Labour Day celebrates the successful struggle for an eight-hour working day. Its a story that goes back to 1840, when London born carpenter Samuel Parnell arrived in NZ, landing at Petone beach. A fellow passenger asked Parnell to build him a shop, and Parnell’s response has entered New Zealand folklore:
I will do my best, but I must make this condition, Mr. Hunter, that on the job the hours shall only be eight for the day … There are twenty-four hours per day given us; eight of these should be for work, eight for sleep, and the remaining eight for recreation and in which for men to do what little things they want for themselves. I am ready to start to-morrow morning at eight o’clock, but it must be on these terms or none at all.
From this humble beginning a movement grew and spread, culminating in the Labour Day Act of 1899 which created a statutory public holiday as a suitable occasion to pay tribute to Parnell and the other pioneers.
The legacy of Samuel Parnell is still very much with us. The labour union movement is a vital part of the New Zealand workplace, and of course the Labour Party was established on 7 July 1916 in Wellington to represent the interests of the workers. That remains the core business of the party to this day, as Labour’s work and wages policy attests:
…the vast majority of Kiwis are worse off now than they were three years ago with Statistics NZ indicating last week that inflation rose by 9% and incomes increased by only 2.5% in that period. Labour will reverse this government’s punitive changes to employment laws and put in place a system to lift the bar on wages so that we can compete better with Australia.
- A system for extending minimum wage and conditions standards in suitable industries.
- A Workplace Commissioner in the Employment Relations Authority to agree appropriate industry standards.
- $15/hour minimum wage.
- Repealing National‟s 90-day law.
- Amending the Holidays Act to ensure 11 days of public holidays each year, regardless of them falling on a weekend day.
- Restoring reinstatement as the primary remedy when an employee has been unjustifiably dismissed.
- Labour’s Work and Wages policy is a sensible way forward to improve the lives of Kiwis and is standard practice in many other countries we compare ourselves with, including Australia.
- This policy is an important part of our plan to get New Zealand back onto a solid foundation for growth by paying off our ballooning national debt, keeping our state assets, making everyone pay their fair share of tax, creating new jobs through investment in high tech companies, lifting productivity in the workplace and increasing our self-reliance through a larger savings pool.
The reaction to this policy in some quarters was little short of hysterical (good summary here). Opponents tried to paint it as back to the past, back to the bad old days of the 1970’s. A lot of this rhetoric was poorly informed nonsense about minimum wage reducing employment (it doesn’t). None of it recognised that, for all the faults of the 1970s, workers were doing a lot better then than they are now. In short, most of the criticism was scare mongering from critics unable to separate the baby from the bath water, unable to imagine taking good ideas and recreating them in new forms.
On this Labour Day it is great to see that the Labour Party is staying true to its roots, and is out there promoting a labour policy to lift the wages and conditions of the workers of New Zealand.