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Liberty Belle: Poor New Zealand

Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle

Poor New Zealand

If I could paint a picture it would be of me eating humble pie. Grovelling in the dirt. Begging forgiveness for the two unforgivable errors in last week's LB.

Number one, my knighting of Colin Meads. I had checked with the then latest 'Listener' magazine and they called him Sir Colin. That will teach me to trust a left-wing magazine (although under Pamela Stirling's editorship it is now including dissenting voices).

Number two, my 'standing on principals' instead of 'principles'. I'm usually such a pedant over these two, along with 'less' and 'fewer', 'bought' and 'brought' (not so hot on 'who' and 'whom') that I feel terrible about letting myself and you readers down so badly. Thanks to all of you who emailed me. Especially Peter Cresswell who made me laugh by saying he thought it was only Trevor Mallard who stands on principals.

Having got that off my chest, so to speak, it's not every day you get a letter from the managing director of a company with an annual turnover in excess of $850 million. This week, as a member of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, I received a letter from Anzco Foods, employer of 2000 people who work in this international meat company's New Zealand processing plant operations.

In April this year the amendments to the Holidays Act took effect and Anzco has taken the trouble, in a very reasonable and well-argued manner, to point out the adversity being experienced by Anzco since April.

Incremental financial losses are one major result. This year's Easter break statutory holidays compared with 2003, for example, meant $137,600 in additional costs - an increase of between 37% and 68% for Anzco's four different business units.

Sick leave for April and May this year - just two months - meant $193,500 in increased costs. Actual sick leave pay for these two capacity processing months reflected increased hours taken off by employees - based on the four business units - ranging from 39% to 117%. The accumulated sick leave cost for the total Anzco group, based on the new rate, is $962,000.

What does this mean for the company? The increased absenteeism has resulted in product recovery losses of approximately $12 per head for cattle and $1.50 per lamb processed. Profitability, in other words, will decrease by at least $6.5 million per year.

Will this translate to pay rises for workers? No. Will it mean new jobs being created? I don't think so. But then these amendments were union driven and union bosses are only interested in protecting their members. Despite their rhetoric about the 'rich' trampling on the 'poor' they don't give a fig about the jobless. The unemployed are their competition.

Anzco was careful, in this letter, to point out that "although the amendments were well meaning at the time, they are in reality not achieving the desired outcomes". Not sure I agree with that statement but I do admire their generosity of spirit. As I remember it, there was a lot of nonsense from government MPs about "work/life balance" and ensuring people spent time with their families.

That spin sends the message that work is something to be endured whereas, in truth, most of us enjoy our work. If we don't, we look around for a job that's more satisfying, or work our butts off for promotion. We don't need the Government, strong-armed by the unions, to tell us what to do with our lives and our families.

But finally, I think the last two paragraphs of the Anzco letter summed up the most devastating effects of this legislation. The financial losses are one thing, but the cultural change that this sort of policy brings about is, to me, a disaster. We were once a country of proud, hard working, risk-taking, and healthy folk. The Holidays Act amendments - and other bossy-boots legislation passed by this Government - is turning us into a nation of wimps.

"If we endeavour to pinpoint the reasons for the problems encountered we are left with the conclusion that the new legislation has resulted in a substantial behavioural change by many of our previously good employees. This is supported by the fact that numerous staff who in the past took very few sick days now witness their colleagues being able to take days off at random being financially incentivised as 'productivity bonuses' are now paid out to absent staff. They are also left to fill in the gaps created by the absenteeism, which is not good from a motivational/team standpoint and further incenses remaining employees in the workplace. This is not assisted by employees who now do not have the requirement to produce a medical certificate until after day three of a continuous absence.

"The untenable situation the company finds itself in will undoubtedly create a large level of workplace disharmony. It will also force a company like Anzco to seek solutions, which will result in lost opportunities for existing employees. This could include the option of contracting labour from offshore."

I would bet good money on the fact that this is duplicated in other workplaces - big and small - all around the country. Poor New Zealand.

Yours in liberty,
Deborah Coddington

Liberty Belle is a column from Deborah Coddington, Member of Parliament for ACT New Zealand. If you would like to be removed from this list, please advise by return email. If you would like to subscribe to other ACT New Zealand publications, please visit our web site at http://www.act.org.nz.

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