Is Technology a Bargaining Issue?
This article examines how our industrial system is responding to worker demands for bi-lateral control over the introduction of technology into the workplace. In New Zealand Federated Clerical and Office Staff Employees I.A.W. v Wellington Law Practitioners I.U.E. the Arbitration Court was asked to arbitrate on the clerical and office staff employees' demand for a right to bargain over the introduction of word processing machines. Observing the new micro-electronic technology to be "of great moment in industrial relations" affecting "many and varied fields", the Court gave a carefully considered decision explaining that it could not sanction the demand. As an acknowledged test-case justifying the Court's departure from its practice of not providing reasons for its decisions on purely arbitral matters, this decision establishes the precedent the Court will follow in dealing with worker demands to mitigate the effects of technological change. This is notwithstanding the Court's caution that it is not bound by any factual precedent in matters of arbitration (expressed also in the Memorandum to the Award). In this instance the Court's reasons for rejecting the union's demand constitute a jurisdictional barrier to award terms securing bi-lateral control, which effectively negates the freedom the Court reserved to modify its approach in future proceedings beyond the terms of the Law Practitioners Award. In view of the technology clause sanctioned, Part I1 of this article examines the range of claims the Court's ruling will allow workers - irrespective of individual industry requirements-to pursue in conciliation and arbitration. Discussed also are the residual statutory alternatives availing workers actually confronting employer decisions to install new technology. Part I provides the background. This examines the legal question which, despite much of the Court's discussion of economic matters, was the principal issue for decision: namely, whether the subject of the union's demand was an industrial matter within the meaning of the Industrial Relations Act 1973 capable of satisfying the Act's jurisdictional requirement. In view of the Industrial Court's ruling on this requirement only three years previously, it suffices to mention that the Arbitration Court's decision on the new technology was predictable.