Sue Bradford Speech To EPMU National Conference
SPEECH NOTES, SUE BRADFORD, GREEN PARTY M.P.
1.30 PM WEDNESDAY 19 JULY 2006
MERCURE HOTEL 355 WILLIS STREET, WELLINGTON.
Thank you for inviting me to address your conference today.
Thank you also for asking me to address your Engineering and Plastics sector group meetings over the last few months. After somewhat frosty relations between the Greens and the EPMU when we were formed over a decade ago, today we could be accused of having, if not a political "love in" then at least an ongoing political affair.
Why is this? It is because in some key political issues we have similar policies, and neither of us is afraid to campaign on those policies even if they are not yet fully embraced by the self-defined mainstream of the centre left.
We find ourselves in this situation because we both seek to faithfully represent our constituencies. We speak out on issues of concern and we have both managed to achieve strong credibility in the media as organisations that can back up what we say.
The long overdue 5% wages campaign that your union spearheaded last year gave confidence back to the trade union movement. At a time when all sorts of bullshit, such as tax cuts for the rich, is proffered as the way to bridge the wage gap between New Zealand and Australia (or the rest of the OECD for that matter), your union and the rest of the CTU have been able to identify the blindingly obvious solution to dealing with low wages; that is, wage increases.
I find it increasingly bizarre that the leader of the National Party, who has apparently taken his own advice and shifted to Bondi (we never see him any more) launches a campaign to catch up with Australian wage levels through tax cuts, but opposes across the board wage increases, including increases to the minimum wage. Although it seems that the new Governor of the Reserve Bank and even the Minister of Finance have swallowed the "big lie" that increases to low wages destroy the economy, but increases on high wages, including MPs, Reserve Bank Governors and CEOs are required for a healthy economy.
Ross Wilson's response to this double speak in yesterday's Dominion Post was spot on.
And we cannot be complacent. Last week's MSD report on "New Zealand Living Standards" was a real wake up call. I am sorry, and it may make me unpopular with the Government, but it is an absolute scandal that four years after the election of centre left government the numbers of people living in severe hardship have increased by 8%. This situation can be fixed! Just as National is so stubborn in refusing to concede that wage increases are required to achieve higher wages so, unfortunately, is the Government so stubborn that it refuses to concede that increases in benefits (including the application of working for families to the children of beneficiaries) are required to reduce poverty among beneficiaries and therefore society as a whole.
I said earlier that your union and my Party have a convergence of views on some of the key policy issues of today. I want to speak about two of these areas. They also happen to be two of my portfolio areas within the Green Party. They are;
* industrial relations,
There are three key industrial relations Bills that parliament is addressing at the moment.
The first is the Government's Employment Relations Amendment Bill which is designed to ensure that that the intentions of last year's amendments to the Employment Relations Act regarding the rights of workers in subsequent contracting situations are protected. You will be aware that an Employment Court case in July last year exposed some problems in the drafting of the original amendments. The bill will make the amendments necessary to provide the protection that the original amendments intended. The Green Party will, of course, support this bill. I believe that it will be passed.
The second bill is my Minimum Wage (Abolition of Age Discrimination) Amendment Bill. It was entirely fortuitous that this bill was drawn out of the ballot late last year in the middle of the mass campaign against youth rates lead by Unite and supported by the EPMU and all other CTU unions.
It is a bill whose time has come. Business surveys are showing that (despite what their so-called representative organisations say) most do not see the abolition of youth rates as a major issue of concern. Editorial writers from even the most conservative papers are coming out against wage discrimination based on age. Unions in collective bargaining are finding that companies are becoming more agreeable to eliminating or quickly phasing out youth rates. The well known examples are Unite and Restaurant Brands, the EPMU and BP, and the NDU and Postie Plus. I am sure that there must be other less publicised agreements as well.
My bill has also opened up a can of worms as to whether the youth rates that are currently regulated for are actually legal. In a legal opinion to the Solicitor General on compliance of my bill with the Bill of Rights Act, the Ministry of Justice noted that Minimum Wage Act "does not authorise the Governor-General to make orders that discriminate in a way that is prohibited by the Bill of Rights Act" and therefore any orders "may be deemed ultra vires".
I have pointed out this legal opinion to the select committee and am hopeful that it, together with the submissions being made by union, youth and human rights groups, and the continuing mass action and collective bargaining successes will convince the Select Committee to report my Bill back to the House with a positive recommendation.
Although we received the support from Labour, Progressive, NZ First and the Maori Party for this bill to go to select committee, only the Maori and Green Parties have indicated that they have the policies that will support the Bill through all stages of the house.
We know that National will not support the Bill, so the success or otherwise of my Bill is entirely in the hands of Labour.
I am encouraged by the support that my Bill has received from the CTU and its affiliated unions. Given that the EPMU is also a Labour Party affiliate, I urge you to use your influence there to ensure that Labour supports the bill. It would be a travesty if this bill is defeated by Labour votes.
The third bill is Wayne Mapp's "90 day" Bill. This bill is an insidious piece of legislation, designed to strip away the employment rights of all workers in their first three months of employment. I do not need to convince you as to how bad the bill is. Rather I want to congratulate the EPMU for leading the strong union opposition to this bill.
It is obvious to all that this Bill will be defeated if the entire Maori Party caucus votes against it. I just want to say a few words on the tactics as to how we might gain their support.
First, we will not get the support of the Maori Party on this issue if we continue to treat them as the political enemy on other issues.
Second, we need to be less arrogant when approaching the Maori Party on the issue. If we cannot guarantee Labour Party support for the Minimum Wage (Abolition of Age Discrimination) Amendment Bill, which the Maori Party supports, how can we accuse them of being anti-worker when some of them are considering support for the Mapp Bill?
Third, we need to seriously consider the genuine concerns regarding Maori unemployment that have lead the Maori Party to being open to the Mapp Bill given its stated aims of assisting unemployed people find jobs. Now you and I know that this is rubbish as far as this bill is concerned. But we cannot ignore the reality of high Maori unemployment. We cannot ignore the high poverty rates of Maori.
We cannot ask the Maori Party to support the status quo, because it is a status quo that sees far too many Maori locked out of jobs, too many Maori living in poverty.
We need to get along side the Maori Party, seriously understand its concerns and advocate these issues and solutions to these issues to the Government. If we fail to do this we have only ourselves to blame if a split Maori Party caucus allows the Mapp Bill to go through.
I would now like to turn to the second issue of mutual concern that I earlier identified; manufacturing.
It is one of the ironies of politics that the tree hugging, pro-snail, anti-coal Green Party, which is portrayed by its detractors as the backward looking anti-industrialisation party, has now become the only party in the New Zealand Parliament to consistently champion the manufacturing sector.
There is no greater example of this than our leadership of the Government's Buy Kiwi Made campaign.
So how has the "environmental" Green Party ended up becoming the champion for New Zealand manufacturing? In the end it comes back to our philosophy.
The philosophy of the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, like Green Parties all over the world, is based on four core principles; environmental sustainability, social and economic justice, non violence and participatory democracy. All of these philosophical points, especially the first two, mean we have to have to have a view on "making things", a view on manufacturing.
>From the period of formation of the NZ Greens we have had key activists such as myself with a strong passion against unemployment and for meaningful work. For full employment to exist jobs need to be created. We soon discovered that trade and economic policy had a huge effect on the employment and job security. Particularly through the work of Rod Donald we came to support New Zealand manufacturing as an antidote to the ravages of globalisation on the planet and its people.
Perhaps we are also lucky in New Zealand that we have not had as many of the old "smoke-stack" industries that have given manufacturing such a bad name in green circles in other countries. This is not to say that we have clean, green industries. Some Green Party activists have been at the forefront of campaigns against the forestry giants polluting rivers and using poisonous chemicals in their production processes. But our call here was not for the closure of these industries with consequent job losses, but for the industries to clean up their act and to stop the polluting and poisoning of their workers and the environment.
Beware of false profits / prophets
It could be very easy for the Green Party to be captured by the same neo-liberal ideology that has seen other political parties, many economists and some business organisations turn their backs on the manufacturing sector.
Would it not be more environmentally sound for New Zealand to concentrate on the design and marketing of goods and services rather than manufacture? Does it actually matter where products containing the essence and spirit of New Zealand are made? Why are we interested in saving $10 per hour jobs? And isn't is better exporting our job rich industries to lower wage countries that can bring greater returns for the designers, owners or retailers of the brands?
These are the questions I am confronting every day of the week. And they are questions that we must have answers for.
Economists identify different forms of manufacture. At one end is the processing of raw materials; milk into butter and cheese, logs into timber and paper. At the other end is what is called "elaborately transformed manufactures". While there is a great deal of talk (some useful) around "elaborately transformed manufactures" the opportunities for "value added" processing and manufacturing seems to receive very little attention. There even seems to be less value added processing of wool, logs and milk today than there was a decade ago. The result is fewer jobs, higher balance of payment deficits and the New Zealand economy suffering even more from the volatility of commodity trade cycles.
Manufacturing provides 14% of our jobs, 16 % of GDP, 19% of exports, yet it is at best patronised and at worse ignored by almost all political parties, the bureaucracy and even some of the business organisations that claim to represent the manufacturing sector.
It often seems that individual manufacturers, a couple of small manufacturing organisations, the Council of Trade Unions (and its manufacturing affiliates) and the Greens are the only organisations committed to undertaking the serious work required to ensure that New Zealand still maintains its manufacturing base. I note that your union has become so frustrated with the lack of a manufacturing policy by the party that you affiliate to, that you are calling for the establishment of a Minister for Manufacturing.
I also note that through Mike Sweeny, your union has been part of the Manufacturing + vision group. I look forward to receiving the report from this group over the next couple of weeks.
Towards a manufacturing policy
Within the Green Party we have realised that we have also been caught short by not having a fully developed manufacturing policy of our own. We are currently involved in developing such a policy.
I have put the forward a number of issues to start the discussion in my party:
1. I want us to acknowledge
the importance of those who make the things that we use in
our everyday lives.
2. I want the Green Party to support the ongoing development of a sustainable manufacturing industry in New Zealand.
3. To me the key aspects of a sustainable manufacturing industry include:
* good wages
and conditions for the workers in the
* ongoing government supported programmes to reduce pollution and green house gas emissions and to promote energy efficiency and waste reduction in the manufacturing sector
* the promotion of high labour and energy productivity
* support for appropriate research and development through both grants and tax-rebates
* support for clustering of businesses to gain efficiencies through cooperation.
* promotion of the concept of "socially useful production" as opposed to mindless consumerist production
* promotion of Buy Kiwi Made to encourage the purchasing of locally made products
* specific support for Maori and Pacifica manufacturing initiatives to further reduce the unacceptable high rates of unemployment in these communities.
Greens believe that free trade distorts internal
manufacturing policy. Trade rules should be fair and enable
communities and countries to have control over their
manufacturing and trade policies.
5. Finally I believe that the development of a national sustainable manufacturing policy must involve all stakeholders including the manufacturers, workers through their unions, sustainability organisations and appropriate government agencies.
As you know, as part of the Green Party Cooperation Agreement with Labour for this parliamentary term, the Government has agreed to support and fund a Buy Kiwi Made programme. As part of this agreement, following the death of Rod Donald, I have been appointed Government Spokesperson on Buy Kiwi Made.
The process started well. I was able to announce at Swazi Apparel (the providers of your conference jackets) in Levin a few days before the budget that we had secured $11.5 million for the programme over the next three years.
Unfortunately since that time the programme has become a bit stuck around the policy question of support (or not) for those New Zealand companies that design in and market from New Zealand, but who manufacture off shore.
You may have noticed in the media that the clothing company, Icebreaker, has been mounting a campaign for their China made products to be considered to be "Kiwi made". I have been asked to consider this proposition in the policy development for Buy Kiwi Made.
Frankly, I cannot agree to do this. I feel that this would defeat the whole purpose of the campaign. I would be letting Rod Donald down, I would be letting the Green Party down, I would be letting New Zealand manufacturers down, I would be letting the CTU, EPMU, NDU, Clothing and other manufacturing unions down.
I am relaxed, and have said so in a number of interviews, for NZ companies that manufacture offshore, including Icebreaker, to be able to lever their New Zealandness of their ownership, raw product and design off the generic Buy Kiwi Made media campaign. However when it comes to definitions of Kiwi or NZ made, the case law under the Fair Trading Act is quite clear and unambiguous; "New Zealand Made" is where the final and substantial transformation of the product occurs in New Zealand. It is very simple. It is very clear. And it is the companies who continue to manufacture in New Zealand that we should be celebrating.
We do have problems in New Zealand of yawning gaps in the production processes of some industries. For example, we do not have the capacity or capability at the moment to produce fine micron merino tops and yarn. This means most of our raw fine merino wool has to go to China, Korea or Italy to be made into yarn and fabric and then come back to New Zealand to be assembled into garments.
This is crazy and the problem must be addresses. But do we solve it by getting our top quality merino garments cut, made and trimmed offshore or do we do something about resolving the lack of capacity and capability of our top and yarn making industry in New Zealand.
Just over a month ago, I met a group of workers who had been made redundant from the Swanndri factory in Timaru after Swanndri decided to get its product designed by Karen Walker, made in China and then charge twice as much to the customer in New Zealand!
These workers have bought the old factory. They are starting to produce again. They have already hired back some of their own redundant workmates. They have got financial backing. They have got access to the best and finest merino wool grown in New Zealand. They are planning to purchase the machinery to make the world's finest and best quality merino tops, yarn and fabric. They are aiming to fill the gap in the production chain. If they succeed, they will add value several fold to the merino wool produced in New Zealand.
These workers are our real heroes. It is these workers that we should be celebrating. These workers should be winning our business awards!
To me this is what economic development is about. This is what manufacturing + is about. This is what economic transformation is about. This is about what Buy Kiwi Made is about.
I hope that the EPMU agrees with me on these issues. Frankly, I need your support to push through a Buy Kiwi Made programme that we can all be proud of. We need each other. We need to work together. Today is another step in this relationship.
All the best for the rest of your conference. I am sorry I will not be able to join you for your rally outside parliament. I will be inside hearing submissions on my Minimum Wage Bill.
Continue to be strong on behalf of your members, workers in general and the manufacturing industry in New Zealand.