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Backwards to the future?

Written By: - Date published: 8:30 am, October 20th, 2012 - 50 comments
Categories: australian politics, capitalism, child welfare, david shearer, employment, feminism, greens, jobs, labour, mana, nz first, poverty, welfare, workers' rights - Tags:

In 1840 NZ workers won the right to an 8 hour working day.

Yet this Labour Weekend kicks off with news that Kiwis (on average) work longer hours (above 50 hours per week) than the OEDC average.  Times have certainly changed since 1840. Not only are there some old and new struggles for working men AND women, but all low income people, especially beneficiaries, are under attack from our current government. At a time when jobs are scarce, there is increasing pressure to be employed.

It is a positive move that Labour, the Greens and NZ First are uniting in an inquiry into the crisis in manufacturing, which includes looking to increase the numbers of jobs (now includes Mana). But David Shearer’s focus on the nobility of paid work implicitly undermines those unable to get work, for whatever reason.

As well as the focus on the crisis in jobs, there is a need to pay equal attention to the way responsibility for welfare and community well-being is being shifted from the state to the voluntary sector. This can be seen with Campbell Live’s well -intentioned focus on food for children in schools. His programme last Thursday, on a community initiative to provide free lunches to a Northland school, was moving. The efforts of the volunteers in the local community are inspiring.

However, the downside of this is that such unpaid wirk becomes the norm, and primary target for action. It is no coincidence that, on the Campbell Live report, while some of the volunteers in the kitchen were men, this unpaid wirk was done mostly by women – and one was a young woman who said she’s currently unemployed.  She felt it was a good use of her time to contribute something to the community. Ultimately this wirk benefits the community, the country and the economy. As well as campaining for more jobs and policies to improve the economy, Labour and the Greens, need to take the lead from Mana that is campaigning strongly around the range of policies that impact on all low income people.  The way we are headed, more of the necessary wirk that benefits society will be done for little or no payment, and largely by (increasingly unemployed?) women.

At the same time, it is interesting to note the aftermath of Julia Giallard’s widely reported speech on misogyny, Al Jazeera did a report on the debate generated in Australia, while also noting that Australia is at the lowly position of 23rd on the World Economic Forum’s 2011 Global Gender Gap rankings.

Actually the WEF report says 23rd is a relatively high ranking. NZ does better retaining its position at 6th. The rankings are derived from calculations using separate rankings for the gender gaps in Economic Participation and Opportunity (NZ is 11th); Educational attainment (NZ 1st equal with many countries); Political empowerment (NZ 8th; Aussie 38th); and Health and Survival (a real shocker, NZ is 92nd).

NZ has done well to decrease the gender gap in political empowerment in recent years. Currently there seems to be a bit of a backlash against this. The NAct government is dominated by men in the most powerful positions, while it has brought in many policies that  are bad for large numbers of women.  The opposition parties also seem to be currently seem to have predominantly men in the most powerful roles.

Labour Day celebrates, what was at the time, a cutting edge victory for working people.  But the struggles continue for men and women. We need to learn from the past, not repeat the worst parts of it.

[Updates]: Correction-  it was the right to an 8 hour working day that was won in 1840, not a 40 hour working week. H/T Tom Barker

Added link to explanation about the image.

50 comments on “Backwards to the future?”

  1. just saying 1

    Go Karol!
    Again.

    Shearer was betraying a particularly insidious belief that the relative rewards and punnishments, and one’s place on the socioeconomic ladder NZ is based on choice in a largely meritocratic NZ. (Apparently, any existing inequity of opportunity can be made up by a revamped education system). Papatoetoe boy likes to think very highly of his own abilities. Unfortunately, this sort of just-nation belief goes hand in glove with blaming the most misfortunate for their plights, writing them off as hopeless, and dividing them up into those that deserve some charity, and those that require “tough love” a la neoliberal dogma.

    Actually, I suspect that it is partly a smug over-confidence, rather than any lack thereof, that hinders Shearer’s ability to learn from his mistakes, and improve his performance. Shearer is oblivious to his obvious inadequacies, pleasant bloke, though he may well be.

  2. Dr Terry 2

    While I thoroughly agree with ridding the country of gender gaps, I have to wonder how many women would WANT to be involved with the degraded politics of today? I would hope (as with the males) that the calibre of person in a government might, in general, improve. When I look at the National Party women (and males) I have to confess that I shudder as I consider the likes of Bennett, Collins, Tulley, Wilkinson, Adams, and last but FAR from least, Parata.

    To balance this perspective, I much admire the quality of women represented in the Greens and Labour Parties.

  3. Tom Barker 3

    Labour Day does NOT celebrate the achievement of a 40-hour week. It celebrates winning the eight-hour working day, a very different matter. Workers were still paid only for the eight hours they actually worked – all meals and other breaks were in their own unpaid time, and working half a day on Saturday at standard pay rates remained routine well into the 20th century in this country.

    So – an eight-hour day equated, for almost all workers, to a 50-60 hour working week.

    Winning, and then maintaining, decent, fair and safe working conditions is an unfinished project, here and worldwide.

    • karol 3.1

      It celebrates winning the eight-hour working day, a very different matter.
       
      Thanks, Tom.  That was my 21st century distortion.  I’ve corrected the error.
       
      And agree that workers’ rights are an unfinished project.

  4. Rosie 4

    Hi Karol. No, we don’t have much to celebrate in NZ on Labour Day do we?
    In the first part of your article you referred to the stuff.co.nz peice which included OECD stats for NZ working hours compared with other nations. It was interesting to read this as I wrote an essay in ’08 on the topic of work life balance in NZ and the risk of long work hours as well as other contributing factors ( work conditions/context/content and stress levels) on personal and social well being. We are definitely much worse off here (in regards to wages, hours worked and risk factors) than in comparable nations. I’m not sure if it’s changed now but back then in NZ we defined “long work hours” from 50 hours per week upwards and research undertaken in NZ will use that figure as a point of reference where is in other nations “long work hours” started at 48 hours per week. From memory I discussed male Vs. female hours worked and pay scales as part of it. Can’t recall those exact figures right now but could dig them out if anyone was interested.

    One thing that I clearly recall is the high risk groups: Carers, hospitality and service workers. As a side middle management workers are also high risk as they have responsibilities in two directions, where as, according to the reference texts I used upper management has high autonomy and less responsibility so less stressors. And don’t we see this every day? Not so much accountability at the top.

    So spare a thought for all those workers who have to go into their job on Labour day, to serve us. They miss a day with their friends and family and only get 3 and half days with them per year. Personally I’d love to see our retail and hospo industry hours dropped. Our excessive consumerism affects the lives of others. But being open all hours is the norm in NZ now and it would be almost impossible to return to the days when shops were shut on Sunday and public holidays. Thats when I started my work life, in 1989. We used to get time and a half on friday nights, meal allowances for overtime and double time on Saturday a.m’s. Then it suddenly changed with the introduction of the ERA…………so here we are now. Working on a day that should be celebrated.

    • Rosie 4.1

      Oops. Duh!It wasn’t the ERA in 1990. It was of course the Employment Contracts Act, replaced in 2000 with the Employment Relations Act. Which only partially restored some rights but not all, and couldn’t undo all the damage.

      • Colonial Viper 4.1.1

        They could have made general strikes legal again in exceptional circumstances. They could have made workplaces compulsarily unionised if the majority of workers voted for it.

        But the 5th Labour Govt had to accomodate owners of capital.

        Personally I’d love to see our retail and hospo industry hours dropped.

        New Zealand workers work 135 hours more a year on average, than workers in the UK. That’s an extra 4.5 weeks work per year. If those average working hours were spread around there would be more workers employed, and workers would have more time with families.

        http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DatasetCode=ANHRS

        • Rosie 4.1.1.1

          Noted. They could have also got rid of that nonsense clause under section 20 that exempts work sites from allowing access to Union Reps, on the grounds of the business owner’s religious leanings. Pretty sure employers like Sanitarium would take advantage of this exemption.

  5. Fisiani 5

    More hysteria from the Left.
    Remember the Wall of Shame that would list the hordes of evil capitalists who would sack workers on day 89 of the 90 day chance to prove yourself law.
    Where is this Wall? It does not exist! It does not exist in reality or in theory.
    Remember the hysteria before every one of the badly needed reforms have been rolled out over the last 4 years. The sky has not fallen in as predicted. The deficit has been cut in half from approx 18 billion to 9 billion. The stimulus package and fiscal restraint of recent years to take the sharp edges off the recession and protect people has been openly acknowledged as the best in the world http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/top-obama-economic-adviser-says-nz-only-country-getting-it-right-bd-130942
    The current hysteria on improving workplace access to teenagers and beneficiaries and improving the lives of beneficiaries by promoting employment growth in the mining, fishing, farming and forestry sectors is equally ridiculous. Working is good for your health. Being on a benefit for some time carries the same health risks as being a 20 day smoker!
    Inflation is down to 0.8% Wage rises are thus outstripping inflation.
    Labour day is a day to celebrate the 8 hour day and a fitting time to acknowledge the fact that a John Key National led government has saved New Zealand from the 2008 inherited destiny of unending deficits and is leading us to the Brighter Future that record numbers voted for in 2011.

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1

      The deficit has been cut in half from approx 18 billion to 9 billion.

      The deficit that wasn’t there before this government were elected and didn’t need to be there afterwards either.

      The stimulus package and fiscal restraint of recent years to take the sharp edges off the recession

      There was no stimulus package from this government (tax cuts for the rich aren’t stimulatory). Plenty of austerity though as wages for the many decline.

      Wage rises are thus outstripping inflation.

      Median wage down by 3% in real terms.

      a John Key National led government has saved New Zealand from the 2008 inherited destiny of unending deficits and is leading us to the Brighter Future that record numbers voted for in 2011.

      More lies and delusion from a RWNJ. As the 1970s and the last few years have proven – the unending deficits come from National led governments.

      • Fisiani 5.1.1

        You cannot rewrite history. The current account was technically in the black on election day but you have ignored the fact that on taking office the cupboard was not bare but instead contained a huge pile of unopened and undeclared debts. It’s a bit like a captain of a ship having deliberately steered the ship to the rocks who then gets kicked off the ship by all the passengers and then complaining that when ejected from the ship 100metres from the shore it was still at sea. You are trying to blame the rescuers for the crash!

        • PlanetOrphan 5.1.1.1

          That’s a completely fabricated delusion Fisiani.
          Ask CV for the link, we’ve been running in the red forever, still are, and will continue.

        • Colonial Viper 5.1.1.2

          National aren’t “rescuers”, they’re plunderers! More of our national wealth for the rich!

        • Draco T Bastard 5.1.1.3

          You cannot rewrite history.

          I’m not, You are. It’s this government that a) cut taxes and b) went on a spending spree (SFC, RoNS) while cutting essential services. What a Labour led government would have done is pure speculation but a)we already knew that the last Labour government was going to make changes to the budget and b) history going back to 1935 would tend to indicate that they would have run a more balanced budget than any National led government.

          You are trying to blame the rescuers for the crash!

          In this case, the rescuers are worse than the situation that pertained before hand.

    • Colonial Viper 5.3

      Inflation is down to 0.8%

      that’s a quarterly figure, dickhead

      Wage rises are thus outstripping inflation.

      And wage rises for the top 1% are out stripping inflation 10 to 1.

    • Tiger Mountain 5.4

      Fizz is just “spinning, spinning, spinning in his magic land”…

    • The Bigoted approach you take to commenting is disgusting Fisiani.

      There is no such thing as “Left” or “Right”.
      There is Civilised and Bigoted.

      Stop putting words in peoples mouths,
      There is only one “hysterical” commentor on this thread “Fisiani”.

      • Fisiani 5.5.1

        I agree. All of the National Party could comfortably fit within the Democrats in the USA.
        So there is just the Left and the Centre in NZ
        We actually dont have the equivalent of the Republicans in NZ or God forbid the Tea Party in any significant numbers
        Actually my comments above are paraphrasing those of Thomas Friedman, Pulitzer Prize Winner who visited NZ and made this keen observation.

        • Fisiani 5.5.1.1

          big·ot   /ˈbɪgət/ Show Spelled[big-uht]
          noun
          a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.

          Note my words “I agree” Stop being childish.

          • PlanetOrphan 5.5.1.1.1

            Forcing anyone into another grouping (i.e Left , Right, Center)for the sake of ridicule is bigotry and insulting.

            It’s your emotions that are getting away on ya Bud :-)

        • PlanetOrphan 5.5.1.2

          Well,

          I’d counter that “Good Civilised” has an outlook that could be Left,Center or right as required.

          A qualified government would simply tell us the real numbers and it would be an obvious thing.

          Of course “Good Civilised” means we understand that everyone will wake up tomorrow and everyone should have a dry bed and a good breakfast to look forward too.

          How we achieve that is up to us , not Law,Legislation,Right Wing dictatorship or even Left Wing dictatorship.

          Our civilisation is the “Parent” of Society, are we gonna send our kids to a park bench starving?

        • Draco T Bastard 5.5.1.3

          Actually my comments above are paraphrasing those of Thomas Friedman, Pulitzer Prize Winner who visited NZ and made this keen observation.

          Which just goes to show that getting award doesn’t make someone right. National would quite happily work with both US political parties (I’m using the presidential candidates as proxies) both of which are hard right and authoritarian.

  6. ak 6

    None of my bloggy business, but how about a ban for blatant and persistent liars? Three strikes and they’re out? Otherwise I fear they’re just using this forum as training for future right-wing prime ministers.

    [lprent: We tend not do do that because “liars” often actually believe what they say and can often point to material supporting it. Of course often it is misinterpreted or distorted – but exposing that is what online forums can do best.

    However the pattern of behaviour of making assertions of fact without attempting to argue for and/or support their assertion tends to draw a swift response from moderators. That is trolling and not discussion. Similarly wallpapering an opinion in posts out of context also draws strong responses. This tends to keep the mindless trolls and dumb flamewars at bay…

    But societies do need their dissidents from accepted interpretations to be able to air their views in public. A lightly moderated forum with limits on trolling like this in front of a skeptical audience is a damn good place to do it. The reason that the skeptical audience is here is because they like debate. And to have that you must first have something to dissect. So there are posts, and then there are people with contrary opinions…… :twisted: ]

    • Colonial Viper 6.1

      In Canada you can prosecute media for being deliberately misleading or for lying.

    • Fisiani 6.2

      ‘The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man’ from Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen, 1793.

      • Colonial Viper 6.2.1

        It’s especially true that the ideas and opinions of corporations and billionaires be protected and freely communicated.

    • ak 6.3

      Quite true Lynn. All God’s maggots and fisianis have their place and I must admit to a wistful retrospective admiration for hapless wee burt of the kiwiblogblog and Robinsod days…..

  7. millsy 7

    One of the reasons why we are working longer is because there is literally so much to do and so little time.

    Over the past 7 years in my work place, the technology improvements have made doing tasks a lot simpler and faster however more tasks have ended up needing to be done.

    • karol 7.1

      Ironic, millsy.  Of course, if the income was more fairly distributed, more people could be employed, each working a reasonable amount (not too much) and getting a living wage.

      • Colonial Viper 7.1.1

        Nice idea. Which political party has the guts to deliver.

        For starters, 1.5x pay applies after 35 hours worked in a week. Increasing annual leave entitlements to 5 weeks per year.

        All the while ensuring far more money is spent into the NZ economy and not exported outside it.

        • infused 7.1.1.1

          Yeah fuck that. It’s hard enough paying for it as it is. Employees have it so good it’s not funny.

          • Colonial Viper 7.1.1.1.1

            infused – billions in capital gets exported out of NZ every year as dividends to foreign shareholders.

            If only a fraction more went into the local service economy through spending and wages, our country would lift to a different level.

            Employees have it so good it’s not funny.

            If you said CEOs, I’d agree. Everybody else seems to get much smaller pay rises though.

            • infused 7.1.1.1.1.1

              It’s not pay I’m talking about. It’s in a general sense.

              Remember, most businesses in NZ are small businesses. The CEO deal is very far in between. Most CEOs I deal with are within the 100-120k mark. Hardly extraordinary. Most of them work very long hours too.

              4 weeks annual leave is already a huge burden. I support ‘mondaynising’ holidays over doing something like that. The problem with annual leave for small companies is when the employee leaves suddenly with a huge amount of leave owing.

              Yes you can save for it, but you need to save for everything else too. Terminal, Provision, ACC, GST etc.

              It’s never ending.

              • Colonial Viper

                Oh I agree. Insurances, business rates, bank, EFTPOS and credit card fees, etc. All the big organisations like to bite a financial chunk out of SMEs.

                And a simple 5%-10% lift in revenues would be like finding an oasis in the desert, to most small businesses. Taking a lot of them from being borderline to being truly profitable.

                • infused

                  Actually, it’s mostly govt taxes that bite. Have one good year then a bad year then hold on to your ass and enjoy the ride.

                  • Colonial Viper

                    You’re a business person who is more worried about costs and taxes than about growth, innovation and revenue.

                    You’re not the only one by far, and I don’t blame you for it.

                  • Draco T Bastard

                    That provisional taxes which, IMO, need to be dropped and replaced with real time PAYE for businesses. The old provisional taxes are a throwback to a time that was before cheap, effective computing and networking.

              • Jim Nald

                “Employees have it so good it’s not funny.”

                Yeah, we know that is what a certain someone thinks on his Planet.

                • infused

                  Yeah, my planet eh.

                  • Jim Nald

                    Since that is the case, do write to John Key and Bill English and encourage them to say that in their next lot of speeches.
                    That would be much welcome in some quarters, especially when coupled with something like ‘there is no crisis …’ eh

              • Bill

                So use genuinely collective/co-operative business structures that dispense with the vertical division of labour instead of orthodox authoritarian ones. Y’know? No employer/employee relationships/ divisons. And those ‘problems’ basically vanish.

                • Draco T Bastard

                  +1

                  It’s amazing that the business types just don’t seem to grok that. Of course, most of them are of the authoritarian bent so they probably can’t as they really do think that a single person, preferably them, be in charge.

    • muzza 7.2

      One of the reasons why we are working longer is because there is literally so much to do and so little time.

      I expect its mostly because there are less people in work carrying more load, and that combined with job loss fear, wanting to put in additional “face time” means we are a nation of overworked underpaid fools!

      Over the past 7 years in my work place, the technology improvements have made doing tasks a lot simpler and faster however more tasks have ended up needing to be done.

      When you say simpler, does that also involve using your brain less? By that I mean that in many cases the technology has removed the latitude for creativity, and when standards, frameworks, best practice and all that sort of the buzz wordy crap, dumbs entire industries down to a notch above base level.
      This when the tech at the same time, speeds up the expectations that human beings can in fact multitask, and operate at the speed of a cpu!

  8. xtasy 8

    “It is a positive move that Labour, the Greens and NZ First are uniting in an inquiry into the crisis in manufacturing, which includes looking to increase the numbers of jobs (now includes Mana). But David Shearer’s focus on the nobility of paid work implicitly undermines those unable o get work, for whatever reason.”

    I do not get David Shearer, to be honest, we may as well hand over opposition leadership to Norman or even Peters, who do the REAL opposition in the House. I have done some work in the background, and I hope it will soon pay off. This government is criminal and shit bad, are Kiwis really so dumb to put up with this. I am sorry, but I learned the hard way somewhere else. There is always time to “wake up” and take action.

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