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Party Leadership : What Labour values drive your work for New Zealand? Labour Leadership Q&A #11

Posted by on September 13th, 2013

14 Questions for 2014

Virtual Hustings Meeting – Question 11

Party Leadership : What key Labour values drive your work for New Zealand?

Question : Why did you join the Labour Party over other parties and what are the key Labour values and principles that drive your work for Labour and New Zealand?

Submitted by : Annalise Roache, Auckland


Explanatory Note: From September 10th to 14th 2013 as part of the official selection process for a new leader the New Zealand Labour Party is holding a “Virtual Hustings Meeting” hosted by Red Alert and organised by Scoop Amplifier. Over 7 days questions were solicited from eligible voters in the election. The questions and answers are now being posted as a set of 14 posts at the Red Alert Labour Party Blog. This started Tuesday 10th September, and continues till Friday 13th September. At Red Alert all-comers are welcome to discuss the answers in the comment section of the blog. The candidates are expected to participate in these discussions at times over the five days till Saturday 14th September.



Answer from David Cunliffe

My values are Labour values. I know that all I am now and all I ever will be came from the opportunities New Zealand gave me when I was growing up.

I was born in Te Aroha, a small town in the heart of the Waikato. I grew up in a vicarage and some earliest memories are of mixing with the wealthiest families in the district, and with those who were doing it tough.

In Te Kuiti, when the cement works closed and the milling tapered off, unemployment and poverty were all around us.

I remember proud and good people, who through no fault of their own, were thrown into a situation of having nothing.

Not that my family was rich by any means. We knew what it was like to struggle.

As a teenager, my Dad lived with serious illness and there was little to spare. I worked evenings and weekends in a fish and chip shop, and I mucked out pig pens for a dollar an hour.

But I was also given huge opportunities thanks to a great education at the local state school. This was the foundation of all my opportunities that followed.

I have been incredibly lucky in my life and I am really committed to making sure that the same opportunities are open to all New Zealanders.

I want to build a fairer, more inclusive New Zealand with a future that is full of opportunities for our kids; a good public education; housing; free health care and a secure retirement.

A decent New Zealand. That is what Labour stands for and that’s why I am Labour.


Answer from Shane Jones

I joined the Labour Party because of its history of reform. It has championed the interests of Maori and other minorities.

Fairness and collective responsibility for all sectors in our society is a key principle for Labour and New Zealand.

This motivates me.


Answer from Grant Robertson

I never really considered joining another political party. My family’s links with Labour meant it was part of my DNA.

But as I was leaving school at the end of the 1980s I felt I could not join the Labour Party given the direction it was taking under Rogernomics.

I settled for campaigning against user pays in education for the next few years, but under Helen Clark’s leadership I saw that there was an opportunity for Labour to re-build New Zealand and so I joined in the late 1990s.

For me the values that drew me to Labour still hold dear today- fairness, solidarity and opportunity.

I believe that your success on life should not be determined by who your parents are or where you are born, but by your hard work and the collective support we can provide.

I believe that everyone’s contribution should be valued, that a fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay, and that we have obligations to care for each other.

Those are Labour values and they are enduring, but I believe we must give them a modern, strong and clear voice that connects with the lives of New Zealanders.

I represent a new generation of leadership that can be that voice.


Equal pay : What would you do about gender pay discrimination? Labour Leadership Q&A #4

Posted by on September 11th, 2013

14 Questions for 2014

Virtual Hustings Meeting – Question 4

Equal pay : What would you do about gender pay discrimination?

Explanatory Note: From September 10th to 14th 2013 as part of the official selection process for a new leader the New Zealand Labour Party is holding a “Virtual Hustings Meeting” hosted by Red Alert and organised by Scoop Amplifier. Over 7 days questions were solicited from eligible voters in the election. The questions and answers are now being posted as a set of 14 posts at the Red Alert Labour Party Blog starting yesterday (Tuesday 10th September), till Friday 13th September. At Red Alert all-comers are welcome to discuss the answers in the comment section of the blog. The three candidates are expected to participate in these discussions at times over the five days till Saturday 14th September.


Question : Gender pay discrimination in NZ is a reality. The recent ruling in the Kristine Bartlett/SFWU case gives some hope. How would your leadership promote progress on achieving equal pay for work of equal value?

Submitted by : Lesley Soper, Invercargill



Answer from Shane Jones

The previous Labour Government made progress in this area.

It increased the wages of nurses.

I will use my position of leadership to ensure that the States resources are spent to give concrete improvement towards pay equity.

This is a core feature of Labour Party strategy and will not be neglected if I am leader.


Answer from Grant Robertson

I am really proud of the work of SFWU, Kristine and her lawyer Peter Cranney in getting that ruling.

It offers the prospect that equal pay will now become a matter of common law, and we will not need legislation to ensure it.

But we must be vigilant. National has no commitment to equal pay, and if legislation is needed, just as previous Labour governments have done we will pass it.

An immediate increase to the minimum wage, scrapping the Youth Rates, support for the Living Wage campaign and re-establishment of the Pay and Employment Equity Unit within government are also important parts of ensuring that we achieve equal pay for work of equal value


Answer from David Cunliffe

I believe we need to lead by example. National has not been ambitious for women. When National took office, there were 1153 women in boardroom positions. Today, there are only 1059, and falling. Government has a role to play in setting a leadership example, that is why I am committed to no less 50 % of the Labour caucus being women by no later than 2017.

Labour has a strong record of working to address gender pay inequality.

I am committed to investigating legislative and policy changes to close the gap based on the work of the Human Rights Commission and the Pay and Employment Equity Unit. This includes, recognising the right to equal pay, a positive duty to advance equality, and a mechanism to determine work of equal value.

I am also supportive of ensuring information about pay rates are made available so that comparisons can be made and unfair inequalities in pay rates between men and women are revealed.


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.


Free at last?

Posted by on May 11th, 2012

This week, National MPs indulged themselves with a bit of union bashing during their support for Tau Henare’s Employment Relations (Secret Relations Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bil.

The worst comments were from Tau Henare and other National MPs, who insisted on quoting Martin Luther King saying “Free at Last, Thank God Almighty we are Free at Last.”

How embarrassing to compare a petty little bill, that has nothing to do with freedom, freedom of choice, or more importantly, freedom of association with that great defender of civil rights and equality, Martin Luther King.

Tau Henare and his other acolytes, including Jami-Lee Ross, made speeches that would have made Bill Birch of the 1990s National Party proud.

The prejudice is awful. The consequences for New Zealand workers are dire when you add everything up.

This week, I found out a whole lot more about the government’s intention to roll back worker rights and collective bargaining. (I’ll have more to say on this).

The Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson, is due to make her annual junket to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva in June. So far, she’s been able to bask in some of the glory from the former Labour government and New Zealand’s place as a respected member of the ILO.  We had moved on from the shame in the 1990s when a special Rappateur was sent to New Zealand to investigate NZ’s breaches of core labour standards.  New Zealand were pariahs in the international labour community then, aligned with third world countries who think workers should be grateful to have jobs. We might be joining them again soon.

I am  wondering how the Minister of Labour will justify Tau Henare’s bill, which on its own, is irrelevant in the scale of issues facing New Zealand workers, but in the bigger picture, will require an explanation of how her government’s changes to collective bargaining and strikes will help advance the rights of New Zealand working people and our place in the world.

Think about this : if the influence of unions is removed altogether in NZ, what will happen to wages, to standards, to fairness?

Would we still have a minimum wage?  Would we have ever moved to four weeks annual leave?

Would there even be a discussion about health and safety?

Or are you willing to leave it up to the Tau Henares and Jami-lee Ross’s of the world?

Amateur Hour

Posted by on April 13th, 2012

Some days I despair about the quality of management we have in some of our important industries. Don’t get me wrong. We have some excellent companies with smart management, but some of the decisions by the Ports of Auckand and Talleys AFFCO just don’t cut it.

Yesterday the Ports of Auckland admitted they had leaked private information about one of their employees to a blogger who then reproduced it. Apart from being a breach of privacy, it was incredibly unethical, it is unprofessional and shows a serious lack of judgement by the management.

Then it was revealed that the wharfies have been welcomed back to work with multiple spy cameras on their machines, security guards in the lunchroom and a ban on exhibiting MUNZ logos on their clothing or belongings.

Treating your workers like they are the enemy is not a good way to go about mending bridges.

And there’s good old Talleys trying to waste SFO time and taxpayer money by claiming irregularities in the Meat Workers Union accounts. It only took the SFO a day to figure out this was a baseless complaint and reject it.

No one is pretending employment disputes are easy and I really want to see both PoAL and Talleys AFFCO settled.

But both these companies appear to be getting really bad advice. Its almost amateur hour stuff and would be laughable if the consequences weren’t so serious.

I agree with Len Brown. Heads need to roll at PoAL. He can make that happen.

Not much can be done about Talleys sadly. They just lurch from one outrageous violation to another.

Off to join the march at Moerewa.

Secret ballots and lockouts

Posted by on March 22nd, 2012

Auckland needs its Port to be working at full capacity again and yesterday I thought we might be getting there.

After Employment Court Judge Barrie Travis issued his minute late yesterday, it seemed like the damaging dispute could be settled, through a return to good faith bargaining and mediation processes under our employment law. 

Today we have the strange situation where the Ports workers want to go back to work, but apparently PoAL won’t let them. 

PoAL has issued notices of indefinite lockout which came less than 24 hours after they agreed with the Employment Court to resume good faith negotiations. 

But that notice doesn’t take effect until 14 days after the notice was issued. The workers are lawfully able to return to work in the meantime and I understand this was their intention.  If the Ports management prevent them, it will be an unlawful lockout.

Perhaps it was coincidence, but last night we debated the final committee stages of Tau Henare’s Secret Ballot for Strikes bill.  The Bill would require unions to conduct secret ballots wherever strike action was being considered. Most unions already do this, but there are real problems with this bill, which I won’t go into too much here.

Tau’s argument was that this was democratic. OK. But why should only one party to the employment relationship have to be democratic?  I proposed an amendment that would have provided more balance to the bill, which would have required shareholders to conduct a secret ballot before a lockout. 

So, in the case of the Ports of Auckland Ltd, the shareholders would have had to hold a ballot before the lockout notices were issued.  That would have been interesting indeed.

But of course the National Party and its cronies voted the amendment down, along with others that would have made the bill more workable.

Like so many things in the employment relationship, National believes that things should only go one way – and that’s definitely not in favour of workers.

Not the Kiwi way

Posted by on February 26th, 2012

Talley’s-AFFCO have told their 750 odd unionised meat workers in its plants in Moerewa, Manawatu, Imlay, Horotiu and Wairoa that they will be indefinitely locked out from Wednesday, unless they agree to significant casualisation of their jobs.

We’re not talking highly paid or privileged workers here; meat workers are already seasonal workers, who have to fill the gap with other bits and pieces of work in between seasons.  Just visit any small town where the meat works is a major employer and driver of the local economy – and you will know what I’m talking about.  It’s grim.

A long term lockout saw 100 ANZCO CMP workers forced to take cuts to pay and conditions last year, and Mr Talley isn’t slow to learn.

But I reckon it’s about more than that.

The climate is now ripe for employers who can’t accept the role of unions in their workplaces to try to smash them. The National Government has promised to further weaken workers’ collective bargaining rights, and any pretense at its support for decent work is rapidly disappearing. The lip service we saw paid to the role of unions in engagement and economic change in the first term of the National Government is now on the back burner.

Union or non-union, this isn’t the Kiwi way.

Bon voyage to more whanau in 2012

Posted by on January 19th, 2012

There’s been a lot of baloney in the media recently about the role (or control) of unions in Labour and a view that by supporting fairness at work means Labour must be anti-employer or anti-business. Mind you, none of this is new, but it’s reached a new peak of hysterical comment from some on the right with the PoAL dispute.

There’s no mystery about Labour’s values when it comes to working people. Our  founding values are about decent Kiwi jobs, the right to a fair day‘s pay for a fair day’s work, the right to join unions and bargain collectively, the right to have a voice at work and the right to be protected from unfair or unsafe treatment at work. We believe that there must be a balance between work demands and family/community responsibilities.

This doesn’t mean business is harder to do – in fact decent wages and effective employment relations should enable New Zealand business to lift productivity, to perform well and to grow.

Labour supports decent work (which is also supported by the National government at the ILO) and fair incomes for all New Zealand working people  – whether in low or middle income jobs, dependent contractors or self employed.  I know that constructive workplace relationships are important and good management is crucial. I don’t believe all employers are “bad” and all employees “good”.  You may be surprised how much sympathy I have with sole operators and small business who can barely make ends meet.

Some of the workers who get the rawest deal are those who are not in formal employment relationships, or in unions, such as self-employed and dependent contractors. Labour has been active in trying to make improvements for these Kiwis, but there’s nothing on the government’s agenda that makes any difference to them and a whole  lot that will impact on all working Kiwis.

Consider these comments from backbench National Party MP Jami-Lee Ross :

Unions still occupy a privileged position in New Zealand’s employment law; a relic of the last Labour administration which has not seen significant overhaul for some years. Few non-government organisations can boast clauses in legislation specifically designed for their benefit. Despite only 18 percent of the nation’s workforce being unionised, trade unions can look to whole sections of the Employment Relations Act written exclusively to aid union survival through legislative advantage.

My question to Jami-Lee is whether the Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson, who likes to present her government’s approach to employment relations as “pragmatic” and “what works” agrees with Jami-Lee’s views.  I want to know if she thinks unions are “privileged” and “relics”.  If she does, she better tell Kiwi workers soon, and fess up to the ILO at her annual sojourn in Geneva this year that she doesn’t believe that unions are social partners anymore, leaving only employers and government – and that our government is opposed to international labour conventions and human rights conventions. That will be interesting.

National’s manifesto already boasts “reforms”, such as :

1. Minimum wage : consultation on the annual review has been completed and we can expect an announcement in February.  $15 an hour?  Don’t think so.

2. The government’s plan for a “starting out” rate for 16 and 17 year old workers and also for 18 and 19 year olds who have been on a benefit may be one of the early pieces of legislation in front of parliament.

3. National’s policy commitments to weaken collective bargaining – no requirement to conclude, no requirement for workers to be on the terms and conditions of a collective agreement for 30 days where one exists, and the effective abolishing of multi employer agreements, along with allowing pay reductions for “partial” strikes – such as go-slows, work to rule etc and a review of constructive dismissal.

Then there’s all of the rest :

Bills carried forward from the last parliament : Meals and rest breaks legislation (Kate Wilkinson said this was urgent a couple of years ago, but it’s been bumped) and Tau Henare’s Secret Ballot for Strikes members’ bill, which is neither needed nor wanted. The hardy annual of Easter Sunday Shop Trading will also be up again, via a National members’ bill.

The inquiry into the treatment of workers in Foreign Crewed Vessels in NZ waters and the Pike River Mine Commission of Inquiry will report back this year  – both shameful NZ scandals that arose because of deregulation and declining standards for workers.

The ACC portfolio and the “opening up to competition” will be a big issue; Labour MP Andrew Little will take that on for Labour.

And I’m becoming more suspicious about another agenda – not spelled out in the National Party’s manifesto.  The recent productivity commission report, for example, made some recommendations that, if taken up by this government, would have a huge impact on New Zealand working people.

Bottom line : none of this will help the wages of Kiwi workers catch up with Australia. None of it will stop the weekly exodus across the ditch.

I’m sorry, but unless we see some something other than the old hoary chestnuts of cutting workers’ rights and pay from National soon, you should get ready to say goodbye to more of your whanau.

National’s Cold War

Posted by on November 12th, 2011

National’s policy on “Employment Relations” has all the language of the days of the Cold War  – it’s going to ruin us; it’s taking us back to the bad old days, there will be strikes on the waterfront, unions will be in control, blah, blah, blah.

They devote a whole page to Labour’s plan to lift wages (and at least Labour has a plan). They try to position it as a return to 1970’s industrial relations, with a whole lot of rubbish about strikes and awards. Most people can hardly remember that far back, but we do know that New Zealand wages are too low and something works better across the ditch – and guess what?  It’s a centralised wage fixing system, where wages are set by a Fair Work Commission – a system that goes well beyond the changes Labour is proposing.

Try telling an Aussie worker  they have a 1970’s industrial relations system and wait for the snorts of derision – and the 100,000 plus New Zealand workers who’ve gone for good to work in Australia because the wage gap is now 38% .  All they know is National has no plan.

My favourite bit of the policy is this, written by the National Party Cold War Propaganda Unit (aka Steven Joyce) :

(Labour will ) “Choke the economy by reinstating 1970s national awards and create a bureaucracy to centrally fix wages – a step back in time by more than 30 years, and a recipe for strikes and industrial action. In times like these, the last thing we need is an economy controlled by a small cadre of union leaders.

Cadre?  That is so funny. All that tells me is that National is completely out of touch with the New Zealand of today, where the majority of Zealand union members in New Zealand are women, working in public services, health, education and the community services sector.

Nek minnet : Dancing Cossacks.

The importance of being Labour #2

Posted by on August 22nd, 2011

And on another note, re white-anting; the attempts by the Greens to encroach on Labour territory is also happening in Australia. Former AWU Secretary Bill Shorten (now Assistant Finance Minister) got it right when he said that people will always need unions and that Labor and unions were a “bulwark of democracy”.

“The idea that people, when they go to work, don’t need assistance is wrong.”

Mr Shorten said his view of unionism was not based on the idea that workers were stupid or unable to think for themselves.

But an individual working in a large company would always need support.

“The company has a human resources manager, the company belongs to an employer association, the company has lawyers,” he said.

“Who do you have?”

Mr Shorten said Labor’s mission to deliver social justice remained in place and that the party’s strongest asset was its ability to tailor policies to help people cope with change.

He said he did not want to spark a verbal stoush with the Greens but noted that the minor party had no economic story.

The New Zealand Labour Party has its roots in the trade union movement. The unions are evolving and adapting as they should.The Labour Party draws on talent from many walks of life, as it should. It’s perspectives are not always in direct alignment with unions.

But let’s not every forget where we came from and what our enduring values are. And how important that relationship is.

I won’t.

The Business Codgerati

Posted by on June 26th, 2011

There’s been a lot of flak about Alasdair Thompson’s comments last week (and rightly so). He’s shown the worst side of the business codgerati. Business organisations and right-wing acolytes like Jenny Shipley have been distancing themselves big time. The organisation he heads, the Employers and Manufacturing Association (Northern) is having a Board meeting tomorrow to decide his future.

The Sunday Star Times editorial says today that “it’s reminded us silly we used to be” and how this kind of standard sexism was once standard in New Zealand politics and business…….“it’s so 1950’s.”

The SST goes on to say :

“But we should not be too complacent about this.  If bosses have become more enlightened and workplaces more friendly to women and minorities, in some ways they are more worker-unfriendly than they used to be……  in some ways workers have less power to push for change than they had in the 1950’s.  Some employers think this is fine; they regard unions as obstacles to commercial progress. That is about as crass a stereotype as the one about the skiving menstruators.”

That is so true and well done to the SST for nailing this. While every business organisation now spouts their policies on equal employment opportunity, flexible working hours, work life balance and their opposition to discrimination their prejudices are still there for all to see among many of them.

Every time there’s talk about giving workers more bargaining power or strengthening their rights, the codgerati are out there, saying “it’s a return to the past” or “it’s going to ruin us”.

Witness the reaction to the $15 minimum wage and ACT’s backward looking ideas that youth rates are going to solve youth unemployment.

Still a long way to go.

The Hobbit – We have a right to know

Posted by on May 24th, 2011

Great piece by Brent Edwards on Morning Report this morning. (scroll down to ‘Ombudsman backs Government secrecy over Hobbit deal’)

I listened and thought what has the Government got to hide?  $30 million of taxpayers’ money and an amendment to our Employment Relations legislation removing basic rights from all workers in the film industry under Urgency and therefore with no public input – surely we have the right to know why?

We have had a lot to say about this issue. Some examples – Darien Fenton’s April 2011 blog;  my January 2011 blog; Trevor Mallard’s  December 2010 blog; Sue Moroney’s October 2010  blog and Clare Curran’s  October 2010 blog it is an issue of sovereignty as well as an issue of (mis)use of tax payer money and workers rights.  Furthermore we are a long way from hearing the full story and there have been so many inconsistencies in what the Government has said throughout this whole sorry saga.

 For me the Hobbit saga is a clear example of the moral bankruptcy of John Key’s Government.   He still seeks to manipulate the facts as was evidenced by his appalling Budget speech which referred to Labour members as “Hobbit haters”.

Christchurch earthquake : workers

Posted by on March 1st, 2011

The focus of the last week has been on rescue; and on who have lost their lives. That’s as it should be.

We mourn the dead, particularly those workers who were just going about their daily working lives when the earthquake struck. But the hard stuff starts now. The earthquake will take its toll most on working people and their families.

Sadly there’s a lot more grief to come. I’m relieved to hear that union and Labour staff are fine, but there have been injuries and family or union members among the missing and the dead. The Trade Union Centre in downtown Christchurch looks munted and workers had to climb across the bricks to safety. Unions are looking for somewhere else to come together as they assess the damage to lives and jobs. They have as important a role in this tragedy as anyone else and their members will turn to them for help and support.

It’s workers and union members who are at the forefront of the effort facing Christchurch right now – the firefighters, rescue workers, health workers, social support workers, education workers, to name just a few.  Stories are emerging of workers who took brave action to save workmates in precarious situations.

Caregivers have helped relocate hundreds of older adults from aged care facilities to other parts of the country, others have kept caring for their charges with disabilities, nurses have rolled up their sleeves and reported for work and MSD workers around the country have been on the phone to the vulnerable in the Christchurch community. Thousands of workers have volunteered to provide food, shelter, transport and friendship.  This is despite the losses among the working community of Christchurch.

Forgive me, but I can’t help but note the irony that we are relying so much on the public service to be at the forefront of this. This is, in case you have forgotten, “the bloated public service” Bill English likes to talk about.

Redundancy announcements have begun – the first in a Christchurch rest home on Friday. Today, more than 230 jobs in New World supermarkets. There will be issues about pay, ACC, health and safety, and access to support. There will be an avalanche of job losses and, sadly, a build up of trauma. Many workers have witnessed things that will be with them for a long time to come.

The government has made some announcements, which are a good start.  There needs to be more and I hope there will be. One suggestion: they should consider removing tax on redundancy pay, so workers can make any payments they receive stretch a bit further before they have to ask for work and income assistance.

We have to be there for the workers of Christchurch. Sadness, grief, loss come first – but then a whole lot more as the impact on every day workers lives and those of their families emerge.

Let’s stand with them.

Waitangi and ANZAC day confusion

Posted by on February 6th, 2011

Just to make it clear that having a public holiday on the Monday after Waitangi Day or ANZAC day when they fall on a weekend or another public holiday, doesn’t mean you celebrate them on the Monday.

They would just be treated like Christmas, Boxing Day, New Years Day and the day after.

No great secret that I looked at the issue when in government and decided that implementing four weeks annual holiday for all every year was a higher priority. What is now clear is that the public want both and as soon as possible.

And while we are sorting out these anomalies we should sort Easter Sunday as well. It is probably the most important day on the Christian calendar, but because when we sorted our public holidays no one contemplated shops opening or people working on a Sunday it was left off the list. That needs to be fixed.

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  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!

Job Survivor Island

Posted by on January 12th, 2011

jobsurvivorAccording to Labour Department research, one in five workers could be fired under the government’s extension to its 90 day no rights law, due to commence on 1 April. So, the CTU has set up Job Survivor Island, where you can choose which one of five workers should be fired and sent from the island. But, they warn, don’t think about it too hard because you don’t actually need a reason to sack them thanks to the government’s new employment law. However, the site does give an alternative to taking the low road and I hope lots of employers read and think about these options.

Not looking good for State Sector workers either, with the government insisting that this “voluntary” law be imposed in every State Sector agreement.

So much for the promises of Minister Wilkinson.

Honesty and The Hobbit

Posted by on January 6th, 2011

Refreshingly honest comments by John Drinnan in Tuesday’s NZ Herald in his A – Z of a challenging year in the media:

“Acting Up – Talk about Fantasyland. Sir Peter Jackson depicted the Hobbit dispute as a passionate quest to defy the evil unions and keep the movie in New Zealand. It was of course, about money, power and keeping unions out.  For producers and actors it was business – part of the old battle for power between capital and labour.  But the media have a role in reporting that battle – and their one sided, naive and simplistic coverage of the dispute was shameful.  With a few honourable exceptions – notably this paper – many in the media unquestioningly backed producers’ versions of events and whipped up hysteria in a manner reminiscent of the 1951 waterfront dispute.  Not the media’s finest hour.”

I absolutely agree with the comments about the coverage being shameful.  Many in the media facilitated the vilification of people who were trying to protect the interests of those working in the industry – Jennifer Ward- Lealand, Robyn Malcolm and Helen Kelly.  There was the deliberate union bashing, which sadly many seem to accept without question, and the failure to indentify and highlight the inconsistencies and omissions in what the Government and Peter Jackson were saying (for example Peter Jackson said in 2009 that the Hobbit was likely to be lost to NZ because the financial incentives were insufficient).

I am glad that someone in the media is recognising these facts. I am glad too that the material released under the Official Information Act just before Xmas shows what information was available to John Key and other National MPs (and when it was available).  It will be interesting to see what role they played in misleading the media and the response of the Speaker to Trevor Mallard’s questions about Gerry Brownlee misleading the House .

Brownlee privilege letter

Posted by on December 24th, 2010

While most of us will be easing down today thought a few nerds will still be interested in the fact that I have written to the Speaker following Brownlee’s Hobbit comments and the release on the facts.

Will continue to look at Key’s comments but to date his most blatant misleading appears to be of the media.

Letter below (more…)

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.

Twas the week before Christmas….

Posted by on December 21st, 2010

At the risk of being told that all governments do it, National has really out done itself for the week before Christmas dump of stories you don’t like. Not content with the OIA release that shows that a large chunk of the Hobbit debacle was totally unnecessary and opportunistic, and that Gerry Brownlee called Helen Kelly a liar when he knew that was not fair, we now have confirmation of the privatisation of ACC. Bear in mind Ministers have had this report for six months and have refused OIA requests for it. This is political cynicism at its worst.

Of course there is no chance of getting comment from John Key or Gerry Brownlee because they have already left on their holiday. Mr Key has been unavailable to explain whether he or Murray McCully misled Parliament about the Dalai Lama. Apparently they don’t have phones in Hawaii.

The ACC decision will most definitely be a major political issue. I am more than happy to see the focus go on privatisation and asset sales next year, as it seems that is where National is going. We have rehearsed the arguments around privatisation of ACC before- ordinary New Zealanders will pay more and get less as insurance companies seek to maximise their profits. Our globally well regarded scheme, with lower overheads than private schemes is compromised and we go back to the 90s for no good reason.

Anyway, at least we all know one question for the first question time of next year.