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Laila Harre Speech To EPMU Conference

Hon Laila Harre, Alliance Leader
Speech
18 July 2002

Speech to the Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union Biennial Conference
Centra Rotorua
Rotorua

Speaking to you today as Associate Minister of Labour and Leader of the Alliance its good to look back at what we have achieved in government for working people over the last two and a half years.

I want to acknowledge your contribution as a union to those achievements.

We have repealed the Employment Contracts Act.

The ERA has made it possible for unions to organise again. They don’t have to ask the boss’s permission to come into your workplace and invite workers to join the union and negotiate collective agreements. Paid stop work meetings are a right. The Mediation Service and Employment Relations Authority are dealing with cases more quickly than the old Employment Tribunal. Employers can’t use fixed-term contracts as a way of making it easy to get rid of workers. Where there is a collective agreement new workers have to be given a real chance to decide whether to join the union.

Good faith bargaining has put an end to employers refusing to come to the table and talk because they don’t like dealing with the union. They have to talk. They have to share financial information about the business. And they have to tell you if they’re planning any big changes.

Together these changes have given working people a greater say and more bargaining power. As leaders within your workplaces and your union, you know how important it is that people join the union and make the most of the new law.

But working families need more than fair employment laws. Our government has also reduced rents for state house tenants by reintroducing income-related rentals. We have increased superannuation. Unemployment is at its lowest in 13 years. The modern apprenticeship scheme has been a runaway success and we are doubling the numbers on it.

12 weeks Paid Parental Leave became a reality on July 1st. I am very proud of that.

It is a huge achievement. 20,000 mothers will get up to 100 per cent of their wages for the first twelve weeks of their parental leave. The maximum payment is $325 a week. For many low-paid women this will mean all or most of their wages are paid during that time.

We have had some big increases in the minimum wage too – and especially the youth minimum. 18 and 19 year olds now get the adult rate which means their minimum wages have gone up massive $3.80 and hour. Adult minimum wages have gone up $1 an hour to $8, and 16 and 17 year olds have had an increase from $4.20 to $6.40 – a pay rise of $2.20 an hour.

Just last week I launched a Ministry of women’s Affairs discussion document that I hope will lead to new pay equity laws in New Zealand in the next three years.

As the Associate Minister of Commerce I have made sure that our new laws on insolvency will mean that if businesses go belly up workers will get $15,000 of the wages and redundancy they are owed before other company debts are paid.

These things would not have happened without the Alliance in Government. I held the line for you and I want to be back in Parliament after the election to keep holding it.

When the going got tough with employers during the passing of the Employment Relations Bill I know how hard I had to work to make sure that Labour did not go soft on the new law. If the Alliance had not been there the Employment Relations Bill would have been much weaker. If the Alliance had not be there we would not have 12 weeks paid parental leave. If the Alliance had not been there we would not have had those big increases in the minimum wage. I know this because I was there at the cabinet table and I know how hard I had to push.

If the Alliance is not back there we will not get four weeks annual leave. Labour has said it won’t increase annual leave to four weeks. We will – and even if there are only one or two of us in parliament we will make sure this happens. You need us there to campaign with you and negotiate for you.

Yesterday I announced the Alliance’s Employment Relations policy for 2002.

We want to strengthen the Employment Relations Act. There are still too many traps for collective bargaining and the Alliance wants to make some changes.

Especially when it comes to first time collective agreements negotiations can still be endless. That’s why we will introduce a right to seek arbitration on first-time collective agreements, as well as a right to seek arbitration when there has been a breach of good faith.

We will make it easier to negotiate multi-employer agreements.

A number of disputes – like that involving Herald reporters who are members of this union – have revolved around the right of employers to challenge the coverage proposed by the union. The Alliance has always intended that workers, through their union, would define the bargaining unit, and negotiation over the coverage clause is in effect a challenge to the fundamental right to engage in collective bargaining. We want the legislation amended so this is a clear.

We want to end freeloading. Workers who benefit from the union’s negotiations should have to help pay for them – if that’s what the union members on the job want.

Minimum wages must increase even more. You shouldn’t have to compete with people on $8 and hour for your wages. The minimum wage is too low.

We want 14 weeks paid parental leave and we want it paid at a higher rate and to cover more parents.

We want a law to protect the jobs, pay and conditions of workers when the businesses you work for are sold or the work is contracted out. This would mean companies like Carter Holt could not use contracting out just to cut costs.

We want a working hours commission to make recommendations to government on a maximum number of working hours and the best way to enforce it. Too many of you are working too hard just to make ends meet, while others don’t have enough work to start with.

I am proud of the work we have done as a government, and especially proud of the Alliance contribution to it. Improving working conditions – especially for low paid workers – has always been the Alliance’s mission.

But improving the lives of working families is also about better social services.

Right here I am announcing the Alliance’s Children’s, Taxation and Economic Policies. We’re linking them together because we know that we need to raise more money to invest in the health, wellbeing and education of our children and young people.

We have already made it clear that we will scrap the student loans scheme and spend half the surplus on free tertiary education. The student debt crisis is crippling our young people.

At the heart of our children’s policy is a commitment to eliminate child poverty by 2010. It is deeply shameful that in a country as rich as New Zealand 3 out 10 children are living in households with incomes below the poverty line. That means three out of 10 children do not have enough to get by on. They have poor diets, live in sub-standard housing and are being admitted to hospitals with third world diseases. Many of them won’t move from high school into work or training. They will just go nowhere. Some of them will become serious offenders.

The Alliance will not stand on the sidelines with other parties that say that social justice must await economic growth. We used to call that the trickle down theory and it’s nonsense. You can’t ask poor kids to wait until business is ready before they can be guaranteed good food, a warm house and the health and education systems they need to fully develop their potential.

The Alliance’s Economic Policy has full employment at its heart.

The Reserve Bank Act must be amended. The way it works now creates unemployment and raises the costs for families with mortgages.

Our Tax Policy raises $840 million for a completely free public health system, including free doctors visits and no charges for prescriptions. We pay for it with another 1% of tax for heath. The Alliance would cut taxes for all earners under $40 000, those on between $40 –50 0000 would pay the same, and those earning over $50 000 would pay more depending on their income. And everyone would have the same right to free healthcare as everyone else. No more unfair community services cards.

The Alliance would raise another $1.03 billion through a land tax, death duties for very big estates, a carbon tax and casino taxes. Half of this would go to a universal child benefit of $15 per week per child. The rest would pay for more state houses, job creation and much more money for primary and secondary education. All teachers are worth more and we would pay them more.

It might scare the worm, but I am proud to be putting up the Alliance’s programme to tackle inequality and invest in our children and young people. I feel comfortable asking higher earners, myself included, to contribute more to achieve that goal. Even I will see the benefits – with $15 a week paid back to me for each of my children, no health charges and no student loans.

But only the Alliance has the courage to tell the truth about these issues. And unless we are back in government there will not be a strong advocate for social justice and much better rights for workers.

I know this because I have been there already.

If the Alliance is not there no-one will be pushing from the inside for 4 weeks annual leave. Without the Alliance there student debt will keep growing and no-one will be fighting for free education .

Without the Alliance there won’t be a real plan to end child poverty.

I want to be back in Government with Labour because I know how important it is to have a delegate on the inside working with people like you on the outside to make these things happen.

Does Labour need a coalition partner?

Yes.

With Labour asking National Party people to vote Labour, unless they have a coalition partner they will spend the next three years trying to keep National Party voters happy and that won’t be good for you.

Will workers’ interests be best served by Labour’s other potential partners: NZ First and the Greens.

No.

The Greens have their hearts in the right place but they’ve made it clear that GE is their bottom line and that other things can be traded away. If you don’t think you can trade away social justice then you need to support the Alliance. And as for Winston Peters – well last time he was in government he wanted to make the Employment Contracts Act tougher for people working in small businesses and not fairer for them.

The Alliance has delivered for workers, and we have had to fight hard for many of the wins we’ve had.

My best chance of staying in Parliament to work for working people is to win my Waitakere electorate. That way you will have two voices for the things you say are important in Parliament. Your own official, Lynne Pillay, who will be elected as a Labour List MP because you have won her a guaranteed spot on Labour’s list, and myself as the electorate MP for Waitakere.

With Lynne as the list MP and myself as the local MP you will have two people to keep working alongside and not just one.

I have been a West Auckland MP for 6 years and the local people are saying they want me back in Parliament. My biggest achievement locally has been winning support in government for a new public hospital for Waitakere. I have worked hard for our community.

It is a seat I can win and it is without doubt in your interests that I do.

Just remember that yesterday Labour told you one thing on 4 weeks annual leave and Business New Zealand another thing. That’s why you need me and the Alliance back in parliament. With 12 weeks paid parental leave we have proved how determined and effective we can be.

I promise you that I will be determined and effective on this one too, and seek your support to make sure I am there to do it.

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