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Four weeks leave progresses with 33 vote majority

1 December 2003

Four weeks leave progresses with 33 vote majority

Matt Robson’s speech to Parliament on the second reading of the Holidays Bill which will provide four weeks leave for all.

- In an ad lib, he noted that Australia has had four weeks leave for over 20 years and is far from an economic basket case. Indeed, he said, four weeks might be the reason their rugby team enjoys such success.

- Following Matt Robson’s speech, NZ First announced that after a torrid caucus meeting, they are supporting the Bill because it contains four weeks leave. As a result the Bill progresses with a majority of 33 - Ayes 76, Noes 43.

- He observed happily that National is saying that four weeks is all due to the good influence of the Progressives and their tremendous campaign in support.

- He will seek support for his Supplementary Order Paper bringing four weeks leave into effect from 1 April 2005.

Mr Speaker:

The Holidays Amendment Bill represents another step forward for the plans of the Labour--Progressive coalition and another step forward for the people of New Zealand. It takes a number of progressive steps in the modernizing and upgrading of our labour laws.

The bill clarifies and reforms what had become a messy law. It ensures that those who work on public holidays are not penalised. It clarifies the calculation of annual holiday pay and provides for five days entitlement leave and ensures that payment for sick and bereavement leave is at relevant daily pay.

The most significant part of the Bill, in the view of the Progressive Party, is of course the provision to increase the minimum annual holidays entitlement from three weeks to four weeks.

I don't want to irritate anyone, but I must say there was this huge gaping hole on the issue of annual leave entitlements when this legislation was first presented to the House earlier in the year. As Margaret Wilson has acknowledged in her speech (delivered by John Tamihere,) this is the most significant reform for low-income workers for 30 years. 1974 was the last time that another week of annual leave was granted to the workforce.

In that time professionals, management and some sections of the highly skilled workforce have long moved to four weeks and more. So has our greatest trading partner Australia. Members of Parliament with a flexibility of holiday time that low-income workers do not have now in their majority recognised the unfairness that those who have borne large sacrifices with the restructuring of the economy, often poorly done and unwisely instituted, are now owed a measure which will afford them more appropriate rest , recreation and family time to compensate for more than a decade of rolling back conditions and in particular the 40 hour week.

I'm very proud that the Progressive and Labour parties are now as one on the issue of changing the law for four weeks leave - although the Progressives continue to advocate bringing it in sooner than 2007. I will do that by the Supplementary Order Paper in my name which seeks to bring four weeks annual leave into force on 1 April 2005.

It is socially just. Our families are under pressure. All parties state that. United Future , consistently opposed to this family- friendly, family strengthening reform, state that it is their major plank. Four weeks minimum annual leave relieve that pressure on families.

I recently attended one night of my youngest son’s school camp. A number of parents had been there for the week. They had taken that out of their holiday entitlement. One father was a factory worker. He had been with his present job for a decade. He had 3 weeks annual leave. He gave up one of those to be with his son. He was overjoyed that four weeks annual minimum leave would come in as that would still leave him with 3 other weeks for his wife and other children. It is to allow productive workers like him to put adequate time into his children that this measure is aimed. He was disappointed that he had to wait until April 1 2007. He brightened up when I advised that the Progressives had an amendment to begin April 1 2005.

When this measure was first introduced by the Progressives only the Greens came out in support. But gradually support built. From the original 11 votes in this Parliament the Labour Party has added its 52 votes to give a Parliamentary majority. This turnaround resulted from the massive public support for the measure. This support was generated by a postcard distribution campaign, workplace meetings and union stopwork meetings, letter writing and a lobbying campaign of MPs.

In the correspondence that I received I noted how much support came from those who already had four weeks but wanted that extended to the total workforce. They did not want to deprive the women who cleaned late at night, the assembly line workers, young parents, women who had broken service n through having children and the many other largely in low-income positions from having the same benefits.

In economic terms those who decry the cost fail to talk of either the social or economic benefits. What price do you put on the social benefit of the extra time that parents can spend with their children? What price do you put on the health of low-income workers? And why do opponents forget to advise that the total increase is not a further 2% of the total wage bill covering all workers because a large number of employees get four weeks now. The annual net cost will be around $350 million. They also forget to include the increased spending in the economy because people when on holiday will spend money on goods and services.

They are silent on the fact that Britain which introduced four weeks for all last year, with cries of economic disaster pending from their political counterparts in Britain, has actually strengthened its economic position. Why is Australia not an economic basket case when it has had four weeks for all for twenty years.?

Raising the minimum standard on leave entitlements is vital and critical to New Zealand for many reasons. It is important if New Zealand is to continue to compete successfully against other countries in the competition to attract and maintain skilled people. New Zealand has been running current account deficits in each and every year for over quarter of a century.

Under the progressive coalition government our economy has outperformed the average of the OECD over the past four years and we're forecast to continue to outperform the average of the OECD over the next few years.

The unemployment rate is now one of the very lowest among that rich group of nations. But we must do still better. But we'll never export our way out of our inability to pay our way in the world by competing on international markets on the basis of cheap labour and low costs alone.

That approach would be a losers' approach - a race to the bottom as we attempted to compete with the likes of the Democratic Republic of Congo on the basis of ever cheaper labour and ever cheaper commodity production.

Congo, Mr Speaker, doesn't have four weeks leave entitlement for its workers. In fact, the vast nation of Congo is a living experiment for ACT Party policies. You don't have to pay federal tax, or even state taxes, in Congo. Businesses don't pay company tax either. There are no expensive public education or health systems to burden the consumers and taxpayers of Kinshasa. I guess you could say it is an ACT Party paradise. No tax, no welfare, no education, no minimum labour standards and No Hope for the majority.

We have to take a different approach than that. We have to add knowledge, add value and integrate innovation into everything we export. That is how we are steadily regaining our place in the world. But it isn't just ACT that doesn't understand the nature of a modern economy. National Party leader Don Brash says any future centre-right coalition government he leads will change the law and end four weeks leave.

Don Brash has attacked the Progressives' four weeks leave initiative on the grounds that it is - yes, you guessed it, a cost to business.

But four weeks annual leave is a critical financial issue in the battle to keep low income families in the productive workforce contributing to New Zealand's economic development.

The financial cost of balancing work and family responsibilities is too high or on the margin of being unaffordable for many low income two parent families. Four weeks leave is long overdue for this part of the productive workforce and is vital in the campaign to keep people out of the welfare system and inside the productive workforce.

The fierce opponents of this family-friendly move in National , Act United Future and now unfortunately joined by New Zealand First, all get four weeks and more. But they will deny it to those who need legislation to get what others more privileged like the MPs in those anti-family parties, already get.

Don Brash now has the repeal of four weeks minimum annual leave to add alongside his moves to revoke our nuclear free status and his pledge to sell Kiwibank, the people’s bank popularly known as Jim Anderton’s bank, and other state –owned assets that he, Mr Prebble and Mr Dunne had previously assisted in selling to the rich at bargain basement prices and now National and its putative coalition partners of Act and United Future want to repeat the nightmare of the sale of public assets.

And where is New Zealand First? Fresh from attacking immigrants as their contribution to the season of goodwill they have now decided they will vote against four weeks annual minimum leave. How do they explain that to the very Kiwi battlers that they claim to represent? Once again as in 1996 when they campaigned as the party that would throw out National they join with the parties that sell public assets and cut the conditions of work for the lowest paid workers.

This is a reform in the tradition of the great labour reforms. In one stroke of the pen one extra week of precious family time will go to New Zealand’s employees who have contributed so much to our economic growth and have seen others take the reward.

The incorporation of the Progressives four weeks annual minimum leave bill is a reward justly deserved.

I will do my best in the Committee stages to persuade my Labour colleagues to support the introduction on April 1 2005 by voting for the Supplementary Order Paper in my name. I do not want the situation where the reward is denied to those who if they wait until 1 April 2007 will not have the health they would have had with an earlier introduction.

The bill and its four weeks component is a time for celebration for all fair –minded pro-family New Zealanders.


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