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Helen Kelly’s speech to the CTU Conference

Written By: - Date published: 1:01 pm, October 14th, 2015 - 16 comments
Categories: health and safety, Unions, wages, workers' rights - Tags:

Helen Kelly

Speechnotes from CTU Website, image from Unite Union.

It great to see you all here at our conference and its great we all have this chance to again together reflect on the last couple of years and see what we learned and achieved but most importantly to look forward, set priorities and use the things we have learned to build a stronger movement.

I want to talk about those two things – what we have learned over the last few years and what we might do with that in the future.

In 2010 we began to discuss the need for union values to become more widely understood by those NZ communities where understanding of what unions do is almost non-existent.  We set a goal that the majority of NZ families would be able to say what a union does and what we stand for. I wouldn’t say we are there yet but if you have a look at some of our campaigns in the last few years, we have reached into more and more communities that have not previously encountered the power of the collective of working people and who have now become engaged.

With our campaigns reaching beyond our membership and engaging a broader group of working people  and their families we have tested, learned and changed how we do things and I think built a much wider community of support. We have shown that we are open and willing to help fight for improvements to the quality of work in this country for everyone.

Our campaigns like the Living Wage includes a message that resonates with any working family that is struggling; it sends a message that communities can link together in each other’s interests to change the understanding of what wages are – what they mean for a family and why it is so important that everyone is paid a fair wage, a wage which enables working people to support their families. The equal pay case gives us the chance to reach across industries and begin to make progress on our demand for fair industry based wages. The win in the Kristine Bartlett case was sensational – not just because of the result in aged care but because of the remedy set out in the Equal Pay Act – that the Court can set the rate for these working people – across the aged care industry – and obviously across others.  We need to continue to push up new claims and several unions are doing this.  I would like to see an industry wide clerical claim for example – it might be in several bands and categories but would impact on every hospital, school, and business in NZ. It would call out to working women across the country that in union we stand for fair pay and equality.  We would seek to negotiate an industry agreement first rather than leave it to the courts and it will be up to employers to decide if they want to talk or risk a rate being imposed.

We have lot of other examples of outreach campaigns:  the sleep over case – now raising claims by other working people  for unpaid work they have done.

The EPMU construction project – working with the thousands of new workers and employers in construction in Christchurch demanding safety at work.

The Union Network of Migrants (UNEMIG) – offering a support and advice network to the huge and growing number of migrant workers coming to work here and  in many  cases are being ripped off

The Samoa First Union supported by FIRST here in NZ – is offering a viable private sector union to workers in Samoa and connecting into the Samoan community here.

Unite’s ZERO hours campaigns have raised forcefully the issue of insecure work but also the ability of a union campaign to win employment security through collective bargaining and industrial action and win public support along the way.

And the work we have done on Health and Safety including the Pike River Mine case, the work we did with the Sikh community after  the death of young security guard Charanpreet Dhaliwal and forestry safety work; all have sent a strong message about the role and work of unions.  We have been the uncompromising voice on health and safety of working people regardless of where they work or who they work for

There have been other campaigns too and I can’t mention them all but the trend is clear – more and more we are running broad campaigns to improve working life for all  in this country and in doing so we are promoting what we do and the values we stand for and connecting current union members up with the broader church.

Of course there are still big gaps we need to focus on and address.  We need to learn from these campaigns and use the successes to build into the campaigns of the future.  You will hear at this conference from Anat Shenker Osorio about the power of language and messaging.  Hopefully you saw her on Q+A this weekend as a bit of a taster.  What Anat is finding in her research is that we have to put the people back into our language and we have to show we have proposals that address the disadvantages working people are experiencing – a positive proposition. We have done this is  in the Living wage and Zero hours campaigns and communities believe can make  a difference regardless of their access to union membership. These campaigns are easy to join and participate in  and build the idea that by working together in the movement communities can win the changes they need and want.  I am sure Anat’s speech will be a highlight in the next two days and feed our knowledge and plans for the next few years.

One of the challenges we haven’t cracked is the resourcing model for all this new work.  While we rely on those that can access the rights to bargaining and union membership to fund these campaigns we will always be running them on a shoe string.  What we do know is that communities will contribute to this work – and not usually through the traditional method of collecting union fees.  The recent health and safety campaign when five families spent almost a week away from work and in Wellington campaigning for us against the Governments outrageous watering down of the health and safety act was an example of this.  These families – both Pike and forestry families were essential in us raising the issues of this law and putting a human face to them.  That they would willingly come and join us – that they have now become skilled in public speaking, talking to the media and expressing their views – is an invaluable resource and contribution for the effort other workers have put in by funding the Pike and forestry campaign through their union fees.

We haven’t sorted out the resource issues yet but we need to think about what we do know – we can crowd source, people are prepared to volunteer lots of time to the campaigns which they identify with and believe in (including the lawyers who helped us with Pike and forestry) and union members also get the full benefit of the values messages these campaigns push up.

It is my view unions need to take – to use a terrible Government term – an investment model approach to the CTU work.  I want us to agree the programme of work we as a movement want to see prioritised and done together and then work out how together we fund it.  We have to keep building on this campaign and outreach work and all working people in New Zealand will benefit from it.  Working as a whole movement we can shift the narrative about the role and rights of working people in the New Zealand economy and why workers in unions is the effective model for that to happen.

When I first started this job (and I was reminded about this last week) I use to talk about the shop worker in the four square in Kaitaia and how we needed to make unions and union membership available to her in a form that enabled her to associate safely with the union and to access collective bargaining.  We are not there yet but our pay campaign we are rolling out is moving us closer and Sam will talk about this and our demand for industry level bargaining law is also part of this campaign.

But I also used to ask (and some didn’t like this but it was metaphorical) If we were to throw all working people in this country into the air and they were to fall into their natural union structure – meaning the best organising structure for their particular workplace – one that allowed them to join, organise and bargain), what would that structure look like in relation to the current structures we offer.  Part of it would look like the new union E tū – many of the workers in the new union, if they were thrown in the air would have fallen into just this structure, but we are still a long way off having a movement structure that is built on what our current logic and knowledge of what we know builds worker voice and influence for all working people in NZ and we will talk a bit more about this when we discuss unions role as public institutions tomorrow.

Someone was pointing out to me the other day that a growing feature of the internet is the development of super hubs.  Amazon for example is fast becoming an international retail super hub.  People are buying all sorts of things through this site now and other retailers are now selling on it.  As it grows it could become the “TradeMe” of retail products and it will most certainly become more and more important as a place to sell and buy things.  A retail hub for the world.  The service hub idea is also growing with services like Uber becoming more and more sophisticated and considering new services like courier and other logistics products – Air B and B extending its offerings to other services including home and rental services.  This raises the question of the opportunity for a social hub – where kiwis go to change the world, organise get information, participate, fundraise and have a voice on important social issues.  We should run and be that social hub – as we build our community connections we should support communities to grow their activism.  Together is part way there on this idea but I think it is worth developing further.  It is my view it can also provide some solutions to the “resourcing” issues. Really the opportunities for us to work together to create effective models of association for working people  and their  unions are all out there if we continue our preparedness to consider them.

Tomorrow we will talk about some of our new thinking.  The panel in the morning on minding your P’s and Q’s in NZ is important.  People who speak out with ideas even mildly in contradiction to those strongly promoted economic and social plans of this country are seen as deeply threatening and we will hear from some who have spoken out tomorrow – we will hear how the response they have experienced when they have challenged the status quo has often been to find themselves  belittled and ridiculed or bullied and never in an attempt to debate the valid and important points they have raised but to hide it and ensure others don’t do the same thing. We are seeing that this week as the Government ties us into the TPPA deal.  Those in powerful positions have vested interests in this agreement being signed including because it locks us into neo liberal economic and social plans and programmes for the long term they are using terms like “pointy tin hat wearers” “anti NZers”  “anti trade”  to discredit those thoughtful kiwis who dare to ask if this agreement really is in the best interests of NZ. These attacks on those that speak up are really an attack on democracy.  A country where alternative voices are silenced including by the derision from the powerful, is a country that will not develop as it could, will not be the place where new ideas are born and will certainly not be the place where any new economic direction or thinking can be honestly discussed, agreed and implemented and especially if  such as plans propose to share more of the wealth with working New Zealanders..

We need to take what we learn from Anat, what we have learned from our campaigns, the stories of how good ideas are disseminated in NZ from our panel and the discussion we will have during that panel on the role of unions as public institutions and refine our work.  That is our job, to think about these things, in the next two days.

This I think technically is my last day as President.  I leave this job (not the movement – only this job) very proud of it and the role it plays in this country.  This movement every day does good work and with the best people.  It has been the most interesting job.  The chance to meet some amazing people like President Lula of Brazil and Maryanne Butler Finlay and her kids from Tokoroa.  I have stayed in so many people’s homes and gotten to know their families.

I have travelled the country and been involved in some massive and desperate industrial disputes – like the Ports of Auckland Limited, Meatworkers and Hobbit dispute.  None of these disputes we bought on ourselves – each of them originated from an employer wanting it all – POAL wanting to sack and contract out its long standing and loyal workforce to save a few bucks and remove its responsibility for these workers that generated all its wealth and of course their union the MUNZ.  The AFFCO meatworkers – locked out for 86 days simply to retain a collective agreement that provided them with continuous work season to season – they are again under attack as one of the richest families in NZ that wants more of the wealth for themselves that these communities generate.  Talleys at AFFCO have forced their workforce onto new individual agreements using the Governments new law that they think allows them to walk away from agreeing a new collective agreement.  These individual agreements forced on these workers  slash their guaranteed weekly take home pay but make these working people stay available each week regardless – it is a zero hours situation. It enables them to be shifted from day to night shift endlessly without pattern – an extremely dangerous rostering type situation, it removes their right to have their union fees deducted – want a job – give up your right to organise – and this is condoned, and the boss made a Sir and the meat workers in Wairoa have now been locked out for almost three weeks – refusing to sign the agreement – supported by the other AFFCO workers they are still doing it hard.  We must as a movement prioritise this dispute and ensure these workers win a fair deal – thanks to all those unions already committed to this.

So we have the port, the meaties and of course the Hobbit.

A simple claim by performers to bargain their terms collectively.  Turned so nasty actually because we refused to mind our  P’s and Q’s  against big business in NZ.  But it was followed by the big deceit that saw the Government deny that we had reached an agreement on this dispute despite Gerry Brownlee being in the room and his staff drafting the settlement, and then the Government going on to remove all work rights for these film workers because they dared speak up in the fishing village that NZ has become.  It really was a low point when Brownlee went on National TV and called me a liar.  While most of the documentation around this dispute has now been released and proved we were telling the truth, one crucial document has still not been – the legal opinion the Crown received that they relied on in the media to claim the company did not have to negotiate with the union.  I was excited to see the Court decision yesterday that the TPPA papers must be released by the Government to kiwis that want to see them.  The Government is playing games with this country  regarding information – it uses it, relies on it in public but refuses to verify and release the information they have – hoping the spin will become the truth.  It’s a dangerous game for everyone.

The 90 day campaign was also something I am proud of.  We stepped up and told workers sacked on the 90 day period we would support them and we set about sorting out dozens of unfair treatment cases.  Actually union staff enjoyed these cases and they morphed into supporting farm workers who have also started ringing us after our publicising their working conditions.  I like this work we do– it means no employer can really hide – we might pursue you on a health and safety claim, it could be for an unfair dismissal or maybe the non-payment of wages.  Denying your workers easy access to a union might not be the end of it.  I was pleased to read a report of a recent Fed Farmers meeting in the Waikato Times where it was reported to farmers that the CTU has them in their cross hairs and they needed to comply with the law – yes we do!

Actually the farming campaign is illustrative.  I have been following wages and conditions on farms over the last few years using the particularly useful Federated Farmers annual Remuneration Report and their own job advertisements.  We know from this and the accident rate on farms and from the reported non-compliance with minimum employment standards that labour inspectors encounter when they inspect farms that this most important part of our economy is still the wild west when it comes to employment practice.  We have highlighted this in the simplest of ways – using social media, representing farm workers, gathering the data and using the mainstream media, and the industry has felt the pressure.  Not enough pressure to fix the problem – only enough to look for alternate ways to counter the criticism.  The industry continues to be extremely dangerous with no sign of improvement in accident numbers. 7 people have been killed on quad bikes alone in agriculture this year at the same time as the Minister passes law removing farm workers rights in health and safety.  But the latest move by Dairy NZ, supported by the Feds and worst of all supported by Government departments is the attempt to “pledge wash” the employment issues on farms.

Pledging is the new black in this country.  Since I took up this job everyone is doing it.   Instead of bargaining, setting and maintaining standards etc with unions, business draws up a pledge to address some issue sue where they are under fire and gets employers to sign it.  The Business Leaders Safety Forum is the classic.  A group of bigger businesses have got together and taken the pledge to show safety leadership in their industries – to get the safety tick from their peers.  The Forum has a beautiful pledge that Peter Whittall, CEO of Pike River, signed slightly before the explosion.  Regardless we supported the initiative for the BLF to  encourage safety leadership – however, the forum most recently, would not take action or use it leadership to support workers roles in the new health and safety Act and despite its acknowledgement that worker participation is weak – when push came to shove, the acted in my view as a cabal backing business against unions and worker voice in health and safety – the pledge turns out to be just another  “pledge wash” when under real leadership pressure.

The most recent example of this pledging is the just launched “Sustainable Dairying Workplace Action Plan” which was launched last week – it was developed with the help of MBIE, Worksafe, ACC and MPI – they were all in there and the results speak volumes about what they view as aspirational for NZ farm workers.  We approached Dairy NZ when we heard about this initiative seeking for them to develop this with us and the workforce and with ambition.  Documents on workers rights usually should have a workers voice right? We were rejected both by the Federated Farmers and Dairy NZ. And what does it say? This action plan?

It sets out 5 pillars of good people management – and under each sets out some goals –Remember MBIE are supporting this!

For hours of work – in my view – the long hours sit behind the accident rate we are seeing – it says:

Employees should be working on a well-designed roster that means

Normally they:

  • are not likely to work more than 50 hours a week
  • are not likely to work more than 10 hours a day
  • are not likely to work more than 4 hours in any day before a break is taken
  • have regular days off, set by the roster system within the employment agreement
  • have at least two consecutive days off.

This is it!  Best Practice!  Ambitious – When did 50 hours become the ambition and 10 hour days.  What does regular days off mean when we know long consecutive days are the norm in this business.  Really this is the new “consensus” in farming?

On wages it says!

  • minimum wages or above are paid for all hours worked
  • employment agreements are in place for all employees
  • records of hours worked and wages paid are kept
  • holidays and leave are recorded

Really – paying the minimum wage is now so much not the norm in farming that it has become the ambition?

This is an industry more and more reliant on migrant labour to feather its low wage survival.  This new document (new pledge wash) notes the huge turnover in diary and the fact that fewer and fewer registered unemployed are being engaged on farms, and that many farmers spend very little on training – but this document is as good as it gets and it will be used every time we raise concerns – oh yes, we are concerned they will say – and that is why we have this sensational charter – This pledge wash by Dairy NZ  shows in one way we are having an impact – our work has lead to this charter.  On the other hand Government departments that know their international obligations on worker rights and have relationships with the NZCTU think it is perfectly fine to collaborate on this document that is designed to create a fiction that the workforce issues on farms are being resolved by the industry – and most worryingly  – both the Government departments and Dairy NZ and the Feds are desperately trying to fight the reality that workers in the agriculture sector would be much better off joining a union for these matters to be fairly addressed.  The last thing they want is that and together this collaboration is their push back against our campaign.  It is our continuing obligation to expose this sort of malarkey and continue to speak on behalf of these workers and encourage them to organise.

Where to for me?

So now I have left you a big list of jobs to do when I go, I do want to talk about leaving for a little bit.  I am going to miss this job.  It is, believe it or not – fun and interesting.  I have worked with fantastic people, Peter of course but I want to thank Richard, Syd, Julia, all the CTU staff (who are all quite brilliant, hardworking and my friends), Sam who is and will do a brilliant job as CTU Secretary – Sam mate, I am so pleased you are in this role and I do want to thank you for the increased load you have carried this year while I have been unwell.  It’s hard enough coming into this job but you got a very hard year and handled it magnificently.  You the affiliated members, and lots of others who we can talk a bit more about tonight.  I hope to keep doing some work after this and am going to base myself in the Oakley Moran offices – I want to do some law – especially education law, I want to do some work on Equal Pay and the Meat workers dispute and a few other things including continuing some work on farm safety in particular.

You will see I rather inadvertently started a new personal campaign front yesterday around the use of medical cannabis use.  I know I know, but I tell you, this is an issue that has incredible wide reach and people are making contact from all walks of life – unusually I have not had one abusive message.  I don’t know where that will all lead but I am telling everyone that makes contact to join a union!  I might be on to something here!

I want to finish with three messages that I think are true today, and I am terrified in doing this that Anat will review them!

  1.  New Zealand working people more than ever need the institutional strength they build through unions to organise themselves, to give them a say in this society and to win justice and fairness for them and their families. The work we do together – officials and members –  is good and honourable work.
  2. The design is to stop working people building that very strength they build in unions – we are working against the design of those that hold the wealth in this country and who want more of it.  We have to understand that, to analyse what we do, how we do it and what we need to do to win – we in this country are not all rowing in the same direction for the future of NZ
  3. We have the ability to fight back, we have shown we can and we must be sophisticated and disciplined about doing that – we need to work together to utilise the structure of the CTU to the maximum.  We need it to be the powerhouse for working people.  We have shown we can make it when we act together.  The CTU should be seen as one of the organising and co-ordinating powerhouse of the movement.

This conference is our chance to set the programme for the next 2 years and build on what we know works to address the real issues we have identified.  We need to understand what we can achieve with the sum of our parts to get real traction and build support for our values and vision of the future.  I hope you enjoy it.

16 comments on “Helen Kelly’s speech to the CTU Conference ”

  1. Ad 1

    Totally inspirational!

    Warmth, strength, humour, outrage, battles lost and won.

    Just amazing.

  2. Tiger Mountain 2

    well said Helen

    community outreach is so important to continue evolving unions from ‘other’ and ‘outsider’ status, public intellectuals such as Catton, Hager, Kelsey, Greenwald etc know a bit too about the reaction from challenging todays NZ orthodoxies

    the class struggle component of unionism will emerge naturally enough if organising is employed in tandem with servicing members, most non members are what can politely be called ‘freeloaders’ and they need to be won to a supportive position where possible which is why it is great to see the migrant, Living Wage and other campaigns, the zero hours uprising was years in the making and well supported by the public

    go well Helen Kelly

  3. Grindlebottom 3

    Never seen anybody more unswervingly committed to their principles and the dignity and rights of working people. Kia kaha Helen.

  4. Mike the Savage One 4

    I really wish Helen well, she faces the greatest challenge of her life, I am sure, and she deserves credit for the good work she has done. Of course I also support her position on medicinal use of cannabis, or oil extracted from it.

    My hope is she will beat the disease, even though it looks like a formidable challenge that may be so damned hard to beat.

    Take care, Helen, all the best wishes, you will be on our minds for a long time to come, we really need more people like you.


  5. Jenny Kirk 5

    Amazing woman. So much courage, and truthfulness in what she says – every time.
    So sad to see her ill. May she continue to have the strength to battle on .

  6. Michael 6

    A truly inspiring example to follow. I note that the Greens congratulated Kelly, and wished her well, but Labour did not. Says it all, really.

    • Jenny Kirk 6.1

      for goodness sake, Michael – Labour’s Leader Andrew Little followed on after Helen Kelly’s speech with very warm words to her personally, and about her track record as CTU presi.
      Some of you are too quick to jump in to criticise Andrew Little without much evidence.
      Pity you don’t do that with your own Green Leader who has been very quick to jump into bed with the Nats ! (re the flag issue, and no doubt other issues still to come)

  7. Hami Shearlie 7

    Helen Kelly, a wonderful caring woman. Praying for you Helen, you are an inspiration to so many!

  8. Atiawa 8

    All labour needs to be organised labour, and yet a minority are and the number is dwindling.
    Collectivism is losing “market share” at a time in our industrial & social history when it should be more demanding. Unions can’t rely upon waiting for the system to completely break down or the evolutionary process to act as the catalyst for change. It will be too late.
    If the CTU doesn’t stand up for the return of compulsory unions they are doing a disservice to all working people.
    The gains organised labour achieved for workers last century were mostly won when unions were the recognised voice of working people, and guess what?
    They were compulsory and workers enjoyed national industry agreements (awards) that established and protected minimum terms and conditions of employment.
    Why would it be wrong to demand a return?

    • Grindlebottom 8.1

      It’s not wrong it’s just that nobody’s listening. Not enough people want it to make it something any current NZ political party could get elected for proposing.

  9. Atiawa 9

    The CTU isn’t a political party. It leads the workers movement. They have a duty to demand and campaign for a strong union movement. If working people don’t agree and a campaign fails to win their support, they can at least say “we tried”.
    A weak union movement will always underachieve despite the efforts of the Helen Kelly’s and her skills and passion.

    • Atiawa 9.1

      Sorry. My 9 post is a response to Grin @ 8.1

      • Grindlebottom 9.1.1

        The CTU could demand the return of compulsory unionism all it liked but there is just not enough support for unions across all working sectors at the moment IMO and unless CU was made a policy of Labour or other political parties they’d just be wasting their time. But fair enough, I suppose you’re right if they don’t campaign for it they can’t say at least they tried.

  10. Tracey 10

    “But it was followed by the big deceit that saw the Government deny that we had reached an agreement on this dispute despite Gerry Brownlee being in the room and his staff drafting the settlement, and then the Government going on to remove all work rights for these film workers because they dared speak up in the fishing village that NZ has become. It really was a low point when Brownlee went on National TV and called me a liar. While most of the documentation around this dispute has now been released and proved we were telling the truth, one crucial document has still not been – the legal opinion the Crown received that they relied on in the media to claim the company did not have to negotiate with the union. I was excited to see the Court decision yesterday that the TPPA papers must be released by the Government to kiwis that want to see them. The Government is playing games with this country regarding information – it uses it, relies on it in public but refuses to verify and release the information they have – hoping the spin will become the truth. It’s a dangerous game for everyone.”

    A-fucking-men Helen

    Still so many do not want to see these facts. And they coud if they bothered to read the documents that prove them. They prefer to believe in the wizard of NZ and refuse to reach out and simply pull the curtain back, even when others offer to do it for them.

  11. Dorothy Bulling 11

    New Zealand has been the better for your work. Sad that your life will be shorter due to your illness.

  12. Jan Rivers 12

    If a small proportion of the commercial “wonder kids” of our corporate world had 1/10 of the responsiveness of the Helen Kelly led CTU we would be living in a different New Zealand and not the one where a worker is killed on average every week in our unsafe workplaces.

    All the amazing initiatives listed in her valedictory speech, many carried out on a shoe-string, have kept faith with the core role of unionism – building solidarity and collective action and yet have reached impressive levels of innovation, opportunity spotting, creativity and lateral thinking – all qualities that mere workers are supposed to defer to business leaders on.

    The CTU is a great example of why NZ needs worker representation in the country’s boardrooms urgently.

    Kia kaha Helen, You have renewed our movement and developed the fresh approaches that can be built on in the years ahead.

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