National’s only push (if you can call such a feeble effort that) on gender equality seems to be on getting some women into the boardroom. Which is an admirable goal, and would indeed shake up the current clique and add some new ways of thinking to our companies. Personally I would think equal pay for equal work for all women would be of greater importance than getting a few to join our financial elite, but still a worthy target by itself.
But it’s not just women I’d like to add to our company, SOE and CCO boardrooms.
I’d like to add at least one worker representative on every public company, SOE or CCO board.
All too often we’ve forgotten that it takes labour plus capital to make a company work, with arch-capitalists thinking of labour – people – as just another commodity, another number in the ledger. And generally just a liability at that.
In Germany half the boards of large corporations are employee representatives. UK and US economists have been arguing for years that the German economy is about to founder, with this as a large reason – ‘the inmates are in control of the asylum!’ they say.
And yet, come the financial crisis, one country in the West is powering ahead – even while having to bail-out Greece and other parts of Europe.
In truth the German economy that was ‘struggling’ in the financial boom never was – while US GDP growth outstripped Germany, that was due to population growth – German GDP per capita growth was greater than the US’ in the decade prior to 2008. And it was much more sustainable growth at that.
Because Germany hasn’t outsourced.
Anglo boardrooms have consistently taken short-term profits of selling factories for apartments, outsourcing and laying off workers, asset-stripping and redundancies. Germany – where only a completely united front of shareholders and management will outvote workers – has gone the route of innovation, productivity and exports.
I think it’s a route we need to carefully consider. Would Ports of Auckland be so keen on contracting out their labour if they had to explain to the employee representative director the plan before it even started? Giving workers a say would greatly improve worker relations, it would reduce the disparities of boardroom and executive pay, and provide a balance to boardroom discussions.