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Prison Labour Must End

MEDIA STATEMENT


12 December 1999
For immediate release

TUF

The Trade Union Federation has called on the Hon Matt Robson, new Minister of Corrections, to end the previous Government's policy of exploitation of prison labour for private profit.

"The current policy is one of forced labour for private industry. As such it is in contravention of both ILO and International Human Rights standards," said Maxine Gay, President of the Trade Union Federation.

"The TUF has already laid a complaint with the ILO on New Zealand's prison labour policy, said Maxine Gay. "This complaint is currently being investigated."

"TUF has been involved in the issue of prison labour since the establishment of the prison footwear factory in Wanganui in August 1996. This factory previously employed 80 "free" staff on an average wage of $400 per week. The prison labour was paid around $5 per week.

"Since that time, prison labour has expanded tremendously. This expansion, as well as being exploitative of the prisoner, has severely effected the job opportunities of thousands of new Zealanders who have committed no crime. In Wanganui, a local joke asks, 'what do you have to do to get a job as a footwear worker?' The answer is 'rob a bank'.

"New Zealand has been in the hypocritical situation where it has condemned prison labour and where our Customs law bans goods made by prison labour from other countries. But at the same time it promotes prison labour for private profit in New Zealand.

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"Until now the Department of Corrections has ignored its obligations under ILO and Human Rights Conventions. Its hand picked 'Prison Industry Advisory Committee' has been a joke. It has earned the contempt of unions and manufacturers alike," Maxine Gay said.

"The Trade Union Federation calls on Hon Matt Robson to abolish the Prison Industry Advisory Committee and to form a group to review the Department's prison labour policy. Such a group should include genuine representatives of unions, manufacturers and prisoner welfare organisations.

The Trade Union Federation said in 1997 that it did "not oppose rehabilitation programmes for prisoners. It strongly believes that prisoners need to receive a range of education, training and other rehabilitation programmes and that this has been severely neglected over recent years. But it does not support exchanging the oppression of idleness for the exploitation of labour."

"This is still our position today," said Maxine Gay. "A position that we believe we share with the new Minister of Corrections."

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