Sunday, 3 May 2009

the power of the collective

since i was blogging about disablism on may day, i thought i'd get in a belated post on workers' issues today. yeah, i know, being an accountant means i don't technically qualify as working class. but i still do identify with the issues, and i think that comes more from my religious background.

when it comes to "the poor", well, they aren't to be seen as a blight on society, as the lazy and good-for-nothing who are solely responsible for their own condition. in almost every case, poverty is a result either of circumstances or birth. it's very hard to pull yourself out of a situation when you have little access to quality education, and when you're in a job with low wages meaning you have to work long hours just to get by.

it's when you see people struggling with circumstances that they have little power to change, that's really heartbreaking. for those people, the power of the collective is really the only power they have. as individuals, they have very little ability to influence, but as part of a large group, they can make substantial changes.

i was at a dinner on saturday night, and our hostess worked in the area of human resources. we had this discussion about how much easier she found it to deal with unions, as compared to employment lawyers. the difference was that the union person had nothing personally to gain from a dispute, so they were much more likely to look for a win-win solution. employment lawyers on the hand were looking for as large a cash settlement as they could get, to ensure they got a sufficient cut to keep their business going.

the latter situation puts a much greater strain on employers, who know that taking a case to the employment tribunal will cost at least $20,000. it also puts a greater strain on employees, who are put through mediation by lawyers even when it isn't in their interests. i've watched an employee in mediation quickly reduced to tears when the list of their incompetencies were spelled out in a room full of people. there is just no way that should have happened, it was humiliating and the person was only there at the insistence of the lawyer.

of course, the only reason that employment lawyers have entered into this area of practice is because the national party brought in the employment contract act in 1990. over the years, i've heard so many complaints about how much they've hated having to pay out in cases where they believe they are not at fault. and they have blamed this situation on employment laws which favour employees, when in fact it is the system change of allowing lawyers into the field which has caused the problem. and any attempts to strengthen unions or to change undo measures put in by the employment contracts act have been fought vigorously by these same employers who are suffering under the provisions it brought in.

yeah, not smart really. the fact is that strong unions are good for business and good for the economy. strong unions are better able to ensure decent wages and conditions. decent wages mean that those at the bottom end will have more cash to spend, which stimulates the economy and ensures greater profits for business. better working conditions means a happier, healthier and more productive workforce, with lower staff turnover. ie better profit for business. it's a win-win situation.

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