Labour strikes and protests over indigenous land in New Zealand

Peaceful Assembly

Nurses strike

In April 2018, thousands of nurses, health care assistants, midwives and other health workers took to the streets throughout the country to demand a wage increase and improved conditions, including more public hospital staff.

At least 400 people rallied on 19th April in Auckland while other marches took place in Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and eleven other towns. New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) president and registered nurse Grant Brookes said it was time to rebuild the health system after years of underfunding. She said

“We need the immediate staffing crisis to be addressed. There just aren’t enough of us to deliver the care that people need. We also need to be fairly rewarded for the skilled work we perform.”

Following this, on 12th July, up to 30,000 nurses walked off the job in a nationwide strike while more than 5,000 nurses remained on duty for patient safety. The strike was called after its membership voted against accepting the latest iteration of a collective pay agreement put forward by the District Health Boards (DHBs) in an online vote. NZNO spokesperson Cee Payne said the union would prepare to resume bargaining with district health boards.

Protest demanding protection of Maori land

Over 300 people demonstrated on 26th May 2018 against moves by Fletcher Building, the country’s largest construction company, to begin building 480 houses for sale on historic Maori land at Ihumatao.

Pania Newton, a leader of the protest, told demonstrators

“They are trying to steal our land for their economic gain…today we are acting to show them that we are staying on this land.”

The indigenous Maori people have lived in New Zealand continuously for hundreds of years. Ihumatao was one of the first human settlements in New Zealand but was confiscated by the government in 1863. Government militias, backed by 12,000 British troops, invaded what is today the southern part of Auckland and much of the neighboring province of Waikato.

SOUL — Save Our Unique Landscape — was initiated in 2015 to campaign to preserve the land by residents at Ihumatao. The predominantly Maori village of 80 households borders the confiscated land near Auckland’s airport.


Bus strike

On 11th May 2018, First Union members in Hamilton called a bus driver strike to demand for a living wage. This was followed by another strike by bus drivers in Auckland on 16th May over work and pay conditions. First Union organiser Graham McKean said many bus drivers were being paid "bottom dollar". He said:

"Many of these employees have been driving for decades and they have the responsibility of the wellbeing of hundreds of people a day on their shoulders. Pay them what they're worth."

On 28th May 2018 bus drivers in South Auckland called a strike and pulled 18 buses off the roads. The Go Bus employees were striking to negotiate better pay and rosters. They were also aiming to get employees nation-wide under one collective agreement.

Fast food chain strike

On 26th May 2018 workers at fast food chain Wendy's went on strike after collective agreement negotiations broke down. The Unite Union issued a strike notice to Wendco, the company behind the fast food chain, which covered stores across the country. Workers from the Hornby store in Christchurch walked off the job over accusations Wendy's has cut union members' hours by up to 20 per cent since the most recent collective agreement expired on 21st May.

Hate crimes legislation and free expression

On 3rd June 2018 the police and Ministry of Justice announced they were are considering new ways of recording crimes in an effort to combat racism. Hate crimes do not constitute a specific offence in New Zealand as they are coded under existing crime categories. Police have started consulting with ethnic community leaders such as Maori and Pacific Islanders, to consider the pros and cons of recording the data separately.

However, concerns have been raised over suppressing New Zealanders' right to free speech. Civil liberties advocate Thomas Beagle said "sometimes democracy could be painful and any new hate speech laws should promote more and better speech rather than suppress it." He said that "we need to ensure that it can't be used to suppress views that are merely radical or unpopular, or that are supported by the wrong people."

A spokeswoman from NZ’s Human Rights Commission said:

"Freedom of speech and expression are really important human rights. But most rights are not absolute and we also have to remember that with rights come responsibilities…we need to make sure our laws strike the right balance between protecting the right to freedom of speech and appropriately ensuring that we protect the right to personal security and safety so that people do not suffer actual harm. We are not talking about hurt feelings or offence, but situations at the very serious end of the spectrum where serious damage or injury is caused."