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 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.

 

 

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 17


Yesterday was DAY 17 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

In the coming few days, once the Government resumes working following the Easter staycation, the plan for how to manage New Zealand coming off LEVEL 4 will be released.

I expect that there will be some holes in the plan. No one should be surprised as this is the first time New Zealand has been locked down and then made to start from cold. Logistically it will be a major feat in itself. Many nations overseas will be watching to see how we go.

To me it will be like turning on a power station after it has been turned off for a long time. It is not simple case of simply flicking a couple of switches so that the fuel or water that is used to generate electricity simply starts flowing into the turbine and setting the generator in motion. After four weeks the system will need to be primed. The technicians will not be able to bring it up to full capacity immediately and other triggers.

In the same sense, businesses will not be able to immediately open because they will need to figure out how many staff to recall and when; get stock in if they need to; establish which functions of their operation are going to be operating and which ones will have to wait longer, and so on. Further up the supply chain, the suppliers will need to figure out how to get their systems and functions going again. And then there are the staff, who will have to get their lock down lives in order – arrange who will look after dependents, such as elderly relatives, children or anyone else they were looking after.

There will be some to-ing and fro-ing between Government and businesses as the latter seek clarity about what they can and cannot do. After a successful lock down period no one will be rushing to do anything that might risk undoing all of what was achieved by spending four weeks to shut down COVID19.

And with the reopening of businesses I expect as I wrote on Saturday, that the rules around hygiene will have changed. Even if bars, restaurants, cafes, and such cannot open their face-to-face functions immediately, any forward looking owner/manager would have given thought about how they can reduce the risk to staff and patrons alike.

The operating environment that businesses find themselves will have changed dramatically in four weeks. Whilst their functions will be essentially the same in many ways, the realisation that a biological menace like COVID19 can cripple the country will be the long over impetus to undertake programmes of building resilience – something that should have happened after events like the Christchurch/Canterbury earthquakes, which whilst being geological rather than biological provided a severe local test.

Businesses open with a business as usual approach I suspect will be the most vulnerable. They will probably be the first to go to the wall should we have some kind of relapse.

This will take time. It will take patience and some hiccups are inevitable. We survived the Christchurch and Canterbury earthquakes with the many problems that arose out of them, some of which still exist today. To think that COVID19’s mark on New Zealand will disappear overnight is straight out fantasy. I suspect even if the rest of the 2020’s is relatively painless, the economic recovery and the socio-economic rebuilding of our society will probably still be casting a shadow of some kind in December 2029.

But if you think we can do better and know how, show me. Show New Zealand. Show the world.