When work stops because of an industrial dispute, often it is not only the workers themselves who are affected. Their families also feel the impact of lost household income. In long strikes in isolated mining towns such as Ōhura and Glen Murray, where the mines were the main employer, the whole community felt the effect of lost wages and hostility between employers and workers.
During a strike, members of the public may miss out on some goods or services. But if the public agrees with the workers in a dispute, they may accept the disruption and offer the workers financial and other forms of support.
Dinner from the black pan
One issue which led to industrial disputes on New Zealand ships was the food provided to the crews. Their evening meal, served at 8 p.m., was traditionally known as the ‘black pan’ meal because in the days of steamships it was cooked over the coals in the ship’s boiler on a stoker’s shovel.
Cook Strait ferry strikes
In the 1970s and early 1980s crews of the Cook Strait ferries went on strike. Especially before the days of cheap air travel, the ferries were vital to the flow of freight and passengers between the North and South islands. Sailings were mainly disrupted by bad weather or mechanical problems, but industrial disputes caused the most resentment from stranded passengers. During several long ferry disputes between 1971 and 1983, the government launched ‘Operation Pluto’. Passengers and cars stranded by the strikes were flown between Wellington and Woodbourne airbase at Blenheim by commercial airline and air force planes.
Strikes in the 2000s
Although industrial disputes were much less common in the early 2000s, they could still sometimes affect large numbers of people.
2006 supermarket workers’ dispute
In August 2006 more than 500 supermarket distribution workers in Auckland, Palmerston North and Christchurch went on strike for a nationwide pay agreement. They were then locked out by their employer. Soon stocks of some items began to disappear from the supermarket shelves. However, the locked-out workers received many donations of cash and gifts of food. They returned to work after four weeks when the employer promised to sign a national pay agreement.
2008 junior doctors’ strike
In June 2008 more than 2,000 house surgeons and registrars at public hospitals around New Zealand went on strike for 48 hours, after their pay negotiations broke down. Thousands of patients in hospitals around the country were affected, and hospitals asked people to avoid using emergency departments unless absolutely necessary. Four months after the strike, employers agreed to an increased pay deal with the union representing junior doctors.