Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Antipodean Aspirations and the Difficulties of Regulating for Decent Work Now and Then?

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Antipodean Aspirations and the Difficulties of Regulating for Decent Work Now and Then?

Article excerpt

Abstract

Currently, the NZCTU is waging a number of campaigns for decent work. There is a view that the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration (IC and A) Act, instituted in 1894, achieved decent work before the 1991 Employment Contracts Act deregulated workplaces and industrial relations. In this paper, I give a more nuanced overview of the IC and A Act's implementation, questioning the extent to which most workers in New Zealand were regulated before 1936, and indicating the ways in which universal 'decent or fair wages' were aspirational. For some time after 1936, too, regulation for women, for instance, meant being paid less than men for the same job and ranking female-dominated occupations as inferior in skill and, therefore, wages to male-dominated occupations. The story about decent work for marginal workers - some women, Maori, Pacific, young, old and those working for small workplaces - differs from the standard story for skilled, unionised male workers.

Introduction: Contemporary CTU Campaigns

At the 2013 New Zealand Labour Party conference, Helen Kelly, President of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU), discussed the CTU's various workplace campaigns: Forestry Safety, the Living Wage Campaign, the Fairness at Work Campaign and the Campaign on Insecure Work. Its campaign for greater workplace safety was in the wake of corporate and regulatory failures in mining which led to the 29 men dead in the Pike River coal mine disaster in November 2010, but was further inspired by eight deaths in the forestry industry in 2013. The CTU estimated that 570,000 workers out of the total workforce of 2.2 million were employed in one of the five industries with the worst health and safety records: agriculture, forestry, fishery, construction and manufacturing. The CTU's living wage campaign aimed to raise minimum wages for the lowest paid workers to 66 per cent of the average ordinary time wage. The CTU estimated that 573,000 workers earned less than the living wage and raising minimum wages was an attempt to 'raise the floor' and reduce poverty. Its campaign on insecure work and fairness at work targeted the 635,000 or 30 per cent of New Zealand workers, perhaps as high as 50 per cent of workers, in insecure work; including the 192,000 in temporary employment, the 95,000 workers with no usual work time and the 61,000 with no written employment agreement (CTU 2013a). More generally, and from the introduction of the Employment Contracts Act in 1991, the CTU waged a work rights campaign for industrial law and practice ensuring workers' rights to union representation, collective bargaining, equal pay and sharing productivity profits (CTU, 2013b). This was sometimes characterised as a wish to 'turn back' to the 'glory days' before 1991. By 2013, however, the CTU, of course, was not the only group concerned about health and safety, living wages and the workers' rights to secure work.

The Royal Commission on the 2010 Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy's report, released in October 2012, identified a range of problems with the regulatory environment for workplace health and safety. The Commission recommended that, to improve New Zealand's poor record in workplace health and safety, a new Crown agency focussing solely on workplace health and safety should be established. The 2010 Commission also called on the Minister of Labour to establish an Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety, and required it to report back to the Minister on the organisational design options for a health and safety regulator. In turn, the Independent Taskforce, which reported in April 2013, identified that each year over 100 New Zealanders died from workplaces accidents. It also reckoned that between 700 and 1,000 other people died as a result of gradual work-related diseases. The Taskforce said New Zealand's workplace culture, with its "high level of tolerance for risk, and negative perceptions of health and safety, Kiwi stoicism, deference to authority, laid-back complacency and suspicion of red tape" affected "behaviour from the boardroom to the shop floor" (Independent Taskforce of Workplace Health and Safety, 2013:31). …

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