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Sharples - Probationary Employment Bill

Employment Relations (Probationary Employment) Amendment Bill

Dr Pita Sharples - Wednesday March 15 2006

Mr Speaker

This House has heard before, how the world of Maori has a special work ethic, a proud history of industry, a genealogy of Hard Work.

Our waiata and moteatea abound with lyrical allusion to blistered hands, to sweat on the brow, to the work of the collective.

Ehara tä te tangata kai, he kai tïtongi kakï,
e kore e rite ki täna ake, tino kai, tino mäkona.

Food provided by another merely tickles one's throat
It never equals that gained by one's own exertions which are the best and most satisfying.

We stand here today extolling the Right to Work.

That is why we will support this Bill going forward to the next stage - because we are absolutely passionate about the debate.

That debate must ensure we can create dramatic change for our employment options.

That debate must increase Maori access to employment, as well as ensuring advancement through employment.

We want to widen the options available, so that our people have the chance to get their foot in the door, to achieve the fullest possible range of employment opportunities.

Mr Speaker, in case this House hasn't noticed, the door is still slammed shut for far too many Maori.

Closed doors mean the average weekly income for Maori is only $471 per week compared to $598 for non-Maori - a whole $127 difference.

Mr Speaker, even though you and I hate hearing these negative statistics, when discussing issues such as this Bill they become totally relevant.

Mr Speaker, the right to work, should be a right universally enjoyed by all citizens.

Yet currently, there are around 30,000 Maori who are jobless.

The Maori share of total New Zealand unemployment is disproportionately high at 22% in 2005 - which is far higher than the Maori share of the working age population which is around 10%.

Long term unemployment for Maori is particularly rife - roughly 27% of all unemployed Maori are experiencing long-term unemployment.

Why is this? Well the Department of Labour tells us it is because Maori are more likely to become unemployed, due to a number of factors:

Maori are strongly represented in volatile industries such as exports

There are also high numbers of Maori in low skilled occupations; and in part-time work.

Numbers of Maori do not have sufficient levels of literacy or qualifications to secure and to retain work.

And all too often Maori with the same tertiary qualifications as non-Maori are not selected for employment.

So Mr Speaker, what is behind these disparities?

Many years ago, a ground-breaking report to the Department of Social Welfare, 'Puao Te Atatu' identified a bias in our social and administrative institutions that automatically benefits the predominant race or culture, while penalising minority and sub-ordinate groups - and so we learnt about Institutional Racism and Discrimination.

If one is outside, one sees it as "the system". If one is cocooned within it, one sees it as the normal conditions of existence.

Mr Speaker, these are strong words, and we must apply strength to the actions we take in dismantling the cocoon, opening the door to diversity.

I come to this House today, desperately aware of the need of people in my constituency, in my electorate, particularly in South Auckland, to be able to walk in the door to a job. However, we are also committed to protecting Workers' Rights - so that workers' rights are not impinged on, workers are not abused, do not suffer from exploitation.

These are heavy issues, and our caucus has grappled with the challenge inherent. What takes precedence? The Right to Work or the Workers' Rights?

We are not happy that workers' rights may be affected by the fact that the employee would not have recourse to any of the remedies under the Employment Relations Act.

But we will not kill the debate at the first step - what we want is to allow people to have a say, to hear the views of others, to open the doors for wider discussion.

The impact of systemic bias, of institutional racism, the plight of the jobless are still issues of significance for this nation - and we must have the courage and strength to consider options.

We therefore will vote on principle, wanting there to be room for discussion, but also always aware of the juggling act to protect Workers' Rights alongside the Right to Work.


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