Red Alert

Archive for the ‘wages’ Category

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.


Trickle down no more

Posted by on October 16th, 2011

On the last day of Parliament, I asked the Minister of Labour a couple of questions about wages. Minister Tony Ryall answered on her behalf and as a True Believer in the one market way he spouted the old trickle down theory.

“This is one of the reasons why the Government is focusing on growing and building a strong, growing economy, because a strong, growing economy will give all New Zealanders the opportunity to benefit in higher wages. “

Say what?

The truth is that working families and other middle income kiwis are finding it harder by the week to get by because the cost of living is rising and incomes aren’t keeping pace.

Over the last 3 years, median household income rose 1.4% while consumer prices rose 9%. The gap between high income earners and low income earners is growing, and the gap between New Zealand incomes and Australian incomes continues to get wider

Isn’t this the government that promised that it would stop our workers leaving for Australia by closing the wage gap? And hasn’t it blown out to 38% in the last three years?

New Zealand workers aren’t paid enough. We still believe in the old maxim “a fair days pay for a fair days work” but our rules don’t deliver that.

Labour will be changing the rules. We need some new ideas. Watch our for our policy announcement  this coming Tuesday.

Filed under: policy, wages

Blue, Harry, Trotter – then and now

Posted by on September 26th, 2011

Chris Trotter has strong opinions, when I get the time to follow him – which isn’t often. But this short story, about Blue and Harry, stalwarts of the good old days of unionism, has turned up on my media monitoring, repeated in every little down-home country paper throughout the country. Blue says :

“I heard that Darien Fenton woman talking on the radio the other day – Labour’s industrial relations spokesperson. You know what she says?”

“What did she say?”

“She says: ‘Nobody on the Left is calling for the reintroduction of compulsory unionism and national awards.’”

“Never asked us”, said Harry.

“No, she bloody didn’t”, muttered Blue. “But I know what I’d like to ask Darien Fenton. I’d like to ask her how much longer Labour’s going to let this wretched experiment in voluntary union membership go on before declaring it a failure?

“Ninety-one out of a hundred, Harry. Ninety-bloody-one! That how many private sector workers lack union protection. Hundreds-of-thousands of ordinary Kiwis stripped of the ability to negotiate with their employers on equal terms. To look the boss in the eye and say ‘no deal’, without being sent down the road.”

Yep, well Blue and Harry (and Trotter) have got that right. There’s only 9% of private sector workers covered by unions and collective bargaining in NZ.  It’s not a NZ only situation –  and there’s plenty of international evidence mounting now, including from the IMF and the OECD, that the decline in unionism and collective bargaining has contributed to rising inequality and even the GFC.

I honour the commitment of the Blues and Harry’s and of those who followed them. I’ve worked in workplaces where there’s been strikes for weeks on end. I have my share of war stories, just like many Labour MPs (and they’re not all glorious). We worry about leaving the next generation much worse off than the one we inherited from their struggle. But the world has sadly changed. In Blue and Harry’s day, a casual worker would have been unheard of. Working the weekend for ordinary rates would be a strikeable offence. But women getting equal pay, paid parental leave, domestic leave and four weeks holiday were also just as unthinkable, so it’s not all about what happened yesterday.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t injustices, low pay and exploitation. There is plenty to go around.

But Blue and Harry would find today’s workplace unrecognisable and while we learn from our history, yesterday’s solutions aren’t the only solutions for today’s problems. Try, for instance, telling a young IT worker they should be compulsorily bound to a union.

So, Blue and Harry (and Chris Trotter) be patient. Talk with me if you want – anytime. Labour’s policy will be announced soon. We will be standing up for workers, and as we have always done, standing up for the poor and the lowest paid, and taking into account the fragmentation of the labour market, the huge inequalities that have developed, and the need to create a fairer society for everyone.

Higher wages

Posted by on September 25th, 2011

Talking to a young guy yesterday. Knew him when he was at secondary school about a decade ago.

He now lives in Aussie. Not because he wants to but because he feel it is the only way he can get ahead.

Over to watch of few games at RWC and to see family.

Drives a truck.

Earns roughly double what he got here. And then there is the employer funded super on top of that. Cost of living not much different.

His rig is slightly bigger but much more sophisticated than here. He gets lots more training on the job and he reckons he is about three times as productive.

I reckon he has to be more productive because his wages are higher and hs employer trains him more and invests in better capital goods for him to use, in order to make a profit.

Campbell Live – Cost of Living

Posted by on May 13th, 2011

The rising cost of living will be a feature of the election campaign. The median real wage has dropped substantially under the National government.

It is happening around the world

Posted by on April 22nd, 2011

The final decisions on the last Key/English budget were taken earlier this week. I’m told the cuts are massive, going right to the core of what we value as New Zealanders. But we are not alone. Manny Herrmann of the AFL-CIO writes :-

On April 15, nearly every House Republican voted to give massive new tax cuts to corporations and the rich while demolishing services for seniors, children and low- and middle-income Americans.

This isn’t a budget bill—it’s a political payback bill that raids Medicare, Social Security and education to reward corporate CEOs with massive tax cuts.

Economy Stuck in a Rut

Posted by on March 24th, 2011

Near-zero gross domestic product (GDP) figures for the December 2010 quarter prove how badly the New Zealand economy is stuck in a rut.

Treasury and the Reserve Bank had both forecast zero growth for the quarter. I have taken the view that was about right and that minor variation either side would not change the story.

It doesn’t. Today’s 0.2% is within a shade of that, and is still subject to revision.

The big picture is that the economy is going nowhere because National has no plan.

A breakdown of the statistics is instructive – wholesale trade is down, retail is down, accommodation and restaurants are down, confirming the message that businesses in New Zealand towns and cities have been giving us — that for them 2010 was even worse than 2009.

Cost of living pressures were also clear.  Goods and services purchased by Kiwi households are almost flat even though prices rose 2.3 percent in the December quarter alone.  This shows Kiwi families are hard hit by the rising cost of living and are having to tighten their belts month by month.

There is no good news on the external side either. Imports rose faster than exports, and the fastest-rising export, raw logs, effectively represents exporting Kiwi processing jobs along with the timber.

Kiwi families and firms are borrowing more than ever before to stay afloat, and the Reserve Bank says this will continue until 2013.

Bill English is presiding over an old-fashioned slump, and clearly has no idea what to do about it.

Last week he wanted to put the whole cost of the earthquake on the country’s credit card, but Prime Minister John Key rolled him a few days later when announcing a zero budget this year.

Economics 101 says that savage budget cuts in the middle of a deep recession will only put more people out of work, undermine confidence, reduce demand and drive down tax flows.

 This isn’t a plan. It’s a recipe for continuing economic failure.

Let’s talk about these green jobs

Posted by on January 30th, 2011

A few years ago, before I became an MP, I attended a property services conference in Helsinki, run by the Global Union for Cleaners, UNI.

I was struck by a presentation from ISS, a global facilities service provider, who talked about how cleaning jobs could be revolutionised, particularly with the growing emphasis on green buildings.

At that stage, most cleaners (including NZ) were employed in the traditional way. As the office staff clocked out, the cleaners clocked in – out of sight, out of mind, working for low wages – working at multiple sites and for multiple employers, often wandering from site to site during the night.

ISS talked about this could change – how cleaning could take place during the day, with cleaners working alongside other staff and perhaps expanding their skills beyond cleaning to pick up other facilities work.

So I was interested to read in Saturday’s Dom Post “that there is office cleaning revolution gathering pace in NZ, where the days of mops and wringer buckets filled with unsafe chemicals and sloshed along office corridor floors and noisy vacuum cleanings trailing long chords are numbered.”

ISS NZ is changing the equipment issued to cleaners to lightweight adjustment aluminum mops, microfibre cloths and battery powered quiet vacuum cleaners. Beginning at Te Papa a couple of years ago, ISS, who employs around 4000 cleaners says that the new system has now been adopted by 25% of their clients.

And the biggest change : changing from nighttime cleaning to daytime cleaning, bringing savings for companies in electricity and security.

While ISS says the savings are great for companies, I think the changes can create a revolution for the traditional job of a cleaner, in a number of ways. Firstly, they are more integrated as part of the building staff, not a group of “fairies” who magically appear while we’re at home sleeping. The higher visibility of cleaning staff during the day should raise the overall awareness of the process and more respect towards cleaners, especially when they see them working to keep the building clean. Coming face to face with the cleaner means greater care is often taken by staff and visitors to keep the building clean.

Secondly, daytime work offers much more family friendly options for cleaners and could make the work much more desirable.

I’ve always said cleaners are undervalued. They are responsible for millions of dollars worth of equipment, and now they’re at the forefront of sustainablility in our downtown offices, our airports, schools and hospitals.

The big question is whether that means cleaners’ jobs become worth more (currently, the rate is set at $13.10 an hour), whether there can be decent, full time jobs created through upskilling to take on other work in the day to day life of an office.

NZ’s model of competitive tendering means that more often than not, cleaners are transferred to a new employer who expects them to do the same amount of work for fewer hours.

So, let’s have a revolution in office cleaning, but if it’s still work for vulnerable workers who have to work two or three jobs to make a living, it’s only a revolution for the better off.

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.

We believe in the right to unionise – some people don’t

Posted by on December 22nd, 2010

Trevor + Helen Kelly

This is the latest from Sir Peter on the Hobbit debacle. It makes the agenda very very clear. Sad really. Diminishes one of my heroes and undermines my faith in our processes of government at the same time.

Worse, it was clear to ourselves and to the studio that the MEAA, had an agenda to unionize the NZ film industry by exploiting a grey area that existed in employment law. The change in the law, which clarified the independent contractor status of film industry workers, gave the studio confidence that the film could made in New Zealand without the threat of unjustified ongoing industrial action and for that we remain very grateful.

The area of law wasn’t grey. It dates back a long way and was confirmed in 2005. It drew a line between contractors and employees and Sir Peter has made all of his films on that legal basis. it worked. To deny that is nonsense.


Posted by on December 17th, 2010

The prize for the stingy employer of the week goes to Silver Fern Meatworks, who docked workers’ pay for observing two minutes silence, along with the rest of New Zealand, to pay their respects to the 29 miners who lost their lives in Pike River Mine.

It’s made us famous in Australian newspapers, as news spreads that slaughter chain workers at Te Aroha’s Silver Fern meatworks (which burned down shortly after) were docked between 98 cents and $1.60 each – saving the company at most $500.

Even the farmers are crying foul, with Otorohanga dry stock farmer and Silver Fern shareholder Andre de Haan, the immediate past chairman of Waikato Federated Farmers’ meat and fibre section, calling the decision “a load of crap”.

Someone else should be worried about the reputation of the company – and that’s the Minister of Agriculture, David Carter is who is a shareholder of Silver Fern Farms.

Mr de Haan’s says he doubted shareholders would support management’s decision to dock workers’ pay.

“I would have thought everyone would stand behind any gesture towards people that are in trouble like that.”

Does shareholder David Carter agree?

Come on Mr Carter – say something – anything.

High wage work vital to fairer outcomes and economic development

Posted by on October 18th, 2010

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.

Hobbits and Goblins

Posted by on October 1st, 2010

Much of the media commentary in the past few days around the Hobbit stoush has been has been about the cheek of an Australian Union (the MEAA) daring to take on our very own Lord (Sir Peter Jackson) over the pay and conditions of NZ performers on the Hobbit set.

We’ve even seen the extraordinary situation where a Minister of the Crown and Attorney General has (mis)used his position to seek and publish advice from Crown Law to take sides in what is essentially an industrial dispute.

But underlying this is a much deeper issue. New Zealand’s competition laws impose huge restrictions on the rights of contract workers to collectively organise and bargain – no matter how dependent and how vulnerable.

I’m not qualified to comment on whether NZ performers in the Hobbit are being fairly paid or not. Nor do I pretend to understand the complexities of “residuals”” and other industry norms. But what I understand very well is the problem we have in New Zealand of dependent and independent contracting, and how this is often used to deny more vulnerable workers basic fairness.

I did a lot of work on this issue a couple of years ago when my members’ bill, Minimum Wage & Remuneration Bill was being debated through parliament (and was eventually defeated under the National/Act government).

At the time, NZ Actors Equity supported the bill saying :

“We have many NZ productions which we are all justly proud of, but rates of pay in some productions are nothing to be proud of. The poor pay & conditions of many performers is not commonly known, who, because they are classed as dependent or independent contractors, are expected to work for a whole lot less than workers who are employees.”

NZ law dictates that a worker who is not defined as an “employee” has no rights – even if they are vulnerable, dependent and poorly paid.

So, who can be surprised if from time to time, a group of workers, even if they happen to be performers and supposedly above needing to earn a decent living, use what leverage they can gather to get their boss to talk to them.

Radiographers v DHBs = System failure

Posted by on September 3rd, 2010

Spent more time than normal listening to National Radio today.  A parade of medical professionals all declining to discuss “industrial issues” but dumping on colleagues who are asking to work 5 hours longer a week and get time in lieu for a couple of days professional development a year – the way others at the hospitals do.

A DHB paid liar made a hash of attacking the union.

But the whole situation is horrible. Patients are caught in the middle and while there won’t be life lost delays will cause pain and add to the the waiting lists for elective procedures for months to come. And the costs of private Xrays and scans are too high for most families.

It is a classic case of an uneven relationship leading to out of proportion consequences when labour is withdrawn.

Similar to situation pre 1893 when we introduced legislation that included arbitration.  Law based on fairness and ability to mount a case – not out muscle the other side.

Maybe it is time to revisit arbitration as a tool for sorting disputes.

Silly idea number 6 – what do you think?

Posted by on August 20th, 2010

Change the law so that anyone working for an employer in a small business can be fired in the first three months without notice and without reason. Justify the change on the basis that employers will be more likely to employ people.

Wait a year. Ask officials whether it worked. Receive a paper saying it seems not to have increased employment opportunities.

Claim the exact opposite and extend the fire-at-will provisions to all employers, with the result that for most employers nothing will change but for rat-bag employers things will get abusive.

I think this idea is -

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Friday poll – how much did bill english double dip

Posted by on August 13th, 2010

How much has Bill English, his family or trusts collected in cash and services as a result of him telling speakers he lives in Dipton ?

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Is Bill English continuing to collect money and services either directly or through his family or trusts from telling speakers he lives in Dipton ?

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National announces plan at last – shift to Australia

Posted by on August 5th, 2010

Sometimes you get leaks of policy through interjections. Today we got a gem from Paul Quinn.

After it was pointed out that twice as many firms in Aussie are increasing staff this year than in NZ, and that 23% more Aussie firms are planning to increase wages we at last got the plan.

Quinn said – Kiwis should move to Australia.

Tyre Kicker in Chief

Posted by on July 29th, 2010

Interesting to read Duncan Garner’s take on John Key’s answering on the wage gap between Australia and New Zealand

Yesterday’s performance in Parliament was too selective and too slippery for him to get away with. All the statistics show the gap between Australian wages and Kiwi wages is growing – but Key refused to accept it. He refused to admit it. In fact he went the other way – he said the gap is closing. It’s not, no matter which figures you focus on.

It was an interesting insight into the sensitivity of the government on this issue that Key would try to argue that black was white, when the numbers, even under his chosen construction pointed to the gap widening. It was a bit more than slippery too- it was a very deliberate attempt to mislead.

All of this began as a result of questioning on the absence of an economic plan from National to achieve their stated objective of catching up with Australia. This is a vitally important issue for the country. Concern about this is not only coming from our side of the political spectrum but also from those more closely aligned with the Nats.

Trans-Tasman, the political newsletter today devotes a significant amount of space to concern about the lack of courage in the Government’s programme noting that the obesession with a safety first approach is raising questions about the willingness to take the hard calls and saying poll driven leadership is raising questions about policy intentions.

Many months ago on this blog I described Mr Key as being ” all map and no compass”.  As they say in the House, I stand by that statement.

Brownlee bagged

Posted by on July 29th, 2010

You need no further confirmation of the latest hole Brownlee has dug for himself than this blog from DPF…all credit due of course to David Parker

The wage gap

July 29th, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Claire Trevett reports:

A war of statistical tables in Parliament left National red-faced after even its own figures showed the gap in earnings between New Zealanders and Australians had increased since it took office in November 2008.

Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee had said in Parliament on Tuesday that the gap was less than it was when Labour was in power  but yesterday the statistics proved him wrong no matter how they were presented.

Prime Minister John Key produced a table which he said most accurately compared average earnings because it took into account purchasing power parity.

But his own figures showed the gap had increased by $22 in the two years since National took over in 2008. Instead, he said it showed the gap was less than it was at the “maximum point” of Labour’s reign  when the gap peaked at $187.60 in 2005.

But it subsequently shrank to $137.89 by Labour’s final year in 2008 and had since increased again to $160.25 under National.

Of course the wage gap has increased. We went into recession, and Australia did not. In a recession you have little wage growth.

I am surprised that a Minister would claim the gap has not increased. Rather than try to push dodgy comparisons, they would be better to outline policies which will help reduce the gap.

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u know Gerry B has stuffed up big time when you see posts like this on DPF’s blog..

The Wage Gap

Posted by on July 28th, 2010

Before the last election the wage gap with Australia was John Key’s #1 issue. Key even went as far as to say that the ‘fundamental purpose’ of his government would be to narrow the gap. Listening to Gerry Brownlee and John Key in the House today and yesterday, apparently the problem has been solved already.

Yesterday Brownlee claimed that the gap ‘is certainly a lot less than it was when Labour was in office’ despite the fact that it has blown out by more than $50 a week since National took office. In the last quarter, according to official statistics, Australian wages have increased by $17 a week, compared to $3 for Kiwi workers.

Kiwi workers will fall even further behind from October when they will be paying a consumption tax (GST) that is 50 percent higher than in Australia. We have caught up with Australia in one respect though, when National took over we had a lower unemployment rate – they’ve managed to turn that around in 18 months!

So where is John Key’s plan? Smiling and waving for the cameras won’t get us there. As Annette King said in the House yesterday, “It’s time for the Government to stop kicking the tyres, put some petrol in the tank. start the engine and go somewhere!”. Couldn’t have said it better…!