Friday, September 11, 2009

Making cheese is not an "essential service"

The Standard highlights the upcoming stoush in the dairy industry, where Open Country Cheese (owned by a toxic combination of National MPs and the anti-union Talley brothers) are trying to casualise their labour force and eliminate the Dairy Workers Union by issuing a six-week lockout notice. This will of course be lifted for any employee who quits the union, making it a prima facie case of using undue influence to violate workers' freedom of association. In the process, they highlight an unusual fact: the dairy industry - or specifically "the production of butter or cheese or of any other product of milk or cream and the processing, distribution, or sale of milk, cream, butter, or cheese or of any other product of milk or cream" - is classed as an essential service under employment law, meaning that strikes and lockouts are restricted. That's right - protecting farmers' profits is considered to be as important as hospitals, ambulances, and fire brigades.

This strikes me as something Labour should do something about (in fact, going through the list, there are a few others as well: port services, interisland ferries and airlines seem to be at odds with the "health and safety" focus of the rest of the list, as does the protection for the meat industry in part B of the schedule). So, I've drafted a little bill to fix it. Any takers?