Written By: - Date published: 9:34 am, September 6th, 2013 - 168 comments
Categories: accountability, activism, benefits, class war, david cunliffe, democratic participation, grant robertson, jobs, labour, unemployment, Unions, workers' rights - Tags: living wage, social security, youth unemployment
The need for more jobs and improvements in pay and workers’ rights have got a lot of airing in the current Labour leadership contest. There has been a lesser focus on the need to end the latest Key government rounds of beneficiary bashing. Only pressure “from below” will ensure that a Labour led government follows through on these aims.
Mai Chen’s piece is a useful quick guide to the way employment law is changing, not just directly through legislation, but also as the result of court judgments. She summarises some of the main changes that have occured under the National government.
• National is amending legislation to provide greater flexibility for employers, including removing the requirement to conclude collective bargaining and saying when bargaining ends;
• An increased onus on health and safety in the aftermath of the Pike River disaster including a duty on directors, chief executives and others in governance roles to be pro-active in health and safety. Significant liability will potentially ensue if such a duty is not met.
• Employers will be required to have accurate information (that is, able to be verified) in any restructuring proposal and be prepared to reconfirm or redeploy employees to other positions.
• Employers can now seek employees’ Facebook and bank records to check whether they are validly taking sick leave;
• Aligning pay in sectors where the workforce is predominantly female with comparable roles mostly performed by men in other sectors.
Cathy Bi explains how she learned to mistrust myths she was sold throughout her years in formal education. After finishing university she met with the harsh reality of finding work in an environment that does not favour young people:
I thought to myself, this does not match up to the story I have been sold throughout my school life that if you just work hard in your studies, you will find a great job at the end. What they should have said is: “If you just work hard in your studies, get to know the right people, spend months as a ‘jobseeker’ (a euphemism for unemployed), spend a few years doing contract jobs, then you might get a good stable job – if you’re lucky.”
It’s difficult being a young person in the labour market. About one in six Kiwis aged 15-24 who are looking for work are unemployed. For Maori, the unemployment level is 38.3 per cent – its highest level since 1990. However, even those in work often face job insecurity.
Casualisation of the labour force is becoming a norm with 42 per cent of casual workers between the ages of 15 and 24 in 2008.
Putting myself through varsity, most of my jobs were at the minimum wage or no more than a dollar above it. From 12-hour shifts at Farmers, to occasional doughnut selling where I would receive a txt message the day before asking me to work.
Cathy has now got a short term job working for “Caritas promoting Social Justice Week (September 8-14)”. In researching the week’s theme on youth, work and unemployment she,
was surprised by the number of young people, some as young as 15 and 16, who worked to support their family and themselves.
Cathy too, focuses on the impact of recent legislation. The 90 day trial period has
eroded the quality of the jobs available to young people like myself. We are seen as a source of cheap labour, easily replaceable.
Young people can only cope with this if they are supported by family, not if they have to support themselves and others. The looming changes that will flow from the Employment Relations Amendment Bill will make it less likely that young people will learn about the benefits of collective bargaining and the value of unions.
Mai Chen frames her article with some words about the Labour leadership contest, and its focus on jobs, especially in relation to Grant Robertson and David Cunliffe’s proposal for a “living wage” and their promises to
roll back amendments to the Employment Relations Act going through Parliament.
The Waikato Times also reports that the focus of last night’s Leadership meeting in Hamilton was on jobs. Robertson talked of the 180 AgResearch workers who had lost their jobs in Huntly, and the general need for more jobs. Cunliffe talked also about the loss of 170 AgResearch jobs in Ruakura. As Labour leader he would aim to encourage more jobs with a focus on regional economic development.
The focus by these two leadership contenders on improving employment law and jobs for the benefit of workers is excellent. However, there’s less focus on another section of society whose lives are being devastated by John Key’s government: beneficiaries.
David Cunliffe, in his Standard blog post this week, and his comments beneath it, has expressed a desire for a more Savage-like social security, and to end the Nats nasty beneficiary bashing.
The First Labour Government led us through the Great Depression and built the welfare state, ensuring housing, education, health, a decent job and social security for all.
However, Cunliffe does not focus in as much depth on social security as he does on employment issues.
In her article, Mai Chen gives a reason for the Labour leadership contenders focusing on jobs:
The constitutional change made at the Party’s annual conference last year which democratised the vote for the leadership underscored the importance of worker rights by giving the party’s affiliated unions 20 per cent of the vote, while party members have 40 per cent and caucus members 40 per cent.
However, while the unions do have 20% of the votes, members have more. If Chen is correct in her argument, the membership plus the wider politically active community, might also be able to use their collective energy and voice to highlight the need for a broader view of social security for those unable to participate in paid work.
Many union members also have a wider view of social security, being aware of how life circumstances for themselves and others can very quickly change.
The democratisation of the Labour Party shows the importance of pressure “from below” in the direction parliamentary politics takes. There will be no major shift away from the neoliberal scam, unless the wider community actively applies concerted pressure for such changes.