On the eve of Suffrage Day it is worth contemplating the track record of National in terms of progress for NZ women. I tried on Thursday to explore this with the Minister of Women’s Affairs. You can judge for yourself. I believe NZ women deserve better than this. Tomorrow, on the 118th anniversary of Suffrage Day, the day we celebrate the acheivement of those who fought for and won the vote for women, I will be announcing Labour’s Women’s Policy. The policy is comprehensive and builds on Labour’s proud record of working for real equality, real choice and real opportunity for women.
Continuing a well established pattern the latest National list continues to sideline women. Are there no competent women out there who share National’s philosophy?
If we compare the National and Labour lists by gender this is what we find – in the first 10 positions National has 2 women, Labour has 4; in the first 20 positions National has 5 women, Labour has 8; in the first 30 positions National has 7 women, Labour has 12; in the first 40 positions National has 10 women, Labour has 16; in the first 50 positions National has 14 women, Labour has 21. So National has women in 28% of the first 50 places and Labour 42%.
Women make up just over 50% of the population so I accept that Labour needs to work harder to increase the number of women in our Caucus. But at any given point in our political history Labour has led National in terms of representation of women in Parliament. Fighting for real equality for women is part of Labour’s core values and there is no doubt we have delivered consistently in this area with strong leadership from Labour women MPs.
In comparison this National Government has failed to deliver for women. In fact National has an appalling record in areas like progressing pay equality (closing the Pay and Employment Equity Unit, failing to act on pay investigations and cutting funding to the EEO Trust) and violence against women (cutting successful programmes and creating less secure funding for those delivering successful programmes like Girls Self Defence, leaving the Domestic Violence Bill languishing on the order paper). A number of legislative and policy changes have disproportionate negative effects on women (reducing access to the Training Incentive Allowance, 90 days fire at will provisions, meagre increases to the minimum wage and cuts to Adult and Community Education). Where are the strong voices advocating for women in the National Caucus? The current Minister’s priority seems to be increasing the number of women on Company Boards. This is important and I support greater representation of women everywhere (including in the National Caucus) however I don’t think this initiative is really the most burning issue for the many NZ women who are struggling to make ends meet.
A recently released UN Women report shows that NZ has the highest rates of physical and sexual violence in the OECD with 30% of women having ever experienced physical violence and 14% having ever experienced sexual violence by an intimate partner from 2000 – 2010. This is something we should be very worried about. Physical and sexual abuse by intimate partners is generally about power and control. It is often about men having a very negative view of women. There is no doubt that stress and alcohol play a role.
The consequences of this violence are huge. I have previously worked in the women’s health movement and I have seen first hand the depression, the loss of confidence and the other consequences that remain long after the physical injuries have healed. Children are also hurt by this violence in so many ways including fear and trauama from seeing their mother hurt. They can often learn and become caught up in similar patterns of abuse. I have also seen the guts and determination women muster to leave violent relationships and to rebuild lives that have been shattered.
We must do something real to change the violence that pervades our culture. Just to give a sense of scale – in 2008 the Police responded to 82,692 incidents involving some form of domestic violence. I find it appalling that at a time when reported violence is increasing that successful programmes like Child Advocates and Te Rito have been cut as has funding for residential services.
In contrast, earlier this year the Gillard Government in Australia announced a 12 year multi-million dollar framework for action to reduce violence. This unified strategy across agencies has cross party support. The strategy includes a major focus on prevention.
I don’t for one minute claim this is a new problem or indeed one that is unique to NZ. Last week I attended two meetings focussed on women on consecutive nights . In the first Marilyn Waring was speaking about the Solomon Islands and the second was a presentation by Ratna Osman from an organisation called Sisters in Islam. Both presentations referred to the significant problem of violence against women.
Violence against women occurs in all societies but I do worry about the scale of the problem in NZ. I think we need to do more to address this problem and reach some sort of consensus on what is needed. In my maiden speech I committed to working to on the issue of family violence. I want to acknowledge those who work in paid and unpaid capacities to try to prevent such violence and to deal with the consequences of such violence. Yours is an important and difficult job.
Women’s Refuge is one such group and last week Jacinda, Carmel and I made a small contribution by collecting for Women’s Refuge in Auckland.
As Labour’s Women’s Affairs Spokesperson I visited Arohata Women’s Prison with my colleague, Labour’s Justice Spokesperson Charles Chauvel, this afternoon. I have never been in any prison before in any capacity and I have to say the visit has really got me thinking.
I wasn’t sure what to expect but one thing I can say is that anyone who calls a prison a holiday camp or a luxury hotel has got it completely wrong. The facilities were basic and functional.
After a warm Maori welcome we were shown around the prison. The highlight was talking to a group of about twenty five women who are part of the prison’s Drug Treatment Unit (DTU). The DTU operates a therapeutic community model with a structured programme operating in a community environment with community expecations, community support and evalutions. Charles and I asked the women to tell us the things that would reduce the chances of them reoffending when they go back into the community and what things might have stopped them offending in the first instance.
I think the women were pleased and surprised to be asked these questions by MPs and I was really impressed with the answers. One area that stood out is that in Arohata the women have an opportunity to learn and to gain qualifications. This is clearly valued by the women -this was stated by both the inmates and the staff. They want to keep learning and to use that learning to get jobs and to help their children.
What is also obvious is the strong desire of the group to deal with their addictions. Arohata is the only women’s prison that operates a DTU and so many of the women have had to move away from Christchurch and Auckland women’s prisons and proximity to their families to take part in the programme. They clearly make the link between violence, drugs, alcohol and their offending.
The women who spoke clearly want to move forward, to get jobs and to get their children back. They want to be given a chance by employers. They are also worried about what support there will be once they leave Arohata.
Some things that were reinforced for me were:
- we need to focus on the causes of crime and not solely on punishment
- we especially need to consider whether imprisonment is the best response to all of the situations people are currently imprisoned for
- the need for drug treatment programmes in all our prisons and in the community
- the importance of life long learning opportunities, to name a few
Charles and I have committed to going back and continuing the conversation. We are intending to visit the other women’s prisons too.
- A solo Mum of five school age children who is on a benefit believes she has to go and get a loan for $120 from her local ‘finance company’ to buy food for her children. In 3 weeks she will have to pay back $159?
- A unemployed middle aged man tries to sell his glasses back to his optometrist because he is hungry and he needs money?
- A new loan company is set up that gives loans of up to $600 with interest rates of up to 678% by text stating that loans can be given as quickly as 4 mins and could cover people in situations such as when their EFTPOS is declined at the supermarket?
These stories are all true and have happened in the last week.
I don’t think any of these situations should be happening and I will fight to ensure they don’t happen.
Great piece by Brent Edwards on Morning Report this morning. http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/morningreport (scroll down to ‘Ombudsman backs Government secrecy over Hobbit deal’)
I listened and thought what has the Government got to hide? $30 million of taxpayers’ money and an amendment to our Employment Relations legislation removing basic rights from all workers in the film industry under Urgency and therefore with no public input - surely we have the right to know why?
We have had a lot to say about this issue. Some examples – Darien Fenton’s April 2011 blog http://blog.labour.org.nz/index.php/2011/04/12/hobbit-revisited/; my January 2011 blog http://blog.labour.org.nz/index.php/2011/01/06/honesty-and-the-hobbit//; Trevor Mallard’s December 2010 blog http://blog.labour.org.nz/index.php/2010/12/22/we-believe-in-the-right-to-unionise-some-people-dont/; Sue Moroney’s October 2010 blog http://blog.labour.org.nz/index.php/2010/10/29/whos-next/ and Clare Curran’s October 2010 blog http://blog.labour.org.nz/index.php/2010/10/29/nz-law-brought-to-you-by-warner-bros/because it is an issue of sovereignty as well as an issue of (mis)use of tax payer money and workers rights. Furthermore we are a long way from hearing the full story and there have been so many inconsistencies in what the Government has said throughout this whole sorry saga.
For me the Hobbit saga is a clear example of the moral bankruptcy of John Key’s Government. He still seeks to manipulate the facts as was evidenced by his appalling Budget speech which referred to Labour members as “Hobbit haters”.
The damage caused by loan sharks lending irresponsibly and at excessively high interest rates is no joke. In the current environment where the cost of living is increasing dramatically and many New Zealanders are struggling to make ends meet loan sharks are thriving.
This is the reason that a community alliance to stop loan sharks was recently launched with organisations like the Salvation Army, the NZ Federation of Family Budgeting Services, FINSEC (the Finance Sector Union) and many others committing to do what they can to put pressure on Government for action to be taken. Along with my colleagues Charles Chauvel and Carmel Sepuloni, I was present at the launch to stress our continued commitment to regulation in this area. Carmel and I will both be entering Members Bills which seek to deal with excessive interest rates and irresponsible lending in the next Ballot. I will continue to keep asking the Government why they are failing to deal with this blight on our community.
The response of the Government over the last two weeks has been telling. At the time of the relaunch a Spokesperson for the then Minister of Consumer Affairs John Boscawen was that rules governing loan sharks were ..”being examined as part of the review of the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act”. Of course there was no mention that the suggestions in this review did not include any regulation of interest rates. Furthermore the Government has delayed by the review over 12 months.
Then there was the launch of Responsible Lending Guidelines by the Financial Services Federation. I congratulated the Federation and acknowledged these best practice voluntary guidelines are a step in the right direction. However these guidelines do not regulate excessive interest rates and they will be ignored by the worst predatory operators. It was absolutely appalling that the Government media release, in the name of Paula Bennett, seemed to indicate that the guidelines showed the Government was doing something and that loan sharking would not be tolerated.
A full week later National MPs released a generic media release with just the name of the electorate changed. All of them had apparently seen loan sharks offering interest rates of 8% per week that can add up to over 2000% per annum. All of them welcomed the new guidelines as if they would help in dealing with these sorts of excessive interest rates.
In the face of real harm in our community and a huge demand for action to be taken to deal with irresponsible lending and excessive interest rates these sorts of statements are opportunistic and an absolute joke. It is time to get serious and do something that will really help vulnerable consumers.
Today in Onehunga a community coalition to Stop Loan Sharks was launched. Throughout last year I committed to continuing this campaign no matter what happened to the ‘Credit Reform (Responsible Lending)’ Bill I had picked up from Charles Chauvel. Since the defeat of the Bill at the hands of National and ACT I have been constantly asked ”why” and “what next”.
And of course the need for action has continued increasing – ever increasing prices, evidenced today by a huge increase in the CPI, and static or reducing incomes (often starting from an inadequate base!) are a recipe for disaster for many New Zealanders. New Zealanders who struggle to make ends meet, New Zealanders who need food parcels and increasing numbers of New Zealanders who end up taking out loans at excessive interest rates that they cannot realistically pay back.
Today I was joined by my colleagues Charles Chauvel, Carmel Sepuloni and Green MP David Clendon all of whom along with the rest of our fellow party members will continue to campaign on this issue within Parliament. Carmel and I will both be putting Members Bills in the ballot. Both will deal with the need for responsible lending practices and both of which (in different ways) seek to limit excessive interest rates.
We were joined by groups and individuals committed to dealing with the fringe lending sector. They included Church organisations, budgeting organisations, unions, lawyers, anti-poverty groups and credit unions. In addition to me the speakers included the Salvation Army, the NZ Federation of Family Budgeting Services, FINSEC, Charles Chauvel and the Mangere Budgeting Service. We were also addressed by a fine young man who last year, not far from where we were today, went ‘undercover’ seeking to obtain loans from a number of loan companies. He pointed out how easy it was to get money and how no real checks were undertaken. One of the interest rates he did manage to get disclosed was 24% per month.
In the course of the launch we heard of the massive increase in food parcels being supplied by organisations like the Salvation Army, the massive increase in workloads of our budgeting services and the increasing level of indebtedness of those seeking help at budgeting services. The case studies we heard included a pensioner with six loans with interest rates varying between 25% and 49% and a Samoan family of five with multiple loans with interest rates between 19% and 82%. We heard of the reality of many families (both on benefits and in work) where paying food and rent comes after the payment of high interest loans. The impact on children was stressed and how the consequences can be with them for the rest of their lives.
The Government’s response is seen as not only inadequate but also irresponsible. The delay in the review of Consumer Credit is impossible to fathom. The delay was a deliberate decision of the Government. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs website states that submissions which closed in August 2009 are still being scrutinised! It should be noted that while there are positive suggestions from that review which are languishing this doesn’t include proposals to deal with excessive interest rates.
The Community Coalition to Stop Loan Sharks will seek in this election year to keep the issues centre stage and to put pressure on all parties to identify solutions. Solutions that other countries have been far more proactive in seeking than New Zealand.
In the end this issue is about people, often people who have children, people who are poor and who are vulnerable. How we react to this issue is a measure of our sense of decency and fairness. I am absolutely clear that most New Zealanders find loan shark behaviour abhorrent and that they want the Government to take action.
Today marks the centenary of International Women’s Day. In the last century women have struggled for and achieved much in New Zealand. We have often led the way in terms of women’s rights and this is worthy of celebration.
Originally tabled as an idea by Clara Zetkin a German socialist in 1910, International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. More than one million women and men attended rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. However less than a week later on 25 March, the tragic ‘Triangle Fire’ in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women. This tragedy drew significant attention to working conditions and labour legislation in the United States that became a focus of subsequent International Women’s Day events. The date was shifted to 8 March in 1913 and has since been celebrated on that date.
The focus on working conditions and labour laws is still very relevant for women in NZ and globally. The ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) representing 176 million workers in 151 countries and territories today launched a report highlighting how women are still second class citizens at work.
The concentration of women in low paid and precarious work is still an issue in New Zealand. There is clear evidence that the work of many women is undervalued. The consequences of the persistent gender pay gap are huge and are both immediate and long term. Women and their families have less income than they should to make ends meet and women over their lifetime are underpaid to a significant level which means they are able to save less for their retirement.
Low pay and pay inequity are serious matters and the consequences are particularly severe in tough economic times where families are struggling with ever rising prices, job losses and static or reducing incomes. The need for Government action is compelling.
On the centenary of International Women’s Day the National Government’s track record on the issue of pay equity is a sorry one. That record— disestablishing the Pay Equity Unit, halting or failing to act on Pay and Employment Equity investigations, lifting the minimum wage by a cynically small amount, and crowing about closing the gender pay gap at a time of falling wages— is costing women all over New Zealand.
These actions are in a context of backtracking on basic rights at work. We have seen attacks on holidays, on meal and rest breaks and on rights to organise in unions. We are seeing women sacked without recourse, women who too often have broken work histories and face periods of time with no rights in regard to unfair dismissal.
Today along with all my Labour women colleagues I signed the Pay and Employment Equity Pledge at Parliament urging the Government to reassess its strategy and develop a plan to close the pay gap in New Zealand. Now that would be a good way to celebrate International Women’s Day!
Along with other speakers at the event at Parliament today I acknowledged the women of Christchurch. These women, in the face of terrible tragedy, are seeking to hold together their families and rebuild their lives. It is concerning to learn that the pressure facing the people of Christchurch is leading to an increase of domestic violence, a problem that still blights the lives of many women in New Zealand and globally.
I am sitting on the Justice and Electoral Select Committee as we hear submissions on the Alcohol Reform Bill for two days in Auckland.
There have been so many powerful and moving submissions. Some brave individuals have shared their own stories of alcohol harm. Overwhelmingly submitters are urging that a decisive leadership role is taken in dealing with alcohol harm. Submitters illustrate time and again what research has shown and that is as a drug alcohol causes greater harm to others than to self.
One submitter yesterday afternoon showed us a photograph of an advertisement in a local off-license for RTDs (ready to drink) which cost $1 per can. He pointed out that a can contains one and a half standard drinks. This means 20 standard drinks for$12. According to the submitter, a health professional, depending on the person somewhere in the vicinity of 30 standard drinks is enough to kill you.
This example illustrated key points that submitters are overwhelmingly saying which is that the Government needs to strengthen this Bill in relation to issues like price, availability and advertising/sponsorship. There is also huge support for lowering the blood alcohol level to 0.05 from 0.08.
We have a Prime Minister who thinks people using food banks do so because they make poor choices and an Acting Minister of Women’s Affairs who thinks women like school support staff working in jobs that are undervalued and who are struggling with the family budget in the face of ever rising prices should be “grateful that there is a National Government focused on lifting economic performance, and ensuring the well being of families and communities”
They are all heart! They have no idea what it is really like for low and middle income New Zealanders!
In relation to Kate Wilkinson’s comments I say (a) there is no plan to lift economic performance, (b) the economy is going backwards – increasing unemployment and real wages falling, (c) her words will not give women confidence that this Government actually intends to do anything about the gender pay gap and (d) being grateful won’t help put food on the table or balance the budget.
Yesterday was Red Bag Day, a day started by Business and Professional Women in 1988 to highlight the gender pay gap internationally. The Minister cited the NZ Income Survey to say that the gender pay gap has closed but she then disputed the same statistics series when I outlined that it showed that real wages have declined, which of course makes a mockery of her crowing about the gender pay gap closing.
This Government have failed women in so many ways. In relation to pay equity they have scrapped the Pay Equity Unit, halted pay and employment equity investigations and failed to honour commitments to groups like Education Support Staff who work with special needs children. This is effectively ignoring the proven inequality this group faces. In tough economic times with high unemployment and reducing pay, low incomes due to discrimination have even greater impact on women and their families.
It is certainly inappropriate for the Acting Minister of Women’s Affairs to celebrate falling wages and to tell women they should be grateful.
Depressing (but not surprising) to hear how overwhelmed Australian employers were by the number of people who turned up at an Oz Job Expo in Auckland over the weekend. Over 6000 people went to the Expo no doubt attracted by the prospect of (a) jobs and (b) better paid jobs.
I have some questions for Mr Key and National:
- Do you still think the reason people head to Australia is tax rates?
- Do you understand that there is, on average, a 30% differential in wages between Australia and NZ?
- Do you think any of the following will close the wage gap- insulting increases to the minimum wage, making collective bargaining less likely and failing to invest in upskilling our workforce to make people more employable and to lift workplace productivity?
- Will you recognise that there needs to be more money invested in skills development to meet the ever increasing skill shortages in our economy?
Sadly I won’t be holding my breath for a change of direction in any of these areas. This government does not understand the need to focus on growing the economy and jobs, increasing workplace productivity, investing in skills or lifting wages. There is no plan. Meanwhile let’s just keep waving goodbye to our family and friends.
I was appalled to hear of a radio station competition to ‘win a wife’. It is a reminder that there is still an attitude towards women in NZ that is deeply troubling – that they are commodities to buy and to own. The website includes a form to fill in and says “If you’re interested in holy matrimony with a potentially hot foreign chick, fill it out to the best of your abilities”
I, like many others I imagine, would have thought these sorts of competitions were from a bygone era. The reality is that there is still a long way to go to achieving genuine equality for women in NZ. There are still stereotypes, put downs and discrimination.
In addition women, on average, earn less, own less and work longer hours (paid and unpaid work). Violent crimes against women – domestic and sexual violence - are still significant and persistent. We may have been the first country where women gained the right to vote, and we have seen women in the highest positions in the land, but there is still a lot to achieve.
I have recently become Labour’s Women’s Affairs Spokesperson and I will carry on the good job done by my colleague Sue Moroney in providing a strong voice for women.
Back to the beginning of this post - you may say that I don’t have a sense of humour. I can assure you I do but marriage is about an important relationship not a transaction. Women are not commodities!
I have had a wonderful holiday this year as I hope you did if you had time off. I really enjoyed having more time to do things that get squeezed during the working year. Time to spend with family and friends, time to be alone, time to walk , to read and to reflect. I am sure as we made our resolutions for 2011 or reflected on the year ahead many of us thought about spending more time on things other than work and trying to achieve better balance in our lives.
In my previous role as CTU Secretary I led our work on the issue of work life balance. In 2004 we produced a publication called ‘It’s about Time’ which looked at the issues around people achieving balance between paid and unpaid work, family and personal time. (You can find a copy on the CTU website www.union.org.nz). New Zealand has very long working hours compared to many other OECD countries. For low and middle income earners these long hours are often driven by low wages. Many workers on the minimum wage or just above it work more than one job to try and earn enough to make ends meet. Long working hours are not solely caused by low wages as can be seen by long hours worked by those earning high salaries. Work intensification is a well documented phenomena – less people doing the same or more work. Not by working smarter but by having to work harder and longer.
Currently there are many New Zealanders with too much non- working time, – the huge number of unemployed and the less well recognised numbers of underemployed. This lack of paid work is a fundamental problem as it impacts on people’s ability to survive financially.
Time pressures and lack of balance can have major implications for people’s health, their relationships,their ability to participate in community activity or to contribute to their community in a voluntary capacity (a real problem identified by many organisations).
Dealing with this issue has many dimensions. These include – lifting wages; adequate leave provisions (domestic leave, parental leave, holidays, study leave, unpaid leave); limitations on working hours (NZ is very unregulated in this area); recognising and valuing unpaid work; changing workplace cultures and real flexibility in working arrangements (flexibility in the context of secure quality work, not the one sided flexibility in the many precarious working arrangements that becoming increasingly common). In ‘It’s about Time’ a number of very practical and positive examples of such arrangements negotiated between unions and employers are provided. These can vary from quite small changes at work eg ensuring employees can access a phone, to arrangements to reduce work hours (temporarily or permanently) or to have greater flexibility regarding working hours or work location through to additional leave provisions (above statutory provisions).
There was good progress made by the last Labour government, for example - paid parental leave, legislating for a minimum of 4 weeks annual leave, legislating around the flexible working hours (something the unlamented Pansy Wong claimed credit for National even though they voted against this!), requiring rest and meal breaks and regular increases in the minimum wage.
In two years of this National government we have gone backwards fast. Not only has there been no focus on improving the quality of working life but in fact there has been an ideologically driven attack on holidays and rest and meal breaks. From 1 April this year it will be possible to sell the 4th week of annual leave. Sadly leave will be sold not because most people want less annual leave but because of financial pressures. It is tough financially for low and middle income New Zealanders.
Labour is already showing that we will continue assisting people achieve balance in their lives by indicating that we will look at enhancing paid parental leave as part of a comprehensive focus on child development. This would be a very positive move for families and for society by increasing the chances of parents having quality time to bond with their babies.
The benefits of creating opportunities for people to better balance paid work with family, unpaid work, studying, taking part in community activities and helping others are wide ranging. This includes to individuals, to their children and other dependents, to employers by ensuring better recruitment and retention of a broader pool of employees and to the community as people can participate in the sporting, cultural, service, religious and other organisations that make up our society. For lifelong learning to be the norm we need this sort of flexibility too.
I believe this is an important debate to have. It is about our quality of life. An ageing population makes it imperative and adds new dimensions to the issue, for example the increasing number of people trying to care for children or grandchildren and ageing parents, or the needs of older workers who will want or be expected to be in the workforce for longer and who will have particular limits on their time at (paid) work. This is also an important issue whether or not a person has caring responsibilities. The demands on peoples time vary throughout their life. For example a young person without children may want flexibility to finish a qualification or travel or play competitive sport as well as being in paid work.
We are all probably aware of people who regret that they didn’t do certain things during their life, commonly many people regret that they didn’t spend more time with their family. I don’t think that when people look back on their lives there are many who regret that they didn’t spend more time in paid work. A very interesting piece of research by an Australian academic, Barbara Pocock, shows quite clearly that what children want most is quality time with their parents.
It’s about Time!
The Government’s performance must be measured not only by what they have done but also by what they have not done.
In my mind one of the most appalling omissions of the Key National government is in the area of skills development. In 2010 $55 million was cut from industry training and went instead to increasing the number of university places. While I support greater investment in our Universities and Polytechnics and while there may be areas of underspending or poor performance by some Industry Training Organisations the answer is not to take money away from a focus on developing the skills of those already in the workforce but to look at improving performance and new iniatives. There has been an absence of action by Government. The agreed Skills Strategy was dropped, the Skills Forum scheduled to meet 6 times in 2010 did not met once and no new initiatives around upskilling the workforce have been actioned (or even announced).
At every level the need for investing in people and providing ongoing opportunities for upskilling is compelling and yet this is an area of almost complete lack of action. At a time of low economic growth and high unemployment this is an essential component required to lift our economic performance. This is recognised by many other countries and indeed has been part of stimulus packages in many of them.
Increasing skill levels is well understood to lift workplace productivity – it is not the whole answer but a significant element. Higher skills, higher productivity and higher wages are inextricably linked. The structural problems in all of these areas are clear. Increasing skills provides greater employment opportunities for individuals and also the potential for greater employment security. Along with David Cunliffe, Trevor Mallard and Grant Robertson we have been doing a lot of thinking about the links in these areas and will have good policy options to put to the country this year.
The positives are not just economic. Skills development includes improving literacy, numeracy and IT skills; it includes the so called ‘soft skills’ like problem solving, team work, self management as well as technical and trade skills. Skills development can be industry specific or generic and must be seen as an ongoing need. Learning pre-employment, on the job and in the community as part of life long learning. As people develop their skills they have the opportunity to increase in confidence and in their ability to participate at work, at home and in the community. Just imagine the benefits to a family if a parent’s literacy is improved so that they can help their children learn to read or help with their homework.
The importance of the workplace in skills development through apprenticeships, through industry training generally and through deliberate pathways to progress both skills acquisition and skills utilisation and improved pay is fundamental. There must be a commitment to providing opportunities to re-train to reflect changing needs including situations where people become unemployed through redundancy. Most of us spend a significant portion of our adult lives in the paid workforce. 80% of the workforce of 10 years time are already in work so this area warrants a great deal of investment. The respective contributions of businesses and government is something that needs to be agreed as does the respective role of employers, unions, Industry Training Organisations, Universities and Polytechnics. All have a role to play.
What is clear is that National has no vision about the potential of skills development , no real commitment to this area and certainly no understanding of the need to have significant investment in the skills development of New Zealanders. Labour has a strong track record in this area and we will provide a much more ambitious approach.
Refreshingly honest comments by John Drinnan in Tuesday’s NZ Herald in his A – Z of a challenging year in the media:
“Acting Up – Talk about Fantasyland. Sir Peter Jackson depicted the Hobbit dispute as a passionate quest to defy the evil unions and keep the movie in New Zealand. It was of course, about money, power and keeping unions out. For producers and actors it was business – part of the old battle for power between capital and labour. But the media have a role in reporting that battle – and their one sided, naive and simplistic coverage of the dispute was shameful. With a few honourable exceptions – notably this paper – many in the media unquestioningly backed producers’ versions of events and whipped up hysteria in a manner reminiscent of the 1951 waterfront dispute. Not the media’s finest hour.”
I absolutely agree with the comments about the coverage being shameful. Many in the media facilitated the vilification of people who were trying to protect the interests of those working in the industry – Jennifer Ward- Lealand, Robyn Malcolm and Helen Kelly. There was the deliberate union bashing, which sadly many seem to accept without question, and the failure to indentify and highlight the inconsistencies and omissions in what the Government and Peter Jackson were saying (for example Peter Jackson said in 2009 that the Hobbit was likely to be lost to NZ because the financial incentives were insufficient).
I am glad that someone in the media is recognising these facts. I am glad too that the material released under the Official Information Act just before Xmas shows what information was available to John Key and other National MPs (and when it was available). It will be interesting to see what role they played in misleading the media and the response of the Speaker to Trevor Mallard’s questions about Gerry Brownlee misleading the House .
This is the catch cry of the community campaign to save New Chum beach from development.
Imagine walking through the bush, a stand of nikau and then coming down into a beach of golden sands with pohutakawa trees right down to the sand. A large bay with rocky headlands and rolling waves. A beach that is completely pristine with absolutely no development at all. No roads, no paths, no rubbish bins, toilets, ice cream sellers or anything other than the absolute natural beauty. A beach on the Coromandel Peninsula that can only be accessed by a 30 minute walk or by water. This beach is New Chum – Wainuiototo.
I first saw New Chum 10 years ago and I have to say it took my breath away. I have visited many beautiful beaches but the absolute unspoiled nature of New Chum was something special. Since that first visit I have been back many times to sit, to picnic, to walk, to swim and every time it takes my breath away. On one occasion my partner and I ended up being the only people there at the end of the day – it was a magic feeling. If you haven’t visited and you have the chance I would highly recommend it. The beach lies north of Whangapoua beach on the eastern side of the Coromandel peninsula. It is an easy 30 minute walk.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of joining over a thousand others who are fighting to stop development of New Chum. There are so few beaches of this size and quality that remain undeveloped, especially so close to the large population centres of Auckland, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty. We want to save this beach in its untouched state for our children, our grandchildren and future generations.
A wonderful community campaign -New Chum for everyone - has worked tirelessly over the last few months to oppose the development of New Chum. They have submitted, they have lobbied, they have built community support and got the support of Labour leader Phil Goff and Green MP Catherine Delahunty. Yesterdat a message was sent to the Prime Minister to put pressure on him to do what is a no brainer and that is to buy New Chum from the developer to ensure it protected now and into the future.
It seems the developer is willing to do a deal that means this could cost as little as $10 million. This is a small price to pay for something which has enormous economic, social and environmental value. This beach has been described as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world by Lonely Planet and National Geographic.
Yesterday at Matarangi, led by Phil Keoghan (Host of the Amazing Race) and supported by many others including Linda at The Informer newsletter, we sent a visual message made up of over a thousand people; it said “John Key Save Me! New Chum”. Phil Goff, Steve Chadwick, Catherine Delahunty and I (but not Sandra Goudie the local MP) all participated. The Mayor of Thames Coromandel District Council, Glenn Leach and a number of TCDC Councillors were also actively involved. One person I was really pleased to see was Robyn Malcolm who was recently vilified for taking a very principled stance in the whole Hobbit debacle.
The Government can make a difference by buying this wonderful asset for the people of New Zealand. As Phil Goff says ‘National can invest $1.7 billion in protecting South Canterbury Finance Investors and pay Warner Brothers up to $95 million in handouts for filming The Hobbit in New Zealand, $10 million is such a small price for protecting such an invaluable asset as New Chum beach”.
This is something worth supporting. We can save New Chum. Please go to www.preservenewchum.org.nz for more information. As the community campaign states “Whatungarongaro te tangata Toitu te whenua – people come and go but the land remains”
Along with Green MP Keith Locke I attended the CTU rally in Auckland today. 7,000 wage and salary earners gathered in Manukau to express their anger and concern at the actions of this National government. They were part of actions in 30 locations throughout New Zealand with 22,000 people participating.
The Auckland rally was a very powerful gathering. Strong statements were made against the removal of rights – the right to challenge unfair dismissals, the right to see your union representative on site, the right to rest and meal breaks, the right to have holidays.
At the end I was asked by a journalist whether I thought the Government would listen. I responded that while they should listen I expected that they would not. This Government is going to force through this backward looking suite of attacks on working people. These changes will not lift workplace productivity, lift wages or close the wage gap with Australia – quite the contrary! We will all be worse off as a consequence.
The speakers today reflected concerns that I am hearing throughout the community. These attacks are not well received in the community and for many this is further evidence of a Government out of touch with the views and reality of many New Zealanders.
One of the very exciting aspects of conference for me was showcasing the work that has been done on bold new economic policies. Policies that are prefaced on the belief that fairer economies are more successful economies and that there are fundamental structural problems in our economy that require a fundamental shift in approach.
One important policy area that is key to both fairer outcomes and changing our economic performance is our employment relations policy. A lot of work has been done by the CTU, Labour affiliated unions and Labour MPs to re-cast our policy. There is a recognition that while the Employment Relations Act was a necessary response to the damage of the Employment Contracts Act, it was not sufficient to really shift outcomes for wage and salary earners. In particular the ability to collectively bargain has proven to be an elusive right for most New Zealanders. As a consequence wages have lagged and many have been dependent on changes flowing from increases to the Minimum Wage.
Low wages have huge negative impacts – for families, for communities and for our economy. Low wages mean many struggle to make ends meet (or can’t make ends meet). Low wages mean that essential investment in lifting productivity by investing in technology and lifting skill levels has not had the necessary economic imperative. If you have to pay decent wages you become focused on getting the best possible results. Low wage workers are seen as readily replaceable commodities. Low wages pushes our families to Australia to get a better deal (on average wages are 30% higher).
So the new employment relations policy is focused on delivering the benefits of collective bargaining to more New Zealanders and importantly the mechanism for doing so is created through extending negotiated outcomes to become industry standards. This will require industry level negotiations. What this does is to facilitate focus on industry wide issues like training and qualifications and standards. It requires cooperation at the industry level.
In my mind this is vital to shifting our economic performance. If firms can compete on driving down wages and conditions inevitably a productivity enhancing investment approach comes under pressure. Short term cost reduction becomes the driver. We cannot become a high wage, high skill and highly productive economy with this approach.
CTU President Helen Kelly gave a very clear and passionate elaboration of a new employment relations framework. As she says “ It is time for a new look. While this Government has proven to be a disaster in all of these areas (high unemployment, low wages, long hours, unfair taxation, reduced social security and public services – my summary) , it has been able to get away with it because the current economic paradigm is completely dominant and unchallenged. That paradigm tolerates poverty as a natural partner to wealth, that paradigm values wealth over any or all social values and that paradigm makes working people the victims of all and any of its failures”.
A new employment relations framework is necessary. It is necessary because it is vital to shift to the type of economy we need, it is necessary from a rights perspective (real rights to collective bargaining and to having an independent voice) and it is necessary to deliver a decent standard of living for all New Zealanders.