New Zealand Toilet Paper mill threatens to sue staff

August 31st, 2022 - Barbara Buckett

Negotiate not litigate

The issuing of proceedings in the Employment Relations Authority by Swedish multinational company Essity against its employees is provocative and conflicting with the Employment Relations Act and the Code of Good Faith in Collective Bargaining. 

The taking of legal action against striking Purex workers is arguably contrary to the requirements of the law, being a breach of good faith and certainly counter-productive to dispute resolution and fair bargaining.

The right to strike and lockout in a collective bargaining setting has long been a feature of the employment landscape. It is recognized not only as a right but a healthy and often necessary action to level the negotiating platform and for the promotion of fair bargaining, resolution of conflict and disputes. 

Strikes and lockouts are an inherently legitimate part of the bargaining process. They are part of the robust bargaining toolkit.

Perhaps the Swedish owned company needs to appreciate in New Zealand our legal employment regime is built on positive objectives such as good faith and that doing business here requires a different approach.    

Under the legislation it is a requirement both parties in collective to deal with each other in good faith. Good faith under the act is a positive concept not a negative one. The parties must do nothing that jeopardizes the support and promotion of a productive employment relationship.

Suing employees for acting in a collective bargaining setting arguably cuts across those positive constructive lawful requirements. It is provocative and inflammatory.

It is undermining of the bargaining process and divisive. 

What makes this more offensive is the act provides for constructive alternatives such as injunctions for unlawful strikes, or facilitation for dispute resolution which do not target individuals in a collective scenario.   

A technical argument of the timing of the beginning of the strike is in this case more a procedural error not necessary of the individual workers making.      

Good faith requires Essity to bargain with the union not undermine that representation by using litigation to cudgel the individual workers into submission through legal action. This is going too far and straying from the intentions of the act.

Hopefully, the authority which has jurisdiction to deal with good faith bargaining issues and a legal obligation under the act to promote good faith bargaining and to support successful employment relationships will see the proceedings for what they are and direct the parties back into a dispute resolution process.

The actions of the Purex manufacturer demonstrate litigation is a poor substitute for employment relations disputes. 

After all toilet paper is a public interest (t)issue!  

(Stuff) Toilet paper shortage looming after employees locked out in pay disagreement, union says

If you have any questions or are unsure of what responsibilities your organisation or business has do not hesitate to contact BuckettLaw

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Barbara Buckett

Barbara Buckett is a highly experienced senior employment lawyer with over 35 years of practice in New Zealand. She provides expert advice on all areas of employment law and has a proven track record of delivering excellent results for clients. Barbara has extensive experience in resolving workplace issues and is an experienced litigator. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, working out, and fine wine and dining with friends.

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