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Voter turnout : How do we motivate more people to vote? Labour Leadership Q&A #8

Posted by on September 12th, 2013

14 Questions for 2014

Virtual Hustings Meeting – Question 8

Voter turnout : How do we motivate more people to vote?

Question : To win the next election we need to motivate people to vote and win some of the swing voters in the middle. Share one strategy that you think would be most effective in achieving this?

Submitted by : Dalene Mactier, Southbridge

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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.

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LABOUR LEADERSHIP CANDIDATES’ ANSWERS

Answer from David Cunliffe

We need three things: strategy, unity and urgency. At the last election more than 800,000 people didn’t vote. At the 2011 election, Labour failed to persuade enough New Zealanders that it was a credible alternative.

When National was telling them that they would cut them off at the knees, they don’t want to hear from Labour that it would too, just a little nearer to the ankles and with more anaesthetic.

I will lead a true red Labour Party, not a pale blue one. I will lead a team that is a clear alternative to John Key.

Voters will understand the difference between Labour and National and how we will build a fairer, more inclusive New Zealand.

We must be united to win. Voters disengage when there is disunity.

Everyone in Labour must put the interests of the party and the country first. We also need to be ready to win now.

We have less than a year to lift our numbers. John Key will spend billions to get re-elected. He is battle-ready and has the best spin money can buy.

New Zealanders need us to win so that they can get back on the ladder to success.

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Answer from Shane Jones

Voter turnout is essential.

I am confident I can reconnect the Party with a broader range of voters. I am able to deal with the reasons why 800,000 kiwis chose not to vote in 2011.

A significant percentage of them are in the provinces.

I believe I can broaden the appeal of the Party to these people.

There is no single silver bullet.

However a robust organisation on the ground with vivid messages will work.

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Answer from Grant Robertson

We need to be talking to people about the things that matter in their lives – how can they afford their first home, what opportunities are there for their kids when the leave school and university, are there decent jobs out there for them?

If we talk to people about the issues that matter to them, they will see that Labour has the vision and the policies to make a difference in to their lives.

I don’t think for a minute that middle New Zealand is better off under a National Government.

Under National their wages are stagnant, their power bills are growing and our public schools are getting shafted.

I will unite Labour so we can focus on selling our policies to New Zealanders and if we can do that we’ll win.

ENDS


About Part 6A again

Posted by on December 2nd, 2012

Part 6A in the Employment Relations Act means little to most people, but it means a lot for thousands of cleaners, catering workers, orderlies and laundry workers, whose jobs are prone to repetitive contracting out.

After a two year review, the government’s announcement last month that Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act would be limited to workplaces with more than 20 workers sent me looking for why this decision had been made.

The OIA documents I obtained showed that the Government ignored warnings about excluding SMEs from the Department of Labour and Sapere Consultancy, who was contracted by the government earlier this year to determine a “cost benefit analysis.”  The idea of excluding SMEs was not covered in earlier papers going right back to 2010, but this year a May 18 Aide Memoire from the Minister asked the department :

Would it be possible to exempt small businesses from Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act 2000?

Both Sapere Research and the Department of Labour criticised the idea of excluding SME’s from Part 6A.  Sapere considered this as a possible amendment to Part 6A of the Act but commented that:

“..From what we heard from interviews and found with our subsequent analysis, it seems likely that restricting the special protections to only large employers would be counter-productive and lead to even more perverse outcomes than the current arrangements. This is because it would result in transfer situations where one party had to be compliant and the other did not, leading in all likelihood to a breakdown in the exercising of the provisions at all.

The Department of Labour also concluded it would be ‘‘counter-productive and lead to even more perverse outcomes than the current arrangements’’.

This option was flagged a couple of times in later reports but did not make it into the last of three Cabinet Policy Papers which were presented in or around early September. Then in late September DOL (now MoBIE) was asked to again look into the option of excluding SME’s.  They stated that this would reduce compliance costs for SME’s but would add a layer of complexity to Part 6A. They noted that large employers would be undercut by smaller ones in bidding for contracts.

A later paper by MoBIE outlines the plan to prevent large companies from creating smaller entities, by establishing a “test of independence” which they warned would “add another layer of complexity and uncertainty to this process”.

So, there will be a new provision in the Employment Relations Act which removes the rights of more than 6000 workers, adds more complexity and cost to business and will doubtless end up in expensive litigation.

There’s been a campaign from Crest Clean over the year, aided and abetted by others, including Rodney Hide who wrote two articles for the NBR slamming Part 6A. And you don’t have to look far in CrestClean to find a National Party stalwart.

There are interests here that have persuaded the government to go beyond sensible and workable change. That’s not unusual for this lot, but I know who will pay the price for it.

 


Domestic violence is a workplace issue

Posted by on November 25th, 2012

Today is the United Nations international day for Elimination of Violence Against Women.  In New Zealand, the White Ribbon campaign takes place throughout the whole of November and over the years, has increasingly gained support from the community, businesses, cultural groups, sports teams, local government and government agencies.

Thank you everyone who has taken the pledge to eliminate violence against women and who is involved in campaign activity throughout New Zealand.

There are other things we could perhaps learn from other countries. Australia is ahead of the rest of the world in recognising domestic violence as an issue which can potentially impact on workers and workplaces, with approximately 600,000 Australian employees now covered by domestic violence clauses in their agreement or award conditions.

Here’s a little help :

 

 


Thank you to NZ’s workers

Posted by on October 22nd, 2012

Today, on Labour Day I want to acknowledge the contribution New Zealand’s workers make to our country.  They are often the forgotten part of the economic equation, but without workers, no business and no public service could get ahead.

There used to be a time when each generation was proud to say that their kids would be better off than their parents at work and the effort of unions in collective organisation and bargaining was about ensuring the gains won by our forebears were not lost.

I can’t say that today.

The 8 hour day and 40 hour week is regarded by many as an anachronism, benefits like overtime and weekend rates are considered out of the ark and the National Government narrative is that employers and business are providing a generous service by taking workers on, and they should just be grateful to have a job.

We subsidise low wages through working for families, we pay employers to take on young minimum wage workers they can sack after 90 days and then we blame people when they struggle to make ends meet.

In the 112th year of celebrating Labour Day as the day to recognise the contribution of New Zealand’s workers and the progress made in workers’ rights, we must remember it’s been another tough year for New Zealand workers, with thousands of layoffs, rising costs, stagnant wages and attacks on employment rights. The Government has launched an attacked on our young workers this week and further employment legislation is in the pipeline that will drive down wages for everyone.

One of the worst industrial disputes seen since the 1990s, the Ports of Auckland is still unsettled.  The weeks of wages lost to Talleys AFFCO workers , their families and their communities in a bitter lockout to try to cut their pay and job security has taken a huge toll on poor rural communities and we’ve even seen low paid rest home workers on the picket line struggling for a pittance of a pay increase.

My message to New Zealand workers this Labour Day is that Labour appreciates your hard work and contribution, we are on your side and we have real plans to improve your working lives when this government is thrown out.

And enjoy the day.  The government can’t take that away from us.

 


The contractor trap – more flexibility, no rights

Posted by on October 14th, 2012

This was published on the Radiolive website on 5 October.

There’s an old Kiwi maxim: a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, but that doesn’t ring true for many thousands of Kiwi workers.

For the past three decades there has been a steady growth in what is described internationally as non-standard work, including temporary workers, casual and labour hire workers and a substantial increase in the use of independent and dependent contracting.

Some contractors are highly skilled, entrepreneurial individuals, who are able to extract a significant premium for their efforts outside traditional employment.

However, for many, the opportunities of earning a secure and stable income are remote. Their classification as contractors effectively gives them no rights to the minimum protections provided for those classed as employees under New Zealand Law. For these workers the employment relationship, with its rights and obligations, under current law has become meaningless.

Look around you. Many fast food delivery workers, truck drivers, couriers, construction workers, caregivers, security guards, cleaners, telemarketing workers, forestry workers, even actors and musicians are contractors.

While Labour is pushing for the minimum wage to be $15 an hour, these workers have no guaranteed minimum wage.

While we enjoy our Christmas breaks, these workers have no paid holidays.

If we are treated unfairly at work, we can challenge our treatment under the law, but contractors have no such right.

If we want to join a union and bargain for a collective agreement, we are guaranteed that right, but that’s prohibited under competition laws for contractors.

Over the past few years many contractors have been in touch with me to talk about their situation. When Telecom announced that its two biggest network Engineering contractors, Transfield and Downer EDI had lost their contracts for the Northland and Auckland network to a new company, Visionstream, 700 skilled lines engineers were told if they wanted work they would have to move from being employees to contractors.

These workers were powerless. If they wanted a job they had to give up secure income and employee protections, buy their own vans and equipment and take all of the risks of the job on themselves. Many did. And they’re now struggling.

Some horrific stories from truck drivers hit the headlines. They had mortgaged their houses to buy the rig, and then the companies they were contracted to slashed hundred of dollars off their weekly pay claiming the drivers were overpaid. They showed me the figures; many are earning below minimum wage. Every week sometimes dies on the road through a truck related injury. We respond with ever-stricter safety laws, but does anyone ever think that the drivers are speeding, cutting maintenance, working over legal hours because that’s the only way they can make a living as owner-drivers?

Courier drivers are in a similar situation. As vehicle drivers have been converted from employees to contractors, courier drivers have been required to provide their own vehicle, pay for vehicle maintenance, insurance registration, and other running costs.

New Zealand is not alone in this phenomenan. Studies are taking place around the world and some governments have implemented new legislation to regulate dependent and independent contracting.

In this dog-eat-dog world of increasing competition, firms often turn to contracting as a means of avoiding the costs of employing someone directly. Others do it in a cynical attempt to avoid labour laws.

The International Labour Organisation has dedicated many conference discussions to finding a solution, saying that the protection of (all) workers “is at the heart of the ILO’s mandate and all workers, regardless of employment status, should work in conditions of decency and dignity.”

While Labour accepts there are advantages for businesses in different contracting arrangements and for that matter, advantages for some highly skilled workers, these must be balanced against the fundamental rights of fairness and equality.

There is a lot of discussion and thought required on this topic. But in the end, Labour doesn’t believe that it is the Kiwi way for the “law of the jungle” to prevail.

If we fail to regulate the growing incidences of independent and dependent contracting, we expose growing legions of workers to having no rights at all.

And in doing so, we make every other job that relies on the foundations of the employment relationship vulnerable to unacceptable competition.


A few sad words on Workers Memorial Day

Posted by on April 28th, 2012

It’s six months since Charanpereet Singh Dhaliwai, aged just 21 died from head injuries after a horrific assault on the job.

He was on his first night working as a security guard watching over the Fulton Hogan site in West Auckland, and he was working alone.

He’s just one on a shameful list of workplace deaths and injuries as we mourn our workplace toll on Workers Memorial Day today.

Every year, I hope things will be better and we will see a different approach to protecting workers who go to work, expecting to return home safely to their families at the end of the day.

So what’s the government’s plan?

MOBIE – that’s the unfortunate acronym for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, which will incorporate the Department of Labour and its Health and Safety roles from 1 July this year.

The least the government could have done was to wait until the Royal Commission on Pike River Mine reports back in September, because there are likely to be significant recommendations for change to protecting the health and safety of workers in New Zealand.  I think our treatment of health and safety has become so negligent we should be considering whether we need a standalone agency.

An announcement from the government that they are putting the merger of the health and safety functions into MOBIE on hold pending major change to tackling our death and injury rates on the job would have been a nice message for the families and workmates mourning today.

Won’t happen though.

Postscript : Sincere condolences to the family and workmates of Herman Curry, bus driver, who died at work in Friday night.



You could see it coming

Posted by on March 7th, 2012

The Ports of Auckland has decided to contract out its stevedoring jobs on the Container Wharf by firing its existing staff and hocking off the work to three competing contracting firms.

The decision is devastating for the wharfies and their families, but you could see it coming.

Firstly, there was the charade from PoAL that they were bargaining in good faith for a collective agreement, while at the same time they were seeking tenders from contractors to take over the work.

The second charade was that they were going through a “consultation” process, when in reality, the decision was already made.

The third and latest charade is that the workers can apply for jobs with the contractors. That’s nice of them.

But of course the contractors have no obligation to employ any of the existing workers and any who do get jobs will be required to accept pay and conditions decided by the contractors. Previous pay and conditions fought for over years will disappear.  The only guarantees are minimum wage, annual leave and statutory holidays.

Contracting out is an effective way to casualise a workforce and drive down their wages and conditions.

Yes,  you could see it coming.

We’re seeing unprecedented industrial disharmony in New Zealand and you could see that coming too when National was reelected.

The Ports dispute isn’t over. I will be at the rally in Saturday. I hope you come too.


Port dispute not about eggs

Posted by on February 24th, 2012

The start of an extended strike today by Waterfront workers over the Port of Auckland’s determination to casualise or contract out the jobs of its workforce means everyone loses.

Port workers and their families will lose incomes, businesses will be disrupted, other workers will be affected and the Auckland economy will take a hit at a time when we least need it.

Last week, there was a call from a group of influential Auckland business interests and the CTU for a modern approach to employment relations which maintains an efficient and productive Port, retains decent jobs and is not part of the race to the bottom. This was refreshing and gave hope of a solution.

But I wasn’t that impressed with Council CEO Doug McKay’s comments at the recent Council meeting where he said :

But I keep reminding Len, and I have been in a commercial environment in this sort of situation a few times over the years, that you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette, and the people have to feel like they can almost go to the brink and look over it before they come back.

This isn’t about making omelettes or brinkmanship, although Doug McKay‘s done plenty of it in his time.

Resolution of this dispute needs good will, determination and good faith bargaining. And it will require compromise.

Auckland Council should reconsider its unrealistic demand for a 12% return on capital, Ports management should withdraw their take it or leave it plans to contract out or casualise jobs and the union has repeated its offer to make changes to work practices and its collective agreement that will improve labour utilisation rates.

Broken eggs won’t do it.


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


Uptitling

Posted by on February 17th, 2012

As we’ve gone through three decades of painful economic change, a whole new language has emerged as part of the managerialist efforts to soft soap hard decisions.

Along with “human resources” and “people management” (as if working people are cattle that need to be herded in the right direction), we’ve also got the deceptive language of the destruction of decent work.

We have  “re-engineering, “right-sizing”, “right fit,’’downsizing” and other euphemisms designed to sugarcoat the harmful and very human outcomes of firings and job losses.

Productivity has become another word for expecting a whole lot more for a whole lot less.

And the latest fad is “Uptitling”, where having a fancy title for a job is supposed to compensate for lousy pay and insecure work.

The term “Associates” came to New Zealand a  few years ago.  Caterair and Marriott introduced this at Auckland Airport for their highly casualised catering staff, as if being given a fancy title meant the workers had some stake in a business, where they really had no say or control.

Uptitling is rampant overseas and it’s becoming a trend here too.

Receptionists have become “Heads of Verbal Communications”, Staff in Call Centres are “Client Liaison Officers” and the local rubbish collector is an “Environmental Facilitation Officer.”

Toilet cleaners are  ”sanitation consultants” and leaflet  delivers are “media distribution officers”.

From a financial perspective, uptitling is appealing to employers.  They believe that rather than increasing somebody’s pay, all they have to do is give them a new fancy title. Employees will feel validated by their new status and maybe won’t pester their bosses for a raise for a little longer.

We’ll see.


Minimum Wage misery

Posted by on February 8th, 2012

The government’s announcement today of a 50 cents an hour increase in the minimum wage has left me feeling both relieved and depressed.

I’m relieved because at least the increase is 50 cents an hour, rather than the miserly 25 cents an hour in last year’s minimum wage increase –  even  if it still leaves a minimum wage worker only 20 cents an hour better off in real terms than they were after National’s first minimum wage increase in April 2009.    

But I’m depressed because of another lost opportunity to do something tangible about soaring income inequality in New Zealand.

The government, despite its crocodile tears and phony concern about poverty and the impact on families and children has ignored what would have been a significant step in addressing income inequality.

But I’m relieved that there is almost a majority in parliament for increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, with Labour, the Greens, Maori Party and NZ First all condemning the government’s short sighted decision today.  The only party that stands in the way of that happening is the one man band ACT  Party – whose only comment today has been to criticise the government’s increase in the new entrant and trainee rate to $10.80 an hour. (Sorry, United Future could be a game changer on this, but don’t hold your breath).

Should be an interesting one to watch.


From social partners to bit players

Posted by on February 3rd, 2012

The emphasis of the Department of Labour Briefing to Incoming Ministers has significantly changed in 2011.

In the 2008 Briefing,  the Social Partners (Business NZ and Council of Trade Unions) were referred to frequently. Not now.

The notion of social partnership and tripartism is one that our government initially signed up to.  The Jobs Summit, early in John Key’s new government was an example.  Kate Wilkinson, Minister of Labour described this in her speech to the International Labour Organisation in 2009, saying  :

….”We are setting out a credible road to economic recovery, so we can emerge stronger from the recession than we went into it. ….. In this, we’ve taken an inclusive, tripartite approach, recognising that the problems arising from the current situation affect all New Zealanders. In late February, our Prime Minister, the Honourable John Key, hosted a national Jobs Summit which saw unions, business and Government united by a common desire to do as much as possible to keep New Zealanders in work during this recession….”

The 2008 BIM described the purpose of the portfolio as  :

  • productive, rewarding, and safe employment relationships, including bargaining, mediation and dispute resolution
  • setting, communicating, promoting, inspecting, and (where necessary) enforcing minimum standards of health and safety, and employment conditions
  • raising the value and quality of work, by promoting good practice and positive change in workplace cultures and practices
  • cooperation and interaction with other interested parties – including industries, sectors, and regions – in collaboration with social partners (Business New Zealand and the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions)
  • ensuring New Zealand both benefits from, and contributes to, international labour standards and fora.

But the slimmed down description of the role of the Labour portfolio in the 2011 BIM says the focus of the Minister and the Department is ensuring :

  • the labour market regulatory system is effective
  • employers and employees understand their rights and comply with their obligations
  • workplaces follow effective and sustainable employment relations and health and safety practices
  • New Zealand benefits from, and contributes to, international labour standards and forums.

Businesses are mentioned 43 times. Unions are mentioned once. Social partnership is over, it seems.

And significantly, there’s no mention of low pay, of addressing the ever-growing wage gap with Australia and the issues for self-employed and vulnerable contractors. All are workers trying to make a living and have the right to expect more from their government.

I’m looking forward to hearing Kate Wilkinson’s explanation on her annual trip to Geneva this year.


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 and the POA

Posted by on January 18th, 2012

There’s been some chatter around about Labour’s position on the Ports of Auckland dispute.

At our core Labour believes that all Kiwis deserve decent jobs with fair pay, that they should have certainty around their work hours and conditions and their families need to know that they will come home safe and sound at the end of the day.

And while I’m at it, Labour will strongly oppose any suggestion that the Ports of Auckland be privatised. It is a public asset belonging to the people of Auckland, and needs to be kept for the benefit of future generations.

Sure, employers can seek reasonable efficiencies, effective labour utilisation and a fair return on investment. The Ports are an important part of our transport infrastructure and they need to be operating as productively and efficiently as possible.

But good faith bargaining and working together to find common ground is the way to achieve this, not wholesale redundancies and contracting out.

Labour is concerned about the increasing casualisation of the workforce in New Zealand. What this does is create uncertainty and stress for workers and their families – and, as we have seen, can cost lives.

Surely, we’ve learned something from the Pike River Mine tragedy about the folly of recruiting inexperienced workers and contractors into highly dangerous jobs and cutting corners on health and safety?

I’m worried that the pursuit of greater returns at the Ports of Auckland through contracting out will mean we could all be learning another tough lesson in a couple of years.

Stevedoring is difficult and sometimes dangerous work, and that should be recognised.

Three deaths at the Ports of Tauranga in the last 15 months should make us all question the safety of contracted out stevedoring firms who compete with each other for business.

No worker has died at the Ports of Auckland for 18 years.

Contracting out and competitive tendering is often used as a means to lower labour costs, through cuts to wages, reduced staff numbers, casualising work hours and cutting “red tape” such as health and safety.

Deregulation, short cuts and disregard for safety has already taken a terrible toll in some of our workplaces.

Let’s learn the lessons.


Lockouts, layoffs and livelihoods

Posted by on November 23rd, 2011

The lockout of more than 100 workers at ANZCO CMP Meatworks in Marton is now in its second month over the employer’s demand for 20% paycuts and increased workloads. Efforts by the workers’ union to reach a compromise so far have been rejected. The local community, food-banks and workers from around the country, many of whom are already struggling from the impact of cost of living increases,are digging deep to help these workers feed their families. That can’t carry on. Families are hurting, the local economy is suffering and New Zealand’s international reputation is being affected.

Predictably, there’s been silence from the Minister of Labour and John Key in this very serious situation, and they’ve left their hapless and inexperienced Rangitikei candidate to deal with it.

Then there’s the almost daily announcements of lay-offs. Today it’s Milton Woollen Mills. Yesterday, it was Sleepyhead.

The National Party Industrial Relations policy for this election will encourage more of the hard-line tactics being used by ANZCO CMP. They want to give employers the right to veto multi-employer collective agreements, refuse to conclude collective bargaining, and put workers on individual agreements when they start work.

National’s priorities for early legislation, announced today, include cutting pay for young workers and privatising the ACC work account. How sad is that?

The last time a National government tried these race to the bottom ideas, the wage gap with Australia grew enormously, workers lost long-held conditions, low pay became endemic in many important industries and we lost a generation of skilled workers.

John Key insists that he will build a brighter future (actually, I thought he promised that last election).

There’s no brighter future for laid off or locked out workers, or those who only got a 25 cents increase in the minimum wage this year.

Clear choice Saturday.


Meanwhile, in Rangitikei…

Posted by on November 15th, 2011

While John Key spins to prevent us knowing what he and John Banks really said at the tea party, 111 workers are into their third week of being locked out at the CMP Meatworks in Rangitikei.

The union and the company have been negotiating to renew the collective agreement at the plant since April 2011 but have not been able to reach an agreement as the company is seeking significant cuts in pay and allowances.  Their stated goal is to remove 15% of the costs from the time a lamb enters the plant to it leaving, which means significant cuts of more than 20% in overall pay for the workers.

On 3 October the company issued a lock-out notices to 300 members of the meat workers union. The notice said that to return to work the workers had to agree to the employers claim for a new collective agreement incorporating the new rates of pay and proposed changes to shift organisation.

Before the lockout , the company put all the workers on annual leave for a week. During this week they contacted many workers one at a time and offered them individual agreements with the pay cuts and told them that if they signed the lock out notice would not apply to them. They were also required to resign from the union.

Over 100 workers signed without union advice and returned to work. Many were migrants who would have been afraid for their jobs.  These workers now on individual agreements, and because the season is not yet in full swing the company is able to continue to operate and leave the remaining 111 workers locked out (since 19 October).

The annual income of these workers varies but on average they range from $43,000 to $46,000 with the bottom earnings as low as $23,000 and a top income of $53,800 which includes additional shifts. The workers have offered to take a 10% pay cut which is extremely significant on these low wages – but this has been rejected by the company.

Not a good situation for the workers or the community to be in .  John Key should pay attention, or is this a precursor of the “balance and fairness” we could all be up for under National’s  Employment Relations policy?

If you want to help these workers and their families go here.


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.


TINA’s back

Posted by on October 21st, 2011

Since Labour announced its Work and Wages Policy, there’s been the editorials repeating the “TINA” (There is no Alternative) lines of yesteryear and arguing for trickle down. Then there’s those who have an in-built opposition to anything that might improve the lot of working people, and an aversion to those dreadful organisations called “unions” – the 370,000 New Zealanders who are part of today’s unions.

This is old National at their worse.  It’s they who haven’t changed and who are out of touch. They need to catch up with the reality of work and wages for most New Zealanders and they need to tune into the debate that’s happening around the world about the failure of the orthodoxy of the last 20 years.

When Labour introduced the Employment Relations Act (ERA) in 2000, we heard the same rubbish from some National MPs who are now Ministers and others best forgotten.  The ERA was going to be the end of the world, while today, most will concede that it was very modest regulation indeed.

Eleven years ago, this is what Jenny Shipley, Max Bradford, Gerry Brownlee and Richard Prebble said in Parliament.

Rt Hon. JENNY SHIPLEY (Leader of the Opposition):  Welcome to Jurassic Park. This is a step backwards for New Zealand…… Taking New Zealand back to ideas that most people thought were extinct is no way to forge the future for this country. I do give notice here that the Government would have been far better to build on the strengths of the Employment Contracts Act, rather than destroy them and try to reintroduce some notions that most people thought had seriously gone 50 years ago, or more.

Hon. MAX BRADFORD (NZ National): …  why is the Labour-Alliance Government digging up all the old processes, the old institutions, the old dinosaurs of the past in order to get it? One of the reasons that the Employment Contracts Act was introduced in 1991 was the old system under the industrial relations legislation, the Labour Relations Act, was not working. Yet here we have a grand march backwards into the past to try to assert—because that is all it is; an assertion—that somehow or other employment relationships will improve, growth will improve, and we will get more jobs out of this approach to industrial relations……. there are people who are waiting to leave this country because it will be too difficult under this legislation to employ people and to invest.

Hon. RICHARD PREBBLE (Leader—ACT NZ):…. Who do the Alliance, the Labour Party, and the Greens think they are fooling? This bill is compulsory unionism by the back door. We know what the consequences will be. It is well known that the country’s port unions have already been meeting. They have already agreed that they will be asking for a collective agreement. When this bill comes into effect on 1 August, they will be making a demand to every single port in the country for a collective agreement—in other words, a national award. They are prepared to go on strike to get it. It is already well known that the North Island freezing works sheds—the unions—have already met. They have already agreed on their collective agreement, and the moment this law comes into effect they intend to exercise industrial muscle to get that agreement.

GERRY BROWNLEE (NZ National—Ilam): ……  This bill, dressed up as a herald of integrity and individual choice in industrial relations, is nothing more than another step on the long march backward that this Labour-Alliance Government is determined to inflict on New Zealand. This bill rips out any element of trust and mutual respect from industrial relations in this country. It is based on the premise that the employer is always wrong. It is based on the premise that there is an intrinsic, irreconcilable difference between employers and employees. Always it is the employer who is the guilty party, regardless of the circumstances. This bill is the most unbalanced legislation that could ever have been introduced in the industrial relations area.

Eleven years ago, according to the National Party, employment law change was going to be the end of the world. Did the world end?  No, of course it didn’t. In fact we had good growth, low unemployment, no debt and an improving social outlook.

Thank goodness there are some real thinkers contributing to the modern conversation about how we build a better and fairer economy and society.

Here’s a good piece on wages from Bill Rosenberg today.


Something else happened this week

Posted by on September 9th, 2011

With all the excitement around the Rugby World Cup it may have slipped your notice that the long battle by Disability Support workers to be paid minimum wage for “sleepover” shifts looks like it might come to an end by Christmas – if the government gets its act together.

The government, IHC and the unions have reached a compromise deal, which will see the full minimum hourly rate paid for sleepovers by December 2012.

50% of the backpay owed will be paid eight weeks after the government legislates, which will need to happen to enable a variation of the Court’s decision and the very reasonable position taken by the unions of enabling the minimum wage to increase over a period of time.

I’m pleased that after a drawn-out process lasting five years and workers jumping through the hoops and appeals in three Courts, Tony Ryall has finally decided to get the matter settled. I’m also intensely relieved that the government has shelved any idea of amending the Minimum Wage Act to avoid these payments. This would have had an impact on tens of thousands of workers.

The only note of concern is that Minister Ryall is saying legislation won’t be passed before the election.  If that happens, there is no trigger for the backpay to be paid and workers will have to wait a lot longer. There’s no reason settlement legislation can’t happen in the next three sitting weeks.

After all, the government managed to ram through significant changes under urgency that removed rights for a whole category of workers so they could please Warner Bros. They can please the nearly 4,000 workers who have made a claim by getting the legislation through the House asap.  Labour will co-operate with the government so these workers can be paid.

Well done to Service & Food Workers Union and PSA for hanging in there.  You’ve done your members proud.


The polls that matter

Posted by on August 21st, 2011

Matt McCarten’s commentaries have often had me tearing my hair out.  I’ve known Matt longer than most, and I know he and I share the same views on many things, especially when it comes to low-income workers and the poor. Where we differ is how change can be achieved politically and that comes across in his criticism of Labour. I’m sure he’s aware that the right-wing repeat his every word when he criticises Labour, but I bet they don’t reproduce his NZ Herald column today.

Matt, like the other union delegates at the packed CTU Conference on Friday sat up and took notice when Phil Goff spoke.

Phil nailed it.  He nailed the feelings of worker representatives who have seen the cost of living increase, tax cuts for the rich and nothing for them and their families. He spoke to their concerns about their workmates and families operating under National’s changes to employment law.  He spelled out our agenda for real change, of which there is more to come. He sent a message to the mining families on the West Coast saying Labour’s not going to muck around with mine safety.  We’re going to do what’s needed.

He showed there is fire in the belly in the Labour leadership and the Labour Party.   He showed passion, empathy and warmth.

It was a good reminder not to get distracted by silly made-up stories about Labour’s leadership, and pollsters that can’t get to working people.  One delegate said his union had just finished stopwork meetings of 4,000 workers around the country and of these, only 4 had been polled in the last year.

The polls that matter can be found in the stories and conversations on the doorsteps and workplaces of  South and West Auckland, in Otara, Manurewa, Manukau East, Mangere and Ranui.

The polls that matter are the 350,000 workers and their families represented at the CTU conference on Friday.