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I wish you all solidarity

Posted by on July 26th, 2014

On Thursday night was my valedictory speech in Parliament – the last official word of my nearly nine years as a Labour MP.

Valedictories are rites of passage.  Some of us will be remembered.  Most of us won’t, until we die : and then there will be a minute’s silence in parliament.

Part of my leaving has been discovering my grandfather, Frederick Frost and his role as a Labour MP in the government led by Michael Joseph Savage and then Peter Fraser during the war years of the second world war.

He died when I was very young, so I have few memories of him.

He left almost no footprint on the  landscape of political history, except his speeches, which the Parliamentary Library have kindly provided.

He was such a socialist. And so was his son, my father. They believed that socialism would prevail after the second world war as an alternative to fascism.

I pay tribute to my grandfather  – that man who started work at the age of 12 as a pit boy in a Northumberland mine, who came to NZ, fought at the Somme and was injured, and put his shoulder to the wheel to make a better life with the NZ Labour Party.

My footprint will be like Grandpa’s. I went to parliament in 2005 with values and beliefs and a determination to stand up for the marginalised and undervalued workers of New Zealand and never deviated from that.

That is my legacy, small as it may be, I hope that it provides hope to ordinary, working class people to step up to stand for Labour.  Because they need you.

Grandpa returned to work in the Huntly Mines when he lost his seat of New Plymouth.  I won’t be doing that, but I will be returning to the coalface, where there is so much to do.

I wish you all solidarity.


Filed under: Valedictory
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Standing Up For Workers

Posted by on August 2nd, 2013

More than 12,000 submissions have been received by the clerk of the Transport & Industrial Relations Select Committee on changes to labour laws – and they’re still counting. Some will be from employers, but the vast bulk are from workers who are justifiably worried. The proposed changes are being spun by Minister of Labour Simon Bridges as being “a series of minor amendments to improve it, to, I think, yes, even up the balance somewhat for employers, because I think we did go too far in the favour of unions.But I think it’s nevertheless moderate, pragmatic law change.”

These changes to our workplace laws are far from moderate. They will have a chilling effect on the right of workers to join together in collective bargaining, already seriously weakened in the 1990’s and not recovered since. The gap between Australian and Kiwi wages has grown, income inequality is the largest ever with the gap between rich and poor as bad as any nation’s. It’s well known (and acknowledged by the IMF, OECD and numerous commentators on low wages and inequality) that where collective bargaining declines, so do wages and conditions for everyone.

The Select Committee will be very busy in the next few months hearing from submitters.  Hearings start on the 22 August.

If you want up to date information, please like and share Labour’s Facebook page – Standing Up For Workers. We will provide up to date information about the select committee hearings, meetings and rallies, what people are saying and how the National Party is trying to spin what are very significant law changes that will have an impact on everyone – workers, families, kids, communities and Kiwis everywhere.


Posted by on July 17th, 2013

This week is Youth Parliament, where young people (16 to 18) selected by MPs experience two days of parliamentary life.

My Youth MP this year is Peniata Junior Endemann, who hit the news about a year ago, along with his mum, Emma Endemann, with their stories about why a Living Wage matters.

At 16 Peniata was already working 25 hours a week on $13.85 an hour to help keep his siblings in school and help provide the basic necessities for his family.

Peniata is studying at Edgewater College.  He’s into economics, sports, family, church and a bit of politics.  While he will do well at school, he has to think about his next steps : how he continues to support his family, and that probably means getting a job, not going to University.

At 18, he’s still working after school as a cleaner. So are his mum and sister.  All are paid near minimum wage.  All work for a contractor that changed hands recently, and both have been affected by breaches of Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act, which the government wants to water down.

Peniata will be speaking in the legislative debate today on the Mock Bill, which proposes to reduce the voting age from 18 to 16, among other things.  Unfortunately, youth parliament won’t be televised, but I will post his speech when I am able.  Peniata could tell us all a thing or two about how the decisions of parliamentarians affect he and his family.

I’m proud he’s going to have the chance.

Time to listen up.



As long as you cut the tree right you won’t die

Posted by on July 12th, 2013

So, says Minister of Labour, Simon Bridges, who continues to insist that his updated Approved Code of Practice for Forest Operations (ACoP)  has all the answers and if workers, employers and contractors just follow it, forestry will no longer be a dangerous industry.

Problem with that is that Simon developed the ACoP without asking the people who actually have to do the work and whose families continue to worry whenever their beloved husbands, sons, brothers and uncles go off to work.

It follows the previous ACoP which was signed off by the Hon Max Bradford (shudder) in 1999, and also developed without involvement with workers, unions or communities. Both are full of good advice about how to cut trees, safety gear, working with equipment and machinery etc. Both are voluntary, non-binding codes which state that :

An approved code does not have the same legal force as a regulation, and failure to comply with a code of practice is not, of itself, an offence”

Both ignore the underlying issue in this industry of the impact of the deregulation of the labour market in the early 1990’s when work time and rest breaks requirements were gutted.  The 2013 ACoP says :

Worker Health

Working hours shall be agreed (my emphasis) so as to provide all workers

  • adequate opportunity to manage fatigue, including regular rest breaks
, a meal break
, a daily or nightly sleep period.

The 1999 ACoP says :

General Health :

Working hours shall be arranged so as to provide adequate opportunity for rest periods, which shall include:

  • Short breaks during work hours, Sufficient breaks for meals, Daily or nightly rest.

So, in 1999 it was “arranged”  and in 2013 it is “agreed”.

Neither are strong. Both ignore the reality that limits on working hours in this highly dangerous industry don’t exist.

You can’t tell me that long working hours, pressure to deliver on piece rates or low pay, working in bad weather on dangerous terrain, in the dark, with exhausted workers is safe.

But Simon Bridges prefers to ignore that. He says he has all the answers. The answer is his updated non-binding voluntary code of practice that he continues to flaunt in parliament – oh and to cut any requirement to have rest and meal breaks for all workers.

Open your ears Mr Bridges and agree to the growing calls for an independent inquiry into this industry before more workers die.

Topsy turvy world

Posted by on June 14th, 2013

The  extremist faction of the National Party has been pushing John Key’s government to get tougher on workers. A remit passed at a recent National Party conference to allow replacement workers during strikes and lock outs was a reminder that hatred of unions and workers is still very deep seated in John Key’s “moderate” government and party.

John Key was ambivalent about the remit, saying that while the old party faithful called for it from time to time, “it wasn’t on the government’s agenda.”

Enter National MP Jami-lee Ross, with his Employment Relations (Continuity of Labour) Bill, drawn from the ballot this week, which has put the issue on the government’s agenda, whether John Key likes it or not.

There wasn’t much enthusiasm from National Party MPs when the Jami-lee’s bill was announced as coming out of the ballot and I saw a few face-palms!

The Minister of Labour, Simon Bridges wouldn’t give endorsement to the bill and John Key only got as far saying the government would support the bill to Select Committee.

You know why?  It ruins the government’s attempts to downplay the Employment Relations Amendment Bill changes with his insistence they are “moderate, centre right, government changes.”

No they’re not.  They’re very serious.

Then in piles the Employers & Manufacturers Association (EMA), who haven’t exactly had the best reputation for supporting workers’ rights in the past who said today that :

“While its principles are worth exploring it could prove very divisive”…… “New Zealand communities place a high value on fairness and the Bill could have consequences that would be considered unfair”.

There’s a change going on when a prominent business organisation like the EMA is prepared to openly oppose a National MP bill. It  may be a clever play to help downplay the rest of the government’s employment law changes, which are just as unfair and divisive, but I believe there’s more to their unease.

Jami-lee’s bill is a members’ bill.  It has a long way to go through the parliamentary process. It’s a hateful and sinister piece of work, but what’s much more serious are the government’s changes to employment laws.

Submissions have now been called for on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill and these close on the 25th July.

Now, if only the EMA would come out and openly oppose those, we would indeed have a topsy turvy world.


And so it begins

Posted by on June 6th, 2013

“The fact is that a lot of bad things happen to people at work in NZ”

Posted by on May 5th, 2013

That’s a direct quote from the report of the hard hitting and comprehensive Independent Taskforce on Health and Safety, which was released last week.

And here’s another :

Labour market liberalisation in the 1980s and 1990s resulted in a sustained fall in union membership and growth in casual, part-time and short-term employment relationships. This has had enduring implications for the capacity of workers and representatives to engage with employers in managing workplace hazards, and presents ongoing challenges for the regulatory framework. It is likely that this factor influenced omissions from the HSE Act, including the failure to establish a tripartite body and to set obligations requiring employers to have formal worker-participation systems.

The Independent Taskforce members (made up of business, community and union representatives) have done an excellent job. Their report is very challenging, not least for the government, who say they will respond in June.

The report calls for tripartite involvement in the new health and safety agency and proper recognition of the role of unions and worker participation.  It says there needs to be stronger rights for workers who raise health and safety concerns and protection for vulnerable workers, including new workers and those in precarious work.

I’m waiting for Simon Bridges to admit his labour law amendments, announced just a few days before are incompatible with the recommendations of the Health and Safety Taskforce.  The government’s proposed changes to labour law essentially rebadge the Employment Contract Act changes from last century and they will exacerbate the problems identified by the Taskforce. They are even as petty as cutting rest and meal breaks and letting an employer decide if and when they can be taken.  How does that help health and safety?

It’s time to join the dots Simon.

Workers’ rights and health and safety at work go hand in hand. We all agree our workplace death and injury toll is a disgrace.

Please don’t make it worse.


Cutting pay Nat style #2

Posted by on April 29th, 2013

Simon Bridges will try to soothe the path of his Employment Relations Amendment bill by saying it’s about fairness and flexibility. Anyone who opposes will be portrayed as unreasonable and unbalanced.

When things get rocky, he will try to portray the Labour Party as being in the pockets of unions and unions as backwards-looking organisations. It wouldn’t surprise me if we heard more about North Korea and Polish shipyards!

Cutting workers’ pay is easy if you follow the MO of Mr Bridges and the National Government’s new legislation.

1. Increase the minimum wage by the barest of margins ($5.60 a week or 14 cents an hour in real terms since 2009).
2. Make workers vulnerable in their first 90 days of employment, so they don’t raise issues or concerns and have no bargaining power if they want the job.
3. Allow employers to refuse to settle a collective agreement – and the standards that extend to other workers are reduced as well.
4. Pay new workers less than the rate in any collective agreement so pay and conditions are undermined.
5. Enable employers to opt out of industry agreements (MECAs) so they can undercut competitors by paying lower wages – and drive down wages overall.
6. Tax workers if they work to rule rather than carrying on giving the free overtime.
6. Open up competition to small, under resourced competitors by removing rights for vulnerable workers to be transferred in contracting out.

If standards set by collective agreements are lowered, that will affect hundreds of thousands of workers, not just union members. Take for example, four weeks annual leave. That became law under the Labour Alliance government, because unions had bargained it into collective agreements for enough union members to justify extending it to all workers under the Holidays Act. Without that happening, workers would still be sitting on three weeks annual leave.

There will be a lot said in the coming months as Simon Bridges tries to justify these changes, but he shouldn’t assume people are stupid enough to buy his claims that the changes will lift productivity and help businesses grow.

We know they won’t because we’ve done this before under the National Government of the 1990’s. Thanks to similar employment law reforms, the gap between New Zealand wages and those of Australian workers widened and today it is more than 30%.

Watch out New Zealanders.

Paycuts are coming your way.

Cutting pay 101 Nat style

Posted by on April 26th, 2013

New Minister Simon Bridges has done what his predecessor Kate Wilkinson failed to do and that’s to get legislation before Parliament that will cut workers pay.

In doing so, he’s following the directions of his boss John Key who said ages ago he would love to see wages drop.

The legislation Simon Bridges announced today is unnecessary, and fiddles while Rome burns.  It returns to the old Nat ideology : when all else fails have a go at the workers. It’s the old formula dressed up in the language of reasonableness and flexibility.

Many will think this won’t affect them. Next post I will tell you how it will.

Deal with the real issues please John

Posted by on April 12th, 2013

This week, I’ve had several more groups and individual migrant workers tell me about how their rights are being abused by exploitative employers. Sub-minimum wages, long hours, substandard accommodation. They’re caught in a trap. Report the employer, and their work visa or residence is invalid and they are punished by being sent home : don’t report the employer and they continue to put up with the unacceptable.

The outcome?  Labour and immigration laws are flouted with impunity, Kiwi jobs, wages and conditions are undermined, good employers doing the right thing get annoyed and our reputation for fairness takes another hit.

So, what’s our government doing?


Instead, it’s returned to its let’s copy Australia bill, the Immigration Amendment Bill, which now has the votes to get through and is likely to be debated next week.

According to John Key, we face the imminent threat of a mass arrival of asylum seekers.  He wants us to be fearful that a handful of people might, (but probably won’t) arrive in a leaky boat any day now.

John Key said he was vindicated this week when a boat from Sri Lanka arrived in Western Australia, flying a New Zealand flag and holding a sign saying they wanted to come to New Zealand.

Apart from the sheer impossibility of reaching New Zealand in a treacherous journey, John Key doesn’t appear to even understand the basics.

The rules are strict under the UNHCR convention. A person must request asylum at the earliest opportunity. It is impossible to arrive in Australia, as the Sri Lankans did this week and seek asylum in New Zealand.

Anyone claiming they want to come to New Zealand via the Australian coast by boat cannot apply for asylum here and if they did, they would become ineligible.

It’s gotten desperate when the reasonable voices in Australia include Malcolm Fraser, former Conservative Prime Minister, who says the claims of successive Australian governments are designed to justify a policy of brutality.

Former National Party Immigration Minister, Aussie Malcolm, says John Key’s actions in agreeing to take 150 Australian refugee as part of our quota is a tragedy.

This is a stupid bill. Parliament will waste time on it. It will pass by one vote and our reputation as a good international citizen will take a hit because the John Key government thinks it’s okay to copy the Aussies and put asylum seekers in detention centers.

The boat people will likely never arrive.

But the migrants who are already here will see the exploitation go on and on.

The government is turning a blind eye.

Which is the greater threat to New Zealand?

Update : This in today’s SST 

Marginalising young workers

Posted by on March 22nd, 2013

This week, the government passed its Minimum Wage (Starting Out Wage) Amendment bill by one vote. The Bill was introduced late last year by Kate Wilkinson before she was sacked and has been taken up with enthusiasm by her replacement, the Hon Simon Bridges.

From 1 May, 16 and 17-year-old workers can be paid 80% of the adult minimum wage ($11.00 an hour) for six months. If they start a new job, they can start again on youth rates, regardless of previous job experience. 18 and 19-year-olds, who may have previously had jobs paying adult wages, can also be paid sub-minimum rates if they have been unfortunate enough to be on a social security benefit for six months, including the invalids benefit and sickness benefit.

Cutting workers’ rights and pay is classic National Party. They’ve already made it impossible for young workers to challenge any unfair treatment and dismissal in the first 90 days of employment, which was supposed to open up thousands of jobs. They have failed to address youth unemployment in any way, shape or form, which is a national scandal. And so, they’re resorting to their tried and failed policies of last century.

The bottom line is this : cutting workers pay does not create jobs. Employers take on workers when there is work to be done, not because they can pay them less. Full stop.

MoBIE openly admitted that it had very little way of telling whether this bill will meet its government’s claim that it will reduce youth unemployment. They came up with a “best guess” that it could create 400 to 1,100 net jobs. I’m wary of these numbers. Who can forget the 2011 Budget projection of 170,000 new jobs by 2015?  Not much sign of that as unemployment continues to rise, more good jobs are lost, and our youth unemployment is up there with the worst in the OECD.

Other advice on the bill was worrying. Treasury suggested that paying sub-minimum wages is something that could be extended in the future to other workers who have a high unemployment rate – so look out Maori and Pasifika workers, or those who live in areas where jobs are scarce. The Ministry of Education warned that youth rates were at odds with the Government’s own stated education goals and would impact on the incomes of working students, thus creating barriers to gaining qualifications.

The Government did not listen to the more than 520 submissions opposed to this bill. It ignored the business community who said youth rates are not a silver bullet and the Government needs to do a lot better on youth unemployment.

It seems to me that the government’s accepted that a low wage, low skill economy is our future, where people are paid less and work longer, where good jobs are off-shored because of a lack of investment and hands-on economic policy and where those who are young and can’t escape overseas to a better life are consigned to economic marginalisation.

Simon says

Posted by on February 27th, 2013

New Labour Minister Simon Bridges had his first outing in question time (other than a patsy from his own side last week).  Mini me answered on behalf of the PM when he answered my question today :

DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by his statement that the living wage is “simplistic”?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Labour) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, and for two reasons. The first is that the Family Centre’s living wage of $18.40 an hour is calculated on the basis of a two-adult, two-child family, whereas a lot of low-income earners are in different circumstances—for example, students working part-time. The second reason is that it assumes that paying much higher wages is costless, when it is not—it costs jobs. If all employers in the country paid a minimum wage of $18.40, it would cost an estimated 26,000 jobs.

Darien Fenton: When he said that providing New Zealanders with a living wage is not high on his Government’s agenda, was he saying that Kiwi workers should not expect to make a living from their work while he is Prime Minister?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: No. Ultimately, above the minimum wage, what is paid is up for employers and their employees to negotiate.

Darien Fenton: Does he believe that the minimum wage of $13.75 an hour is enough for families to live on; if so, why do two out of the five children in poverty come from families in work?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: What is very clear is that actually there is a range of circumstances. For people on the minimum wage with children, for example, there are a range of packages available to them from the Government. The truth of the matter is that actually our minimum wage, as a proportion of the average wage, is the highest in the developed world.

Darien Fenton: How is it fair that his Government is giving minimum wage workers a measly 25c pay rise, while at the same time it is splashing out on $23 million worth of bonuses for Solid Energy’s management?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: What is very clear is that having a job is much better than not having one, and we are very conscious, unlike the other party, which does not seem to understand economic fundamentals, that the higher we raise the minimum wage, the more people are put out of jobs—7,000 under your policy.

Darien Fenton: Why is the Prime Minister still insisting that a $15-an-hour minimum wage will cost thousands of jobs when Treasury and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment both say there is little evidence to support this, and his own Minister of Labour said this morning that there is no science behind that argument?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It is uncontroversial amongst good economists that the higher the minimum wage goes, the more jobs people do not get. At $15 an hour, it is about 7,000—a town.

My verdict :

Not a bad effort for repeating government lines and economic mythologies about the minimum wage, but not a big step up from the previous Minister, Kate Wilkinson.

Shows a reliance on officials for advice and not much originality in the answers.

Provided some useful lines for the opposition in future debates around work and wages.

Your verdict :

Marks out of 10? 



Dear Sir Peter and Fran

Posted by on February 26th, 2013

“Thank you for your email of 4 October 2010 raising issues of actors work permits and possible amendments to the Commerce Act 1986 and the Employment Relations Act 2000 (ERA).

Having considered the possibility of amendments to the ERA or Commerce Act carefully, our view, following extensive consultation with the Crown Law Office, is that, for the reasons set out below, it would not be appropriate to recommend such amendments.

“…….In our view, the relevant legislative provisions provide sufficient clarity such that no legislative amendments are required.”

Hon Gerry Brownlee

Hon Christopher Finlayson

This was the government’s position in mid-October 2010.  But by the end of the month, they had caved into demands to change our employment legislation to exclude film and video workers from their right to challenge the status of their employment.

The government released more information on this sorry saga today after being told they had to by the Ombudsman. It makes for fascinating reading.  Put to one side the florid and over the top language about the union and the MEAA union leader, Simon Whipp that has attracted some media comment.

Read the documents and see for yourself the hand New Zealanders were dealt by a weak government, not prepared to stand up for all of us.

What killed Ken Callow?

Posted by on February 19th, 2013

Forestry is the most dangerous industry in New Zealand. In 2013 there have already been two deaths. Since 2008, 23 workers have died and almost 900 have been seriously injured. 

A New Zealand forestry worker is 6 times more likely to die at work than a UK forestry worker, and twice as likely as an Australian forestry worker. 

Each death is a family, community, workplace losing someone who was loved. Each injury is someone’s life being changed forever by something that happened at work. 

We need the government and the industry to step up and stop this from happening.

Read more about Ken Callow here. 

Where are they?

Posted by on February 17th, 2013

Last year, Labour questioned why a company called King Facade Ltd had been given approval in principle from Immigration New Zealand to bring in 110 “Facade Installers” from China on the basis that there were no New Zealanders skilled enough to do the work. There were  questions about the granting of this approval that were not satisfactorily answered by either the Minister of Immigration or Immigration New Zealand, with only a cursory attempt to find New Zealand workers, and a exaggeration of the skills required ensuring that any Kiwis would not meet the requirements.

The parent company of King Facade Ltd is Mainzeal, and this week King Facade Ltd also went into voluntary liquidation.

The then Associate Minister of Immigration, Kate Wilkinson gave assurances that the parent company Mainzeal had a good record with Work and Income. Another big justification from the government was that King Facade would work with Mainzeal and the Industry Training Organisation to develop a Facade Installer Apprenticeship programme, so New Zealanders would be skilled to do the work in future.

Well that’s all fallen over, along with the collapse of Mainzeal, the loss of jobs and contractors out of pocket.

Who knows what’s happened to the poor Chinese Migrant workers, who were promised a three year employment contract.

My guess is they were on the next flight home, with no pay in their pockets for the work they have done.


David Shearer and Clayton Cosgrove announced today that Labour will legislate for a fairer deal for subbies.

Wake up and listen

Posted by on February 15th, 2013

This last week has seen the Living Wage profiled in a way rarely seen of any social movement in recent times. The NZ Herald ran a week long series, Duncan Garner came out as a strong advocate on Radio Live, other journalists picked it up with interviews and stories. Even the Prime Minister took on the language of the Living Wage even if he was trying to diss the notion and tell us all it’s not happening under his government.

Like it or not, the Living Wage movement has hit New Zealand. It’s powerful, it’s growing and will change the narrative not only around work and wages, but around community expectations about how they want and need to live.

While there’s been a lot of publicity around the “rate” of the living wage, announced by the community alliance of the Living Wage Aotearoa NZ, the two day symposium held this week in Auckland was much more than a talk about wages. It was designed to highlight the changing nature of work, the challenges to the norms of defining work and labour, the impact on our communities and the Living Wage movement as a growing community movement in response.

Guy Standing, who I blogged about some time ago, kicked off the seminar with a challenging lecture on “The Precariat – the new dangerous class”. You can find many Guy Standing lectures on Youtube and he’s really worth tuning into. Standing says the old class structures of the 20th century are vanishing (whether we like it or not) and being replaced by new ones – the largest being the growing class of the “precariat” – who have no occupational identity, who work in increasingly precarious arrangements, are expected to do a high ratio of work for labour (ie applying for multiple jobs, filling in forms, travelling to interviews and from job to job) and who, by and large reject the political agendas of the Right and the Left and other established organizations such as unions, simply because they are irrelevant to them.

Then today, Deborah Littman, from London Citizens and now the Metro Vancouver Alliance gave a compelling lecture about the movement in the UK and Canada. If you want to know about why and how, you can watch it here.  If you want to know about the business case and case studies, watch it here.

The overseas movements have grown up over many years, but their experiences and stories provide a lift for our own home grown version as it gathers strength.

New Zealand’s movement is following in their footsteps, building an alliance with unions, faith based and community organisations involved in Living Wage Aotearoa NZ. It’s a different dynamic; not party politically aligned, with no group dominating, with a lot of listening and understanding of how low pay comes at a cost to society as a whole. And then a negotiation through the process of moving to a living wage that provides families with the basic necessities of life, to live with dignity and participate as active citizens in our society.

We need to wake up and listen.

Happy New Year and here’s to a great 2013

Posted by on January 1st, 2013

It’s not really New Year here in San Franciso where I am visiting my exile kids. That’s tomorrow, but I’ve been seeing your texts, tweets and FB messages and wanted to say
Happy New Year to everyone! And may 2013 be an excellent year for you and yours.

As the fiscal cliff looms in the States with its consequences which go far beyond tax increases, I’m thinking that even with all our faults and problems in little old enzed, at least we don’t have the madness of the US system.

But that doesnt mean that we don’t have a list of a thousand things that need to be better in 2013. I do, but for now I’m grateful to have some time with my family, even f it is in another country.

So see if you can stick to your resolutions, have fun with friends and whanau and a very Happy New Year to everyone.

Filed under: personal
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About Part 6A again

Posted by on December 2nd, 2012

Part 6A in the Employment Relations Act means little to most people, but it means a lot for thousands of cleaners, catering workers, orderlies and laundry workers, whose jobs are prone to repetitive contracting out.

After a two year review, the government’s announcement last month that Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act would be limited to workplaces with more than 20 workers sent me looking for why this decision had been made.

The OIA documents I obtained showed that the Government ignored warnings about excluding SMEs from the Department of Labour and Sapere Consultancy, who was contracted by the government earlier this year to determine a “cost benefit analysis.”  The idea of excluding SMEs was not covered in earlier papers going right back to 2010, but this year a May 18 Aide Memoire from the Minister asked the department :

Would it be possible to exempt small businesses from Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act 2000?

Both Sapere Research and the Department of Labour criticised the idea of excluding SME’s from Part 6A.  Sapere considered this as a possible amendment to Part 6A of the Act but commented that:

“..From what we heard from interviews and found with our subsequent analysis, it seems likely that restricting the special protections to only large employers would be counter-productive and lead to even more perverse outcomes than the current arrangements. This is because it would result in transfer situations where one party had to be compliant and the other did not, leading in all likelihood to a breakdown in the exercising of the provisions at all.

The Department of Labour also concluded it would be ‘‘counter-productive and lead to even more perverse outcomes than the current arrangements’’.

This option was flagged a couple of times in later reports but did not make it into the last of three Cabinet Policy Papers which were presented in or around early September. Then in late September DOL (now MoBIE) was asked to again look into the option of excluding SME’s.  They stated that this would reduce compliance costs for SME’s but would add a layer of complexity to Part 6A. They noted that large employers would be undercut by smaller ones in bidding for contracts.

A later paper by MoBIE outlines the plan to prevent large companies from creating smaller entities, by establishing a “test of independence” which they warned would “add another layer of complexity and uncertainty to this process”.

So, there will be a new provision in the Employment Relations Act which removes the rights of more than 6000 workers, adds more complexity and cost to business and will doubtless end up in expensive litigation.

There’s been a campaign from Crest Clean over the year, aided and abetted by others, including Rodney Hide who wrote two articles for the NBR slamming Part 6A. And you don’t have to look far in CrestClean to find a National Party stalwart.

There are interests here that have persuaded the government to go beyond sensible and workable change. That’s not unusual for this lot, but I know who will pay the price for it.


Domestic violence is a workplace issue

Posted by on November 25th, 2012

Today is the United Nations international day for Elimination of Violence Against Women.  In New Zealand, the White Ribbon campaign takes place throughout the whole of November and over the years, has increasingly gained support from the community, businesses, cultural groups, sports teams, local government and government agencies.

Thank you everyone who has taken the pledge to eliminate violence against women and who is involved in campaign activity throughout New Zealand.

There are other things we could perhaps learn from other countries. Australia is ahead of the rest of the world in recognising domestic violence as an issue which can potentially impact on workers and workplaces, with approximately 600,000 Australian employees now covered by domestic violence clauses in their agreement or award conditions.

Here’s a little help :



Today’s members’ bill ballot

Posted by on November 8th, 2012

Today at 12noon there’ll be a ballot for members’ bills, with five places available on the Order Paper. Each Labour MP has a bill in the ballot so hopefully we’ll get some bills drawn.

I’ll post the results just after midday.

The full list of bills in today’s ballot is after the break.

Update: the following bills were drawn:

7. Climate Change (New Zealand Superannuation Fund) Bill – Eugenie Sage

29. Electronic Transactions (Contract Formation) Amendment Bill – Paul Goldsmith

18. Dairy Industry Restructuring Amendment Bill (No 2) – Hon Damien O’Connor

30. Employment Relations (Statutory Minimum Redundancy Entitlements) Amendment Bill – Sue Moroney

21. Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill –  Hone Harawira