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CTU Biennial Conference 2003

Biennial Conference 2003
Summary of discussion

Work-life Balance


In 2002 the CTU released the Thirty Families Report as part of the CTU's wider Get a Life! campaign. It highlighted that work hours was a significant issue for many workers, their families and communities. Since then the CTU has identified the need to build on the Thirty Families report by exploring other areas of work-life balance that are of critical importance to workers and develop organising and campaign activities that can contribute to improving work-life balance for workers.

Addressing the challenges of balancing work and life is developing political momentum. In August the Government established an interagency steering group chaired by the Department of Labour to develop and co-ordinate an integrated work programme to develop policy options around work-life balance. It is anticipated that this process will include substantive public consultation between late October and December 2003.

The CTU has developed a discussion paper to assist in informing the next phase of CTU¡¦s work programme relating to work-life balance. This conference paper summarises key points in the discussion paper.

What is work-life balance?

Discussion about the meaning of work-life balance often draws on the soft components of work-life balance such as free gym memberships and coffee machines at work. However, for unions, the ¡§fundamentals¡¨ of decent work such as secure employment, decent pay, leave and working conditions, supported by quality and affordable care arrangements for their families, significantly enhance workers ability to balance work with the rest of their lives.

The right of workers to just and favourable conditions of work, and to rest and leisure including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay are fundamental human rights reflected in the International Bill of Rights and other United Nations Human Rights Instruments. In addition, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has a developed number of standards that support a range of dimensions of work-life balance.

The CTU¡¦s focus is on those measures required to create an environment where all workers, without discrimination, are able to choose employment arrangements that maximise their full potential in paid employment and family, social and cultural life. However, it is also recognised that the scope of issues affecting work-life balance go beyond people already in paid work and extend to unpaid work and broader issues relating to social safety nets.

What are the issues?

Although it is true that the availability of part-time work has enabled many workers to choose less hours and spend more time caring for dependants, to study or pursue other interests ¡V it is not a solution that delivers benefits to everyone. There is also an ongoing challenge of ensuring this work is secure and meaningful for workers.

One of the most salient features of unions¡¦ experience is the way work-life balance is not a problem exclusive to one area and impacts on workers in all corners of the labour force. In addition, no single solution is capable of delivering work-life balance outcomes for everyone. Strategies need to be flexible, meet the needs of a diverse workforce and recognise the intersection of issues.

The concerns of unions are concentrated in six areas or work and life:
1. Modes of employment.
2. Hours of work.
3. Leave entitlements.
4. Pay.
5. Workplace culture
Life, family and community responsibilities.

The discussion paper explores these areas in detail and identifies a wide range of concerns including the effect of precarious employment arrangements, long hours, understaffing and excess workloads, under-employment, health and safety, breaks, eligibility for leave, pay discrimination, erosion of overtime, low pay, entrenched workplace cultures and the impact on wider family and community responsibilities.

Developing concrete actions that improve work-life balance in these and other areas identified in the discussion paper demand a broad range of responses from a range of players. The government, employers, unions and the community all have a role. The government has a clear role in leading by example as an employer, regulator and funder. Employers have an interest in the business benefits of work-life balance such as increased staff retention, reduced absenteeism, a better recruitment pool, increased staff loyalty, morale and job satisfaction, and improved public image. Unions on the other hand can take leadership through collective bargaining and advocating for improvements to the minimum code on behalf of members. Nevertheless, it is important to note that a core element of improving work-life balance is about changing the entrenched values and culture of workplaces.
What will make a difference?
From the outset, the Government has a clear role in taking the lead as an employer, funder and regulator. Areas where the Government can take the lead include:
1. Addressing information gaps and ensuring the collection of robust statistical data about casual, temporary and fixed term work in New Zealand.
2. Operating as a model employer and funder. This includes:
„« Ensuring that State sector employers recognise and support work-life balance.
„« The Government engaging in responsible contracting to ensure minimum requirements relating to work¡Vlife balance are included contracts with the private sector.
„« Ensuring that that work-life balance is a core consideration in policy making, implementation and evaluation.
„« Strengthening EEO monitoring and compliance provisions in the State sector.
3. The continuous improvement of the minimum wage, and phasing out of the youth minimum wage.
4. Adequately resourcing the recommendations of the Pay and Employment Equity Taskforce including those that will support the extension of outcomes to the private sector.
5. Amending the Employment Relations Act to provide greater recognition of collective bargaining.
6. Strengthening monitoring and compliance mechanisms in existing EEO legislation.
6. Greater protection of workers in various forms of precarious employment. This includes:
„« Tightening the use of fixed term contracts so workers are assumed to be permanent unless there is a genuine reason for not doing so.
„« Ensuring coverage clauses in collective agreements cannot exclude casuals.
9. Amending the minimum code to extend leave entitlements. The includes:
„« Legislating for four weeks annual leave.
„« Removing the threshold qualifying period of six months for bereavement leave and special leave.
„« Amending the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act to:
a) address the exclusion of workers who work less than 10 hours a week;
b) address the exclusion of employees who have changed employers during the past 12 months;
c) increase period of leave to 14 weeks consistent with ILO Convention 183 on Maternity Protection;
d) extend entitlements to seasonal workers and workers subject to shutdowns;
e) consider the case for extending the scope of paid parental leave by introducing a partial levy for the self-employed, along the lines of the existing ACC levy on those who are self-employed; and
f) setting the payment level at 100% of earnings up to a maximum cap, set at the average male wage.
9. Legislating to provide breastfeeding breaks and facilities upon a return to work from parental leave.
10. Specific recognition in the minimum code of the right to breaks during work time.
11. Ratifying ILO Convention 156 concerning the rights of workers with family responsibilities.
12. Ratifying ILO Convention 103 providing for paid breastfeeding breaks for women.
13. Ensuring the activities of the EEO Commissioner and EEO Trust are well resourced to enable both to develop streams of work contributing to work-life balance.
14. Reform of the benefit system. This includes a reduction of the abatement regime which is a high effective marginal tax rate for beneficiaries, and increasing benefits by $20 per week with the aim of progressively restoring benefit levels in real terms to 1990 levels prior to benefit cuts.
15. Improving access to quality affordable childcare and education including progressively introducing universal free early childhood education.
Unions have a distinct role and responsibility in collective bargaining and campaigning on behalf of members. However, this must be supported by robust collective bargaining provisions in the Employment Relations Act which provide that bargaining is a fundamental and/or defining characteristic of union membership.
Strategies for unions can include:
1. Continuing to bargain for improvements in collective employment agreements that improve work-life balance. This includes:
„« Improvements in pay, including the payment of overtime.
„« Promoting recognition that workers, regardless of their mode of employment have access to training and other career opportunities. This includes prioritising paid training in work time.
„« Defining unreasonable hours and/or unreasonable overtime. This includes the right to refuse unreasonable overtime in agreements.
„« Developing guidelines or clauses relating to ¡¥reasonable¡¦ workload levels.
„« Negotiating timelines relating to hiring replacement staff when an employee leaves.
„« Specific recognition of breaks.
„« Provisions that define when the distribution and number of hours in a set time period become the permanent hours of an employee.
„« Extending the coverage and payment of paid parental leave and holidays above statutory minimum entitlements.
„« Family friendly, work-life balance and EEO policies and programmes. This can include a array of provisions such as paid breastfeeding breaks during working time; religious and cultural leave for days of cultural significance; part-time employment options upon re-entry into work after a period of paid parental leave and access to phone calls to family during work time.
„« Unions must also take the lead as model employers.
2. Campaigning for legislative change and ratification of international human rights standards. This includes:
„« Changes to the Holidays Act and Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act.
„« Continuous improvements in the minimum wage and phasing out of the youth minimum wage.
„« Specific legislative recognition of breaks during work time, including breastfeeding breaks.
„« Strengthening monitoring and compliance mechanisms in existing EEO legislation.
„« Organising around future recommendations of the Pay and Employment Equity Taskforce with a view to promoting pay and employment equity for all workers in the public and private sectors.
„« Campaigning for the ratification of ILO Conventions 156 concerning the rights of workers with family responsibilities and ILO Convention 103 providing for paid breastfeeding breaks for women.
Next steps
Next steps for unions include:
„« Investigating the effect of the European Working Time Directive and options for specific recognition in legislation of the right to refuse ¡§unreasonable hours of work¡¨ taking into account the needs of different industries.
„« Contributing the perspective of the union movement in the context of the Government¡¦s consultation on work-life balance.
„« Improving the sharing of information on experiences, policies and practices relating to work-life balance to shape where unions want to go.
„« Developing a manual of model clauses relating to work and life for collective bargaining purposes.
Organising around work-life balance in unions and developing union strategies.

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