referral to facilitation. The Employment Court has full and exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine any proceedings issued for the grant of an injunction to stop a strike or lockout that is occurring or to prevent a threatened strike or lockout. Where any action or proceedings seeking the grant of an injunction to stop a strike or lockout or to prevent a threatened strike or lockout is commenced in the Employment Court and the Court is satisfied that participation in the strike or lockout is lawful, the Court must dismiss that action or those proceedings.

“Under the Employment Relations Act, when collective bargaining runs into serious difficulties, either the employer or the union can ask the Employment Relations Authority to help resolve their differences through what is known as ‘facilitation’. The Authority can facilitate bargaining after a strike or lockout has been proposed that would substantially damage the public interest. This was effectively the argument made by Fair Work Australia, the Australian national workplace relations tribunal, when it ordered an immediate end to all industrial action in the Qantas dispute with its unions.

“In a similar case involving a prolonged dispute between NZ Bus and the NZ Tramways Union in 2009, the employer made application for facilitation in the Employment Relations Authority, arguing that a partial strike proposed by the union would substantially undermine the public interest. The Employment Relations Authority accepted the application, not on the ground the ‘work-to-rule’ action on the part of the union would affect the public interest substantially, but rather because a proposed lockout of indefinite duration initiated by the employer had the potential to have ‘significant and detrimental effects’.

“The key distinction between Australia and New Zealand in this regard is that, during facilitation, bargaining continues and, more importantly, the parties to bargaining are not prevented from using strikes and lockouts. In addition, though, as an essential service under Schedule 1 of the Employment Relations Act, Air New Zealand and its employees’ unions must give at least 14 days’ notice of any proposed work stoppage, including both strikes and lockouts. As such, it would not be possible for Air New Zealand to ground its fleet on short notice, as Qantas did this past weekend, stranding thousands of people worldwide.”

ENDS

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