The National government’s changes to employment law will build on what we already have – the most unequal society we have had since the first Labour government turned things around in the 1930s. These laws will drive wages down and increase insecurity and poverty in this country.
There is nothing “moderate” about pushing policy that increases the power of the powerful and reduces the power of those dependent on them for a living.
The Government admits these laws will give bosses more power. They tout this as “reasonable”, “moderate” and “fair” and pretend that it increases individual workers’ choices. But when you have no power, you have no choice.
They say the laws will increase productivity but offer no evidence to back it up. And they won’t find the evidence in history. Last time the deck was stacked in favour of employers to this extent, wages tumbled, the economy stalled and productivity stagnated.
You cannot increase wages by undermining unions. It’s a fact that union members get higher and more regular pay increases and that this acts to pull up the wages of everyone else. More than 95% of people who belong to my union, the EPMU, got a pay rise last year. For the general public that figure falls to less than half.
This law will reduce workers’ ability to organise to increase wages and conditions through collective bargaining. Where there is less collective bargaining, wages are lower for everybody. And when wages are low, the gap between rich and poor grows.
Unequal societies are bad for everybody. Insecurity, overcrowding, disease, mental illness, child poverty, crime and despair are devastating for all of society, not just those at the bottom.
The Government says that the law changes won’t be the end of the world for the union movement. This is true. These changes are just one plank in a platform of neoliberal policies that have failed our society.
Driving down wages can’t be achieved with just one piece of law: The government has also failed to create jobs or to support the manufacturing sector. They have stood and watched as tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs disappeared from our economy and devastated the regions. Then they have blamed those out of work for unemployment and duly demonised and punished them. They have sold public assets to narrow private interests and they have begun the privatisation of education, moving the focus from education to profit.
These planks all contribute to poverty, insecurity and inequality.
The union movement stands for something better. We reject the Government’s recipe of endless austerity, social division and insecurity at work. We stand for fair employment laws that ensure all workers enjoy a living wage, a safe workplace and a real say over our working lives. We stand for fairness at work.
Rachel Mackintosh is Director of Organising for the EPMU. You can sign up for campaign updates at www.workrights.org.nz