Members of the National Government say the word productivity a lot. I certainly agree there is a need to lift our productivity as a nation. However I get annoyed that there is little real action and no focus at all on workplace productivity.
In fact the track record of this Government, including the recent announcements on extending the 90 Day No Rights provisions and limiting union access to workplaces, has taken a cost reduction approach to employment relations. Lifting employment standards and improving the quality of our workplaces doesn’t feature.
In my speech on the Prime Ministers Statement to Parliament in February I made the following comments :
Where is the government investment in industry and regional economic development? Where is the recognition that we need to lift the quality of workplaces – the wage rates, the work conditions, the quality of interaction. Productive employment relations. This Government sees workers and their rights as a cost to be reduced.
Look at the double speech in the PMs statement. Under the section on Better Regulation we have:
“Whether labour laws are imposing excessive costs on the country and holding back opportunities to create jobs”
Holidays and PGs not to mention union access to workplaces and collective bargaining. Remember what this meant last time and if we want to find reasons for the gap in income between Australia and NZ this is a good place to start.
Attacking workers rights and reducing current standards will not encourage the motivated workforce we need. Failing to invest in improving skills in our workplace will similarly not provide for a motivated workforce able to work smarter. There were no new initiatives in the area of workplace learning in the Budget. In fact under the Labour portfolio we see money moved from the Skills area to a completely different area of work. The Skills Forum spoken about very positively by the Prime Minister at the CTU conference last year has met once under this Government (still we know how reliable undertakings made by John Key to the union movement are!)
A recent report on management practices in the manufacturing industry showed that NZ managers surveyed are “average to middling by global standards” Furthermore people management emerges as the weakest area. And we are going to give poor people managers the right to fire at will for 90 days (except for discrimination covered by the Human Rights Act)!
A specific need identified in the Skills Strategy agreed by the last Government, Unions and Employers was around the need for more management training. We need forward looking people management that recognises that paying more not less, improving conditions of employment and genuine flexibility and respecting the need for independent worker voice that is engaged in improving the workplace and the products and services created/provided is what is required. Workplaces that are focussed on lifting productivity and where productive employment relations are seen as an integral part of this. We have some of these businesses but we need many more.
Fundamental to this approach is respect. I know from my own experience as a union organiser that workers value and desire respect at work. Respect for them as individuals but also respect for their unions. They also want to work with and for employers they respect.
I would like to see a real focus on productive employment relations but it will not happen under the approach being promoted by this National Government.