The problems with National and A.C.T. employment policies: PART 3


In Part 2 of my series on the problems I have with National and A.C.T.’s employment policies, I focussed on workplace accidents and support for those who are fatigued or stressed. In this third and final part, I examine issues that employers face in hiring staff and the problem of rife discrimination in the work place.

On a regular basis in the news we hear from employers who are unable to find the appropriate staff to work for them. An ongoing problem, it is one that stems from a number of surprisingly obvious decisions that economic planners have made over the years, which we are now reaping the consequences of. One, and perhaps the most obvious has been the failure of employers to do due diligence on recruitment, by not making sure that new employees have the necessary qualifications to do the job. I remember that at work on a couple of instances several years ago, temps were being used to help regular staff keep pace with the summer time workload; the vast majority were alright and lasted either until they moved on or we did need them any longer. However there was the odd temp that did not last their first shift. One or two did not have full driver licences, and were thus not legally able to drive cars; others lied to their recruitment agency…

Another has been unfortunately highlighted by a few rotten apples. Paying less than minimum wage in New Zealand is illegal, but there are companies that do. Some of them are small employers in labour intensive industries such as fruit picking, whilst others are fairly large companies.

National and A.C.T. in their ideological determination to remove all barriers – reasonable or not – to a deregulated market – would try to undermine not only the employees who work for these companies, but potentially the companies themselves. The company boards would most likely look to cut costs, and would struggle to appreciate the argument that can be made for paying staff properly and they will in turn look after the company. The current support by small businesses being shown to Labour suggest that at least some employers have rethought how they conduct their operations, post-COVID.

Discrimination in the workplace can take many forms. Sometimes it might be based on skin colour or gender, which would immediately place the offending staff/employer in front of a potential personal grievance. Sometimes it might be based on other characteristics such as how an employee gets on with their colleagues, or how old they are. Discrimination is banned in New Zealand, but in the course of ones working life, it is probable that they will met a victim of discriminatory tactics. No individual or employer is ever going to admit such tactics, since they obviously will not want whatever punishment that the court hands down.

Not all discrimination is intentional. Employees might not be aware of the effect something they said or did has had on a person. If one brings it to their attention

A.C.T. has said it will abolish the Human Rights Commission. In proposing to abolish the H.R.C. the A.C.T. Party has basically said it has no regard for the human rights of employees in the work place. It would mean one of the main organizations that one could go to for legal redress on matters of discrimination would not be able to help any longer. National have not gone quite this far, but commentary by people such as National Members of Parliament Chris Penk and Dan Bidois suggesting that breaks be repealed, suggest National M.P.’s have a mindset that employees should not have their human dignity.

Still want to vote for either of these parties?

The problem(s) with National and A.C.T. employment policies: PART 2


In Part 1 of the series on the problems I have with National and A.C.T.’s employment policies, I focussed on the lack of sick leave available in New Zealand, and why cutting the minimum wage will not work. In this part I examine work place accident policies and support for workers who are fatigued or stressed.

Work place safety is something of a hodge podge issue in New Zealand. There are employers who take their responsibilities to their workers very seriously. There are employers who do what they have to in order to stay compliant, but no more. And there are employers who are knowingly negligent. It is an matter that has attracted negative overseas attention as a result of accidents causing serious injury or death to foreign visitors, but also just as alarmingly, people from other countries working in New Zealand’s jurisdiction who have been short changed.

In some cases I am aware of, employees were not properly vetted to ensure that they were appropriately licenced to drive certain classes of vehicles. A bus requires a Class 5 heavy passenger vehicle licence as well as a P-Endorsement; a taxi driver needs a full drivers licence as well as the P-Endorsement. In a case I am aware of, the driver and owner of a bus that was stopped by Police did not have the necessary licences and that the licence shown was in another drivers name. More concerning is that since then there have been at least two fatal bus crashes involving drivers not from New Zealand, nor necessarily familiar with New Zealand road conditions. Such accidents have the potential to harm our tourism industry as these will be seized upon by the media in the country that the tourists originated from.

It is not just tourists though, who suffer. The high seas off the coast of New Zealand have an unfortunate reputation for being a sort of “wild west” where anything goes in terms of occupational safety and health. A series of accidents in the last decade involving fishing trawlers that are not seaworthy go some way towards highlighting this. In particular I am thinking of three Korean fishing trawlers from the Oyang Corporation – No. 70, 75 and 77 – that were loaned to a N.Z. fishing company Southern Storm. No. 70 sank off the coast of Dunedin. No. 75 was forfeit to the Crown in 2012 after the crew won a court case over not being paid. As was No. 77 for similar reasons in 2014.

The problem I have is that National and A.C.T. have a track record of “cutting red tape” in the name of freeing up businesses from legal requirements. Sometimes the cuts are justified, but more often than not, there is a cost to pay. They claim that the market will police itself in terms of complying with occupational safety and health. They claim that the worst offenders will go under because they will have no work. All too often the market has shown it:

  1. Does not know how to police itself
  2. WILL not police itself – if it did many of the cases that wind up in the employment court would be resolved long before that stage

The other issue I want to address is the case of work place fatigue. This is a particularly relevant matter at the moment with COVID19 having caused huge impacts on peoples lives, both at home and at work. For many families this has been their annus horribilus in that the disruption brought on by a necessary lock down has pushed not only working age people, but also their families to the limits.

Workplace fatigue is dangerous. It can lead to accidents. It can lead to negligence, whilst not immediately causing an accident could be a contributing factor to a future accident. It can lead to generally lower working standards. Fatigue has numerous symptoms, including lack of concentration, sluggishness, poor decision making, indifference in attitude among others.

Neither party have released an policy specific to this, but it is probably not necessary. A combination of having workplace working conditions reduced as they have outlined in other policies, such as A.C.T.’s plan to cut the minimum wage, National’s dislike of breaks at work, could be enough to push a person in a fragile position over the edge. A person needs enough income that they are able to afford the necessities of life, which is something Mr Seymour and his Deputy Brooke Van Velden seem determined to not understand. If they have the necessities of life, then their quality of life and the likelihood that it will improve their quality of employment, will likely improve.

The problem(s) with National and A.C.T. employment policies


National and A.C.T., clearly not having learnt a thing about low income employees and why some of the socio-economic problems we have, exist, are proposing an array of destructive employment policies.

There are numerous problems with those policies which I list below and which I will then attempt to explain in greater depth:

  • New Zealand workers have comparatively little sick leave compared to most countries in the O.E.C.D., with just 5 paid sick days per annum
  • New Zealand incomes have not risen fast enough to keep pace with increases in G.S.T., inflation and other income hostile factors
  • Work place accidents each year cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions. Some are pretty minor, such as a sprained ankle and a day or two off work, whilst the worst ones involve death and sometimes significant destruction of property
  • An employee who is fatigued or stressed is more accident prone than someone who has regular breaks
  • Employers constantly complain about not being able to find appropriately trained staff
  • Discriminatory practices despite being illegal are rife in the work place if the number and seriousness of complaints that result in court proceedings are anything to go by

In this article I examine the first two.

Whilst New Zealand is better than the United States which has no Federally mandated sick leave, the 5 days sick leave we are entitled to is comparatively little compared to other countries. Australians get 10 days sick leave per annum, which rolls over to the following year if not fully used. 145 nations provide some kind of sick leave for employees and 127 provide a week or more annually.

In a year like 2020 where COVID19 has made staying at home if one is sick essential even if the symptoms are not COVID-related, means an already relatively small amount of sick leave can be expended quickly. If a person then gets sick a second time, having already needed a week off work, they will not have any leave to fall back on. The move to introduce another 5 days of sick leave, giving us 10 is therefore welcome.

Despite this there are people in National and A.C.T. who think that the business community is going to be made to suffer unnecessarily. Actually many in the business community believe that they need to treat their employees better, particularly those in sectors that were essential for the functioning of the country in this COVID19 emergency.

David Seymour, Leader of the A.C.T. Party wants to cut the minimum wage to $17.70/hr from the current $18.96/hr and freeze it for 3 years.

Our wages are not rising fast enough to keep pace with G.S.T., inflation and other income-hostile factors. Whilst G.S.T. only goes up if a political party -usually National – win the election, it is unnecessarily harsh on those with low incomes. A person on $30,000 per annum before tax, they will $24,750 after income tax. If they go to the service station and puts $50 of petrol in their car, person will pay 0.167% of their annual income just buying that petro. A person on $90,000 per annum goes to the same service station and puts $50 of petrol in their car. and will use 0.02% of their annual income.

If that low income person also has to pay $200 a week in rent; $75 for groceries, with the fuel added in, that will be $325 per week. This says nothing about power, internet, any medication, clothing or other expenditures that they have to cover.

It makes me wonder if any of the National M.P.’s or Mr Seymour have worked a minimum wage job when I see these suggestions.

Time for user pays in the New Zealand conservation estate?


I am currently doing a postgraduate paper on Natural Resource Policy extra murally at Massey University.  The below is a comment I made on whether it is time for user pays charges for entry to and use of our conservation estate, but also in towns that are tourism dependent.

How we let our small tourist towns get treated by tourists bothers me quite a bit. If you have been to Tekapo you will have seen the Church of the Good Shepherd by the lake. Tourist buses pull up there every day and tourists walk around and inside the building. Sometimes they arrive when services are being conducted and fail to show necessary etiquette. The locals are a bit antsy about it as on one hand they need tourist dollars, but on the other Tekapo is only a little town built around the lake shore and up slope a bit on the south side of State Highway 8. The numbers of tourists that come through the town during summer can cause infrastructure issues beyond the capacity of its tiny ratepayer base.

There are several locations around the South Island which could do with better management of their tourism related infrastructure and issues caused by tourism being a major industry in those locations. I would hope now with a quiet patch caused by the borders being shut that these places are thinking about how to address such matters.

Milford Sound is a good case in point. If any of you have been there, you will know it is a long drive if you stop at the view points along the way and that there is a daily – maybe, probably not at the moment – almost rush hour like period in the morning when all of the buses arrive from Te Anau with their loads of tourists and then a similar thing in the afternoon, when realizing they have to get back to Te Anau, there is a similarly large exodus. I knew a German lady who used to work on the tour boats down there a decade ago (gone back to Germany), who could attest to this, and traffic being an issue as well. Being in a World Heritage area, there are limitations on what kind of businesses can be there and how they operate. Milford Sound township is also right on the water front and next to a river with known flood issues (not surprising given it gets 6,000+ mm/yr!), which means land is at a premium.

How do you help fund the necessary facilities and maintenance as well as programmes in a place like Milford?

I think the only way to realistically do it is require all tourists to pay a one off fee in Te Anau and collect a docket that upon entry to Milford Sound, gets scanned.

But here is the problem. Should Kiwi’s pay full price or get a discount? As taxpayers they help cover costs through taxes, so maybe in their case, we should require them to present a driver licence or passport as evidence. I think it would be unfair to make them pay for something we already support with taxation.

Another student commented on what the Maori King, Te Heuheu Tukino, who gifted the land that makes up Tongariro National Park to the Crown, would think. I wonder if anyone has really thought to conduct an interview with kaumatua on behalf of any iwi, how they view tourism in terms of how it impacts on their ancestral lands, the effects on matters of kaitiakitanga and how the taonga are being treated. It would be a fascinating exercise to say the least. And as one who loves volcanoes and did a fourth year assessment on how Ngati Tuwharetoa view Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro as well as Pihanga, I wonder now whether they would be so keen on further expansion of Whakapapa skifield across their southernmost ancestor.

Tourism means a lot to New Zealanders. We love to show people around our country and for the most people love to come and be shown around. But the environmental cost of it all is getting to a point where some students on the course think in the most sensitive places like the Milford Track or the Tongariro Crossing, closing them for a whole season to allow them to recover is not only a “good idea”, but one that needs to be implemented.

And unfortunately, I am inclined to agree.

My thoughts on electricity policy in 2020


New Zealand faces numerous environmental and economic challenges going forwards into the 2020’s and beyond. One those challenges is ensuring we have an adequate energy supply without being environmentally irresponsible. This article outlines my thoughts on electricity policy in 2020.

I will start with the most obvious one. Hydroelectric power. Most New Zealanders can probably name at least one hydroelectric power station in this country. I have added a significantly longer, but not complete list below:

  • Waikato River: Aratiatia, Atiamuri, Whakamaru, Waipapa, Maraetai, Ohakuri, Arapuni and Karapiro; Tongariro Power Scheme: Rangipo and Tokaanu
  • Upper Waitaki: Tekapo A and B, Ohau A, B and C, Benmore, Aviemore and Waitaki
  • Clutha River: Clyde and Roxburgh

The contribution of hydroelectric power is substantial with the power stations listed supplying about 3,400 megawatts of electricity and the total contribution being about 60% of our total generating capacity. Whilst there are calls to dam more rivers to supply clean energy, they come at great ecological cost to the rivers and not all of them are suitable for damming even if we did want to.

One possibility is that the out put of Manapouri power station, the largest hydroelectric power station in the country would be diverted to the national grid. This poses challenges as well as opportunities. In terms of challenges, could New Zealand’s grid take another 850 megawatts of electricity and if so, what would it mean for the market – the shares of shareholders in electricity companies would significantly weaken. A flip side would be the ability of thousands of New Zealanders who struggle with electricity bills each year to be able to pay them and stay warm.

Whilst I support the development of renewable energy sources, I am not so keen on the N.I.M.B.Y’ist politics that often go with such developments. The same people who talk about the need for green energy are often ones who grumble about a wind turbine when they see mangled birds on the ground or realize that these things are not altogether quiet. Would they rather another dam was built, thus depriving us of further unspoilt river?

Unlike others, I support the exploration of Waste-to-Energy as a potential source of energy. This is not to say I encourage the continuation of the waste stream just to power a W-t-E facility, but, I believe waste material that cannot be easily recycled should be sent to a W-t-E facility. In terms of where to locate such facilities, I believe the West Coast of the South Island is a good place to start. Whilst the West Coast has numerous rivers that the energy lobby would be interested in damming, there are several good reasons why we should not:

  1. Too many rivers are dammed or have been diverted in New Zealand for electricity generation already;
  2. The West Coast is seismically volatile and a major earthquake of up to magnitude 8 is likely in the working life of any dam built – it would have to be more robustly constructed than might be worth the cost
  3. The best candidates have unique natural characteristics that would be lost along with tourism operations that have been built up along side them

But there are two types of energy that I accept have no future. One is coal fired power. Coal is a sunset industry whose only hope of survival is to power a standby power station that is used when hydro-electric storage lakes are low due to dry conditions. Huntly power station which has four coal/gas units each capable of generating 250 megawatts has started replacing them, with its owner Genesis intending to completely remove coal by 2030.

The other is nuclear power. I have described in other other articles why there is no place for nuclear power in New Zealand, and why establishing such a power station would be prohibitively expensive and resource intensive.

There are other things New Zealand could be doing, which to the best of my knowledge it is not seriously considering. The first is solar energy. There are significant challenges facing solar energy, which include that the panels require rare earth minerals that are sourced from politically unstable parts of the world. The financial return from solar projects also raises questions about the viability of such a power source. Nonetheless that has not stopped a small scheme being established in south Auckland for industrial purposes.

The second we have actually given much political consideration to, for reasons of reducing the cost to householders to stay warm. However little practical thought as to HOW we do it – even though the answers are glaringly obvious – has been given. I am talking about the massive scale insulation of every state house in New Zealand and setting requirements for new houses. Politicians on the right will decry the regulations as red tape whilst politicians on the left will decry the social costs. Yet neither seem interested in a compromise. How, when – if at all – this ever takes place is anyone’s guess.