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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.

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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

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LABOUR LEADERSHIP CANDIDATES’ ANSWERS

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.

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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

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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.

ENDS


Cutting pay Nat style #2

Posted by on April 29th, 2013

Simon Bridges will try to soothe the path of his Employment Relations Amendment bill by saying it’s about fairness and flexibility. Anyone who opposes will be portrayed as unreasonable and unbalanced.

When things get rocky, he will try to portray the Labour Party as being in the pockets of unions and unions as backwards-looking organisations. It wouldn’t surprise me if we heard more about North Korea and Polish shipyards!

Cutting workers’ pay is easy if you follow the MO of Mr Bridges and the National Government’s new legislation.

1. Increase the minimum wage by the barest of margins ($5.60 a week or 14 cents an hour in real terms since 2009).
2. Make workers vulnerable in their first 90 days of employment, so they don’t raise issues or concerns and have no bargaining power if they want the job.
3. Allow employers to refuse to settle a collective agreement – and the standards that extend to other workers are reduced as well.
4. Pay new workers less than the rate in any collective agreement so pay and conditions are undermined.
5. Enable employers to opt out of industry agreements (MECAs) so they can undercut competitors by paying lower wages – and drive down wages overall.
6. Tax workers if they work to rule rather than carrying on giving the free overtime.
6. Open up competition to small, under resourced competitors by removing rights for vulnerable workers to be transferred in contracting out.

If standards set by collective agreements are lowered, that will affect hundreds of thousands of workers, not just union members. Take for example, four weeks annual leave. That became law under the Labour Alliance government, because unions had bargained it into collective agreements for enough union members to justify extending it to all workers under the Holidays Act. Without that happening, workers would still be sitting on three weeks annual leave.

There will be a lot said in the coming months as Simon Bridges tries to justify these changes, but he shouldn’t assume people are stupid enough to buy his claims that the changes will lift productivity and help businesses grow.

We know they won’t because we’ve done this before under the National Government of the 1990′s. Thanks to similar employment law reforms, the gap between New Zealand wages and those of Australian workers widened and today it is more than 30%.

Watch out New Zealanders.

Paycuts are coming your way.


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?


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.


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


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.


Labour’s plan for lifting wages

Posted by on October 18th, 2011

There’s been a lot of debate and hard thinking in the Labour Party about the current Employment Relations framework and how it could be part of a cohesive whole in building a high wage, high skill, high productivity, high value economy. The Global Finance Crisis has provided, if nothing else, a chance to rethink the last 20 years of our Employment Relations system, which if we are honest, is still pretty deregulated in New Zealand. The IMF, the OECD and a myriad of economists both here and abroad have, in recent times, pointed to low rates of collective bargaining in first world countries, including New Zealand, as a contributor to the global financial crisis and the high ratios of household debt to income.

Despite Labour’s changes to the Employment Relations Act in 2000 (which were pitched as being “extreme” by some in business at the time), only 9% of New Zealand’s workforce in the private sector are covered by collective agreements. Our government, the Minister of Labour and Labour Department officials go merrily off to the International Labour Organisation every year, confidently asserting that New Zealand’s labour laws provide for the freedom to join unions and collective bargaining rights, yet they know that that reality for the vast majority of workers, accessing these rights is high risk and for many, simply not realistic. So, while the Employment Relations Act theoretically provides for collective bargaining as a means of recognising the inequality of bargaining power, the truth is that most workers’ wages and conditions are still set unilaterally by their employer.

Labour’s wages policy reasserts our founding values of fairness at work as fundamental to a fair society. We aim to help lift wages in New Zealand across the board and to help stem the drift to Australia of our workforce. New Zealand’s economy must be lifted from a reliance on low wages and longer hours to an investment in more productive workplaces where high trust, high skill and high wages are the success indicators of New Zealand business and jobs. And we cannot truthfully talk about social policy and tackling poverty unless we talk about low wages and how to deal with them.

A critical first step, and one which will help the lowest-paid workers directly, is an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which Labour has long signalled.

But it will take more than improvements to the minimum wage to deliver decent wages for all New Zealand workers. The experience of the past twenty years shows that New Zealand’s current labour market arrangements have led to lower pay for New Zealand workers. Lower pay means New Zealand businesses face fewer incentives to lift productivity and lift investment in workplace, or in workers’ skills and education. It’s a vicious cycle: low wages and low productivity, with New Zealand families bearing the consequences.

Labour’s plan will tackle this long-standing problem. We will amend the Employment Relations Act 2000 to implement a new framework where better pay and standards can be extended through Industry Standard Agreements –  a new form of agreement under the Employment Relations Act (ERA) – that builds on the the existing individual, collective and multi-employer collective agreements that the ERA currently provides for.

An industry union or employer will be able to apply to a Workplace Commission for an Industry Standard Agreement. The Commission would determine the “norm” of the standards already applying in collective agreements in the industry and “extend” those to all those workplaces in the industry where there is no collective agreement.

Employers and unions will still be able to negotiate collective agreements for their enterprise as an alternative to the Industry Standard Agreement. Individual Agreements can still apply, but cannot be less than the Industry Standard. Workers will not have to join unions to be part of an Industry Standard Agreement, but unions will have access to workers in the industry to talk about the standards and other rights, as they do now.

This model of “extension” is widely used in successful economies and the adaptations in Labour’s policy will continue to enable unions and employers to bargain directly with each other when that is the most effective approach. It’s nowhere near the centralised wage fixing approach of Australia.

Industry Standard Agreements are about improving the pay of New Zealand workers. It is part of the wider structural change that needs to occur in the New Zealand economy. Labour has already signalled other changes such as tax, monetary policy, research and development and our yet to be announced savings policy.

There’s a lot more detail to our work and wages policy,  but that will have to wait for further posts.


2 min 38 secs on the national party leader’s plan – have a look

Posted by on June 17th, 2011


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.


Did John Key forget to take advice?

Posted by on April 22nd, 2011

Kiwi families lose another public holiday this weekend as Easter Monday coincides with Anzac Day.  This is the second day this year that falls on a weekend and won’t be Mondayised, so Kiwis have been shortchanged by two public holidays this year.

Aussie workers are getting another day off on Tuesday to compensate, supported by their government, so they aren’t “robbed” of a public holiday.

Back in January, John Key said he would take advice on allowing holidays that fall on the weekends to be taken on another day.

Since then, silence.

I would have thought this was something to be considered, given that workers have had such an awful year.

But then we wouldn’t want to do anything to close the 30% competitive advantage between Aussie and cheaper New Zealand workers now would we?


Remember when Key wanted to close the wage gap with Aussie – now English is proud of it

Posted by on April 9th, 2011

John Key’s promise to close the wage gap with Australia was an important policy plank.

Yesterday Bill English formally abandoned that policy and used the fact that our wages are 30% lower to try and sell New Zealand as a long term investment option.


The fundamental competition is for capital, including Australian capital, he said, and over the next few years New Zealand’s advantages would become more apparent.

“One is the wage differential. We have a workforce that is better educated, just as productive and 30 per cent cheaper,” he said.

I suppose it should be refreshing to see honesty from the government but I do feel sad the the first appearance of a plan openly involves keeping wages low.


Glad government listens (very occasionally)

Posted by on March 29th, 2011

News just in from the Ministry of Health regarding the sleepovers case – where the Court of Appeal determined that disability support workers were working when they stayed over in IHC premises, and therefore should be paid minimum wage for every hour worked.

“The Government, health and disability service providers and unions have agreed to enter negotiations on payments for staff who work sleepovers in the light of the recent Court of Appeal decision. These discussions are due to start on 1 April 2011.”

Good. That’s what Labour said they should have been doing way back.  They should have saved the expense of joining the Court of Appeal case and got on with doing the right thing.

Still, better late than never.


Women should be grateful

Posted by on February 18th, 2011

We have a Prime Minister who thinks people using food banks do so because they make poor choices and an Acting Minister of Women’s Affairs who thinks women like school support staff working in jobs that are undervalued and who are struggling with the family budget in the face of ever rising prices should be “grateful that there is a National Government focused on lifting economic performance, and ensuring the well being of families and communities”

They are all heart!  They have no idea what it is really like for low and middle income New Zealanders!

In relation to Kate Wilkinson’s comments I say (a) there is no plan to lift economic performance, (b) the economy is going backwards – increasing unemployment and real wages falling, (c) her words will not give women confidence that this Government actually intends to do anything about the gender pay gap and (d) being grateful won’t help put food on the table or balance the budget. 

Yesterday was Red Bag Day, a day started by Business and Professional Women in 1988 to highlight the gender pay gap internationally.   The Minister cited the NZ Income Survey to say that the gender pay gap has closed but she then disputed the same statistics series when I outlined that it showed that real wages have declined, which of course makes a mockery of her crowing about the gender pay gap closing.

This Government have failed women in so many ways. In relation to pay equity they have scrapped the Pay Equity Unit, halted pay and employment equity investigations and failed to honour commitments to groups like Education Support Staff who work with special needs children. This is effectively ignoring the proven inequality this group faces.  In tough economic times with high unemployment and reducing pay,  low incomes due to discrimination have even greater impact on women and their families.

It is certainly inappropriate for the Acting Minister of Women’s Affairs to celebrate falling wages and to tell women they should be grateful.


What should the 2011 minimum wage be?

Posted by on January 17th, 2011

The Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson, will shortly announce whether the minimum wage will increase from 1 April this year. I’m hoping the increase will be more than last year’s miserly 25 cents an hour for our lowest paid workers.

The debate began this morning with Helen Kelly vs Phil O’Reilly on Business Breakfast.

Unions are arguing for more, but agree that $15 an hour is a good first step.  They are also campaigning on the $15 minimum – at Skycity Casino, for example, unions have been taking action over one of their claims – a $15 an hour minimum for any worker employed at Sky – and given that Sky City employs workers doing the same jobs in Australia for at least the Australian minimum wage, which was increased to A$15 a hour last year, I think this is a reasonable ask.

Business NZ says the minimum wage should at least stay as it is : at $12.75 an hour.

There’s a good case for the minimum wage to be increased substantially, given big increases in food and living costs over the past year, along with GST and petrol price hikes.  It’s not just about helping struggling families, but also helping the economy, as low-income households are more likely to spend any additional income.

Labour supports a $15 minimum wage and Trevor Mallard has a members’ bill in the ballot that would implement this from 1 April this year.

Some of you will say there should be no increase – and perhaps a decrease – and some of you believe that fair wages for low income families are a critical part of New Zealand’s economic recovery to have their say as well.  You know where I stand on this issue, but here’s your chance to have your say.

Let me know.


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.


Happy Xmas to the bosses

Posted by on December 4th, 2010

I’m not anti-employer, or anti-CEO. I know the importance of good and competent management and the difference that makes – I don’t mind such people being paid well. I’ve just spent two days with some very capable leaders and management in Air NZ and I’m thankful they’re there looking out for my national airline, along with the 10,000 Air NZ employees who help make the difference.

But wage gaps between workers and chief executives have grown so large that some staff would have to work up to 124 years to earn the same as their boss’s annual salary, according to today’s Dominion Post.

This isn’t news. I blogged on the headlines on the same theme in Australia in September last year, about the time we’d all been talking about the huge salary of the Telecom CEO, Paul Reynolds while at the same time hundreds of Teleco engineers were made redundant with no redundancy compensation.

Some said on that blog that I am envious. I’m not. But I struggle with the fairness of the salary gap being so huge between the people who lead our companies and those who actually do the work. I don’t think it contributes anything to reducing the growing inequalities in New Zealand and I’m not sure it adds anything to improving our society.

I don’t know what the answer is, or even if there is an answer – you might have some ideas.

But it feels wrong that one person can be paid so much – or why they even need that much money – when so many other New Zealanders are struggling to make a basic living.

Here’s what the bosses get

Westpac George Frazis $5.59m

Telecom Paul Reynolds $5.15m

Fonterra Andrew Ferrier $5.11m

The Warehouse Ian Morrice $2.84m

Fletcher Building Jonathan Ling $2.71m

Air New Zealand Rob Fyfe $2.58m

SkyCity Nigel Morrison $2.55m

Contact Energy David Baldwin $1.34m

Restaurant Brands NZ Russel Creedy $580,000 to $590,000

Salaries include performance-based bonuses and share options. Source: Unions, Federated Farmers


Anzac spirit doesn’t apply to holidays

Posted by on November 7th, 2010

As Grant Robertson has previously noted on this blog, next year will see most NZers being entitled to just 9 Statutory Holidays off on pay, instead of the usual 11 days. Anzac Day will fall on the same day as Easter Monday. Waitangi Day is on a Sunday, and under the law is not Mondayised. So, no extra day off for Waitangi Day, (unless you work on Sunday) and no extra day off for Anzac Day either.

But the Aussies aren’t putting up with this. They will have a five day Easter Break, with all states voting to give workers an extra day off on pay on Easter Tuesday to compensate for Anzac Day.

But as the SST reports don’t hold your breath about any similar changes from our government.

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson says “Waitangi Day won’t be Mondayised, and legislating for an extra day off at Easter is extremely unlikely”.

No surprises there I guess. Our government is too busy legislating to trade away the rights of Kiwi workers to holidays and wouldn’t dream of giving workers something they’re not strictly and legally entitled to.

And backbench National MPs continue to push for Easter Friday and Sunday shop trading.

Sometimes, it’s the simple things that matter when it comes to catching up with Australia.

I think this is one of them.


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.


Bully state – let’s change this law too

Posted by on October 28th, 2010

While everyone’s been obsessed with the Hobbit there’s another battle looming that could have the same end result – the government rushing off to change labour laws to prevent workers accessing rights.

Today, the Service & Food Workers Union is in the Court of Appeal defending the right of disability support workers to be paid the lawful minimum wage during periods they are required to remain on the employers premises on-call to the 4 -5 intellectually disabled residents they are supporting (known as a sleepover).

Last December, the Employment Court confirmed its decision that being required to stay on the employer’s premises during the night to support people with intellectual disabilities was “work” and should attract the minimum wage. The court described the responsibilities during sleepovers as ‘weighty’ and ‘critical to the business of the employer.’ 

IHC, the National Residential Intellectual Disability Providers, Business New Zealand and the Department of Labour put forward the argument that if the requirement to pay $12.50 an hour was averaged over a pay period employers could offset higher paid periods for those where rates below the minimum hourly rate were paid, but the Court disagreed. 

Now the government’s joined the appeal, with AG Christopher Finlayson appearing alongside the employer (IHC).  They will argue that it is possible to average the minimum wage across a pay period and thus it is possible to earn just $3.00 an hour for some hours worked.

The AG will be arguing that the Court’s decision to have these workers paid properly for sleepovers will be a catastrophe for the NZ economy because it will destroy the system of salaries, commission and piece work.

But just in case they lose, the government is currently working on an amendment to the Minimum Wage Act to overturn the Court judgement and allow “averaging” and legal rates of pay as low as $1.00 an hour.

What’s really behind it is that the government will have to stump up with a whole lot of extra cash for Disability Providers if the Court judgement stands. 

No problem bailing out SCF with $1.6 billion, but a big problem paying these workers properly.

So, easy.  Let’s change the law. After all, they’ve done it for the Hobbit, so why not?


Labour supports wage and salary earners

Posted by on October 20th, 2010

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About 4,000 wage and salary earners turned out today in Wellington (and more than 20,000 nationwide) to show the Key government that they oppose their proposals designed to cut wages in a direct contradiction to their promise to bring our wage level up to Australia’s.

Labour has made it clear we will reverse the laws that allowed people to be fired for no reason in their forst 90 days, that prevent someone asking their union rep to look at a dangerous machine and that requires people to give a medical certificate for one days absence.

More than that we will have labour relations legislation which means individuals will have an ability to join a collective agreement even when they are in a small firm.