The more I hear from this government, the more I believe that they think unions and workers have little role in the success of a business, and what’s good for business is good for everyone, regardless of how people are treated. Paula Bennett said a couple of weeks ago that “any job is a good job“. She means that workers should just be grateful for the generosity of employers who provide work for them, even where it’s a job on minimum wage (or less), has no job security and in some cases avoids workers’ rights by employing them under disguised arrangements such as contracting.
Some of the cuts in the Department of Labour budget are instructive. They may not have made headlines, but they show this government’s priorities.
One major change is the ditching of the Partnership Resource Centre, which has been run out of the Department of Labour in collaboration with independent associates, who have extensive knowledge in industrial relations and organisational development.
The Department of Labour’s Partnership Resource Centre website describes partnership as :
…….a modern approach to managing employment and industrial relations. It’s about creating new employment relationships based on co-operation and mutual gain. Across the world, and in New Zealand, many organisations have seen the benefits of partnership. That’s why we’ve been working to become a centre for partnership excellence. We’ve developed a collection of useful resources for people exploring partnership practices, and we conduct research and organise events to educate New Zealand organisations and unions about partnership.
Some of the successful NZ projects include those in hotels, Aged Care and even in Kiwirail, and have reported improved productivity, a reduction in serious workplace disputes and improved trust, less contentious collective bargaining and even reduced legal bills. It goes further than that. Healthy and safe workplaces also require partnership – where workers are trained and confident in identifying and reporting potential hazards to prevent workplace injuries. Good for the workers, the workplace and the country’s medical costs.
There are two models of employment relationships. One is confrontational, where workers are expected to be subservient and do as they are told. In my experience, this leads to resentment, protracted disputes and workers standing on the outside picketing the premises. Some employers get away with it, because their workers aren’t unionised and they are afraid of losing their jobs. It means high turnover, resentful staff who don’t extend themselves beyond the daily grind and if the workers get a chance, individual litigation through personal grievances.
The other is accepting that workers have a role to play in the business, have skills and ideas that can be harnessed to build productivity, innovation and efficiency. That means accepting that the workers must have a say and role in what happens at work, and be treated and remunerated fairly for their contribution.
I’ve seen both models at work. Partnership doesn’t mean either side subsume their views or ideas, and there won’t be disagreements from time to time. It does mean accepting that both sides have their own independent voice.
There are other cuts in the budget to employment relations education funding which enables unions and employers to provide education on productive employment relationships and rights at work. That’s been significantly cut for the second year in a row – a small amount now reduced to almost nothing.
Productivity increases require the involvement of workers. If the government doesn’t get that, then we are doomed to be a long hours, low wage, low skill economy for the foreseeable.
Mind you, Bill English thinks our low wages are a competitive advantage. These cuts just confirm his views.