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PM's Address at EEO Trust Work & Life Awards

Rt Hon Helen Clark Prime Minister

Address at EEO Trust Work & Life Awards

Hyatt Regency Hotel Auckland 8.30pm

Thursday 31 August 2006

Rau rangatira maa, tenei te mihi ki a koutou i runga i te kaupapa o te ra. Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

Tonight marks the ninth year the EEO Trust has held this event.

It offers a chance to publicly recognise the achievements of New Zealand organisations which have created workplaces offering a balance between the responsibilities and interests of employees at work and in their personal lives.

I am very pleased to be able to attend the awards again this year, and thank the EEO Trust, which has been influential in bringing work-life balance into the vocabulary of New Zealand workers, and the businesses which have entered tonight’s awards.

As with previous years, the quality of this year’s entries is consistently high. That shows that more New Zealand workplaces really care about quality of life issues.

From the perspective of people in work or those wanting to be in work, there is the desire to earn sufficient income, to be in workplaces with positive practices and cultures, and to be able to do what’s important outside work, especially caring for family.

The organisations which enter these awards know that what happens in workplaces matters.

It matters to employees, to businesses and it matters to our families, communities and to New Zealand. Tonight we are here to recognise the employers who have successfully faced the challenges posed in creating workplaces which recognise the diverse needs of today's employees.

Since the last Work & Life Awards, a lot has been happening to help improve our understanding of work-life balance in New Zealand, and the choices we have about how to balance our paid work and our lives outside work.

In July this year the Minister of Labour, the Hon Ruth Dyson, hosted a Workplace Leaders Summit on Quality Flexible Work with the support of Business New Zealand, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, and the EEO Trust.

The event provided the opportunity for previous entrants of the Work & Life Awards to showcase some of the initiatives they have implemented and the positive impacts those initiatives have had on their businesses.

Ruth Dyson also recently released the findings of two national surveys which for the first time provide a national picture of what our work is like and what it is about our work which impacts on our ability to achieve work-life balance.

That report, “Work-Life Balance in New Zealand”, also offers a benchmark to measure the availability and take up of work practices which help us achieve that balance.

The report headlines some of the progress we’ve made.

Two-thirds of respondents (67 per cent) report feeling comfortable raising work-life balance issues with their manager, and the majority of employers do not see barriers impeding their ability to improve work-life balance in their workplaces.

The report also sets out the challenges we have.

More than half those surveyed (52 per cent) report that their work-life balance is good, very good, or excellent. Forty per cent of respondents, however, indicated that they have some or a lot of difficulty getting the balance they want.

For 41 per cent of workers surveyed, work sometimes or often makes it difficult to enjoy or spend quality time with family, and 46 per cent sometimes or often find it hard to get home on time.

our Labour-led government is committed to creating more choices for all New Zealanders as they care for families and loved ones, and seek to achieve personal, family, and financial goals.

That is why I am delighted tonight to announce a new Government initiative, The Choices for Living, Caring and Working Plan of Action.

Changing the way we live and work is a long-term process. This is a 10-year plan of action to address the needs of carers and their families. I understand that supportive feedback about the plan have already come from the CTU, the EEO Trust, and Business New Zealand.

It is vital that families, young and old, share in the progress that New Zealand is making, are secure and have the opportunity to reach their potential.

In building a strong future for New Zealand we need to ensure that good policy and workplace practice support today's families to balance work and caring in a range of ways.

This plan has been developed in response to what New Zealanders are telling us they want.

It is based on research about the choices New Zealand parents and carers are making currently, the choices they would like to make, and evidence about what works best for New Zealand.

This is about all of New Zealand.

Three out of five of us will be carers at some time in our lives: 43 per cent of those in the current workforce are saying they have caring responsibilities, and men are increasingly reporting that they too want to be able to spend more time with their families.

The plan has six key areas of activity which will enable people to balance their work and caring responsibilities:

supporting parents who wish to care for their children themselves in the child's first year of life; ensuring families with children under five can access and participate in high quality, affordable early childhood education; ensuring families have better access to quality, affordable, and age-appropriate out-of-school services for their school-age children; improving the choices for the one-in-five New Zealanders who are caring for adults of all ages; encouraging flexible work practices; and making an ongoing commitment to monitoring, research and evaluation to ensure the plan is effective over the next ten years.

High quality education and care options and supportive employment arrangements will improve outcomes for families, children, carers, disabled people, people who are unwell, and older people.

This plan of action builds on a number of existing government initiatives by a range of government agencies and partners, such as the Early Childhood Education Strategic Plan, Working for Families, the Work-Life Balance Project, and the Workplace Productivity Agenda.

The vision is for workplaces, communities and the government to work together to provide New Zealand parents and carers with real choices for living, caring and working.

For children under one, for example, Choices follows on from the work that began in 2002 with the provision of 12 weeks paid parental leave, since extended in 2004 to 13 weeks, and then to 14 weeks last year. This year paid parental leave was extended to the self-employed. Looking forward over the next decade, we will be looking at how we can better support parents who wish to care for their children themselves in their first 12 months of life.

For school-age children, the plan recognises that parents often need to find ways to care for and support children outside school hours and during school holidays. We are continually working towards improving access to quality, affordable, and age-appropriate out of school services.

The plan also describes how the Government proposes to provide real choices to people who are caring for adults of all ages, including older people, those with ill-health, and disabled people.

One in five New Zealanders currently provides care to other adults, such as elderly parents, and our ageing population means more and more of us will be carers or needing care in the future.

But government cannot deliver real choices and support to carers on its own.

What happens in workplaces really matters. I am delighted that workplace leaders such as the EEO Trust, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, and Business New Zealand, are championing measures like those in this Plan of Action.

The workplaces we are recognising tonight are already leading the way.

The entrants in tonight’s awards reflect New Zealand’s diverse industries and varied working conditions, each providing challenges and opportunities to improve work-life balance.

Two entrants in this year’s awards, ABB Kinleith and SITEL, have found ways to give staff working shifts a degree of flexibility and control over their working hours.

ABB Kinleith’s approach has been to recognise the potential of every employee and give them a say in how the business will operate.

At Kinleith, the inflexibility of shift work has been mitigated by the creation of two rosters: one 8-hour and one 10-hour which means employees can choose to work a four-day week if they want to. Employees can change between rosters, and can vary start and finish times, depending on personal and business needs.

The organisation reports some remarkable effects on their business, from these initiatives, including new production records being set every year, a greatly improved labour relationship, improved employee satisfaction, and a dramatic reduction in absenteeism.

Another entrant SITEL has found ways to offer a range of flexible work practices in the competitive and traditionally rigid contact centre industry.

These include collaborative rostering systems, employees being able to request particular shifts, part-time and casual work being available, two rostered days off each week, a staged return from parental leave, and time off in lieu.

Retaining and promoting skilled women has become a priority for a number of organisations, including three of tonight’s entrants - the UNIVERSITY OF AUCKLAND, and law firms BELL GULLY and MEREDITH CONNELL.

The latter offer a range of flexible working options which enable women to meet their family and work commitments, while the University has developed a comprehensive programme to support women into leadership roles.

These initiatives have produced some very good results.

The University of Auckland has dramatically increased the number of senior women lecturers, associate professors and academic staff since the year 2000.

Both the law firms have seen results in lower staff turn-over and more women returning to work following paid maternity leave.

For three entrants in this year’s awards, SCION, MOUNT ALBERT PAK ’N’ SAVE, and CONVERSA GLOBAL, this is not the first time they have showcased their particular work-life balance solutions in the EEO Awards.

This indicates that work-life balance is a journey – not a goal. It is an ongoing quest to explore and trial a variety of options, solutions, and alternatives until there is a fit. A good fit will mean business will benefit and employees will have more flexibility and choice about how they work.

I applaud all of your efforts in working differently, in recognising the needs of employees, and in gaining the rewards.

I am confident the Choices Plan of Action will have a significant impact over the next decade in improving support for children and families by increasing the choices available for parents and carers.

I haven’t had the opportunity to mention each of the entrants in tonight’s awards individually but I would like to recognise and commend every one of you for your innovation and willingness to step outside of the square.

Thank you.


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