National and A.C.T. do not value the worker


One of the most important rules of having staff in a work place is to look after them. Aside from the legal obligations that come about as a result of signing contracts, a well cared for staff will return the care shown to them by caring about the company that they work for. A well cared for staff is less likely to be disruptive, less likely to argue among themselves and more likely to support management during times of change.

When I worked at a supermarket job in the early 2000’s, I learnt a few lessons about the work place. The first nearly three years were pretty good as I had a proactive boss, rather than a reactive boss. But around the three year mark I noticed as did the rest of the staff that management were largely invisible. It was difficult to find a duty manager to report to in the mornings; no one interested in conflict resolution among staff, preferring to – in at least one case – boil over into an open argument that dragged in customers. The state of the store declined. Staff presentation declined; no one seemed to mind rubbish being left in trolleys that had been collected.

Then something happened. We got new management. New contracts with an immediate pay rise were issued, as were new uniforms. Staff were made to understand that it was okay to come to management offices if there were concerns. Presentation standards improved. Customer service improved. The staff room was no longer racked by arguments every lunch time and those that did not want to lift their game were quickly shown the door.

National and A.C.T. fundamentally do not understand this. Nor do they appear to want to.

National M.P.’s Chris Penk and Dan Bidois have in recent months both spoken out against workers rights and the responsibilities of employers to care for their workers. More recently National leader Judith Collins and Small Business spokesperson Andrew Bayly suggested that, rest and meal breaks would go, the ban on 90 day trials would be overturned and “costs cut”.

My supermarket job did not teach me much academically, but it taught me a fair bit about workplace politics. It taught me about workers rights, grievance processes and how to resolve disputes as well as health and safety. It taught me about the perils of weakening the very work place laws that Messrs Bidois, Bayly, Penk and Ms Collins seem determined to repeal.

But there are other reasons to be profoundly alarmed by what National and A.C.T. are proposing. New Zealand workers, whilst enjoying comparatively plentiful rights when compared with the United States where there is no federal law requiring a minimum standard of worker rights – sick leave; statutory holiday pay – or working conditions, do have some major disadvantages. Unions have been largely dismantled by neoliberal reforms, meaning organized protests are more difficult; rogue employers get away too easily as we can see with abuses going on in the liquor industry. Our occupational safety and health record is not flash and too many employees operate on a “she’ll be right” basis.

Even small and medium businesses are not keen on the proposals, with one survey suggesting S.M.E. owners might vote Labour in 2020.

 

Crack down on exploitation of migrant workers needed


In 2016 I wrote an article about the the need to stop the exploitation of migrants to New Zealand. It came at a time when the then Prime Minister of New Zealand John Key was in India to talk free trade. I lamented the loss of the opportunity Mr Key had to talk to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi about the exploitation of Indian workers here.

In 2018, I wrote another. This time it was about Filipino workers being exploited. In their case the agency that handled their visa had taken the money they paid – in the thousands of dollars – and disappeared.

This supposedly fair New Zealand is – to put it politely – pussy footing around the issue of exploitation of migrant workers. Surprisingly, despite the potential harm it will cause New Zealand when exploited workers go home with tales of abuse and how they were poorly treated by the authorities, neither of the major political parties seem to be dreadfully interested in reform.

The Labour Inspectorate is a toothless tiger in the instance of Ravi Arora, an Indian businessman who owns a several liquor stores around New Zealand, a $3.6 million house and has $36 million assets including two motels. Mr Arora has also racked up an extensive list of complaints from workers who allege exploitation under New Zealand labour laws. Despite 19 investigations, he continues to run businesses

I have no doubt that unless Mr Arora is either arrested or deported he will continue to set up, or acquire, liquor businesses so that he can continue to engage in exploitative practices. The fact that Mr Arora has offloaded business interests to avoid being linked to further exploitation claims, that he is using his wife as a contact tells me he has no qualms about the illegal nature of what he is engaging in.

Mr Arora is not the the only person who has been found wanting in their treatment of migrant workers in New Zealand. Mohan Reddy who owns liquor stores in Auckland was found wanting in 2019 over the treatment of seven migrant workers.

However not all is lost. The Government is working on law changes that will assist exploited workers in leaving their jobs with repercussions, clamp down on rogues and disqualify those convicted of exploitation from being directors or managers of a company.

It remains to be seen whether the coming law changes will have any real impact on the offenders as they are largely related to helping the victims of the exploitation. This is obviously fair enough, except that a strong clear message needs to be sent to those in a position to employ people that New Zealand expects better from its business owners than what the likes of Mr Reddy and Mr Arora have been prepared to offer their exploited staff.

It is not okay to exploit people in New Zealand. People who move here thinking that because they could get away with improper practices in their country of origin need to understand that New Zealand authorities are for the most part not corrupt. And New Zealanders as a general rule, have an expectation that this will be understood and respected.

 

New Zealand Fiscal Budget 2020


New Zealand Treasurer Grant Robertson must have been a tangle of emotions on the night before the 2020 Fiscal Budget which was delivered on 14 May at 1400 hours. So much riding on probably the single most important budget in a generation: the one that gets New Zealand out of the COVID19 mud pit.

New Zealand’s economy has taken a battering. Of that, there is no doubt. Unemployment may reach nearly double digit percentage figures, with Air New Zealand shedding 3750 jobs; 150+ at the Hermitage Hotel in Mount Cook Village; 300 at Ngai Tahu; and another 240 when Bauer collapsed the New Zealand magazine industry. Thousands more are going in the hospitality sector where the forced closure as a result of COVID19 has sent many restaurants, bars and cafes to the wall.

On one hand he had an unprecedented licence to spend on measures to get the economy going again. On the other Mr Robertson would have been nervous about whether he got the balance right between a big spend up and having enough in the bank for 2021, in case COVID19 did not clear out as fast as hoped for and to cover unforeseen emergency expenditure. And then some how dancing between the two hands, the knowledge that no matter which way he sliced and diced the pie, someone would not get enough support and might have valid reasons to be grumpy.

So, what did Mr Robertson’s Fiscal Budget 2020 do:

  • For people like me finding out that the Government has thrown another $3.2 billion in wage subsidies to businesses was very welcome news – most budgets do little for me, but this one honestly has
  • Kainga Ora has been allocated funding to build another 8,000 houses
  • 11,000 additional jobs will be created with a $1.1 billion fund to support environmental projects’
  • $1.6 billion for vocational training for those out of work and school leavers

Notably the Government had $50 billion it could have spent on New Zealand yesterday. It appears to have allocated around $30 billion of that money, leaving $20 billion in reserve. If I had to guess, Mr Robertson is wanting to make sure that there is enough in the Treasury in case COVID19 is not as finished as we think and a second wave – God forbid! – hits, in which case that is very sensible thinking.

Whilst no Fiscal Budget ever pleases EVERYONE, that was more so the case today. So many people and industrial sectors needing significant help and simply not enough money to help them all, whilst still having enough in the Treasury for a rainy day situation in 2021. Also New Zealand is very vulnerable at the moment. We are busy trying to deal with a damaging economic hit caused by a pandemic that has already taken nearly 5% off the economy, so should we have a major disaster like an earthquake or large volcanic eruption, it would be catastrophic.

Whilst not on the Government’s agenda, there are other ways we could help grow the fiscal pie, which the Government needs to consider in the near future:

  • Increase investment in research, science and technology to 2% of G.D.P. – with money being prioritized for medicine, renewable energy, alternatives to finite resources
  • Bringing back a permanent nation wide apprenticeship scheme
  • Legalize cannabis and establish the industry in poorer regions such as Gisborne, Northland and the West Coast
  • Redefine infrastructure as energy, railways, merchant marine, and invest accordingly instead of just building roads

So whilst the Government has played a largely welcome Budget in 2020, as always there are things that it could have improved on or been willing to give a try. Many New Zealanders want to see meaningful socio-economic change and are sick of the neoliberal model that only supports the very wealthy, and those with greater means than others. This cannot happen if the Government is not prepared to make changes.

 

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 36


Yesterday was DAY 36 of New Zealand in lock down as we fight the COVID19 pandemic.

But the economic environment that we need to move into post-COVID19 is not the old unsustainable, throw-away, biota demolishing monster of old. Not if the human world is to avoid early demise caused by inane decisions being made by powerful forces in spite of all the technology, all the knowledge and know how to the contrary. No. If the human world is to continue to grow and enhance itself the human’s that make that world possible much change.

Everything is there, except the political willpower to make that change. But it does not need to be like that.

The change I envisage is something that is not at all new in terms of what I espouse. I have long been a fan of green technology and know how. Whether it is hempcrete to replace concrete because the latter has a massive carbon footprint; the development of hydrogen as a fuel source for vehicles; the extraction of gold, palladium and other valuable metals from e-waste for re-use, the future is green technology.

But it is not just technology, though sustained investment in that will be very useful. The economic recovery will need projects that can be started quickly and get lots of people back to work in a meaningful way. One such thing would be a complete overhaul of the insulation in New Zealand’s social housing stock, which would create a trade boom. The number of houses ready for use in that inventory is nowhere near adequate and so there is a need for new housing projects – Christchurch has an abandoned saleyard at Addington which have not been used for decades; and could accommodate dozens of one/two/three bedroom dwellings quite easily.

There are large scale planting projects that could be getting underway to replant poor quality land that is not practical for farming, building or grazing. To that end I support the Green Party request for $1 billion, which it proposes to use for a range of community funded initiatives. Native forests are very effective carbon sinks and suck up huge quantities, but without intervention to stop possums and other animals from destroying new plantings and stripping foliage, they might become net carbon emitters.

Some projects will be longer term and are quite ambitious. Which is why it is interesting to note the Green Party also has a plan for a $9 billion investment in the New Zealand railway network. In line with New Zealand’s commitment to dealing with climate change, the Greens intend to promote railways as an alternative to the heavy investment in motorways. New Zealand has 1,067mm track gauges, which are similar to some used in Japan for fast trains that can reach speeds of 160km/h. Whilst expensive, the speed of the trains would enable people and goods to reach places nearly twice as fast as a vehicle obeying the 100km/h speed limit.

But as I said at the start, this all comes down to will power. The money is there – the Government has an unprecedented license to spend at the moment. The projects are there and some are shovel ready, whilst others are probably no further than back of the envelope calculations that look promising, and still more are ones that should have been done yonks ago.

So, who is going to give the go-ahead for these projects to get started and get New Zealand back to work?

 

 

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 29


Yesterday was DAY 29 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

One of the most constant – and least surprising – conversations that is being had is about the effect of the lock down on the economy.

As a Christchurch lad who witnessed the devastation of the 04 September 2010 earthquake, along with the February 2011 and June 2011 aftershocks, I think I have an idea of what could constitute grim times. It is certainly true that the pandemic has not physically destroyed any buildings, but the number of businesses closing around Christchurch, the jarring uncertainty about whether they will reopen, the massive job losses that are occurring, certainly have brought on a feeling of deja vu about it all.

I have huge sympathy for the many many people who have lost jobs, who do not know if they will have a job to go back to when most of New Zealand goes back to work. I know that the socio-economic toll grows the longer we keep the country in lock down and I agree that we cannot stay in it forever.

But that is where the doom and gloom ends. I am optimistic about New Zealand coming thundering back from all of this. Will it happen overnight? No, but with no past experience on shutting a country down and restarting it again, it was never going to happen overnight.

I am optimistic because there is a massive, almost unparalleled opportunity for an economic revolution right now in New Zealand. Earlier this year I wrote consecutive blog articles about why neoliberalism is a massive, abject failure here and why we need to be rid of it. Here now is that perfect opportunity to do exactly that. But not only is there a unique opportunity to get rid of an economic model that has failed the vast majority of New Zealand, the potential model that could go in its place is even more thrilling.

So what is that model that could replace the failed neoliberal experiment?

The model I am calling for is a massive investment in skilled trades; niche industries backed by a complete overhaul of the New Zealand no. 8 wire model of research. It will be green, it will be designed by New Zealanders and it will work for New Zealand and New Zealanders.

We have hundreds of tradies in bad need of a steady work stream. One thing that could sort a significant number of them out is refurbishing all of the state house inventory so that they have 21st century standards of warmth and dryness. This will indirectly partially pay for itself by helping reduce the problems many New Zealanders have around asthma and other respiratory ailments.

Another one is seismic retrofitting large buildings in high seismic risk areas with shock absorbers so that the buildings can sway backwards and forth, whilst the absorbers take the seismic energy. With hundreds of buildings in the South and North Island in urgent need of this and no idea how long before the next big earthquake hits, this is a priority we should take note of.

But it is not just singular buildings or jobs for a couple of people per site that we need. New Zealand is critically behind on infrastructure. We need a comprehensive overhaul of our railway system; we could be building a hydrogen plant and investing in that instead of fossil fuel; maybe a hemp crete research facility to help cut the carbon emissions of the concrete industry, which I understand puts out about 8% of total carbon emissions.

Much of the knowledge for these ideas is already there. But is the political willpower to do something truly radical?

You tell me.