Red Alert

Archive for the ‘unpaid work’ Category

Be Careful Who You Quote

Posted by on October 25th, 2012

In a desperate bid to find a reason to oppose my bill to extend paid parental leave to 6 months, Business NZ rolled up to the select committee citing the opinion of Member of the European Parliament as evidence that employers in NZ might stop employing women of “child-bearing” age.

“Absurd legislation such as this closes the door on opportunities for young women and consigns them to a role as second class citizens, trapped at home by stupid legislators,” said the un-named MEP in Business NZs submission.

A quick google search revealed him to be Godfrey Bloom from the UK Independence Party.

Turns out, Godfrey has a lot to say about women.

“No self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age.” For example. Closely followed by:

“I just dont think (women) clean behind the fridge enough” and “I am here to represent Yorkshire women who always have dinner on the table when you get home.”

And Godfrey also has something to say about NZ. Wikipedia reports that he was filmed in 2009, congratulating the French for bombing the Rainbow Warrior.

My advise to Business NZ is simple. Don’t make assertions that denigrate both women and NZ employers and use an MEP of questionable repute to justify your position.

Its a very bad look and the issue deserves better treatment than that.


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


Annette = substance, Bennett = useless spin, play of the day

Posted by on May 6th, 2011

And from what I read she is struggling in Waitakere too.

For those without broadband, the Hansard is below: (more…)


It’s about Time

Posted by on January 19th, 2011

I have had a wonderful holiday this year as I hope you did if you had time off.  I really enjoyed  having more time to do things that get squeezed during the working year. Time to spend with family and friends, time to be alone, time to walk , to read and to reflect.  I am sure as we made our resolutions for 2011 or reflected on the year ahead many of us thought about spending more time on things other than work and trying to achieve better balance in our lives. 

In my previous role as CTU Secretary I led our work on the issue of work life balance.  In 2004 we produced a publication called ‘It’s about Time’ which looked at the issues around people achieving balance between paid and unpaid work, family and personal time. (You can find a copy on the CTU website www.union.org.nz).  New Zealand has very long working hours compared to many other OECD countries. For low and middle income earners these long hours are often driven by low wages.  Many workers on the minimum wage or just above it work more than one job to try and earn enough to make ends meet.  Long working hours are not solely caused by low wages as can be seen by long hours worked by those earning high salaries.  Work intensification is a well documented phenomena – less people doing the same or more work.  Not by working smarter but by having to work harder and longer. 

Currently there are many New Zealanders with too much non- working time, – the huge number of unemployed and the less well recognised numbers of underemployed.  This lack of paid work is a fundamental problem as it impacts on people’s ability to survive financially.

Time pressures and lack of balance can have major implications for people’s health, their relationships,their ability to participate in community activity or to contribute to their community in a voluntary capacity (a real problem identified by many organisations).

Dealing with this issue has many dimensions.  These include – lifting wages; adequate leave provisions (domestic leave, parental leave, holidays, study leave, unpaid leave); limitations on working hours  (NZ is very unregulated in this area); recognising and valuing unpaid work;  changing workplace cultures and real flexibility in working arrangements (flexibility in the context of secure quality work, not the one sided flexibility  in the many precarious working arrangements that becoming increasingly common).  In ‘It’s about Time’ a number of very practical and positive examples of such arrangements negotiated between unions and employers are provided.  These can vary from quite small changes at work eg ensuring employees can access a phone, to arrangements to reduce work hours (temporarily or permanently) or to have greater flexibility regarding  working hours or work location through to additional leave provisions (above statutory provisions). 

There was good progress made by the last Labour government, for example -  paid parental leave, legislating for a minimum of 4 weeks annual leave, legislating around the flexible working hours (something the unlamented Pansy Wong claimed credit for National even though they voted against this!), requiring rest and meal breaks and regular increases in the minimum wage.

In two years of this National government we have gone backwards fast.  Not only has there been no focus on improving the quality of working life but in fact there has been an ideologically driven attack on holidays and rest and meal breaks.  From 1 April this year it will be possible to sell the 4th week of annual leave.  Sadly leave will be sold not because most people want less annual leave but because of financial pressures.  It is tough financially for low and middle income New Zealanders. 

Labour is already showing that we will continue assisting people achieve balance in their lives by indicating that we will look at enhancing paid parental leave as part of a comprehensive focus on child development.  This would be a very positive move for families and for society by increasing the chances of parents having quality time to bond with their babies.

The benefits of creating opportunities for people to better balance paid work with family, unpaid work, studying, taking part in community activities and helping others are wide ranging.  This includes to individuals, to their  children and other dependents, to employers by ensuring better recruitment and retention of a broader pool of employees and to the community as people can participate in the sporting, cultural, service, religious and other organisations that make up our society.  For lifelong learning to be the norm we need this sort of flexibility too.

I believe this is an important debate to have.  It is about our quality of life.   An ageing population makes it imperative and adds new dimensions to the issue,  for example the increasing number of people trying to care for children or grandchildren and ageing parents, or the needs of older workers who will want or be expected to be in the workforce for longer and who will have particular limits on their time at (paid) work.  This is also an important issue whether or not a person has caring responsibilities.  The demands on peoples time vary throughout their life.  For example a young person without children may want flexibility to finish a qualification or travel or play competitive sport as well as being in paid work.

We are all probably aware of people who regret that they didn’t do certain things during their life, commonly many people regret  that they didn’t spend more time with their family.  I don’t think that when people look back on their lives there are many who regret that they didn’t spend more time in paid work.  A very interesting piece of research by an Australian academic, Barbara Pocock, shows quite clearly that what children want most is quality time with their parents. 

It’s about Time!


Economics for Everyone #3 – economics is work

Posted by on July 7th, 2010

We spend a lot of time talking about economics, but Jim Stanford’s book argues that fundamentally, economics is work.

In Chapter 3 of his book called “work, production and value”, he argues that the stereotype of a worker as someone who performs menial tasks on an assembly line is badly outdated and that workers today perform a wide variety of functions, many of them requiring advanced skills.

But they are still workers, as long as they perform the work for someone else in return for a wage or salary. This also includes many “self employed” workers and dependent contractors, because they perform their labour in return for money and they do not significantly own or control the organisation which they work for.

Some workers who are paid a “salary” assume that they must belong to a higher class, but Stanford says this is wishful thinking. They are still paid by someone else, still dependent on the decisions made by someone else and in some ways, more exploited that so-called “wage labour”.

Many salaried workers don’t have fixed hours of work and work unpaid overtime when required. The expectation of them as “professionals” and the pressure of the corporate world can mean that they will do more than they are paid for.

Similarly, some management, such as low level supervisors and technicians are really glorified wage slaves as well. They follow orders given by those in seniority to them, they are not expected to question them, they have little say in the running of the company and they are paid a fixed salary. Even although they can boss around underlings, they are just as dispensable as other wage workers.

The only positions that aren’t wage slaves are those at the very top. Sure, they work long hours and work hard. They have unique control over the operations of the company and their income depends on the profit of the company.

“Their direct and substantial economic stake in the profit of the enterprise and their unique control over its activity fundamental distinguish these top managers from other less powerful staff. But only a tiny share (perhaps 2%) of all work in the economy consists of this type of work.”

Then there’s the self-employed who work (nominally) for themselves. Often these workers see themselves as a step above wage labour. We so often hear the mantra about “small business being 95% of NZ business”, but the truth is that they are workers too, often being used by larger companies to avoid labour costs and benefits.

Modern corporations have found it profitable to shift (outsource) so-called “peripheral” service functions to outside contractors – from cleaning to transport to accounting. But in reality, these workers are not much different from workers performing similar functions who are on the company’s payroll. They still depend on the large company for their jobs and income but truthfully, their total income is often less than directly employed workers. They have no employment rights, they don’t get paid holidays or sick leave and they have no rights to minimum wage.

Interestingly, under ILO coventions, “workers” are more broadly defined beyond  ”employees”, as in NZ’s national law and practice – and fundamental rights are supposed to extend to all workers.

Then there’s unpaid work. Household work, child rearing, caring for dependent family members and supporting the community. Not included in GDP statistics, mostly performed by women, but essential to our individual and collective well-being.

So, most work consists of wage labour (50%), top management and owners are only around 2%, self employed 10% and unpaid workers around 40%.

What does this all mean for policy making?  I’ve long been an advocate for thinking beyond the traditional employer employee relationship and trying to consider how we extend both rights and recognition to all of those who work in our society. But there’s a significant debate to be had about unpaid work as well – how we value it, how we provide for it – and how we calculate (and compensate?) for the impact on lifelong economic well-being, especially given that most unpaid household work is still performed by women.

But there’s a whole other chapter on this!