Red Alert

Archive for the ‘workforce’ Category

Dog Eat Dog

Posted by on May 20th, 2012

Last week’s ACTU congress had a focus on insecure work, with their independent report (Lives on Hold, Unlocking the Potential of Australia’s Workforce) taking centre stage. It’s a thoughtful and well researched contribution to the increasing use of non standard work, and the alienation of so many workers from that basic value we share with Australia : a fair days pay for a fair days work.

There’s so much in this report that would ring bells in New Zealand. Here’s what Kathy says :

“I have had 40 jobs with 20 different agencies/ labour hire over the past year. They tell me it could lead to permanent employment but it never does. We are always let go and sent somewhere else at the end of our three-month trial. We are made to feel disposable and some places I am sent to the managers and employees say ‘Oh you’re just a casual’. This might be true but I still need to eat! I am always negotiating with the bank around my mortgage because I can’t lock in secure work.”

It’s a discussion we should be having in New Zealand, but instead the NZ government is about to embark on a wholesale attack on the very heart of our employment relations system. Rather than attacking basic rights, wouldn’t it be great to be debating and implementing creative, progressive reforms?  Wouldn’t it be great to have an inclusive society that provides sustainable and decent work for all, that strikes a balance between maintaining economic competitiveness and security for NZ working people?

Sure, the Aussies have their problems, but they are looking ahead. They’re talking about it.

In New Zealand, the government is nurturing a dog eat dog attitude.

It’s your fault if you aren’t on top and for goodness sake, don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Let it be known everywhere

Posted by on May 15th, 2012

Last week, a couple of papers fell off the back of a truck which were of particular interest to Kiwi workers. They outlined the government’s changes to labour laws and gave the Department of Labour’s assessment and warnings about the consequences of the government’s changes.

I thought the Minister of Labour would get the hint that Labour knew more than she was telling when I asked her a question in the House last Wednesday. Then in my speech on Tau Henare’s strike ballot bill I outlined the stupidity of her government’s proposals in regard to pay reductions for partial strikes – and she was in the House listening.

So I was gobsmacked that when the papers were revealed in the Dompost, Kate Wilkinson suggested that I had made them up. Later that day, the government was forced to come clean and made the announcements I knew were coming.

The changes will systematically take apart our labour relations framework, part by part and clause by clause. Our employment law will still be called the Employment Relations Act, but the worst provisions of that most draconian of employment laws from the 1990’s, the Employment Contracts Act will replace much of it. They will do nothing to address the most volatile industrial relations environment we’ve seen in NZ in years, and will definitely do nothing to increase wages and provide decent work.

The government is couching their plans in the Crosby Textor language of “choice, balance, flexibility” and are described as “minor” by the PM John Key.

That’s rubbish. We’ve got a wages crisis in New Zealand and that’s because our employment relations system isn’t working to ensure fairness for working people. The government’s changes will make this worse.

Last week, when we were debating Tau Henare’s secret ballots for strikes bill (which has now passed and will soon become law), National Party MPs indulged themselves in an outburst of the “free at last” quote from Martin Luther King.

Well, that great man died in Memphis when he was attending a struggle for the right of public workers to have a union and to collectively bargain.

King declared : “Let it be known everywhere, that along with wages and all of the other securities that you are struggling for, you are also struggling for the right to organise and be recognised.” The key issues for the Memphis strikers were their demands that the City of Memphis grant collective bargaining rights and the collection of union fees.

I’m taking bets on how many National MPs stand up and quote Martin Luther King on collective bargaining and workers rights when these miserable changes come to the Parliament.

And let it be known everywhere : Labour will oppose these changes vigorously and determinedly.

Youth NEETs change since 2008

Posted by on February 26th, 2012
Youth NEETs

Youth NEETs

Despite the foodhardy belief by some that all is well with New Zealand employment under National, if they would just pull their heads out of John Key’s armpits for a second and took seriously that our unemployment rate from Dec 2008 to Dec 2011 has doubled, and these are NOT just numbers but REAL people with families to support, then perhaps they might get a sense of the looming employment crisis that I’m talking about. Take note of the job losses so far announced with MFAT, Air NZ, and a host of other companies that have laid off workers in the last few months.

What should also compoud our collective concern is the increasing numbers of Youth Not in Employment, Education or Training. As of December 2011 they numbered 83,000 as highlighted in the graph above.

Some might be providing homecare to family members but I suspect the vast majority are drifting doing nothing. These are our future leaders – now mostly at risk. Without work, without skills and without the hope for a better future, what will be the chances of them slipping into drugs, alchoholism, crime and benefit dependency? If these trends continue to worsen, what is there to stop it from becoming a ticking time bomb making New Zealand susceptible to the kinds of riots we’ve witnessed on TV occuring in Europe and the likes.

The NZ Institute who released proposals last year of reducing youth disadvantage estimated that the cost of youth unemployment, youth incarceration, youth on the sole parent benefit and taxes forgone, is around $900 million per year. Youth Not in Employment, Education or Training is not only a tragic waste of talent and potential, but we also all carry the cost.

We should also be worried that Maori & Pasefika youth make up a large number of NEETS. While the 6.3% unemployment rate in NZ is worrying, its not at the crisis levels of the PIGS. But the 6.3% unemployment rate hides the fact that for some parts of New Zealand unemployment truly is at crisis levels. I’ve shown int the graph below the figures by HLFS showing 43.3% of Pasifika 15-19 year olds are unemployed. That’s a shocking figure, right up there with the worst youth unemployment rates of Europe.

Pasifika & Maori Youth Unemployment

Pasifika & Maori Youth Unemployment

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.

National’s job claims vs reality

Posted by on February 23rd, 2012
National's job claims vs reality

National's job claims vs reality

Even though the Household Labour Force Survey report reveals that John Key’s ‘brighter future’ promise has utterly failed to materialise in terms of jobs for a growing group of New Zealanders, it hasn’t stopped Mr Key claiming it won’t still come true. Yet we know he has no overall plan, no vision for how this will happen. Last year he made the incredible claim that Budget 2011 would create 170,000 jobs over the next 5 years. He continued to make this claim despite not being able to show anything in the Budget that would actually lead to job creation other than low interest rates and ECE funding. Simply managing the economy and ticking off boxes and hoping that market forces will deliver on the jobs is unbelievable. As expected the Govt is on track to once again fall short of its promise. The 2011 Budget documents predicted 36,000 jobs would be created in the year to March 2012. As at Dec 2011 just 10,000 jobs have been created, leaving the Govt to create a massive 26,000 jobs in the final quarter. If JohnKey keeps promising New Zealanders the world but not delivering, his credibility will be on the line, and we all know the story of the boy who cried wolf, don’t we?

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

Labour’s Tertiary policy announced

Posted by on October 10th, 2011

We have just put out Labour’s tertiary policy. It follows on the big effort that we’ve made to lift skills in our workforce. No need to remind people that times are tough and it’s tough getting any new money. But I think we’ve got a pretty solid mix here that will make a difference.

The key aim is produce the best graduates we can – and keep them in NZ – to help us grow a smart, high-value economy.

The policy has some specifics targetting some of our smartest. It puts back the post-doctoral scholarships for scientists who finished their PhDs that was canned last year. This is critical for not only keeping our best here and giving them time to consolidate their studies, but bringing some of our best back. After all, we’ve already invested massively in these people.

We’ve also put additional funding aside for funding our very best where they are world beating. The ‘brilliant scientist’ concept is simple – give sufficient funding to our best scientists and academics to employ the staff they want, buy equipment they need and then let them get on with it. Smart people attract others – from around the world. Backing our best with resources will grow expertise in core areas where our talent is top shelf. And we DO have some fantastic talent. Those researchers will receive funds personally and are free to choose the NZ institution – or business – where they want to set up.

Other parts of the policy: we must maintain and raise the levels of our universities. Recent results show we are slipping in the world rankings and there’s little doubt that funding is a key part. We run universities that are some of the most efficient in the world, where an extra dollar can really make a difference. Our policy maintains our level by inflation proofing our universities and sets our commitment to increase it.

We need to maintain the affordability of our tertiary institutions so all NZers that reach the standard can access a high quality tertiary education, no matter what background they come from. There’s aspects in the policy here for that too, fixing tuition increases at 4% and restoring $2 million to the Training Incentive Allowance to give a lift to those who want to get a tertiary education – solo mums for example – to get some support. Remember this is the one that helped Paula Bennett before this government axed it.

And we’ve put back the money for adult and community education. Cutting $13.5 million and collapsing it was a travesty. More than 150,000 people no longer access night schools who once did. This is a no-brainer for people wanting to get back into learning.

Let’s back jobs for young Kiwis

Posted by on September 2nd, 2011

Yesterday Labour launched our Youth Skills policy. Jacinda did an excellent post on the details just after it went public. If you live in Wellington and missed it in the DomPost this morning, look again. You’ll see all the salient details comprehensively covered in the news brief below and to the left of the quarter page article and photo espousing John Key’s babysitting and travel companion potential.

There is a certain symmetry to Labour launching a policy to get young Kiwis into work on the same day the National government signed off on a deal to buy a bunch of new electric trains for Auckland from overseas, rather than build them locally here in New Zealand. I think it’s great that Auckland are getting much needed investment in their public transport infrastructure, but why aren’t we cashing in the potential to create somewhere around 1,000 new jobs and add up to $250 million to our GDP?

The link between these two announcements actually runs a lot deeper than highlighting the contrast between Labour, who want to create local jobs, and National, who want to export them overseas. When I speak to a lot of the tradespeople in my electorate, I’m reminded just how many of them did their apprenticeships at the railway workshops, the post office, the car assembly plants, or the freezing works. With the exception of the railway workshops, that now employs a fraction of the staff it once did, all of those big employers are gone.

Those tradespeople are now sole traders or work largely in firms that employ fewer than 10 people. Taking on an apprentice is something they’re more than happy to do. They learned their trade on the job and they’re more than happy to give future generations the same chance. But it’s a huge commitment financially and a lot to ask of such small businesses. That’s why I know they’ll welcome Labour’s plan to convert the dole into apprenticeships subsidies.

A lot of people have remarked to me in the past how crazy it is we pay a young person to sit at home on the dole but we won’t provide some financial support to those willing to take them on and train them up. Well Labour is going to do something about that. Our Youth Skills policy is one that I’m very proud to campaign on. Our plan to get thousands of young Kiwis into work, education and training is in marked contrast to National’s plan to give a couple of hundred young beneficiaries a pre-pay purchase card.

So while baby-sitter John devotes his time to worrying about how young people spend their pocket money, Labour is focused on providing them with a meaningful vocation and hope for the future. Oh, what was that about nanny state again…?

Young people need jobs, not welfare reform

Posted by on August 14th, 2011

This afternoon John Key delivered the closing address at the National Party conference.  Perhaps my expectations were a little too high- but after calls from across the spectrum (including the business community) for Key to present the country with his plan for economic growth, I didn’t expect a speech as narrowly and as poorly focused as this.

First a little context. Currently youth unemployment for 15 to 19 year olds is the highest on record and we have one of the highest proportions of youth to adult unemployment in the OECD.  None of this is new, in fact this is the Government’s third attempt at a youth unemployment package. But surely, when you have 58,000 young people not in employment, training or education, you start looking at a comprehensive education, transition, skills training and job creation package. Surely? Apparently not when there are a small group of young people on a benefit that can be targeted instead.

While John Key has finally acknowledged the youth transition issues we have been raising, this element has been lost amongst his much bigger announcement that the roughly 1600 young people on the independent youth benefit will face new restrictions on how their benefit is managed. Key put it like this:

“We are not going to simply hand over benefit money every fortnight. Instead, we will have a much more managed system of payments… We envisage that:  some essential costs, like rent and power, will be paid directly on the young person’s behalf; money for basic living costs like food and groceries will be loaded onto a payment card that can only be used to buy certain types of goods and cannot be used to buy things like alcohol or cigarettes; and that a certain, limited amount will be available for the young person to spend at their own discretion……Most importantly, each of these young people will have to be in education, training or work-based learning.”

A couple of points need to be made in response. First, the threshold for this benefit is extremely high. You have to demonstrate a breakdown in your home environment, and you have to be in education or be actively seeking work or a place in training.  Secondly, it’s already illegal to buy alcohol and cigarettes if you are on the independent youth benefit simply by virtue of your age. And finally, if the biggest issue is that these kids are vulnerable, and that they need to be in training, education or need help finding work- how does cracking down on how they spend their $167.83 per week achieve any of that?

The way I see it, this is the crux of the issue- young people want to work, but the jobs aren’t there. In fact when National came into Government, there were roughly 220 young people who had been trying to find work and had been on an unemployment for more than a year. Now that number is 8 times higher. If we want to make a real difference, we need to respond with a decent plan, not food stamps.

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.

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

Public Sector bashing an (inter)national sport

Posted by on February 9th, 2011

Bill English delivered a message today that public servants who can’t handle change and are waiting around for more money should look for a new job. In other words, cop what the government delivers, be grateful, or b*gger off.

Scapegoating the public sector workforce isn’t confined to New Zealand.  Public sector bashing is a favourite occupation of right-wing governments around the world, particularly since the global recession.  And because public sector workers tend to be more highly unionised than the private sector, their unions are also a target.

In the US, New Republican governors, old right wing radio commentators, Fox News and other extremists are stoking the rhetoric, with a simple narrative, repeated endlessly, that public service and public sector workers are the reason for State and Federal budget problems. This is a blatant effort to disguise the real culprits in the global meltdown and an effort by the mega-rich to preserve their privileged position. 

In the UK, public sector workers are in the gun, not only for huge cuts, but also for blame for the recession, while bankers are getting off the hook. George Osborne, the Tory Chancellor, called unions a “force for stagnation” as they prepared to oppose public service cuts to libraries, community workers, childcare staff and health service staff. Osborne is now threatening changes to the rights of workers. UK business organisation the Institute of Directors (IoD) has called for collective bargaining to be scrapped for teachers and NHS staff. 

Millionaires and right wing economists don’t like the public sector. They want more privatisation so as to create more profitable business opportunities. They want sackings and wage cuts which will allow big earners to maintain low tax rates.  It’s the old neo-liberal prescription which, unfortunately we are seeing emerging in New Zealand.

I want to know if people actually believe that nurses and teachers are responsible for this economic mess?

Wasn’t it the greed of the private sector that got us into the global economic meltdown? Wasn’t it caused by unsustainable lending and complex forms of debt by banks?  Aren’t they and the greedy corporations are to blame, not a few thousand workers employed in the public sector?

But now the rich elite and their friends in conservative governments are trying to pass the buck onto workers by attacking their job security.

Bill English continues to talk about the “bloated public services”, as if there are no human beings involved there.  I’ve got no problem with efficiency and productivity gains and nor, I am sure, do our public sector workforce.

But let’s remember that public sector spending goes well beyond the directly employed public service workforce.  In the UK for example, public spending supports 40% of all jobs, with just 15% in public sector employment and 25% in the private sector.  And public spending and public services (including public service utilities) support 50% of the UK economy – twice as many in the private sector as in the private sector. 

So for those who have may have brought into the rhetoric of public sector blame; get real.  Your job probably depends on public sector spending as well, and Bill’s coming for you too.

Let’s talk about these green jobs

Posted by on January 30th, 2011

A few years ago, before I became an MP, I attended a property services conference in Helsinki, run by the Global Union for Cleaners, UNI.

I was struck by a presentation from ISS, a global facilities service provider, who talked about how cleaning jobs could be revolutionised, particularly with the growing emphasis on green buildings.

At that stage, most cleaners (including NZ) were employed in the traditional way. As the office staff clocked out, the cleaners clocked in – out of sight, out of mind, working for low wages – working at multiple sites and for multiple employers, often wandering from site to site during the night.

ISS talked about this could change – how cleaning could take place during the day, with cleaners working alongside other staff and perhaps expanding their skills beyond cleaning to pick up other facilities work.

So I was interested to read in Saturday’s Dom Post “that there is office cleaning revolution gathering pace in NZ, where the days of mops and wringer buckets filled with unsafe chemicals and sloshed along office corridor floors and noisy vacuum cleanings trailing long chords are numbered.”

ISS NZ is changing the equipment issued to cleaners to lightweight adjustment aluminum mops, microfibre cloths and battery powered quiet vacuum cleaners. Beginning at Te Papa a couple of years ago, ISS, who employs around 4000 cleaners says that the new system has now been adopted by 25% of their clients.

And the biggest change : changing from nighttime cleaning to daytime cleaning, bringing savings for companies in electricity and security.

While ISS says the savings are great for companies, I think the changes can create a revolution for the traditional job of a cleaner, in a number of ways. Firstly, they are more integrated as part of the building staff, not a group of “fairies” who magically appear while we’re at home sleeping. The higher visibility of cleaning staff during the day should raise the overall awareness of the process and more respect towards cleaners, especially when they see them working to keep the building clean. Coming face to face with the cleaner means greater care is often taken by staff and visitors to keep the building clean.

Secondly, daytime work offers much more family friendly options for cleaners and could make the work much more desirable.

I’ve always said cleaners are undervalued. They are responsible for millions of dollars worth of equipment, and now they’re at the forefront of sustainablility in our downtown offices, our airports, schools and hospitals.

The big question is whether that means cleaners’ jobs become worth more (currently, the rate is set at $13.10 an hour), whether there can be decent, full time jobs created through upskilling to take on other work in the day to day life of an office.

NZ’s model of competitive tendering means that more often than not, cleaners are transferred to a new employer who expects them to do the same amount of work for fewer hours.

So, let’s have a revolution in office cleaning, but if it’s still work for vulnerable workers who have to work two or three jobs to make a living, it’s only a revolution for the better off.

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.

We believe in the right to unionise – some people don’t

Posted by on December 22nd, 2010

Trevor + Helen Kelly

This is the latest from Sir Peter on the Hobbit debacle. It makes the agenda very very clear. Sad really. Diminishes one of my heroes and undermines my faith in our processes of government at the same time.

Worse, it was clear to ourselves and to the studio that the MEAA, had an agenda to unionize the NZ film industry by exploiting a grey area that existed in employment law. The change in the law, which clarified the independent contractor status of film industry workers, gave the studio confidence that the film could made in New Zealand without the threat of unjustified ongoing industrial action and for that we remain very grateful.

The area of law wasn’t grey. It dates back a long way and was confirmed in 2005. It drew a line between contractors and employees and Sir Peter has made all of his films on that legal basis. it worked. To deny that is nonsense.


Posted by on December 2nd, 2010

Heading to the coast.

Met several of the guys during the Grey schools’ review.

Was Minister of Labour for the bulk of the mine safety review following the 2006 death.

Just keep wondering if there was anything I should have done that would have made a difference.

Filed under: workforce

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.

Submission from AFFCO/Talley’s

Posted by on October 6th, 2010

Today was the final day hearing submissions on the Employment Relations and Holidays Bills.  And it ended with the most extreme submission received from employers – good old Talley’s – now AFFCO -TGL. That’s Talley’s, who locked out workers for six weeks at Open Country Cheese recently and who defied Employment Court orders.  That’s Talley’s, who in the 1990’s was of the only employers (or perhaps the only) who had a ruling saying their contract was harsh and oppressive – and that was under the Employment Contracts Act!  That’s Talley’s, whose employment relations views haven’t come into the 20th century, let alone the 21st.

I think this video from the SFWU website sums it up pretty well .

Gimme a break

Posted by on September 25th, 2010

The Rest and Meal breaks amendment bill was reported back to Parliament yesterday from the Transport & Industrial Relations Select Committee.

What a joke.

The NACTs might as well have just repealed Labour’s 2008 Act, because their Bill all but guts it.

Why is having a break enshrined in law such a big deal for the government?  Surely the right to rest and meal breaks is pretty basic?

I was on the select committee that heard evidence in Labour’s 2008 Act and then National’s 2010 bill.  Having decent and safe work in New Zealand is something a first world country like ours shouldn’t be afraid of, but apparently that’s just too hard.

So, the Government is ploughing ahead with a Bill that means employers can refuse breaks. There can be ‘compensatory measures’,  but goodness knows what that means, because the Bill remains murky about that. I see another bonanza coming for lawyers.

I can’t understand why any government would want to promote a law that could require workers to work for nothing. I thought slavery had been abolished.

Gimme a break.

World Literacy Day

Posted by on September 8th, 2010


I had a great time at lunchtime participating in a giant scrabble game in Cuba Mall in Wellington.  Lots of members of the public joined in, though I am not sure that all the words ” in the scrabble dictionary” are words!

It was definitely a fun way to highlight World Literacy Day, and in particular the importance of funding literacy training and support in New Zealand.   According to Literacy Aotearoa 40% of New Zealanders have difficulty with the reading and writing  in their jobs.  We must address this and ensure that literacy issues are picked up as early as possible and addressed in our school system.

Once again at the event today people raised with me their concerns over the cuts to adult and community education.  I have come to the view that this will be one of the most expensive $13 million cuts the government will ever make.  Not only because of the impact it has on those who can not access courses, but also the anger that it has created.

There is also emerging concern over cuts to other literacy programmes. Despite the rhetoric from the government, literacy programmes have been cancelled all around New Zealand.  Particularly hard hit are workplace literacy programmes.

Steven Joyce has said that literacy and numeracy programmes are “a priority”, but also that there will no be additional funding for them.  Eventually this ‘all care, no responsibility’ approach has to stop, and real investment needs to happen.