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Helen Kelly speech to Labour Party Conference 17/11/12

Helen Kelly speech to Labour Party Conference 17th November 2012

E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga karangaranga maha o nga mata waka, me nga momo tangata katoa o te hui nei. Tena koutou katoa.

It is great to be talking here today – I talk as the President of the CTU but also I am an insider – this is the party I support and so I feel free to speak with both my hats on. Let me start by saying that Labour has to be in Government after the next election – working people in this country should not be left to tolerate another term of this Government. We have seen not only persistent legislative actions against their interests and rights with total disregard for the social and economic impact of these changes, but also a complete lack of action on the issue of employment, skills and security in a failing economy without any regard for the impact of unemployment them and their families. We have also seen deliberate actions that worsen inequality – such as the tax switch. We have every reason to want Labour in the next government and we need unity, solidarity, decent plans and brilliant policy to do this. This conference is the chance to develop that; let make sure we do.

Today is the one year anniversary of the employment of a young man on a Fulton Hogan building site here in Auckland. His story is part of a theme about work in this country that highlights the need for a Labour Party with a genuinely progressive agenda for working people and their families that changes the landscape, alters the structures and which will also build a sustainable economy in which everyone can thrive.

Let me tell you his story.

Young security guard Charanpreet Dhaliwal was employed on a building site, owned and operated by Fulton Hogan. His employer was a very small company, CNE Security, contracted by Fulton Hogan to provide security.
Charanpreet came to NZ from India to study computers.
On 17 November last year, he called the owner of CNE, whom he had heard about from friends, to see if they had any work. The employer said he didn’t but he should come in the next day for an interview.
Shortly afterwards, a guard due to work that night, rang the employer asking for the night off for his birthday. The employer rang Charanpreet back and offered him a trial that night on the Building site. He accepted. There was no discussion about an employment agreement.
They arranged to meet at the isolated sight at 10.30pm. He was told to bring a torch!

That night at 10.30 the boss, the birthday boy (who had himself, only worked one shift for the company) and Charanpreet turned up. Charanpreet had bought a small torch. The birthday boy showed him around the site for 10 minutes, gave him the keys and left him to it. The site had been burgled before, leading to Fulton Hogan getting security. Charanpreet was not given any warning of this and not told any safety information. By four in the morning he was dead. Murdered.

The Sikh community in Auckland raised money to get his body home to his mother. The CTU has received his first and last pay cheque – $50.25 His mother who is dependent on him will get no ACC. A very cheap death all round.

Fulton Hogan has refused to address either the issue of some compensation for Charanpreet’s family, or change its employment processes to ensure this type of situation is avoided in the future. CNE is being prosecuted but the company that benefitted from his labour and was in the best position to secure his safety is able to walk away from all responsibility. Charanpreet was 21.

On Monday of course we mark the second anniversary of the Pike River Mine explosion. Those of you who have read the report will feel the same shame I do that this could happen here on our soil, and on our watch.

The Pike explosion and what happened to Charanpreet is all part of a culture that fails to acknowledge the important and significant role of work in our society. Work is conceptualised as an input required to build successful businesses, and business is seen as something that the market creates. If markets fail to create successful business then work is the victim; if business models create low value or dangerous jobs, then this is acceptable in this context. In this model, regulation is reduced to a ‘business knows best’ light touch. We know that this is unsustainable and that the market in New Zealand is calibrated to create low value, dangerous jobs. There was no benefit to Fulton Hogan of directly offering Charanpreet well-paid decent work that night - just as there was no benefit in the minds of the Board of Pike River in investing in safety – the risk turned out to be badly judged but the settings that may have shifted them to understand this don’t exist.

Let me tell you another story:

Kenny Callow
Ken was killed in the Wharerata forest – one of three forestry deaths in that forest in the last 20 months. Each of the three deceased worked for separate contracting companies. The forest owners benefitted from Ken’s work, but offered no reciprocal employment protections as they had contracted that out to his direct employer. Ken appears to have made a terrible mistake, while at work one day, resulting in his death. Under production pressure, he appears to have abandoned the felling of a tree on which he had begun work due to discovering it was rotten and of no value. He moved on to the next tree leaving a hazard close by which collapsed on him taking his life. The DOL inspector found Ken was “the architect of this own demise”. The inspector does not appear to have taken into account whether the terms and conditions of Ken’s employment may have impacted on his decision to leave a hazard in place. A forest owner in the region described the three deaths as “unfortunate”. Ken’s mother articulated in a beautiful letter to the

Gisborne Herald, just how unfortunate she felt it was:
‘In response to the article in Monday night’s paper on forestry safety, we were outraged at Mr Drummond’s comment regarding the loss of three lives in the Wharerata forest as being “most unfortunate”.

Yes, Mr Drummond, it is unfortunate that we have lost a son and two young boys do not now have a father — and that there are two other families in Gisborne still grieving for a loved one taken in yet more forestry accidents.
Lend a thought to those forestry workers who are out there in the burning heat or freezing snow with minimal appropriate clothing. To wear bulky cold-weather gear can slow you down if you have to move fast to get out of the way of a rolling log. Our son did this on a daily basis, often wearing shorts in the snow.

When you are tucked up in your cosy warm bed, Mr Drummond, spare a thought for the boys who are out there from 4am to 5pm often six days a week.

As a mother it agonised me to see our son come in at the end of the day that exhausted he could not eat a meal but just fell into bed.

There is huge pressure put on our forestry workers by contractors and forest owners for those men to get the wood out. Often they skip meal breaks to reach a deadline.

All of this you may not know Mr Drummond, as you have your OSH policies — but in reality, this is how you get your quotas.

These men and women risk their lives to earn a living, yet no one gives a thought to how those logs arrive at the wharf.

Spare a thought for the families, Mr Drummond. If it had been a member of your family, would it still have been “unfortunate”?
Unfortunate is not the word our family would use!

Caroline and Roger Callow

Ken’s mother also speaks of him coming home with hypothermia symptoms in the winter and shaking from dehydration in the summer. Of him seeking other duties to reduce the physical stress of tree felling, and of this solo dad getting his two small boys to walk on his back at night when he returned from work, to ease his work induced back pain. It is the view of the CTU that Ken’s employment conditions were a major contributor in his accident. Ken was 31.

It was the Market that was the architect of Ken’s demise. What sort of hell on earth is this that the conclusion of the state to this death was that it was the worker at fault? But let’s not blame this inspector – he is working within a narrative – a narrative that accepts work might not pay – that you can work every hour life brings and maybe have to pull your kids out of secondary school to get a job to help support the family – stories those of you who have attended the SFWU Living Wage campaign launches will have heard workers tell. A narrative that says if you lose your job you move from “hard working kiwi” to a drug taking lazy-lay about beneficiary who will be subject to a hell of a lot more compliance and regulation by the state than the Pike River Directors and Ken’s employers ever were. This narrative is driving us to be one of the most unequal countries in the world at risk of destroying a generation of our kids by our failure to get them working in jobs where they will grow, and learn, and accumulate resources and build families and feel worthy and satisfied and happy. This inspector now works for what use to be the Department of Labour but which is now referred to as the Ministry of Business!

It is up to Labour to change this story – never more have we needed new solutions – strong resolute determination to work in the interests of the whole country based on a renewed understanding of egalitarianism. We must reclaim this word – make it ours again and develop policies that make it a reality. Reinforcing the egalitarian doctrine that all humans are equal in fundamental worth and social status and have the same political, economic, social and civil rights must be our goal.

Labour holds this value at its heart, as does the union movement –it is this value that feeds into the world-breaking work we have done on social rights – including in education and health but also in family status, the recognition of the Treaty and the work on enhancing the status of women. We have reflected it in our support for electoral reform, our desire for a broad church party and in a number of our economic policies – but we need to apply that same analysis –that same commitment to egalitarianism to the world of work.

You will have seen that this last 12 months has been a hell of a time for the union movement. And I include many of you in this room in that – I recognise the cross over in our movement and the party and thank all of you for your support. We have had four major industrial disputes – the lock out for 65 days of the workers the ANZCO CMP meat works in Marton – that employer seeking 20% cut in wages in a premium meat factory. 36 days on the Port – an attempt to sack the entire stevedoring workforce and replace them with contract labour, 86 days at the AFFCO meat works in a dispute to remove the union and reduce wages in this primary production industry and the valiant battle of the workers at Oceania aged care to get a marginally decent pay increase on their appallingly low wages.

These disputes individually were bad enough – but they show a pattern of deterioration of work on an unprecedented scale. The massive numbers of redundancies of predominantly men from reasonably well paid manufacturing work, the disappearance of work in infrastructure industries such as the rail workshops and track maintenance, and the attack on these unionised workers in our core industries in an effort to de-unionise and drive down wages is the workers equivalent of the fiscal cliff.

What they show is despite valiant battles and relatively good results in these disputes, we are losing – losing the war on workers – bit by bit, cut by cut, and while we have shown that in strongly unionised workplaces with good campaigns we can hold on (for these disputes were mainly about simply holding on!) we need a political solution to change this dynamic. It is in all of our interests – employers, workers and Government to have a different outcome from work – to have a sustainable model – to have a system that includes the market but also morals and most of all rights – rights that are widespread, effective and accessible.

We have had a fair bit of recognition for managing these disputes in the way we did and I am super proud of the whole movement for dropping everything and fighting like our future depended on it (and it probably did). But the fact that these attacks are being pursued with such confidence and with so much unwritten support by the state, and in a climate where but for our resistance they might have been acceptable, proves that the counter campaign against fair wages, decent work and real opportunity is strong, and fundamentally stronger, better resourced and more sustained than the campaign and values we represent. Let’s look a bit more at the Port – a dispute likely to erupt again within weeks.

As I have said, the POAL planned to replace its workforce with contract labour. It would still roster this new labour, train it, allocated it and use it to carry out its core business – loading and unloading ships.

The Port however would not be the legal employer, and by splitting the workforce into three competing contracting units – the ultimate hope was that the union would also be removed from the Port.

The Port stuffed up by undermining the bargaining for a collective agreement by using the contracting threats during bargaining; otherwise it may have got away with it.

Had it, then these workers would have owed all the duties of an employee to the port – loyalty, honesty, fair day’s work etc but would have received none of the reciprocity inherent in an employment relationship – security, collective bargaining rights, fair treatment, respect.

It was a ruse to reduce the cost of labour and enable the Port to dominate its workforce. A modern sweatshop model.

The massive union campaign forced the port to go on the defensive to seek public support– it attempted to create an image of an undeserving workforce – overpaid, bullies, thugs, inflexible, hanging onto unrealistic work practices. It assumed the public would buy into this – particularly within the context that their own working experience was likely to be more dire.

You have seen the result after a huge campaign - which is not over yet by any means – these workers went back to work with massive support from the people of this country.

The Wharfies changed the narrative from overpaid lazy wharfies who had it coming, to a story about decent working people trying to hang on to a family life. It took effort and a counter intuitive campaign to that on which the Port was relying. It expected ships stopped all over the country, manufacturing close downs, chaos. Instead it got families talking about their work, their kids, their life already hugely influenced from working in a 24/7 industry with few limits on when they had to be available.

And Aucklanders got it. They stood up –– 7000 marching in support of these 300 working people, Ministers, Priests, Rugby league stars, actors, Iwi, community leaders, even some major leaders of business who broke with the employer organisations line and supported these workers.

The Port’s plans attracted little outrage from the political community outside of Labour and the Greens. Only when it deliberately breached the privacy of some of its workers to blogger Cameron Slater, did any other politician express true outrage. It was ok to dismiss and replace the workforce, but not to breach their privacy.

The port is now seeking to achieve what it could not achieve through contracting, by way of trying to force the union to accept an empty collective employment agreement.

It is seeking the full casualisation of the workforce within the collective including the removal of all the rostering protections – the right to one weekend off in three, the right to regular shift times (within the current requirements that those shifts can be any night or day), the reduction of redundancy provisions, the removal on restrictions on the employment of casual labour, the removal of guaranteed weekly hours and a wide range of other things.

The Port has not moved in the facilitation – I have attended many of them– the union has constantly tried to be flexible and find balanced solutions. The Port also refuses to concede its right to contract out the labour after the settlement - something no fool would sign up to.

How the Employment Relations Authority responds to the Ports demands in terms of the recommendations it will make later next week is really a reflection of how it too views working people and their right to balance working life and health and safety with the continual demands for more and more employer control. The wharfies will fight to not go over the workers version of the fiscal cliff. They have nothing to lose.

How did we get to the point where the entire codgeratti of NZ politics, media and business are shocked at the privacy leaks of the Port but not its plans to sack everyone and replace them and will no doubt support their new plans?

To be fair – the incentives support these employers I have talked about acting in this way – there is no long term benefit within the current economic settings of being a good employer in the “Capital G” type of way. There are benefits, for sure, of being better than others to some extent, but the settings for long term investment, skill building, decent pay, economy building, and practices that protect the environment simply don’t exist.

This is Labour’s challenge – change the settings, set the moral and political standards and define a role for Government that leverages these outcomes – an active role. Shake off the “big Government” cringe counter-left campaign built up over years by rhetoric and fear and which is designed by the few for the few.

It is this rhetoric which leads to workers being told they are “lucky” to have a job. It is this rhetoric that paints hard working state sector workers as bureaucrats and back room workers. It is this rhetoric which allows Business New Zealand to behave in a manner which is really against the long term interests of most of its members who need a vibrant economy to thrive in this country but who fear that advocating for anything else will open some socialist “flood gate” that will see them all planting wheat in the country side.

We need to redefine the notion of reciprocity. The reciprocity that must exist in an employment relationship and that wasn’t offered to Charanpreet or Ken. The reciprocity the port is desperate to avoid.

We need to be clear for example that it is this notion of reciprocity that allows us to support those looking for work. That is the reason we offer support to a hard working manufacturing worker, who has worked his or her guts out to keep up their skills, to turn up and work hard every day to create wealth through their labour for our country only to find they are thrown out of work into an economy where jobs are scarce, not because they didn’t meet their obligations but perhaps because of exploitation of labour in other countries or because of capital movement to other industries or because of the speculation in the New Zealand currency had made the products they produce unsustainable or because of the lack of incentives for his or her employer to invest, to train and the develop new products.

The reciprocity we offer these workers is that we as a community will support them and their family through the regular payment of a benefit. It is not reciprocity that this benefit is barely liveable so that if they are left to survive on it for a period of time, them and their family are plunged into severe poverty – a poverty which will have a significant and long term impact on the health and wellbeing of their family. Instead we believe that this benefit is part of the reciprocity in recognition for the economic failure to which this worker fell victim. This is what the unemployment benefit is – this is the way the reciprocity and responsibility flows – this is the context in which Labour must place its policy development if it is to bring about real change in this attitude to working people.

If you don’t support the Wharfies’ claim for a fair deal – then you are in the wrong party. If you think contracting in the form of employment which killed Charanpreet is something more than a ruse to avoid the reciprocity of an employment relationship and to drive the price of labour down – then you have the wrong analysis. And if you think anything more than a radical reform of all elements of social and economic policy towards a policy of egalitarianism will resolve these matters then in my humble view, you are not brave enough for what is needed now by the people of this country.

I know Labour is up to this challenge – we should see this as an exciting time – a time to again be the party of change – a party that can pull together, show real solidarity and prove the determination of our values.

Finally I want to acknowledge the work you have done on the constitutional review today–the changes will certainly make the party processes compelling and encourage engagement. The focus must now move to policy and strategies to win public support for them. There are some good ideas included already but they have to be put together in a platform that is coherent. There are many I could highlight – procurement policies with robust industry participation, policies which will support decent work and a living wage. Throwing out that law that prevents a new worker appealing against a grossly unfair dismissal. Putting in place a framework for industry agreements for pay and conditions that will provide access to real collective bargaining for all workers and triangulate the employment relationship so that those that seek to avoid it through contracting are unable to do so.

As I said at the beginning – Labour needs to be in the next Government – workers and their families need you; the union movement needs you. But more than this, if you can get these policies right, if we can join with you and develop solutions that pursue the core values we share, then you will bring real hope and real momentum leading into the next election.


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