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Quality Flexible Work Summit - Ruth Dyson Speech

Hon Ruth Dyson
24 July 2006
Speech Notes

Quality Flexible Work Summit

Legislative Council Chamber Parliament House 9.30am

Rau rangatira maa,

tenei te mihi ki a koutou i runga i te kaupapa o te ra.

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

[Distinguished guests, greetings to you gathered here for this purpose today. Greetings once, twice, three times to you all.]

I am very pleased to welcome you here today and to share the stage with our partners for this event – Business New Zealand, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust.

Today is important for a number of reasons:

• It marks the release of important research about work life balance and New Zealand employers and employees;

• it acknowledges, by the range of interests we have in this room, how important the issue of quality flexible work is for achieving work life balance for New Zealanders – it’s important to business, to workers and to unions

• And it signals a willingness to work together to find ways to increase quality flexible work options in our workplaces.

To put this day in a national and global context – New Zealand workers want and need work life balance. Key issues for them in achieving this balance are their caring responsibilities, workplace practices and cultures, and the need to earn sufficient income. Improving our work-life balance is a critical factor in increasing both our quality of life and our living standards.

New Zealand faces critical present and future challenges in lifting its economic performance and meeting skill gaps. If New Zealand organisations can create more flexible, responsive workplaces, this is not only likely to increase their productivity and address enterprise-level skill shortages, but will also contribute to New Zealand’s ability to compete globally for skilled workers. Taking account of people’s different life issues and activities, and allowing flexibility and choice may also enable more working age New Zealanders to participate in the labour market.

In other words what happens in workplaces matters – it matters to our individual working lives and our businesses, to our families our communities and our country.

So knowing what happens in our workplaces, and how we would like them to be, is important. Today I am very pleased to formally release the government’s report Work life balance in New Zealand - a snapshot of employee and employer attitudes and experiences. The report brings together the findings from two national surveys of employees and employers about work life balance - it provides a national picture of what our work is like and what it is about our work that impacts on our ability to achieve work-life balance. It also tells us about the sort of working arrangements employers already have available, how they are being used and which ones are most useful to employees. And, by exploring what working arrangements can make the biggest difference to employees, it points us to some clear strategies and solutions.

I’m not going to give too much away about the findings – I’d be stealing the thunder from the report’s author, Dr Lindy Fursman, who will be presenting to you later this morning. But I did want to emphasis a few very relevant aspects of the report for today’s summit.

Firstly employers and employees agree that flexible work options are good for business and are key to achieving work-life balance for employees. The majority of employers do not see major barriers to improving flexibility. And in support of that, employees understand the business imperatives facing their organisations.

Secondly employees want more choice and they particularly want choice about flexible work options – they believe that it will make the biggest difference for them.

Thirdly employers and business have told us work–life balance is important. You’ve told us that quality flexible work options are available in many workplaces and that more businesses are keen to introduce them.

This report not only offers a benchmark against which to measure future progress in balancing our paid work and our lives outside work. But it also offers a benchmark to measure the availability and take up of work practices that help us achieve that balance – it’s a way of measuring the rate of change in workplaces to introduce quality flexible work options.

Today you are going to hear about workplaces that have made changes – that have introduced a range of flexible work options not just to meet the needs of their workers but to meet today’s challenges for business – recruiting and retaining staff, meeting skill shortages, getting the competitive edge. And they have done this successfully. Some of the options they will talk about are: flexible start and finish times, shift swapping, staggered starts in customer service areas, a range of leave provisions, options for working from home.

These workplace examples show the importance of both a flexible approach to work options and a willingness of management and employees to work together to come up with solutions. They show that flexible work options can make a difference whether your organisation is large or small, whether in retail or technical services.

The challenge for you today is to identify how we can use what we know (from our research and from our best practice) and how we can continue to work together, government business and unions, to make sure that quality flexible work options are made available to more New Zealand workers.

The challenge for you after today is how to use your influence and networks to promote the benefits of quality flexible work; to get others thinking about what will work for them, their workplace and their business; to get them to start putting these ideas into practice.

I’m looking forward to coming back this afternoon to hear your ideas about how we can meet these challenges - how we can find ways to promote quality flexible work and its importance to New Zealand workers and business; and how to find practical solutions to increasing the take up of quality flexible work options in New Zealand workplaces. I hope you will be keen to continue to work in partnership to make sure that change happens in workplaces; and that you identify ways to measure that change.

I wish you good luck for the day – I know it will be informative, challenging and productive. I am looking forward to seeing the results.

Thank you

ENDS

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