Settling industrial disputes
When workplace disputes cannot be resolved between the workers and their employer or supervisor, both sides can ask an independent person or organisation (a mediator) to listen to their arguments. They may then settle their differences voluntarily, by conciliation. If voluntary agreement cannot be reached, the mediator may decide the dispute, in a process known as arbitration. New Zealand has a long tradition of using the government to mediate or arbitrate in labour disputes.
In 1848 several hundred Māori road-builders in Auckland went on strike when they learned they would be paid less than Pākehā doing the same work. Governor George Grey threatened to sack them if they didn’t accept the lower pay, and said, ‘If you don’t agree, there is the road.’ One worker is said to have replied, ‘There is the road for you. I suppose it is open for both of us.’1 These early equal-rights activists then walked off the job.
Strikes and other industrial action
If no agreement can be reached through mediation or arbitration, industrial action may be used to try and convince one of the sides to change their position. A strike is when employees refuse to do their normal work. A refusal to work extra hours is called an overtime ban. Carrying out less work than usual is known as a go-slow or a work-to-rule. Employers can also take industrial action against their employees, by refusing to allow them to carry out their normal work. This is known as a lockout.