Thursday, January 5, 2012

Hard done by

In industrial disputes like the current one at the Ports of Auckland the media are almost always at pains to tell us how much it costs the employers when workers strike. We learn today, for instance, that the industrial action at the Ports of Auckland 'has cost the port $2.82 million in lost revenue.' Quite how such figures—usually supplied by management —are arrived at is never explained, but let's take them in good faith. If normal businesses is impeded for whatever reason, naturally you're going to lose money.

But how come we never, never hear how much money the workers lose by going on strike? Reporters should ask. It would not be so hard, I imagine, for a union to provide the total amount of pay lost by its members over a given time. (Maybe in this case the Maritime Union has an arrangement whereby its members still get paid when they go on strike, and if so, I'd happily stand corrected; but I doubt it very much. They certainly lose pay when they get locked out, as has happened at the ports).

The net effect of this imbalance in reporting is to put the weight of sympathy on management's side. They're losing income, they're inconvenienced, they can't get on with what they want to do. What about the other side? Workers' incomes in the first place are lower and more vulnerable to depletion, and by striking, they also jeopardize their employment prospects. One doesn't have to take sides in the ports dispute to feel that there's something wrong about a scenario in which only the employers are portrayed as being hard done by.

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