Red Alert

Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Mondayising Public Holidays

Posted by on July 24th, 2012

The first-reading vote on my ‘Mondayising’ Members Bill is set down for tomorrow. 

I’m chuffed with the level of public support for the Bill. I guess everyone knows Kiwi workers put in some long hours and look forward to 11 public holidays with the family every year.

A reflection of the widespread backing for my bill is evident in today’s Stuff poll which had public support running all afternoon at 81%. 

The Bill is popular because it recognises the growing importance of Waitangi Day and ANZAC Day to our history and sense of identity as New Zealanders.  The time is right to give these days the full recognition that other public holidays have.

Let’s also be clear that the Bill is popular because it makes sure people get the holidays they deserve. 

Folk were rightly miffed when they missed out on two public holidays last year only because the days of commemoration fell on a weekend.

A couple of people have put to me the proposition that having a holiday on the Monday that follows somehow diminishes the importance of the day itself.  What nonsense.  It doesn’t seem to have reduced the significance of ANZAC day in the Australian territories that have Mondayised it.  On the contrary, reports suggest increased turnout for 25 April ANZAC commemorations.

The example of Christmas illustrates the point.  When Christmas last fell on a weekend, did you hear anyone complaining that Christmas Day was somehow less significant because we received an extra holiday the day after Boxing Day?  I thought not.

I’ve had the pledges of support necessary for the Bill to progress.  My thanks to Labour Colleagues, the Greens, NZ First, The Maori Party, United Future and Mana for their assistance in progressing this legislation.

John Key looks like a man alone opposing the full recognition of these days.

The cost of Mondayising is negligible.  John Key is the Minister of Tourism and now even the industry he’s supposed to be representing have come out against him

Waitangi and ANZAC Day warrant a day off every year, not just 5 out of 7.  We only miss out on our full allocation of public holidays twice every seven years - when these days fall on a weekend.

Key needs to explain to ordinary working New Zealanders why they don’t deserve these two days off with friends and family.


Lockout or knockout?

Posted by on April 5th, 2012

There will be few Easter celebrations in the families of workers employed by Talley’s AFFCO, who have extended their lockout notices to more workers over the Easter period.

There are legal questions about the legality of the Easter lockout, which appears to be another move by Talley’s to punish their workers for daring to stand up to their demands. The Holidays Act requires that workers be given a paid day off should the public holiday fall on a normal working day.  The question that has not, to be my knowledge, been tested is whether a “normal working day” applies if a worker is prevented from coming to work by their employer.

The cynical among us would say that Talleys has implemented this measure to avoid paying statutory holiday pay over Easter. But I think it goes deeper than that and into the oft demonstrated antagonism the Talley’s family towards any workers belonging to a union.

But there’s a bigger question.

Is the lockout, once rarely used by employers, now becoming the industrial weapon of choice?

Dr Kerry Taylor, historian, of Massey University thinks so, saying today that :

Lockouts were once a last resort for employers but are becoming more common, indicating a trend towards more “employer activism”

Talley’s AFFCO meatworks has locked out more than 1000 workers in Moerewa, Horoitu, Whanganui, Wairoa, Rangiuru and Feilding in a dispute over pay and conditions. A further 500 workers will be locked out over Easter so AFFCO can reportedly avoid paying statutory holidays.

Dr Taylor says AFFCO’s escalating action is a startling reminder something serious is going on in New Zealand political and industrial landscape, where in the past lockouts were the last resort, but today, they’re becoming almost commonplace.

He says the lockout is a clear case of “employer activism”, where the lockout is deployed as part of an aggressive strategy to target certain conditions of work and weaken – or break – collective action by workers.

And he points the finger at the government.

Historically employers seldom resorted to locking out

I will watch with interest the legal process around this question, but meanwhile 1500 workers are going without pay this Easter – on top of the last five weeks of lockouts.

You can support the AFFCO workers by donating – phone 0900 LOCKOUT and you’ll donate five dollars to the Meatworker’s lockout fund. Details for an online donation are: Kiwibank: account name: NZCTU DISPUTES FUND account number: 38 9007 0894028 08 Reference: AFFCO


‘Twas the night before Christmas

Posted by on February 24th, 2012

Slane Grinch cartoon

Public support continues to grow for getting ANZAC and Waitangi Public Holidays Monday-ised when they fall on a weekend.  New Zealanders work some of the longest hours in the OECD. Naturally, it is disappointing when some years we miss out on one or two of the eleven Public Holidays we look forward to every other year.  This week’s Listener editorial makes the same point.  Cartoon courtesy of @slanecartoons.

I reckon attendance at ANZAC dawn services will go up when people know they can sleep an extra hour or two on the Monday that follows.  Waitangi festivals around the country are growing in popularity as family events. This Bill recognises the growing importance of 6 February and 25 April to our sense of history and national identity.

I think National will show just how out of touch they have become if they don’t get in behind my Bill.  A recent Stuff poll had public support at around 80%.  Hard working Kiwis deserve every one of the eleven Public Holidays they currently get.


Thank you

Posted by on February 19th, 2012

It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks.  Having my Monday-ising Bill drawn on the first regular day of Parliament was a rush.  It is a great opportunity to champion a cause that will fix an anomaly in our law and give hard-working kiwi families the holidays they deserve.

Labour MPs have been supportive of the Bill from the start. NZ First, the Greens and United Future have come out in favour of it now too. And of course most members of the public agree it makes sense.  The Tourism Industry Association has pointed out that it will give a boost to ailing domestic tourism figures.

The Dominion Post explained succinctly why it makes sense.  The Bill addresses an issue that only arises in those years when Waitangi and ANZAC fall on a weekend.  The days of celebration will still be 6 February and 25 April respectively but there will also be a Public Holiday on the Monday that follows.  We do this already for Christmas and other Public Holidays.  Using the Christmas example: it doesn’t make the Christmas celebration itself any different – but you know you can plan for a long weekend and some time off with the family.

In the first couple of weeks, I’ve also had my first media stand-up, my maiden speech, a funeral, a wedding, another Parliamentary speech, several radio interviews and my first appearance on TV show Back Benches.  Because the causes I’ve been fronting have been constructive, and media coverage has been positive, it has been a great experience.

But I’ve not been able to respond to every message of support.  I know other new MPs have had a similar experience. So I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all those who’ve helped get me here, and those who’ve offered assistance or support. I appreciate it.


Futile (and desperate?)

Posted by on May 9th, 2011

As the Parliamentary Term draws to its close, the chances of MPs getting a new members’ bill from the ballot are almost zero.

Tau got a bit of free publicity over Easter by saying he would be putting forward a members’ bill to allow shop trading on Easter Friday. Desperate in Te Atatu?  Sounds like it.

Now Roger Douglas has joined the ACT, with this press release today saying he’s going to resubmit his members’ bill to strip young workers of minimum wages.  His members’ bill on the same topic was roundly defeated last year. Roger’s on his way out, thank goodness, but Don Brash will gladly pick up the mantle.

Problem for Tau and Roger is that there ain’t going to be any more ballots this term of parliament.  Unless, that is, all MPs with members bills up for first readings withdraw them and I can’t see that happening.

Only six Members’ bills awaiting first reading can be on the Order Paper on each Members’ Day.  We have six already, but also in front of those bills are :

  • Local and private orders of the day :  These take precedence, and there are currently two at committee stages, with third readings to come.  There’s likely to be more.
  • Two controversial bills awaiting committee stages and third reading : Voluntary Student Membership Bill (Heather Roy) and Secret Ballots for strike action (Tau Henare).
  • After that, there comes two second readings of NACt MP bills, followed by committee stages, and if they get to it, third readings.

Then, and only then can we begin on the first readings of members’ bills that are already on the Order Paper.

Given that Members’ Days are only held every second sitting week, and the government’s predilection for using Members’ Days for urgency, I can confidently predict there will be absolutely no more ballots for members’ bills this term, including those of Tau Henare and Roger Douglas.

Thank goodness for that.


Did John Key forget to take advice?

Posted by on April 22nd, 2011

Kiwi families lose another public holiday this weekend as Easter Monday coincides with Anzac Day.  This is the second day this year that falls on a weekend and won’t be Mondayised, so Kiwis have been shortchanged by two public holidays this year.

Aussie workers are getting another day off on Tuesday to compensate, supported by their government, so they aren’t “robbed” of a public holiday.

Back in January, John Key said he would take advice on allowing holidays that fall on the weekends to be taken on another day.

Since then, silence.

I would have thought this was something to be considered, given that workers have had such an awful year.

But then we wouldn’t want to do anything to close the 30% competitive advantage between Aussie and cheaper New Zealand workers now would we?


It’s about Time

Posted by on January 19th, 2011

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!


2010 issues for 2011

Posted by on January 5th, 2011

We are all hoping for a better year in 2011. I want to be optimistic about it, but there’s some 2010 issues that are not going to go away (and nor should they) just because it’s 2011.

I believe they will test the government even more this year and John Key’s smile and wave response to the max. None of them will surprise you, but feel free to add more.

-   Pike River Coal Mine disaster : The sadness and anger at the loss of lives will continue through 2011 as the inquiry picks its way through the tragedy of 29 dead miners. The now jobless West Coasters will do it hard. Answers to some tough questions will be demanded and it won’t be pretty.

-   Canterbury Earthquake – Many Christchurch families are still struggling in temporary accommodation, businesses are still going broke and workers losing their jobs. 8000 EQC claims have been turned down and the Xmas aftershocks won’t have helped. Great to be heroes in the immediate aftermath, but we’re into the hard stuff now. The government will be pushed a lot more about its support to the region.

-    Employment law changes : – rammed through under urgency, with still many questions unanswered about the impact of the law. Every day I hear a story of worker dumped under a 90 day trial period and once it applies to everyone from 1 April, look out. We still don’t know why the Minister chose to ignore Cabinet advice that there shouldn’t be any access restrictions where health and safety is involved – the Minister may well regret this.

-    The Hobbit – if the government thinks no-one noticed that it sold out a whole category of workers to please an American company, it’s got another think coming. Complaint to the ILO anyone?

-    A tanking economy – with pre Xmas redundancies in the Wood and Meat Industries. But the government has little faith in our NZ workforce and is unprepared to invest in NZ jobs so that instead we have China making new locomotives for New Zealand use, putting good jobs on the line in Dunedin’s Railway workshops.

- Cost of living increases, already being harshly felt by those with the least. The tax cuts (for those who got them) will have receded in voter’s minds and austerity will become a word the government uses as its excuse for poor economic management and no plan.

-    ACC changes legislated for earlier in 2010 now having an impact. The scandal around sensitive claims was one thing, but more claims will be denied due to “degenerative disease”  and the impact of the 6% threshold for hearing loss claims will hit the headlines. Privatisation on the election agenda.

-    Cuts to Early Childhood Education – just starting to be felt in late 2010 with more to come in early 2011. Families are already grumpy about this, but the government hasn’t seen the half of it.

And before any of you ask, what’s Labour going to do, I think Phil Goff said it very succinctly in his NZ Herald interview yesterday :

We’re looking at active management of the New Zealand economy to perform better for New Zealanders, to lift wages and to create jobs, none of which the Government has done. We are looking at other small countries that have done so much better than New Zealand in their economic development – Denmark, Finland, Singapore, Israel – smart economies. We will be looking at skill development, at R&D, at better savings and investment track records and being a clean, green clever economy, by contrast to what the Government has done. The closer we get to the election, the more you’ll see the detail, but a lot of that will be in the broad campaign period, the last three months.

Happy New Year – I really mean it.  Rest up for a little longer if you can, because there’s a lot of work to do.


Please – not that old Public Holiday story again

Posted by on January 4th, 2011

Every Xmas or long weekend since 2003, when Labour reintroduced minimum pay of time and a half for working on a public holiday the same old stories are wheeled out as news.

Today TVNZ is running the headline “Holiday law change leaves workers with less money”.

The story is based on the views of right-wing Auckland Councillor Cameron Brewer who says that more businesses are opting to keep their doors closed over Christmas and their staff home, and therefore “the legislation is actually forcing holidays on staff and cutting their pay.”

No it’s not. What’s happening is the workers are getting a paid public holiday off like many other New Zealanders. They’re not losing any pay at all. They may be missing out on a bit of half time extra pay, but for most restaurant and retail workers who are on near to minimum wage, the amount would be relatively small.  Many people would rather spend the public holidays with their friends and families, as has been confirmed time and again when some bright politician has tried to liberate shop trading laws for Easter Sunday.

Brewer may be right that some restaurants are keeping their doors closed over the holiday period. That’s fine and it’s up to them if they want to take the risk of losing patronage to other restaurants. Many that do open are charging a surcharge, which continues to upset some people. It used to wind me up too, particularly in places where there was an obviously deliberate anti-Labour campaign with a sign saying “Don’t blame me for the surcharge, blame Helen Clark.”

But I’m surprised to find myself agreeing with Steve McKenzie from the Restaurant Association in his piece in the NZ Herald today on “why surcharges are not newsworthy.“

The Restaurant Association seem to have given up attacking the government – perhaps it’s because “their” government shows no sign of removing the time and a half for working public holidays, even although they’ve messed with other entitlements in the Holidays Act.

Paying extra pay for working a public holiday isn’t newsworthy either, so I wish we could just get over the fact that like most other comparable countries, we decided it was fair to pay people extra who have to work on public holidays.


Key will quit at end of year, mixed incentives for the Double Dipper and questions about the system

Posted by on January 3rd, 2011

John Key’s announcement that he will quit politics at the end of the year when he is no longer PM is no surprise.  He has always given the impression of being a CV builder and someone who lives for the moment rather than the grind necessary to get real change. The same interview shows he has given up on catching Aussie wages.

His comments will be causing interesting debate around the English bbq. Talk about mixed incentives for a deputy.

There is however a serious issue raised. Should Key be running for Helensville ?

Geoff Palmer and the Royal Commission were always of the view that list positions should be used by senior MPs rather than (mainly) being an entry point.

In some countries there is a nominated list member as a deputy for electorate members, so there is an ability to shift to a list and not cause a by-election.  And voters know about it at election time. That way say PM Deputy Finance Foreign Affairs and Trade at least would not have day to day constituency responsibilities. And it can be a two way door – ie former Ministers resume electorates if they choose to. Might be something for a longer term debate.

But in the interim I wonder if we are up for a discussion on whether we should, in the medium term, develop a convention of leaders and deputies of major parties being list but not electorate candidates.

And no I never made the suggestion to Helen. And please don’t show this to Phil and Annette while they are having a break.


2011 beckons

Posted by on January 1st, 2011

2010 is over. I’m pretty much an optimist, but haven’t got a lot to say about 2010 that’s positive. Has been a hard year for many people; West Coasters and Christchurch people particularly. More New Zealanders are struggling. More are choosing to leave NZ for better opportunities.

It’s important to focus on the things that are good. I read just before Xmas that more NZers are heading to camping grounds for their holidays. Decisions that may be about affordability. But still, that’s a good Kiwi holiday. I hope you’re all having one of those.

Let’s try to make 2011  a better year.


Unfairness on its way

Posted by on November 23rd, 2010

The government’s third and final reading of Employment Relations Bill (No 2) and Holidays Amendment Bill, which went through the House today means that unfair employment laws are on their way.

The government pushed through the final stages of two pieces of legislation that attack the rights of wage and salary earners. Both of these bills will impact on health and safety and the rights to challenge the decisions of employers in unjustified dismissals. They will inevitably reduce protections for all workers.

Labour strongly opposed both bills all through the process, along with thousands of submitters and 22,000 workers who marched, rallied and campaigned against them, but National ignored all opposition.

The only small ray of hope in the debate was that the Maori Party changed its mind and voted against the Holidays Amendment Bill.  Good on them. 

But the National Party couldn’t even do the third reading justice.  Their members gave pitiful 3 minutes speeches parroting the government lines – which I thought was a disgrace.

I question whether today was an appropriate day to consider these bills, given the awful situation at Pike River Coal Mine.  I don’t think the government gave any thought to the connection between the birth of the Labour Party and the role that miners have played in improving rights for all NZ workers.  It certainly wouldn’t have considered that many of the miners on the West Coast are members of the EPMU and one of the missing men is an EPMU delegate.

Unfortunately, all workers will soon be facing the consequences of reduced rights. A sad day all round.


Chance to do the right thing : fail

Posted by on November 19th, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about how Australia is dealing with the situation next year where Anzac Day coincides with Easter Monday. 

This week, our government had the chance to do the right thing by Kiwi workers, but guess what, they failed.

In the Holidays Amendment Bill debate on Wednesday night, I put up an amendment to have Easter Monday treated as falling on on the following day where it coincides with Anzac Day. 

The EPMU has managed to negotiate an extra day in 2011 for around 1200 of their members covered by 100 collective agreements and they say they expect more companies to follow suit.

That’s great for those workers, and well done to the EPMU.  But the government could have ensured every worker in New Zealand had the same benefit by supporting my amendment .  It would have been a relatively painless gesture, but all we got from Kate Wilkinson were platitudes about how Anzac Day should be revered and it was too sacred to move.

The amendment was voted down.  And to their shame the Maori Party voted against it as well.


The Roger Douglas Horror Show

Posted by on November 18th, 2010

Roger Douglas couldn’t resist making a contribution to the Holidays Amendment Bill in the House last night.  I’m not judging the quality of his speech – you can do that for yourselves – but I did find it remarkable how his comments echo those of the righties who plough in and defend “choice” on this blog.

Let’s get this clear : the only reason there is any discussion about a fourth weeks leave – tradeable or not – is because the Labour Government introduced it.  Otherwise would Roger Douglas and his acolytes be arguing for trading the third weeks leave?

Oh that’s right.  They did.  And the first week and the second.  In fact, why bother having holidays at all?


Anzac spirit doesn’t apply to holidays

Posted by on November 7th, 2010

As Grant Robertson has previously noted on this blog, next year will see most NZers being entitled to just 9 Statutory Holidays off on pay, instead of the usual 11 days. Anzac Day will fall on the same day as Easter Monday. Waitangi Day is on a Sunday, and under the law is not Mondayised. So, no extra day off for Waitangi Day, (unless you work on Sunday) and no extra day off for Anzac Day either.

But the Aussies aren’t putting up with this. They will have a five day Easter Break, with all states voting to give workers an extra day off on pay on Easter Tuesday to compensate for Anzac Day.

But as the SST reports don’t hold your breath about any similar changes from our government.

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson says “Waitangi Day won’t be Mondayised, and legislating for an extra day off at Easter is extremely unlikely”.

No surprises there I guess. Our government is too busy legislating to trade away the rights of Kiwi workers to holidays and wouldn’t dream of giving workers something they’re not strictly and legally entitled to.

And backbench National MPs continue to push for Easter Friday and Sunday shop trading.

Sometimes, it’s the simple things that matter when it comes to catching up with Australia.

I think this is one of them.


A government with its ears tight shut

Posted by on November 3rd, 2010

Surprise, surprise, the Government has completely ignored the submissions and protests of those opposing changes to the Employment Relations and Holidays Acts.

The Select Committee has reported back on the two bills and have recommended almost no changes. In the Employment Relations Bill No 2, the extension of the 90 day no rights trial periods to all workplaces, the restricting of workers to their unions at work and the weakening of personal grievance provisions remain.

In the Holidays Amendment Bill, employers will still be able to demand a medical certificate for a single day’s absence (one of the more silly provisions that I really thought the government might ditch) and the sale of the fourth week’s annual leave and the weakening of rights around alternative statutory holidays will go ahead.

What’s annoying is while the government’s is prepared to rush through bad employment law under urgency to please an international corporation, they are not prepared to listen to the 8,000 people who took the trouble to make submissions opposing these two bills, or to the 22,000 workers who rallied across New Zealand a couple of weeks ago.

There’s nothing about these changes that will improve productivity or enhance workplace relationships. There’s nothing here that will help our wages keep pace with, let alone catch up with Australia.  This is a feeble attempt to please employers and business at the expense of some pretty fundamental rights. 

The only possible message for Kiwi workers from this is that the government has its ears tight shut when it comes to their issues – unless they want their ideas and help to get through a recession.


Labour Day or Halloween?

Posted by on October 25th, 2010

It’s leading up to Halloween in Ottawa and the kids are already out on the streets in some pretty impressive costumes. Older kids have painted their faces black or ash grey with dripping faux blood and are parading about the town. While I feel irritated that Halloween was imported to NZ as another commercial opportunity to cash in on, I am amused that an ancient pre-Christian rite has become mainstream.

labor-dayMeanwhile it’s Labour Day in New Zealand. Now I do care about that and what it stands for.

I hope while people are enjoying the day off (at least those who get a day off) will remember that Labour Day is about Samuel Parnell’s struggle for an eight-hour working day.

Irony is there’s no longer any eight hour day regulation in NZ anymore (apart from an old reference in the Minimum Wage Age that a truck could be driven through.

In fact there is almost no NZ regulation around working hours, apart from the meals and rest breaks legislation, which National is in the process of decimating and paid leave laws, which are also under attack.

Canada celebrates Labo(u)r Day in September.  It goes back to 1872, when the Toronto Trades Assembly organised Canada’s first significant demonstration for worker’s rights to demand the release of the 24 leaders of the Toronto Typographical Union who were imprisoned for striking to campaign for a nine-hour working day.

Difference is that like  most other developed countries, Canada still has working time regulation including an 8 hour day, with provisions for flexibility and extended hours provided overtime is paid.  Mealbreaks apply after five hours and there are prescribed periods of rest between shifts. Workers must receive at least 24 consecutive hours off work in each work week, or at least 48 consecutive hours off work in every period of two consecutive work weeks.

So I’m happy to give Halloween a miss (if I can hide) and celebrate the day that reminds us that workers’ rights issues are still out there and needing attention.


The H word

Posted by on October 20th, 2010

Today is an important day for wage and salary earners in New Zealand as they come out in rallies across the country protesting against the government’s determination to drive through unnecessary and unfair changes to industrial and holiday laws.

Update : By lunchtime today, 15,000 workers had attended rallies across NZ in the biggest protests against a government’s attacks on workers rights in more than a decade.  Thousands more are expected to come out during the afternoon. 

But while we’re waiting for reports on their action, here’s an ironical story (or some might use the word we are not allowed to use in parliament, the “h” word) about government members on the Select Committee in charge of the bills that workers are protesting about today.

Yesterday, National MP Tau Henare was publicly refusing to apologise for calling a teenage select committee submitter “a liar”, after he attacked James Sleep, 18, in his submission to the Transport & Industrial Relations Select Committee on the 90 day no rights bill.

James didn’t lie. I know, because I was there. He got one detail in his oral and written submissions a little bit mixed up. All Tau had to do was clarify, but instead, he called James a liar, and a bullshitter. And he’s gone further in the media saying :

Why would I apologise for a little turkey who got found out lying? He was reading out a submission and I was following it and in two parts … it was a completely different story.

He’ll get over it and if he doesn’t, well, then, too bad … He’ll learn from his experience.”

But then there is the NDU member, who had her first ever written submission to the committee sent back to her because, according to the Government members on the Select Committee, she made an “offensive comment”, which was :

Can we put John Key on a 90 day trial and sack him after the 89th day?

What?  It sounds like an absolutely fair point to me – whereas Tau Henare has used his power as a government member of a Select Committee to harass a  young person who had the gumption to show up and make a submission.

It’  s probably lucky the NDU member ddidn’t have to front the committee, because goodness only knows what would have happened to her.


more, More, MORE

Posted by on September 30th, 2010

While Red Alerters have been debating tax and GST this week, Carol Beaumont and I have been wading through the submissions to the Select Committee on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill and Holidays Bill.

Yesterday and today were long days with submissions from a mix of employers, unions and individual workers.  What’s disappointing is how employers seem to go onto autopilot – not only supporting National Party legislation, but wanting more still.

After weeks of the Minister of Labour claiming that the 90 day trial period is “voluntary” and that “employees don’t need to have a trial period if they don’t want one” her business supporters are saying that’s not enough.

Business New Zealand, EMA, the Hospitality Association, Air NZ, the Meat Industry Association, Ports of Auckland and a whole raft of other employers are saying the 90 day trial period should be the default provision for every worker in New Zealand.

What that means is your job will be subject to the 90 day trial automatically.

Depressing.  I often wonder if employers actually think, because if they did, they would know that this is not the way to productive workplaces and closing the wage gap with Australia.

However, there’s been some lighter moments.  Our Chair, David Bennett is struggling with the notion of unions and their role, even although the whole basis of the Employment Relations Act is around building productive employment relationships through good faith, trust and confidence and the promotion of collective bargaining.

His boss, John Key is quite happy to recognise unions as “social partners,” to engage with them to tap into the ideas of workers to get the economy through a recession.  The Government (along with Business NZ) confidently fronts up to the ILO every year and boast about NZ’s tripartite relationships – yet Mr Bennett thinks that unions are like lawyers – offering a service – and as such, should have no “special” rights.

Clearly, such old thinking is still alive and well in the National Party.

The consequence of the radical change in the early 1990s and the low levels of unionisation and collective bargaining is that New Zealand now has a thriving employment law industry with literally thousands of lawyers – all of them making good money out of employment relations.

We’ve heard from some of them on the select committee and while I have respect for their profession, quite frankly, few of them have a clue about the day to day relationships that are needed in the workplace to make it operate productively.

The Employment Relations Amendment Bill (No 2) and the Holidays Amendment Bill are a lawyer’s gold chest. I predict we’re going to see quite a few more of them in the Employment Authority and Employment Court in the coming years if these bills go ahead.


Will submissions change the government’s mind?

Posted by on September 15th, 2010

According to the CTU, an estimated 6000 submissions have been forwarded on the government’s antiquated Employment Relations Amendment Bill (No 2) to the Transport & Industrial Relations Select Committee.

This is the bill that :

• Extends the 90 day no rights trial period to all workplaces

• Restricts the right of workers to have access to their unions at work

• Weakens fair processes where workers actually manage to get a grievance hearing

among other things.

Submissions hearings begin tomorrow in Wellington, and are likely to take up a lot of time in the next few weeks.  The Select Committee will travel to other places (to be determined) and also meet during House Sitting time to get through the very tight timeframe of reporting back the bill by 7 November.

I’ve read some of the submissions so far and the arguments are comprehensive and convincing.  With unions planning a national day of action in October, it will be interesting to see if the National Government members, who have the majority on the committee, are prepared to listen – and if necessary convince their Minister to change her mind.

We’ll see – but not holding my breath.

These are public hearings, so come along if you can.