Red Alert

Archive for the ‘work life balance’ Category

Parliament A Unique Workplace – Can Be Better

Posted by on May 21st, 2013

Have you ever noticed how some women just seem to have it all sorted? I didn’t realise how multi-talented women really were until I became a mum.

Since the birth of my third child I have appreciated my mother even more, admired other mothers tremendously and realised not only do I have a passion to make a difference in the lives of others, I want to be a good mum.

There are a number of conversations you start having by virtue of carrying out ‘mummy’ duties. Breastfeeding in public places can be as political as protesting or standing on the picket-line. Some people frown, or turn away and look a bit embarrassed and others give a reassuring smile as if to say ‘Good on You!’

Women share quite openly their experiences of Breastfeeding, when they made the choice to go back to work, how to manage illness when the whole family catches a bug, coping with the pressure of achieving work-life balance. This world of conversation can be as foreign to some people as a different language but it’s a perspective into which I have now been inducted.

The fact remains women who choose to Breastfeeding are doing so because they want their children to have the best possible start in life. And we shouldn’t assume that all  women who bottle feed didn’t try to breast-feed. It’s not easy business persevering with the right latch and getting the timing right, expressing, producing milk like a well run factory. It can be hard and I support every mum who makes the best choices she can to provide a healthy loving environment for bubs.

Returning to work is a decision that causes a whole heap of stress. If I had a dollar for every moment that I questioned myself on this single issue, there would be a tidy sum put away.

I have heard horror stories of women who returned to work with no consideration about their change in circumstances but I must say that they are the exception not the rule. New Zealand has come along way. We can chalk up many gains for women starting with the first country to give women the right to vote. Progressive change towards family friendly workplaces is considered a requirement for the modern labour market, improving productivity, overall job satisfaction and loyalty of employees.

Labour’s introduction of the Paid Parental Leave entitlement for 14 weeks sought to recognise that there is no greater job than that of being a parent. Sue Moroney’s Bill proposing to extend that leave to 26 weeks is a step in the right direction. Sadly though not surprisingly the Government is seeking to Veto the move, the fact that its on the radar of many families around the country will build momentum and it certainly ‘an idea whose time has come’.

Employers in each workplace should be encouraged to consider what level of flexibility is reasonable and achievable according to their circumstances. In Parliament, if you have the privilege of serving as an MP there are some important obligations that must be met to achieve the required outcomes of the role. But we must remember that MPs have working conditions, hours, workplaces and performance indicators that are very unique.

Our job requires a lot of travel, a high level of public interaction,   long hours sitting in Parliament, long meetings, more travel, advocacy and community work, and regular weekend obligations. The performance measures are peculiar consisting of re-election, public visibility, media profile, performance in the House and attendance in Parliament. It’s no wonder that many women get turned off by the whole scene. The whole idea of having children while serving as an MP can be even more daunting.

The short answer is that many women in our Parliament have done this in stoic fashion Ruth Richardson, Whetu Tirikatene and Katherine Rich all had their children while serving as MPs. They for me are examples that it is possible. Politics aside (for a moment) each one made progressive and subtle changes to the Parliamentary environment to accommodate their needs and those serving after them have benefitted.

My call is simple. Consideration of leave provisions for nursing mum MPs during exceptional circumstances where Members are required to sit in the House under urgency. No mum should be required to take their child to their workplace during the evening especially if they have no care provisions. They should be able to have their vote cast in a way that preserves their ability to perform a necessary duty for the role of MP without prejudicing their Party. This is a matter for Parliament to consider.

One small baby step for Parliament would send a signal to all workplaces that working mums are an asset to the workplace not a burden and if they choose to Breastfeed, then that has to be good!


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.


Mondayising Public Holidays

Posted by on July 24th, 2012

The first-reading vote on my ‘Mondayising’ Members Bill is set down for tomorrow. 

I’m chuffed with the level of public support for the Bill. I guess everyone knows Kiwi workers put in some long hours and look forward to 11 public holidays with the family every year.

A reflection of the widespread backing for my bill is evident in today’s Stuff poll which had public support running all afternoon at 81%. 

The Bill is popular because it recognises the growing importance of Waitangi Day and ANZAC Day to our history and sense of identity as New Zealanders.  The time is right to give these days the full recognition that other public holidays have.

Let’s also be clear that the Bill is popular because it makes sure people get the holidays they deserve. 

Folk were rightly miffed when they missed out on two public holidays last year only because the days of commemoration fell on a weekend.

A couple of people have put to me the proposition that having a holiday on the Monday that follows somehow diminishes the importance of the day itself.  What nonsense.  It doesn’t seem to have reduced the significance of ANZAC day in the Australian territories that have Mondayised it.  On the contrary, reports suggest increased turnout for 25 April ANZAC commemorations.

The example of Christmas illustrates the point.  When Christmas last fell on a weekend, did you hear anyone complaining that Christmas Day was somehow less significant because we received an extra holiday the day after Boxing Day?  I thought not.

I’ve had the pledges of support necessary for the Bill to progress.  My thanks to Labour Colleagues, the Greens, NZ First, The Maori Party, United Future and Mana for their assistance in progressing this legislation.

John Key looks like a man alone opposing the full recognition of these days.

The cost of Mondayising is negligible.  John Key is the Minister of Tourism and now even the industry he’s supposed to be representing have come out against him

Waitangi and ANZAC Day warrant a day off every year, not just 5 out of 7.  We only miss out on our full allocation of public holidays twice every seven years - when these days fall on a weekend.

Key needs to explain to ordinary working New Zealanders why they don’t deserve these two days off with friends and family.


Lack of PPL Dragging us Down

Posted by on May 10th, 2012

Our lack of paid parental leave is holding us back from being the best place in the world to raise children.
This was confirmed by the “State of the World’s Mothers” report released this week by Save the Children.
Even though we were placed fourth in their 13th annual report, its clear that our low rate of PPL was a key reason we slumped to 19th place when rated on their breastfeeding policy scorecard.
The report shows that 88% of NZ babies were breastfed at some stage, but that by 3 months that fell to just 56% and the data wasnt even available for NZ babies aged 6 months.
It is also of concern that NZ rated just 25th/44 countires on Save the Chidren’s scorecard for children living in developed countries.
I want NZ to be the best place in the world to raise children. Extending paid parental leave is one practical way we can achieve this.


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


Techno slavery

Posted by on January 31st, 2012

I missed this on Stuff, but heard it on RadioNZ today.

Workers who find themselves answering work emails on their smartphones after the end of their shifts in Brazil can now qualify for overtime under a new law.

The new legislation was approved by President Dilma Rousseff last month.

It says company emails to workers are equivalent to orders given directly to the employee.

Labour attorneys told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper the new law makes it possible for workers answering emails after hours to ask for overtime pay.

Judging by the vox pop comments of Brazilian workers on the RadioNZ piece, this isn’t necessarily a popular move. I can understand that. Turning off the emails after hours is a hard thing to do.  It has become such a way of life for many working people, but even more so for those who believe their job depends on it.

This issue has started to emerge in several corners of the world. In May 2011, Chicago policeman Jeffrey Allen filed a class action suit against the city, asking for unpaid overtime compensation.

In December 2011, German carmaker Volkswagen agreed to deactivate e-mails on German staff Blackberry devices out of office hours to give them a break.

German telco Deutsche Telekom and consumer goods maker Henkel have also introduced measures to curb after-hours emails to reduce the pressure on workers to be always on call.

Remember the “work life balance” stuff we used to talk about?

Am I just old-fashioned in thinking that working lives are important, but so are our families as well?


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

Posted by on June 17th, 2011


Create your own ‘nice to have’ poster

Posted by on April 7th, 2011

“This is not a time we can afford to indulge in “nice-to-haves”, even though sections of the population feel the loss of those services.” Bill English, 29 March 2011

This quote is from a speech that Bill English gave to public service professionals.

Show Bill and John what would be “nice to have” by going to here to create your own poster, email and share it with friends and family.

Here’s mine:

Nice to have


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!