The emphasis of the Department of Labour Briefing to Incoming Ministers has significantly changed in 2011.
In the 2008 Briefing, the Social Partners (Business NZ and Council of Trade Unions) were referred to frequently. Not now.
The notion of social partnership and tripartism is one that our government initially signed up to. The Jobs Summit, early in John Key’s new government was an example. Kate Wilkinson, Minister of Labour described this in her speech to the International Labour Organisation in 2009, saying :
….”We are setting out a credible road to economic recovery, so we can emerge stronger from the recession than we went into it. ….. In this, we’ve taken an inclusive, tripartite approach, recognising that the problems arising from the current situation affect all New Zealanders. In late February, our Prime Minister, the Honourable John Key, hosted a national Jobs Summit which saw unions, business and Government united by a common desire to do as much as possible to keep New Zealanders in work during this recession….”
The 2008 BIM described the purpose of the portfolio as :
- productive, rewarding, and safe employment relationships, including bargaining, mediation and dispute resolution
- setting, communicating, promoting, inspecting, and (where necessary) enforcing minimum standards of health and safety, and employment conditions
- raising the value and quality of work, by promoting good practice and positive change in workplace cultures and practices
- cooperation and interaction with other interested parties – including industries, sectors, and regions – in collaboration with social partners (Business New Zealand and the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions)
- ensuring New Zealand both benefits from, and contributes to, international labour standards and fora.
But the slimmed down description of the role of the Labour portfolio in the 2011 BIM says the focus of the Minister and the Department is ensuring :
- the labour market regulatory system is effective
- employers and employees understand their rights and comply with their obligations
- workplaces follow effective and sustainable employment relations and health and safety practices
- New Zealand benefits from, and contributes to, international labour standards and forums.
Businesses are mentioned 43 times. Unions are mentioned once. Social partnership is over, it seems.
And significantly, there’s no mention of low pay, of addressing the ever-growing wage gap with Australia and the issues for self-employed and vulnerable contractors. All are workers trying to make a living and have the right to expect more from their government.
I’m looking forward to hearing Kate Wilkinson’s explanation on her annual trip to Geneva this year.