Monday, September 27, 2010

Reported back

The Transport and Industrial Relations Committee has reported back [PDF] on Tau Henare's Employment Relations (Workers' Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill. Like many people - and many unions - I'd backed the bill as a no-brainer; all it did was reinforce that unions were democratic institutions bound to represent the interests of their members. But amendments made by the select committee have gone further; rather than simply saying "unions must be democratic", the bill is now all about allowing employers to challenge the legality of strike action for minor defects of process (as used to thwart strikes in the UK).

This is going too far. To point out the obvious: whether a voluntary organisation abides by its internal rules is an issue for its members. If your local rugby club, or larp society, or students association fails to conform to its process or purpose, you can take them to court to force them to. But non-members can't, because they lack standing (they may also lack any interest whatsoever). What this bill does is let non-members barge their way in and challenge decisions which members are perfectly happy with. Its not about democracy at all, but allowing it to be vetoed by outsiders.

This is as ridiculous as allowing non-members to challenge political party candidate selections (and threaten to sue to intimidate, to drain funds, or in an effort to force the selection of a weaker candidate). And in fact, that's the perfect example, because we have an equivalent law in this area. Section 71 of the Electoral Act requires parties to follow democratic procedures in candidate selection - but unlike this bill, it does not attempt to lay down what those procedures must be, or allow them to be challenged willy-nilly by outsiders. And that's as it should be. Like political parties, unions are voluntary organisations. Their decisions should be made democratically by their members - not by non-members. If that's good enough for political parties, why isn't it good enough for unions?