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Harawira: Flexible Working Hours Bill

Employment Relations (Flexible Working Hours) Amendment Bill

Hone Harawira; Spokesperson for Employment
Wednesday 3 May 2006; 5.30pm

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party is pleased to support Sue Kedgley's Bill, because it is a genuine attempt to help people balance their work and family life.

Although if I was to go across the road to my marae and ask my aunties how they were handling their Work-Life Balance, they'd probably tell me to stay out of their business, and get back to the taumata - because work-life balance is not something people in my neck of the woods have even heard about yet, although they certainly do understand the need to work when there's work to be done, and stop to smell the daisies when the work has been done.

And yet, trying to juggle the more and more frenetic pace of life in today's ever more complex world, requires us all to consider that balance.


Mr Speaker, Maori are used to doing things like holding down a job, while at the same time helping at the marae, running kids to sports and wananga, organising gears for the school kapa haka, running the batons-up, looking after the moko, fundraising for school trips, paying the bills, cooking for nephews and nieces who drop by every day, keeping the home safe, and still have time to worry about how their kids are doing, where they're at, who they're hangin' out with, what they're getting' up to, and how come they're too tired to do any work around the house but they've always got time to loaf around town doing nothing at all.

It's those kids that we are thinking about in supporting this Bill. I think of the way kids text one another instead of talking - even when they're in the same room. In my day, it was "kanohi ki te kanohi" or face to face. In today's world it's "konui ki te konui" or thumb to thumb. It's a whole different way of relating to people, and it's hard for parents to understand, because they are so locked up in a world of work, work, work, and no time to see what the kids are doing.

So I can see how this Bill will benefit working parents and their whanau - as well as their workplaces. In giving employees with young children the right to ask for flexible working hours, and requiring employers to take those requests seriously, this Bill is what we like to see.


Mr Speaker, yesterday I challenged this Parliament to hear the May Day signals, and to recognise, protect, and preserve parents' rights, against the onslaught of society's drive to force mothers and fathers into the workforce.

I made that challenge, because I think that this nation has had enough of the mean-spirited attacks on parents and their responsibilities, including marginalising and excluding beneficiary parents from the Working for Families package, and the bizarre shutdown of one of this country's most cherished parent support services, Plunket-line.

And I have to say that I am greatly saddened to note that Labour's Maori MPs not only sat by while this happened, but actually voted for legislation which denies vital support to more than 100,000 Maori children.

Thankfully, the Greens have heard that call - and I am happy to note that within 24 hours of my May Day alert, we have a Bill before the House which supports parents in the workforce, and challenges the culture which discriminates against employees with families.


M... Speaker, I also take note of the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, who recommends that "social delivery services should continue to be specifically targeted and tailored to the needs of Maori, requiring more targeted research, evaluation and statistical basis".

His comments are important, because we need to have the proper data to hand, if we are to clearly identify the needs of that sector of society most affected by trends in employment and unemployment - Maori.

In developing proper education programmes to ensure workers are best able to take advantage of flexible working hours, the situation of Maori workers is important. Many Maori in the workforce are employed in vulnerable last-hired, first-fired types of jobs, and their right to request flexible working hours is very likely to go untested for fear of their losing their jobs.

Having the proper information to hand then is very important, and this could be a problem, given that this government has decided to shelf the gathering of Maori data - again, a matter of huge concern for Maori, and one which Labour's Maori MPs have again been silent.


M... Speaker, the Maori Party is mindful of the greater whanau obligations of Maori employees, the fact that Maori are more likely to undertake voluntary work, and the ever growing reality of the increasing number of solo-parent employees.

The tension from balancing paid work with family responsibilities is a huge issue for everyone in Aotearoa, and at a time when pressures are increasing on whanau, a little flexibility has got to be a great idea.

As a parent, and as a grandfather who has raised his mokopuna for the past eleven years, I see heaps of benefits from flexibility in the workforce.

And as an employer, I have always operated on the basis that my staff's personal time is as valuable to me as their work time, and that if I can help enhance their personal situation, the benefits will be felt in the workplace as well.

My stories are entirely anecdotal of course, but the official research confirms that view - give families a break and everybody wins.

Lower absentee rates, better morale, less staff turnover and recruitment costs, and of course that all translates into greater workplace productivity.


Mr Speaker, for all the technological advances of the last half-century, we don't seem to be working less. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case. We are overworking ourselves.

Overwork threatens our health. It leads to fatigue, accidents and injuries. It forces us to fast food and frantic relationships. It means less time for each other, for our kids, for our whanau, and even for our elders.

Overwork also reduces employment. Fewer people working longer hours reduces the number of workers needed. And it adds stress and burnout to those who are working.

And with the higher unemployment, employers feel comfortable about pushing back working conditions and pushing down wages. So what we are finding is that the low paid are on a frenetic Ferris wheel, needing to work longer and longer hours just to earn enough to get by. And the higher paid often feel trapped into working more hours than they want to, to keep pace with their own station in life.


Mr Speaker, the Maori Party congratulates the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions for speaking out against this spiralling pattern of stress and burnout, in their campaign for work-life balance called "Get a Life!".
Their national secretary, Carol Beaumont recently said: "The Government must make sure that laws which set out the minimum code for workers' pay and conditions take into account the need for balance between work and life".

A few years back, a poll for the Centre for a New American Dream, showed that sixty percent of Americans felt too much pressure to work, and that more than eighty percent wished they had more family time.

More recently, Time magazine featured a New Jersey initiative called Ready, Set, Relax, described by one local businessman as a "city-wide sanity check" - to slow down, and to persuade frazzled families to put down some speed bumps in their fast-paced lives.

And now the US has a national day of protest called, "Take Back your Time".

So this Bill is consistent with positive working trends all round the world


Mr Speaker, in the same way that government has the authority to ensure proper working conditions, government also has the authority to empower workers to negotiate flexible working hours.

Another intriguing question of course, is how would we spend the time and the energy, if we had those flexible working hours?

Today's Bill suggests a wide range of possibilities.

We might cancel something hectic in our calendar, and maybe even change our children's schedule as well, to spend a bit of quality time together. We might take our wife out to lunch. We might switch off the TV and talk to one another. We might go watch the kids play sport. We might just go to the beach and enjoy the sun.

It's all a question of how we choose to balance out our lives.

This Bill is a moment in time to say stop; get a life; get ready to relax; take a nationwide sanity-check; take back your time; and reclaim your life.

This is a good Bill, and on behalf of all whanau in Aotearoa, Maori and non-Maori, we stand to support it whole-heartedly.


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