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Goff: speech to CTU biennial conference

Hon Phil Goff
Leader of the Labour Party

22 October 2009 Speech
Goff: speech to CTU biennial conference

9AM Thursday, 22 October 2009.

CTU President Helen Kelly
Secretary Peter Conway
Parliamentary Colleagues, Trevor Mallard, Darien Fenton, and Carol Beaumont,

Thank you for inviting me to address the conference today, for my first opportunity to speak to you formally as leader of the Labour Party.

Can I start by placing on record my appreciation for the warm working relationship I have enjoyed with leaders of the CTU.

I welcome the big contribution union members make to our party and the strength we gain from organised labour working alongside the Labour Party to build a better and fairer New Zealand.

New Zealand made great gains for working people under the last government.

Unemployment fell to record low levels with the creation of 350,000 new jobs, and workplaces put a new emphasis on skills, instead of trying to compete by driving wages down. We rebuilt the apprenticeship and skill training system.

Fair industrial laws led to better pay and conditions for many New Zealanders.

The minimum wage rose nine times, and more than a hundred thousand New Zealanders benefitted as a result.

Hundreds of thousands benefitted from Working for Families, which John Key once described as 'communism by stealth'.

We set up a KiwiSaver scheme, to extend a workplace retirement savings scheme to all working people.

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We introduced 14 weeks paid parental leave, and a minimum of four weeks’ annual leave for all workers.

This was a time of sustained gains for working New Zealanders, and it shows how hardworking families benefitted from successful organisation by the broad labour movement.

Helen Kelly, in her tribute to Helen Clark, noted that although the CTU and the Labour-led government did not agree on every issue, our debate was usually about the pace of change rather than the direction.

But, delegates, today we are meeting in a different climate.

We are meeting in the shadow of lack of job security and huge pressure on family budgets.

This year jobs have been lost at a rate of around 2,000 a week. Unemployment has nearly doubled to around 6%.

Working people who are struggling to pay the bills and have something left over at the end of the week are being told to make cuts and sacrifices.

The sacrifices workers are being called upon to make however are one-sided. Chief Executives continue to have their big salaries boosted by large bonuses, even as company profits declined and tax cuts legislated last December saw nearly a third of extra money go just to the top 3% of income earners while families earning under $40,000 got nothing.

We have seen an attack on workplace rights with workers denied any protection against unfair dismissal in the first 90 days of their employment.

This is a time when the labour movement is needed more than ever before to stand alongside working New Zealanders.

New Zealand entered this year under the threat of an international recession which could have become a depression.

While many developed countries were heavily affected, New Zealand was lucky to be able to confront the storm from a base of having low unemployment and one of the strongest sets of public accounts in the world. Thanks to good economic management, Labour reduced our net public debt to zero last year. It was a wise precautionary move, allowing the current government to borrow to maintain activity during the recession.

Today, the global crisis has eased.

Our trading partners are in recovery.

Australia is already growing again and our exports to China over the last year have gone up by over 60% as that country's economy has continued to grow.

The Prime Minister said here yesterday, New Zealand is seeing the back of the recession.

I agree with that. The international economy overall is improving and carrying us with it.

But as the economy comes right, working people are still not getting ahead - even though they are working harder and harder.

For Maori and Pacific workers, weekly earnings have fallen in the last year. Down from an average of $398 a week for Maori in June last year, to $392.
And for Pasifika New Zealanders, average incomes are down from $375 a week to $359.

Incomes are falling because hours are being cut and jobs are being lost.

24 thousand more people were thrown out of work in the last three months.

Hardworking New Zealanders who are losing their jobs too often get no support. Take the forecourt attendant here in Wellington who was made redundant this year. When he lost his job, the family income halved. But the mortgage payments didn't halve. They stayed the same. His wife has a job as a cleaner, working sixty hours a week. And because she works hard in a low income job, that family doesn't get any help.

And that’s why I support the Bill put forward by Darien Fenton to ensure workers in all jobs get redundancy payments.

New Zealand is one of the few developed countries where there is no legislative requirement for redundancy payments and in these difficult times there is a real need for it.

The government can’t sit on the sidelines.

The number of long-term unemployed is going up fast - 22-thousand New Zealanders are long term unemployed now. That’s double a year ago.

Remember when National said they were going to make sure New Zealand catches up to Australia? One area where they have kept their promise is unemployment. New Zealand unemployment has risen so quickly, it’s gone past Australia’s unemployment levels.

When Labour delivered the lowest level of unemployment in a generation, we reduced the welfare rolls by tens of thousands.

We delivered opportunity and a better future for tens of thousands of young New Zealanders.

Today, jobs are going and incomes are down. But the day to day grocery bill for those families hasn’t been falling.

Your monthly power bill for example might be as much as four hundred dollars.

It’s up by 4.5 percent compared to a year ago.

This was a winter when working New Zealanders needed a government to step in and tell the publicly-owned power companies to keep prices down. Families don’t have the cash.

The Government did the opposite - the Minister of SOEs demanded bigger dividends from power companies this year two of which alone in recent months passed across more than half a billion dollars to the Government. That's a form of taxation, but a particularly regressive taxation falling most heavily on those with kids, who are often low income.

Delegates, Labour should have acted in this area in Government and didn’t. We will not repeat that mistake. My commitment as leader of the Labour Party is that Labour will not allow electricity companies to price gouge. We will not demand excessive dividends coming back into state coffers above what is needed for investment in new generation. And we will stand resolutely against National’s plan to privatise the power companies.

That would just see profits rise further and go into the pockets of private and overseas owners.

Food prices went up 5.4 percent in the last year.

That means families on static incomes have to make a choice between 5.4 percent less food on the table, or else less of something.

Budgets are under strain.

When it’s a struggle to pay bills and have something left over at the end of the week, New Zealanders are right to expect better times ahead.

On a personal note, I want to say that it's a privilege to lead the Labour Party, and to have the opportunity that provides to make a difference for hard working New Zealanders.

I joined the Labour Party the same year I first joined a union, when I left school and got a job in a freezing works, where I did seven seasons.

I learned a lot there:
• That a boy from Mt Roskill and South Auckland could seize opportunities.
• That the cornerstone of the labour movement is the hopes and aspirations of ordinary people.
• That working hard is necessary to achieve what you wanted to in life
• And that the guys working on the chain beside me were the people paying the taxes that paid for my education and other people’s education.

The Labour Party I lead is a party that will fight for a fair go for everyone.

The party for people who aspire to a better life for themselves and their families.

And the party for people who rely on hard work and fair pay to make ends meet.

And it’s a party that supports strong social services. This week, parliament was presented a petition signed by more than 53-thousand people asking the government not to cut night classes.

The government and its cheerleaders disparage those classes as hobby groups.

But I think of the woman I met in Auckland who had dropped out of school aged fourteen. For her, going back to school to do night classes helped turn her life around.

Today she has a degree and a top job and she’s making a huge contribution to New Zealand as the head of Onehunga High’s renowned Business School.

These are the people National is throwing barriers in front of by cutting night classes, and if National sneers at those men and women and their ambition for a better future…it is out of touch.

The lights will be off at our night schools next year with this government destroying a century long tradition of learning for life – life skills like parenting, vocational and ESOL skills, training community volunteers and simply allowing people to improve their quality and enjoyment of life.

Skills are necessary to get people into jobs, and for jobs which are well paid.

We don’t agree with National that the best thing to do is sit on the sidelines and just ‘blunt the sharp edges of the recession’, as they put it.

For full employment and a high-wage economy, we need to increase skill-training opportunities.

We need scientists and researchers. And we need well-trained and skilled tradespeople.

My two sons did apprenticeships. Now they have jobs, one as an electrician, the other a refrigeration engineer ... along with eighteen thousand other young New Zealanders who finished their Modern Apprenticeships before we left office.

That’s a core part of the future for New Zealand.

Skills will drive our productivity higher.

We need to lift productivity in our economy, and we need to ensure productive gains are enjoyed by the working men and women who create them.

I note the facts on productivity that the CTU has published. These show that since 1980, labour productivity in New Zealand grew by 82 percent.

But average ordinary time real wages in that period have grown by only 18%.

If real wages had grown as fast as workers’ productivity grew, then the average hourly wage would be $38.60.

We need to continue to grow our productive economy, and we need to improve productivity while making sure working people enjoy a fair share for their labour.

I strongly reject the weakening of ACC that the National Government is introducing.

I heard Tariana Turia say on Sunday that she was “very concerned” about privatising the ACC Work Account. She said privatising the Employer’s Account would see ACC costs “go up exorbitantly.” She’s right about that!

As Minister of Disabilities she said she would be “very opposed” to plans to slash spending for badly injured New Zealanders.

But three days later she said that the Maori Party would support the introduction of the bill that will cut entitlements and open up ACC to privatization.

Privatisation, or opening it up to competition as the Prime Minister describes it, will simply result in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits going to insurance companies. That will be paid for by higher costs imposed on workers and less money available for injury prevention, income support and rehabilitation.

The only ones who will benefit from privatisation are the big Australian insurance companies who will get the business. Ordinary Kiwis will pay more and get less.

Labour will fight the government’s cuts to ACC.

We will fight the attempts to privatise ACC.

We will fight massively increased levies for working people.

And I know we will be together in this fight.
We do need to look at the problem of rising costs, as medical costs go up and new medical technology allows seriously injured people to survive.

But pushing out fully-funding ACC, expanding rather than cutting injury prevention programmes as National is doing, better rehabilitation and stopping rorts are all better alternatives to cutting assistance to New Zealanders who genuinely need it, and forcing up costs higher than they need to be.

As a biker I am outraged that motorcyclists who are saving the country petrol and congestion riding to work now face a $750 bill for registering a bike, when two thirds of accidents involving bikes are caused by cars.

The government says that’s fair, it’s user pays. But where does that end?

If you are going to move to user pays, does that mean that next, kids and adults playing sport will be charged more because of injury risk and should stay at home and watch TV instead?

In Australia there are families whose kids aren’t allowed to play sport any more because they can’t afford the private health insurance they need before they run on the field.

If you think that’s a good policy - ask yourself what the All Blacks, the Ferns or the Kiwis would look like if kids from poor families were stopped from playing rugby, netball and league.

Delegates, Labour will work with you for the interests of working New Zealanders, for jobs, a good start in life for all kids, for access to education so people can achieve their potential, for access to healthcare, regardless of means.

Our commitment is for a New Zealand where there is opportunity for families striving to achieve their dreams to make tomorrow better than today.

Can I finally take the opportunity to place on record the Labour Party’s deep appreciation to the CTU and its affiliates for your support for Labour at the elections last year.

While we lost the election, the political cycle will turn. We are determined to win back the Treasury benches to advance the interests of working New Zealanders.

By both wings of the Labour movement working together, we can enhance our chance of achieving that.

Thank you again for the invitation to be here.


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