The New Zealand Farm Workers Association : its rise and fall, 1974-1987 : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in History at Massey University

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Massey University
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The New Zealand Farm Workers Association (FWA) grew from a groundswell reaction against the Kirk Government's proposed Agricultural Workers Bill, 1973. The Bill intended to end single sector industrial arrangements for over thirty thousand farm workers on stock, station and dairy farms by bringing them under the Industrial Relations Act 1973. Most farm workers believed this meant the introduction of a forty-hour week, penal over-time rates, compulsory membership and probable representation by the New Zealand Workers' Union ( NZWU). Many farm workers rejected this structure and the FWA resulted, a democratic, grass-roots organisation, run by farm workers for farm workers. It was committed to a framework of voluntary membership and an industrial policy of reconciliation and non-strike activity, concepts believed to suit the rural community of interests. The Association attracted a membership of over eight thousand in its first year. Its initial success was achieved through the efforts of farm workers, the assistance of prominent people and farmer support. A National Party election promise to recognise the FWA led to the Agricultural Workers Act, 1977, which removed the threat from the rival NZWU and perpetuated single sector arrangements in agriculture. FWA successes included the upgrading of Orders in Council relating to farm workers' wages after a delay of sixteen years, the first written agreement on conditions, and the development of policies designed to improve members' living conditions, to enhance their career prospects, and to make eventual land ownership more possible for them. Claims of a rural community of interests were tested by the relationship between the FWA and the employer unions, who were guided by their parent body, Federated Farmers. There was initial cooperation on the updating of Orders, the formulation of the Agricultural Workers Act, 1977, and on research into securing improvements in rural social life. But a fundamental conflict remained over land settlement and over securing better wages and conditions. This divergence became apparent when the FWA found voluntary membership did not ensure its viability. In 1979 the employer unions refused to allow the FWA to introduce a draft membership clause into its Awards, offering alternative assistance instead. Federated Farmers' first concern was to safeguard the continuation of separate industrial arrangements in the rural sector. Although a negotiated clause was accepted in 1982, it did not stop the decline of the FWA which was caused primarily by a lack of support from farm workers themselves. Without a strong following, the FWA was unable to operate as a serious political force. In the face of changing political and economic conditions, the FWA drive for increased status for farm workers was futile, especially after dramatic government policy changes in 1985. Its eventual merger with the NZWU and the passage of the Labour Relations Act, 1987, signalled the end of single sector arrangements and the complete capitulation of the FWA to the trade union system.
New Zealand Societies etc, Agricultural laborers, N.Z. Farm Workers Association, History