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launch of the Four Weeks Annual Leave Campaign

Wednesday 1 May 2002 Hon Laila Harre Speech Notes
Speech at the launch of the Four Weeks Annual Leave Campaign
First Floor Gallery
Turnbull House
25 Bowen Street

Welcome to this May Day celebration launch of the Alliance campaign for four weeks annual leave, “You’ve earned another week off”.

The campaign for Four Weeks Annual Leave is a “welcome back” call to the Alliance. We’ve done our best work when we’ve done it together – working within Parliament and Government, but alongside those who share our goals.

Welcome back to those who believe that the fruits of economic growth must be shared by all and that we have a moral imperative to constantly improve the living and working conditions of all New Zealanders.

Welcome back to those who represent low paid workers with little bargaining power who have only the minimum 3 weeks holiday every year.

Welcome back to those who recognise that if we are to support families we have to give them time to be families.

And welcome back to those in New Zealand who are inspired by the politics of progress, not by the politics of fear.

New Zealand is now two and a half years out of the dark years of new right economic and social reform.

We’ve thrown off the shackles of privatisation, labour market liberalisation and deregulation. We’ve waved goodbye to Rogernomics and Ruthanasia and buried the mother of all budgets.

New Zealanders have been able to relax their fear of the next attack upon their living and working conditions. We are no longer constantly looking over our shoulders for the next axe to fall.

The Labour Alliance Government has made this possible because we have halted the juggernaut.

We’ve raised the minimum wage, introduced paid parental leave, frozen the cost of tertiary education, opened the Kiwibank, increased superannuation and childcare subsidies and reduced state housing rentals.

As a result this is the most popular government in a generation.

The job that we all have now is to raise people’s expectations of what a popular government can deliver. The Alliance takes this responsibility seriously but we can’t do it on our own. Raising expectations is a job for all of us here.

Four weeks annual leave is part of the solution to two significant problems facing New Zealand workers - over work and under employment. On the one hand, it would give workers more time away from the workplace, and in same cases some businesses will hire staff to cover these breaks.

Many workers already receive four weeks annual leave. Setting this as a minimum standard will ensure that those with the least bargaining power also see some of the benefits of economic growth, and the best person for the job won't be selected on his or her willingness to accept inferior conditions.

Increasing productivity of a smaller workforce as our population ages is essential. That means making it easier for caregivers to work and creating a work environment that fosters balance. Four weeks annual leave will help both causes.

As the experience of the 35 hour working week in France has shown, cutting the amount of time that individuals spend at work can have a positive effect on productivity, as well as significantly improving the mental wellbeing of workers and improving their capacity to parent well.

Four weeks annual leave is no gold standard. It will bring those with less bargaining power nearer to those with more of it.

This year the Government will introduce a Holidays Bill to Parliament. After years of reviewing the Holidays Act it will be our one real opportunity to modernise it.

In 1997/98, the most controversial review of the Holidays Act was held by the National New Zealand First Coalition. It was a thinly veiled attempt to reduce entitlements by suggesting that statutory holidays and annual leave could be traded for cash.

True to form the then Minister of Labour, Max Bradford, believed workers rights were getting in the way of economic efficiency. Making holidays subject to negotiation would have completely removed a worker’s right to take and ask for them as a minimum condition of employment.

That whole process should serve as a reminder as to how precious legislated minimum standards are to New Zealand workers. And if anyone thought Max’s retirement meant that sanity would prevail, the Nat’s industrial relations policy released last Friday is a grim reminder that the dust hasn’t yet settled on the deregulators. They might not be wanting to take your holidays any more, but if you’re a new worker they want even more form you—your right to object to unfair treatment in your first three months of employment.

If the right to a holiday was seen as worthy of legal protection at a time some 50 years ago when people could walk in and out of jobs at leisure and live on a single income, then it is of even greater value now.

These days, both individual families and the economy rely heavily on mothers but the structures that support them as workers remain geared towards yesterday's workforce. A workforce characterised by men at work and women at home looking after the kids.

It has been almost 30 years since any increase was made to the minimum annual leave entitlement. The way that families organise themselves has changed dramatically in those three decades. In 1972 most mothers were working in the home 52 weeks of every year and fathers were off paid work for three weeks. Now most women are in the paid workforce and parents only have 6 weeks between them to spend on holiday with their children. We cannot continue to ignore the impact that this will have on the development of future generations. I am not saying, “keep women in the home.” What I am saying is that our industrial relations laws have to keep pace with the changing nature of our workforce and the fact that half or more of the workforce is also primary caregivers.

Just look at the numbers to see what a massive changes that’s been. In 1945 married women were 18 per cent of all women working 20 or more hours a week.

By 1996 76 per cent of the mothers of teenagers were in paid work, as were 30 per cent of women with a baby under one year and 50 per cent of mothers of one to four year olds.

Because today's workforce is dramatically different from that of 1950, the needs of workers are also different. The workforce used to be predominantly made of men with caring responsibilities held by a wife at home. Now almost as many workers are female and a huge proportion have young children.

There is growing evidence that managing work and family commitments is a key contributor to stress in individuals, families and communities.

The Alliance’s four week’s annual leave policy is about recognising that we need a balance between work and family and that the family unit needs some support in the face of ever-increasing work demands.

The policy allows parents to spend more time with their children and everyone to take more time out.

The family, in whatever form it takes, is, after all the most fundamental of our social institutions. It’s the place where our most important social development takes place. The more we leave it to chance that this is a stable, secure environment in which that development can occur, the more we leave any vision of a cohesive, healthy and egalitarian society to chance too.

Economic security is central to all this, and the Alliance will be pursuing policies that aim to put more money in the pockets of those who need it the most. But quality of life and relationships are also vital and this is where four weeks annual leave comes in.

The Alliance won’t win this policy on its own. We are going to need the support of workers, of unions and of all New Zealanders who feel as we do – that you’ve earned another week off.


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