Red Alert

Archive for the ‘Skills’ Category

Total Employment Change from 2008 Reveals Imminent Crisis

Posted by on February 21st, 2012

Increase in unemployment under National

Increase in unemployment under National

The Household Labour Force Survey Survey report of the December 2011 Quarter released last week revealed that our unemployment rate slipped slightly to 6.3% from 6.6%. While a rate of 6.3% in itself doesn’t necessarily mean we have reached crisis levels, the focus on the overall unemployment rate does conceal detail about our employment situation that if brought to the surface will shine light on what I believe is an immiment crisis looming in our economic horizon.

Since JohnKey’s National took office in November 2008, 53,000 New Zealanders have joined the unemployment ranks. That’s a 54% increase in the number of people unemployed to a total of 150,000. For these people, National’s promise of a ‘brighter future’ has utterly failed to materialise, especially if you have a mortgage and teenage children you are supporting through school.

While the impact of the recession cannot be ignored, the number of people unemployed has actually increased since the recession officially ended in mid-2009. The official unemployment figures only tell part of the story. Many more people are without work but are not counted as being unemployed. Many are described by the Salvation Army as being “discouraged unemployed”. They would like to work and would accept a job offer if given, but they would not be deemed as actively seeking work because for instance looking for work through a newspaper does not meet the threshold of “actively seeking work”. The number of Kiwis jobless has increased by almost 100,000 under National’s watch to now 261,300 people as of December 2011. In the meantime 59,964 people are receiving the Unemployment Benefit as at December 2011 a fall of 7% from 67,084 as of the December 2010.
So is this it? Is this the brighter future promised to all New Zealanders?

Number of people jobless

English defends community education

Posted by on November 1st, 2011

The government cut funding to Adult Community Education in 2009. The number of schools being funded fell from 212 to just 23. More than 150,000 New Zealanders who once attended night school now don’t have the opportunity. Great swathes of NZ no longer have schools offering courses as they once did.

The enormous value of community education was acknowledged by Bill English in 2005, while Education Spokesperson. He warned of the bureaucrats who wanted to take it away.

Here’s the first few lines and last paragraph of a speech he gave :

Community education has a long and honourable history. I recall my mother going off to night time classes in furniture restoration, a quiet space in the busy life of a household of 12 children. In a painting class I visited a few years ago a man told about how the tutor had changed his life by challenging him, teaching him and making him finish the picture. He described how he had become part of a warm community. There are thousands of stories about how human needs are met by the collective and aspirational activity of learning.

A great and warm story, experiences that many of us have also discovered … until a year or two ago that is. Now those sorts of tales are thin on the ground. All for saving $13.5 million.

Here’s how he finishes:

I support community based less formal learning opportunities. I want to work with you to retain the funding arrangement that allowed community learning to be so successful for so long, and develop new mechanisms with the same qualities if your needs can be better met. In the end community learning should be driven by the community. It is not enough just to engage your organisations in consultation. You need the authority to make the decisions that make a difference to the community and the people you know. I want to make sure you have it.

He didn’t stop Tolley putting in the boot, despite being Finance Minister. Pity he didn’t reflect on those warm memories then.

Labour’s Tertiary policy announced

Posted by on October 10th, 2011

We have just put out Labour’s tertiary policy. It follows on the big effort that we’ve made to lift skills in our workforce. No need to remind people that times are tough and it’s tough getting any new money. But I think we’ve got a pretty solid mix here that will make a difference.

The key aim is produce the best graduates we can – and keep them in NZ – to help us grow a smart, high-value economy.

The policy has some specifics targetting some of our smartest. It puts back the post-doctoral scholarships for scientists who finished their PhDs that was canned last year. This is critical for not only keeping our best here and giving them time to consolidate their studies, but bringing some of our best back. After all, we’ve already invested massively in these people.

We’ve also put additional funding aside for funding our very best where they are world beating. The ‘brilliant scientist’ concept is simple – give sufficient funding to our best scientists and academics to employ the staff they want, buy equipment they need and then let them get on with it. Smart people attract others – from around the world. Backing our best with resources will grow expertise in core areas where our talent is top shelf. And we DO have some fantastic talent. Those researchers will receive funds personally and are free to choose the NZ institution – or business – where they want to set up.

Other parts of the policy: we must maintain and raise the levels of our universities. Recent results show we are slipping in the world rankings and there’s little doubt that funding is a key part. We run universities that are some of the most efficient in the world, where an extra dollar can really make a difference. Our policy maintains our level by inflation proofing our universities and sets our commitment to increase it.

We need to maintain the affordability of our tertiary institutions so all NZers that reach the standard can access a high quality tertiary education, no matter what background they come from. There’s aspects in the policy here for that too, fixing tuition increases at 4% and restoring $2 million to the Training Incentive Allowance to give a lift to those who want to get a tertiary education – solo mums for example – to get some support. Remember this is the one that helped Paula Bennett before this government axed it.

And we’ve put back the money for adult and community education. Cutting $13.5 million and collapsing it was a travesty. More than 150,000 people no longer access night schools who once did. This is a no-brainer for people wanting to get back into learning.

A nation of makers #4

Posted by on September 24th, 2011

Yesterday, US President Barack Obama spoke from the Brent Spence bridge over the Ohio River about the vital connection between jobs and infrastructure repair.

The Brent Spence bridge has been rated functionally obsolete and unsafe, it carries nearly twice the traffic it was designed to handle, and earlier this year, chunks of concrete fell from its upper level.2 And it isn’t the only essential piece of infrastructure that’s falling apart.

It’s shameful that our bridges are literally crumbling while construction workers are unable to find employment. America’s infrastructure needs work, and Americans need jobs.

The solution is obvious: Put people back to work repairing our bridges, dams, highways, schools, and the rest of our failing infrastructure.

We’re putting pressure on Congress to pass a jobs plan that does just that. But we need to make the problem visible. That’s why the American Dream movement is setting out to find and photograph the jobs that need doing—and we need your help.

I received this email early this morning from MoveOn, a political network which is driving progressive change in the US.

Tell Congress: America has jobs that need doing

We don’t have anything like that here. But we do have skills shortages, we have infrastructure that needs repairing, rethinking and renewing, while the national Government spends billions on new highways.

We have a government that is actively dumping existing skills sets (rail) . A govt that is not investing enough in apprenticeships. That doesn’t have a plan to create jobs.

Labour would not dump our rail engineering skills. We’d foster them. We will invest in apprentices trainig for our young people. We do have a plan to grow jobs in strategic industries.

Let’s do what Moveon is doing in the US and show the government what needs doing.

Can you take a picture of a job that needs doing in your community? It could be a bridge, dam, road, school,  or any other piece of our infrastructure that needs repair, rethinking. Email it to me

A nation of makers #3

Posted by on September 24th, 2011

DFT 7295 (that’s the loco) hauls two of KiwiRail’s new AK class passenger cars and a rebuilt viewing car on their delivery run from Dunedin to Christchurch this week . The AK class passenger cars were built by KiwiRail’s own Hillside Engineering plant in Dunedin. These two cars will be used for staff training, before being used on long distance services. These are the first two of 17.

This is what Kiwis can do. Build stuff. Quality stuff. We should be proud of this.

Instead the National Govt is sending work overseas that could be done here. As a result Kiwis are losing their jobs, settling for lesser jobs or heading to Australia.

Why can’t we do it here?  Even if it costs a bit more  (by Chinese standards) the standards are demonstrably higher, we keep the skills inside NZ, we pay wages, they pay tax. It’s better for the country.

Labour would get the work done here. The Hillside and Woburn rail workshops have huge potential. Not just for rail.

I know Kiwirail has been approached by other Kiwi companies keen to get other manufacturing and fabricating work done here. I also understand that Kiwirail’s head office isn’t too keen on actively purusing these ideas.

Why is that? Have they been told to run the workshops down. Surplus to requirements? If so this is a national scandal.

Three years ago the nation was full of hope about Kiwirail’s potential. Today the name has been tarnished and associated with a political push to grind down a proud and productive manufacturing industry and skill base.

Hat tip (for the video clip): Julian Blanchard, Labour’s candidate for Rangitata

Woburn. Questions

Posted by on August 19th, 2011

Parliament photo 2

This week Trevor Mallard and I went to visit the Woburn rail workshops in Lower Hutt.

This was after the news that there will NOT be redundancies at Woburn, despite Kiwirail announcing in June that around 20 jobs would go from the Hutt workshops. Around 10 jobs are still expected to be lost from the design team.

Meanwhile 44 jobs have gone from the Hillside Workshops in Dunedin. Skilled jobs. Jobs that shouldn’t have been cut, but have, because the government prefers to spend taxpayers money overseas purchasing rolling stock, than use Kiwi skills to build them here.

It’s good news about Woburn.

But I came away with a few unanswered questions. How come Kiwirail announced impending redundancies and then changed its mind? Because there’s too much work at Woburn and they can’t afford to lose any staff. Why is there so much work?

That’s a good question. Especially since there’s supposedly a bunch of new Chinese locos being commissioned.

Why is it taking so long to commission the new DL Chinese locos? That’s another good question. I’ve got a few more.

I’ll be asking Kiwirail for the answers.

The fight to keep Kiwi rail workshops alive

Posted by on August 9th, 2011

Hillside petition 9

Hillside petition 5

Today nearly 14,000 signatures were presented to me at parliament  in a petition calling on the government to retain the Hillside and Woburn rail Workshops.

They represent more than a quarter of Dunedin’s households. The petition was put together in a pretty short time frame. The loss of jobs at Hillside and Woburn cuts deep into our Kiwi ethos. The rail workshops are an important manufacturing base for our country.

This government doesn’t care about that and would rather spend taxpayers money overseas purchasing rolling stock, than use Kiwi skills to build them here.

This government will not do an analysis of the economic benefits of spending our money inside our economy, because they know they’ll be proven wrong. So they keep the real figures secret and make them up.

I challenge Steven Joyce to release the bid costings on the rail wagons contract bids. Was Kiwirail 3rd our of 9 bids? If so what was the cost differential and how was it measured.  And why can they not factor in the economic benefits to our economy.

Our trading partners do.

Now if the time to be investing in our economy. In our skills. Losing this industry is a tragedy for our country.

Labour will fight. And our policy will use major government contracts to back New Zealand firms instead of exporting jobs offshore.

Here’s what the union representing these workers said today.

13,854 Kiwis want to save Hillside and Hutt rail workshops

Lower Hutt rail workers whose jobs are at risk say the government needs to listen to the 12,000 people have signed a petition calling for trains to be made at home.

The workers’ petition was presented to Dunedin South MP Clare Curran at Parliament a short time ago by workers from Hillside and Hutt rail Workshops. Clare Curran was flanked at Parliament by Green Party Transport Spokesperson Gareth Hughes

“Up to 30 positions at Lower Hutt’s workshop are now at risk.  This follows the redundancies of 44 Dunedin workers last month, both a result of KiwiRail purchasing rail rolling stock and electric units overseas” said Wayne Butson.

“This was despite a comprehensive BERL report for Chambers of Commerce, unions and local government, proving the case for a local build,” he said.

“This followed 40 Diesel Locomotives for the North Island being ordered and built in China, and making matters worse, the job for 600 new container flat top wagons also went to an overseas firm.”


The govt’s lies will eventually bring it undone

Posted by on June 24th, 2011

This is an unashamed local post which has extraordinary national consequences.

Michael Woodhouse is the National  List member in Dunedin. He sat round a table for 18 months with local Labour and Green MPs, the Chamber of Commerce, City Council and engineering cluster group, including Hillside and it’s union reps to discuss how we could mount a strong case to keep rail enginnering work in Dunedin and grow it. That case has been ignored and dismissed as irrelevant by Steven Joyce and by Kiwirail.

If you watch the top clip it clearly shows he’s changed his mind. Michael Woodhouse is now spouting a new mantra; of quality, timeliness and price is being used as the reason why the work can’t possibly be done in NZ. It’s crap. And it’s spin. And Steven Joyce the Transport Minister knows it. But he and Kiwirail management are intent on proving that there’s such a big gap between the Kiwirail built wagons and the Chinese wagons that the work couldn’t possibly be done here. It’s a lie.

They say the discrepancy in price was 25%. I understand it’s much closer to 15% and perhaps less. If that’s so then the local build should have been in play because of the flow on effect to the economy. That’s logical and economic good sense.

Instead they are trying to cook the books and have to be exposed. Because essential Kiwi jobs and skills and a whole industry depend on it. I call it economic treachery. The true figures have to be exposed and there must be an independent review of the contract prices for the flat deck wagons.

PS: Michael Woodhouse talks about rail 3.37 minutes into his speech

Kiwirail fail: More skilled workers will leave our shores

Posted by on June 9th, 2011

Today’s announcement of 41 redundancies at Hillside workshops in Dunedin will see more job losses in this country that could have been avaoided if the government believed in investing in Kiwi jobs.

Instead, people with important skills and with families, will be either unemployed, leave Dunedin and be lured to Australia, where rail engineering jobs are on the increase.

All because this government doesn’t believe that investment in the local economy is worth its while. Shame.

Stuff website

KiwiRail plans to lay off Dunedin staff

Last updated 13:00 09/06/2011

Proposals announced today to lay off around a quarter of the staff at KiwiRail’s Dunedin engineering works have been greeted with anger by workers.

KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn met staff today and outlined a proposal to make redundant approximately 40 of the 172 workers at the plant – a South Dunedin landmark and one the biggest employers in the city.

Positive workplace relations – going, going, gone.

Posted by on May 30th, 2011

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.

Tackling inequality

Posted by on May 17th, 2011

OECD inequality

In recent decades, inequalities in New Zealand have grown faster than in most other OECD countries.  This trend was halted under the last Labour Government, but other governments have more than made up for it.

Rising inequality is bad for a country that prides itself on its egalitarianism. 

Large wealth disparities are bad for nearly everyone.  High levels of inequality in society have been linked to higher chances of poor health outcomes, poor education outcomes and anti-social behaviour. These things have both social and economic costs for a country.

Last month I posted for Red Alert on why inequality is bad.   But how does one go about tackling inequality?

Increasing GST, and taking the income to give the biggest tax-cuts to the wealthiest people is clearly not the answer.  National’s tax ‘switch’ has hurt those at the bottom, and squeezed those in the middle, who are now worse off than they were before. Inequalities are even worse now than the graph above suggests.

The OECD held a forum on tackling inequality at the start of this month. The background paper is instructive.

Aside from asking if who you marry matters, the report also asks what policy-makers can do about the problem of inequality.  Answers focus in the area of skills training and education, particularly where they are available for disadvantaged groups.  Looks like National’s cuts to education in the early childhood (ECE) and adult and community (ACE) area aren’t the right answer either.

Labour has promised to reverse the ECE and ACE cuts.  We’ve also said we’d make the first $5000 of earnings tax free.  And we’ll raise the minimum wage to $15. All of these things are useful first steps in tackling inequality.

In line with the OECD view, an economy that provides skills, jobs and opportunity for all New Zealanders has both social and economic benefits.

Hat-tip Jeremy Warner at The Telegraph

Dr David Clark is the Labour Candidate for Dunedin North. He has worked in shops, in a factory, as a Presbyterian Minister, as a University Tutor and as an analyst at the New Zealand Treasury. He currently runs a University Hall of Residence. 

The Aussie skills budget

Posted by on May 11th, 2011

If we wanted to see just how Australia’s budget set it on a path to further outstrip NZ, take a look at the priorities they set in the area of skills. I’ve divided their figures by 5 – Australia’s population is about 22m against our 4.3 – to get a very rough approximation for what this kind of investment might look like in NZ.

– $500 m ($3b in Australia) over 6 years to upskill the workforce

– $110m ($558m) to a new National Workforce Development Fund for 130,000 industry training places

– $40m (100m) on apprenticeships.

Will National’s budget come anywhere near to putting the same investment into skills and training? Well, I’m not holding my breath. But if you wanted the evidence to see the gap grow wider, here it is.

Tell the Government: Don’t Cut Our Future!

Posted by on April 27th, 2011


t Cut Our Future

A nation of makers #2

Posted by on February 11th, 2011

The other day, out of the blue,  I received this email. I don’t think I was the only MP to receive it. I don’t know Matthew Tukaki, but what he said resonated.

I’d just put up a post on Red Alert about how our nation needs real vision, a plan that’s not using the tired old strategies from the past, but some new ideas, some innovative solutions that build confidence in our local industries and create jobs for the future. We need to become a nation of makers.

Matthew talks about the the desperate need for a plan for New Zealand to begin a dedicated strategy of retaining talent before the nation is bereft of the skills it requires to both build and grow. He describes himself as a concerned New Zealander, who lives outside NZ, but remains passionate about his country.

I lived in Australia for 15 years. I remained passionate about NZ the whole time I was away and was so pleased to come back. But I too am really concerned about my country.

I asked him if I could quote his email, he said yes.

Does this resonate? 

From: []
Sent: Wednesday, 9 February 2011 12:19 p.m.
To: Clare Curran
Subject: ouflow of skills to Australia / future of the New Zealand economy

 Kia Ora,

My name is Matthew Tukaki and I am a New Zealand citizen resident in Australia where I have been living for the last ten years. I am currently the CEO and Executive Chairman of The Sustain Group, an organisation that works with business and industry in our region to transform towards a more sustainable future. I am also Australia’s Representative to the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest business and industry led corporate social responsibility program – in partnership with the UN. For context in the email content that will follow, I was previously the Head of Drake International in Australia, one of that country’s oldest and largest employment firms. You may also be aware that Drake has major operations right across New Zealand. (more…)

Skills development – another 2010 issue for 2011

Posted by on January 9th, 2011

The Government’s performance must be measured not only by what they have done but also by what they have not done.

In my mind one of the most appalling omissions of the Key National government is in the area of skills development.   In 2010 $55 million was cut from industry training and went instead to increasing the number of university places.  While I support greater investment in our Universities and Polytechnics and while there may be areas of underspending or poor performance by some Industry Training Organisations the answer is not to take money away from a focus on developing the skills of  those already in the workforce but to look at improving performance and new iniatives.  There has been an absence of action by Government.  The agreed Skills Strategy was dropped, the Skills Forum scheduled to meet 6 times in 2010 did not met once and no new initiatives around upskilling the workforce have been actioned (or even announced).

At every level the need for investing in people and providing ongoing opportunities for upskilling is compelling and yet this is an area of almost complete lack of action.  At a time of low economic growth and high unemployment this is an essential component required to lift our economic performance.  This is recognised by many other countries and indeed has been part of stimulus packages in many of them.

Increasing skill levels is well understood to lift workplace productivity – it is not the whole answer but a significant element.  Higher skills, higher productivity and higher wages are inextricably linked.  The structural problems in all of these areas are clear.   Increasing skills provides greater employment opportunities for individuals and also the potential for greater employment security.  Along with David Cunliffe, Trevor Mallard and Grant Robertson we have been doing a lot of thinking about the links in these areas and will have good policy options to put to the country this year.

The positives are not just economic.  Skills development includes improving literacy, numeracy and IT skills; it includes the so called ‘soft skills’ like problem solving, team work, self management as well as technical and trade skills. Skills development can be industry specific or generic and must be seen as an ongoing need.  Learning pre-employment, on the job and in the community as part of life long learning.  As people develop their skills they have the opportunity to increase in confidence and in their ability to participate at work, at home and in the community.   Just imagine the benefits to a family if a parent’s literacy is improved so that they can help their children learn to read or help with their homework.

The importance of the workplace in skills development through apprenticeships, through industry training generally and through deliberate pathways to progress both skills acquisition and skills utilisation and improved pay is fundamental.   There must be a commitment to providing opportunities to re-train to reflect changing needs including situations where people become unemployed through redundancy.  Most of us spend a significant portion of our adult lives in the paid workforce.  80% of the workforce of 10 years time are already in work so this area warrants a great deal of investment.  The respective contributions of businesses and government is something that needs to be agreed as does the respective role of employers, unions, Industry Training Organisations, Universities and Polytechnics. All have a role to play.

What is clear is that National has no vision about the potential of skills development , no real commitment to this area and certainly no understanding of the need to have significant investment in the skills development of New Zealanders.  Labour has a strong track record in this area and we will provide a much more ambitious approach.

Key forgets about US FTA as he reduces worker protection for Warner Bros.

Posted by on October 31st, 2010

When I was Minister of Labour we signed up to two big trade deals China and P4 (NZ, Chile, Singapore and Brunei.

Both pretty big deals – the associated memoranda were designed to protect us from undercutting – the competitive race to the bottom of the wage/skills spectrum. CTU and Business NZ both played a positive role because they saw our future heading up that spectrum.

Since then both organisations have been supportive of the work both governments have been doing on a NZ/US FTA. The CTU have worked with the AFLCIO whose support will be vital especially but not only for Democrat members of the house who must approve any agreement or at least give the President permission to negotiate with particular conditions. And Democrats and US unions don’t naturally support free trade. Nor for that matter do a significant proportion of Republicans.

The Memorandum of Understanding between China and New Zealand is very clear :-

4. The Parties recognise that it is inappropriate to encourage trade or investment by weakening or reducing the protections afforded in domestic labour laws, regulations, policies and practices.

As is the P4 Memorandum of Understanding

5. The Parties recognise that it is inappropriate to set or use their labour laws, regulations, policies and practices for trade protectionist purposes.

6. The Parties recognise that it is inappropriate to encourage trade or investment by weakening or reducing the protections afforded in domestic labour laws.

The important point for this blog is that it is inappropriate to reduce protections to encourage investment.

Which is exactly what the government did in order to secure the Warners Hobbit investment.

I don’t think it is likely that anyone will take a case against us – but one thing is for certain, any plans we had to work with the AFLCIO towards a US free trade deal died when Key gave Warners the pen on our industrial relations legislation.

Shift happens

Posted by on September 7th, 2010

This is one version of a variety of YouTube videos on this theme.  It was brought to my attention by some early childhood educators in Albany, North Shore a couple of days ago, when we were talking about the future of education. Some challenging, yet stimulating thinking in this clip : Hang on until the end : it will astound you.

Is the middle class disappearing in the US?

Posted by on July 27th, 2010

This is one article. No doubt there’s more. But the stats tell a story. Which indicates that a lack of attention to local industry and skills retention has a cost.

The issue for us, being that NZ, as any developed country, simply can’t compete on labour costs with the developing world. What’s the outcome?

Protectionism is not the answer. But neither is globalism.

This piece argues that the middle class in America is systemically being wiped out.

The reality is that no matter how smart, how strong, how educated or how hard working American workers are, they just cannot compete with people who are desperate to put in 10 to 12 hour days at less than a dollar an hour on the other side of the world. After all, what corporation in their right mind is going to pay an American worker 10 times more (plus benefits) to do the same job? The world is fundamentally changing. Wealth and power are rapidly becoming concentrated at the top and the big global corporations are making massive amounts of money. Meanwhile, the American middle class is being systematically wiped out of existence as U.S. workers are slowly being merged into the new “global” labor pool.

Filed under: economy, jobs, labour, Skills

Productive employment relations?

Posted by on July 17th, 2010

Members of the National Government say the word productivity a lot.  I certainly agree there is a need to lift our productivity as a nation.  However I get annoyed that there is little real action and no focus at all on workplace productivity.

In fact the track record of this Government, including the recent announcements on extending the 90 Day No Rights provisions and limiting union access to workplaces, has taken a cost reduction approach to employment relations.  Lifting employment standards and improving the quality of our workplaces doesn’t feature. 

In my speech on the Prime Ministers Statement to Parliament in February I made the following comments :

Where is the government investment in industry and regional economic development?  Where is the recognition that we need to lift the quality of workplaces – the wage rates, the work conditions, the quality of interaction. Productive employment relations. This Government sees workers and their rights as a cost to be reduced.

Look at the double speech in the PMs statement. Under the section on Better Regulation we have:

“Whether labour laws are imposing excessive costs on the country and holding back opportunities to create jobs”

Holidays and PGs not to mention union access to workplaces and collective bargaining. Remember what this meant last time and if we want to find reasons for the gap in income between Australia and NZ  this is a good place to start.

Attacking workers rights and reducing current standards will not encourage the motivated workforce we need. Failing to invest in improving skills in our workplace will  similarly not provide for a motivated workforce able to work smarter.  There were no new initiatives in the area of workplace learning in the Budget.  In fact under the Labour portfolio we see money moved from the Skills area to a completely different area of work.  The Skills Forum spoken about very positively by the Prime Minister at the CTU conference last year has met once under this Government (still we know how reliable undertakings made by John Key to the union movement are!)

A recent report on management practices in the manufacturing industry showed that NZ managers surveyed are “average to middling by global standards”  Furthermore people management emerges as the weakest area.  And we are going to give poor people managers the right to fire at will for 90 days (except for discrimination covered by the Human Rights Act)!

 A specific need identified in the Skills Strategy agreed by the last Government, Unions and Employers was around the need for more management training.   We need forward looking people management that recognises that paying more not less, improving conditions of employment and genuine flexibility and respecting the need for independent worker voice that is engaged in improving the workplace and the products and services created/provided  is what is required. Workplaces that are focussed on lifting productivity and where productive employment relations are seen as an integral part of this. We have some of these businesses but we need many more.

Fundamental to this approach is respect.  I know from my own experience as a union organiser that workers value and desire respect at work.   Respect for them as individuals but also respect for their unions.  They also want to work with and for employers they respect.   

I would like to see a real focus on productive employment relations but it will not happen under the approach being promoted by this National Government.

Does Steven Joyce believe in Kiwi skills and capability?

Posted by on May 3rd, 2010

Today a strong independent economic case has been made to spend close to $400m of taxpayers money building locomotives and rolling stock in New Zealand for Auckland’s electric rail. But it seems the government and Kiwirail senior management don’t want and don’t believe in a kiwi build.

A Berl economics report commissioned by the Dunedin City Council and the Rail and Maritime Transport Union details the benefits of having Auckland’s 13 electric locomotives and 114 “cars” built in New Zealand, creating up to 1275 new jobs.

The city council, chamber of commerce, local engineering firms, Hillside Workshops, the rail union and all of Dunedin’s MPs have been working on this issue for months quietly behind the scenes. Supported by the Hutt workshops and Hutt MP.

NZ has two railways workshops with considerable capacity and skill. Seems the Minister and the CEO of Kiwirail are impervious to this and intent on an overseas build. A draft capability report from within Kiwirail would appear to say otherwise. What is going on?

This is what Steven Joyce had to say in this morning’s ODT:

Transport Minister Steven Joyce, however, yesterday said he understood KiwiRail was not intending to enter a bid. It had never done anything similar before, and there were international companies with a lot of experience.

“It would be a bit like saying we need a fleet of high-end cars, let’s go and get our mechanics to build them, instead of buying them off Audi or BMW, or somebody who does this sort of stuff for a living.”

and in the NZ Herald:

But KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn, while welcoming the effort put into the exercise, said last night that the Government-owned corporation was unlikely to bid for its own contract.

“We haven’t made our final call but think it would be very unlikely,” he told the Herald. “It is hard to see any way we could be genuinely competitive – people around the world build these things for a living, and EMUs [electric railcars] are a sophisticated bit of kit.”

It’s extraordinary that Jim Quinn, not in the job for long, would dismiss out of hand his orgnisation’s own capacity. Where is his evidence? It’s my understanding that we do have the capacity to build in NZ.

The Berl report points out that while New Zealand could produce the rolling stock more cheaply than Europe or North America but “it may be possible” for Asian sources to supply at a cheaper price than elsewhere.

“However, the quality and expected life could be less and it was possible the “whole of life” cost of the rolling stock could be higher than for that made in New Zealand.

Why can’t we build these electric trains  in New Zealand Mr Joyce? Perhaps not every single bit of them. But we do have the skills and the capacity. And isn’t there a very strong case for keeping Kiwi jobs and skills Kiwi?

Doesn’t say much for the Minister’s confidence in the Kiwi workforce and Kiwi skills. Does this reflect the government’s view?