Call me old-fashioned but the Worth scandal doesn’t really interest me much. In fact I’m of the opinion that Goff and others should just STFU about it now and let process take its course or risk having some of the unpleasantness of it rub off on the Labour brand by association.
I’m much more interested in last Wednesday’s announcement of the Holiday’s act review group.
You see for the vast majority of New Zealanders changes to the Holidays Act will have far more significant and material consequences that anything Richard Worth is alleged to have done. That’s because the Holidays Act determines things such as how much wage earners get paid on sick days and what your rights are if you have to work a public holiday. In short, small changes in the Act could involve millions of dollars ending up in the hands of working New Zealanders or fattening the profits of their employers.
And, although I don’t want to prejudge the outcome, the make up of the five-person group does not bode well. There are two senior unionists on it, Helen Kelly and James Ritchie, and both of them are intelligent sensible and moderate people who understand business. As the head of the Dairy Workers Union Ritchie in particular has a lot of experience in working with Fonterra.
But the balance of power in this group is distinctly tilted toward the other side of the fence. The chair, for example, is Peter Kiely who is an ex-National Party president, is the chairman of the party’s rules committee (a very powerful lay-position in the party) and who led the failed legal action to stop the EPMU registering as a third party during the last election. One of the things Kiely’s law firm, Kiely, Thompson, Caisley specialises in is representing employers’ interests. Air New Zealand is one of their largest clients.
And Air New Zealand has another, more direct connection to the group in the form of their Senior Counsel, Philip Doak, who one can reasonably assume has played a strong role in the airline’s aggressive anti-worker tactics over the last few years including threats of outsourcing to drive down wages and the use of subsidiary companies such as Zeal 320 to cut wage costs.
Then there’s Paul Mackay. He’s been Business New Zealand’s employment policy man since 2006 and presumably helped guide the lobby group’s recommendations to the National-led government earlier this year which included advice such as making strike-breaking easier and restricting union members’ rights to representation.
As I said earlier, it would be wrong to prejudge the outcomes of this group based on who is sitting on it but given how important the Holidays Act is and how much impact it has on the lives of workers in this country, it is a group that should bear more scrutiny than it’s getting. Unfortunately Labour and the fourth estate don’t seem to want to talk about much other than Richard Worth at the moment.