There’s been a lot of baloney in the media recently about the role (or control) of unions in Labour and a view that by supporting fairness at work means Labour must be anti-employer or anti-business. Mind you, none of this is new, but it’s reached a new peak of hysterical comment from some on the right with the PoAL dispute.
There’s no mystery about Labour’s values when it comes to working people. Our founding values are about decent Kiwi jobs, the right to a fair day‘s pay for a fair day’s work, the right to join unions and bargain collectively, the right to have a voice at work and the right to be protected from unfair or unsafe treatment at work. We believe that there must be a balance between work demands and family/community responsibilities.
This doesn’t mean business is harder to do – in fact decent wages and effective employment relations should enable New Zealand business to lift productivity, to perform well and to grow.
Labour supports decent work (which is also supported by the National government at the ILO) and fair incomes for all New Zealand working people - whether in low or middle income jobs, dependent contractors or self employed. I know that constructive workplace relationships are important and good management is crucial. I don’t believe all employers are “bad” and all employees “good”. You may be surprised how much sympathy I have with sole operators and small business who can barely make ends meet.
Some of the workers who get the rawest deal are those who are not in formal employment relationships, or in unions, such as self-employed and dependent contractors. Labour has been active in trying to make improvements for these Kiwis, but there’s nothing on the government’s agenda that makes any difference to them and a whole lot that will impact on all working Kiwis.
Consider these comments from backbench National Party MP Jami-Lee Ross :
Unions still occupy a privileged position in New Zealand’s employment law; a relic of the last Labour administration which has not seen significant overhaul for some years. Few non-government organisations can boast clauses in legislation specifically designed for their benefit. Despite only 18 percent of the nation’s workforce being unionised, trade unions can look to whole sections of the Employment Relations Act written exclusively to aid union survival through legislative advantage.
My question to Jami-Lee is whether the Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson, who likes to present her government’s approach to employment relations as “pragmatic” and “what works” agrees with Jami-Lee’s views. I want to know if she thinks unions are “privileged” and “relics”. If she does, she better tell Kiwi workers soon, and fess up to the ILO at her annual sojourn in Geneva this year that she doesn’t believe that unions are social partners anymore, leaving only employers and government – and that our government is opposed to international labour conventions and human rights conventions. That will be interesting.
National’s manifesto already boasts “reforms”, such as :
1. Minimum wage : consultation on the annual review has been completed and we can expect an announcement in February. $15 an hour? Don’t think so.
2. The government’s plan for a “starting out” rate for 16 and 17 year old workers and also for 18 and 19 year olds who have been on a benefit may be one of the early pieces of legislation in front of parliament.
3. National’s policy commitments to weaken collective bargaining – no requirement to conclude, no requirement for workers to be on the terms and conditions of a collective agreement for 30 days where one exists, and the effective abolishing of multi employer agreements, along with allowing pay reductions for “partial” strikes – such as go-slows, work to rule etc and a review of constructive dismissal.
Then there’s all of the rest :
Bills carried forward from the last parliament : Meals and rest breaks legislation (Kate Wilkinson said this was urgent a couple of years ago, but it’s been bumped) and Tau Henare’s Secret Ballot for Strikes members’ bill, which is neither needed nor wanted. The hardy annual of Easter Sunday Shop Trading will also be up again, via a National members’ bill.
The inquiry into the treatment of workers in Foreign Crewed Vessels in NZ waters and the Pike River Mine Commission of Inquiry will report back this year - both shameful NZ scandals that arose because of deregulation and declining standards for workers.
The ACC portfolio and the “opening up to competition” will be a big issue; Labour MP Andrew Little will take that on for Labour.
And I’m becoming more suspicious about another agenda – not spelled out in the National Party’s manifesto. The recent productivity commission report, for example, made some recommendations that, if taken up by this government, would have a huge impact on New Zealand working people.
Bottom line : none of this will help the wages of Kiwi workers catch up with Australia. None of it will stop the weekly exodus across the ditch.
I’m sorry, but unless we see some something other than the old hoary chestnuts of cutting workers’ rights and pay from National soon, you should get ready to say goodbye to more of your whanau.