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Te Ururoa Flavell - Flexible Working Arrangements

Employment Relations (Flexible Working Arrangements) Amendment Bill
Te Ururoa Flavell – Maori Party
Wednesday 21st November 2007

The essence of this Bill is to ensure that workers can negotiate with their employers more flexible working arrangements to create a better work life balance and a win/win situation for both parties.

What interested us about the Bill, besides this intent, was the innovative manner in which the Transport and Relations Committee, under the leadership of the Hon Mark Gosche, facilitated a rather novel procedural approach.

I am advised that their approach in May 2006 involved a debate of an interim report by the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee that set aside the House’s consideration of the bill for a year.

Set aside, so that further research could be carried out, more information sought and greater consultation made with workers, employers and all those who might be interested in this Bill.

We in the Maori Party understand this has never happened before.

And quite frankly, we are encouraged by the fact that this one action perhaps demonstrates best that MMP politics can be accommodated - despite the fact that the rules under which this Parliament behaves are deeply entrenched and which have yet to catch up with a changed political environment.

By rules I refer to the Standing Orders, the Speakers Rulings - remnants of another age, rules of First Past the Post thinking and behaviour.

We are encouraged, Mr Speaker, because we in the Maori Party who view the world through our particular cultural eyes, for we cannot do otherwise, have a number of sayings which capture flexibility. One such example goes:

"Na te ngutukura ko te hinengaro, na te hinengaro ko te mahara, na te mahara ko te whakaaro, na te whakaaro ko te korero, ma te korero ka tu he tikanga". (Tibble, 1984)

"Engaging the senses stirs the emotions, engaging the emotions stimulates the intellect, stimulating the intellect commissions stirs the memory, from the memory comes the thoughts, from thoughts come the words, from the words we construct customs.

From a Maori Party perspective therefore it appears that Members of the Select Committee were stirred to do something differently and this they did.

The motives, and no doubt there were probably different motives for each of the parties involved, are not of concern.

What was important was that something different was tried.

Time was made available and this legislation - the whakapapa of which, like the whakapapa of many in this House, originates in the United Kingdom - will very soon become law in Aotearoa.

For that, acknowledgement must go to the Green Party Member of Parliament, Sue Kedgley, who, through her skill and persistence in crafting winnable arrangements with her colleagues within this House, has overseen this Bill through to soon becoming an Act.

My perusal of the Bill and the subsequent debates in this House certainly shows that, despite members of the Select Committee agreeing in 2006 to show their own flexibility, good will and co-operation by having the Bill delayed for a year - old habits do indeed die hard.

Old habits die hard because, judging by the unfortunate number of times the word “majority” accompanied the select committee’s recommended amendments, it seems those members and this House continue to occupy oppositional positions.

And when actual co-operation occurs, whistles and trumpets are blown and a press conference is called as we all saw with the Bill to repeal Section 59 of the Crimes Act.

But the normal modus operandi is oppositional.

Now how sad is that? Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party will be supporting this Bill because in our view it is an eminently sensible, whanau, worker and employer friendly Bill. We see in it, so much that is good for whanau and which does not, in and of itself, penalise the employers or other workers

We concern ourselves not with the modus operandi of polarised oppositional politics. Our interest is at the macro level; that what is good for Maori, is good for Aotearoa.

Even the name of this Bill, Mr Speaker, Flexible Working Arrangements indicates a relationship based on goodwill while having the guidance and protection of a legislative framework.

The Maori Party is aware that often, particularly with employment issues, there is a cry that issues can be worked out between the workers and the employer.

We know, however, that this is often not the case as the issue of the power imbalance between the two groups is not properly recognised and acknowledged.

While on the one hand some would say that the employee has the power – with mention made of employees representatives, of unions as indicative of that power – with the Employer and their Federations and Associations the weaker entity, our experience and those of our whanau tell a different story.

We remember the ravages of the mid 80s and Rogernomics, the 1990s too, where no doubt a Bill of this nature would never have seen the light of day.

That period, and its ongoing after effects, is a constant reminder to Maori of the vulnerable position of Maori workers who became the collateral damage for a more stream-lined, cut-throat neo liberal economic philosophy - which still remains as healthy as ever today.

This Bill is but a soft concession from that philosophy. It is a little gain for whanau and for arrangements, respectful arrangements, between workers and employers.

Make no mistake, it’s a welcome departure from neo-liberalism – but, like the opposition inherent in the Parliamentary system – it has remained the modus operandi of all governments subsequent to 1984.

Again, the Maori Party, as keen students of both history and power, are forever mindful of the whakapapa and origins of legislation passed in this House and who the beneficiaries of it will be.

In ending, Mr Speaker, I want to congratulate most sincerely Sue Kedgley for continually keeping us informed of the stages through which this Bill was passing; for continually making herself available to discuss any concerns we might have had with the Bill.

Again, we will be supporting this legislation.

Na reira Sue, tena koe.

Tena tatou te whare.


ENDS

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