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I have seen one future, and it is bleak

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nz national party magazine cover

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Way back in March, 2012,  I wrote this story regarding a march to support striking workers at Ports of Auckland. It appears there was some prescience about some of my observations at the time…

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18 March 2012 – I was looking at several images taken from the March 10 rally and the port picket lines, and for some reason, this one stuck in my mind. The more I look at the image of this young Kiwi girl (I hope I haven’t got that wrong!),  it eventually came to me.

In my mind, I was wondering; what will be her future?

Depending very much on what my generation (“Baby Boomers”) and Gen X does now, in the Present, she probably has three likely futures ahead of her…

Future 1

More of the same. Casualisation of jobs; wages driven downward as businesses compete with each other, and overseas providers of goods and services;  few job opportunities except in  low-paid fast food, care-sector, cleaning, and suchlike. A wealth/income gap that has become so vast that even the Middle Class are now designated as the Shrinking Class. Top earners and asset-holders – the Privileged Class – are paying less and less tax; low income earners having to pay more and more; with fewer social services  readily available. More user-pays; more alienation; less engagement with the electoral process.

This young lass cannot escape to Australia as she is either unemployed or under-employed. She is part of a growing Struggling Class that is resented by the Shrinking Class, and viewed with disdain by the Privileged Class, though grudgingly accepted as a useful pool of cheap labour.

The Shrinking Class know in their heart-of-hearts that they are living under a failed economic system that benefits only a few. But they are too frightened to vote for an alternative centre-left Party; they fear the back-lash from an angry under-class only too happy to exact revenge.

Meanwhile, the Baby Boomer generation has hit retirement – but there are few skilled care-workers left in New Zealand. So the government imports migrant workers from Third World countries under a bonded-system (so they cannot, in turn, escape to Australia). Taxation levels are now so low that government subsidies have ceased and  full user-pays is now in effect for Rest homes. Baby boomers are selling up their residences and investment properties; the market is flooded with cheaper and cheaper houses – but with incomes so low, few can afford to buy them. Those that are sold reap less and less capital gains.

Future 2

More of the same, but she has been fortunate enough to be able to find resources and support from whanau over-seas – and she is of to Australia.

In Australia, she finds a relatively good job with decent pay. Her work conditions are protected by a strong Union; she has access to decent social services; and the government assists her and her new partner to build a house. They are both working; earning higher and higher incomes; and contributing to Australia’s economy and tax-base.

In a year or two, she helps other members of her family escape from New Zealand.

They leave behind a no-longer-smiling Prime Minister who is promising to “revitalise the economy” to “entice overseas Kiwis to come back” – then cuts another  1,000 workers from the State Sector and sells the last remaining profitable State Owned Enterprise.

Future 3

New Zealanders’ appetite for New Right, minimalist government, that has produced very few gains or benefits – has come to an end. The Smile & Wave Prime Minister is thrown out at the next election where he retires to his Hawaiian beach house, and is forgotten.

Meanwhile, a new centre-Left government takes stock and adopts a Scandinavian model of governance, taxation, and social services. The new government starts off with a crash programme of building 10,000 new state houses.  Free school meals for breakfast and lunch starts in the first year. Free doctor’s visits and boosting immunisation rates up to 99% follows. New Zealand returns to a system of free education. (Howls of protest from a few remaining New Right supporters are either ignored or ridiculed. Some are offered a free plane flight to a Libertarian-run state of their own choosing – if they can find one.)

Amongst this “radical” social democratic reform, the young girl above is supported by well-resourced local community groups and by strengthened state social services to journey through the education system. A new “Social Contract” requires that all young people will be in education; a job; or serving in a new New Zealand Civic Corp, which involves fair pay for working on major  infra-structure projects and ongoing tertiary/polytech education.

A Capital Gains Tax and Financial Transactions Tax,  is a first step toward capturing heretofore un-taxed wealth and assets. As returns from these taxes kick in, the government makes the first $11,000 of income tax free. As incomes increase, government looks at Gareth Morgan’s “negative tax” system.

The young girl has grown, graduated, and is now working in the community in the children’s health sector. Her education is on-going, as the State encourages workers to undertake further tertiary education. This increases her productivity and value to society, and she is paying more in tax as her income rises. She is a saving some of her pay in an expanded Kiwisaver Account;  spending more; and local businesses are benefitting from her expenditure. She meets a young man who is finishing his Builder’s Certificate through the NZ Civic Corp.

Together, they have a family.  One stays at home to care for the family, the other remains in paid work. The negative taxation system advocated by Gareth Morgan has been implemented and the stay-at-home parent still recieves an income from the State. People are not disincentivised to have children; raise a family;  who then grow up to be the next generation of tax-paying citizens.

With none of the pressures that young families are currently facing, their home is not stressed because of financial pressures and job uncertainty/insecurity, and the children are raised in a stable, relaxed environment. The children’s future ahead of them is reassured; early childhood education; schooling; tertiary education; and finally tax-paying citizens.

In this reformed society, children are number one on the list and will always have first recourse to resources. The Prime Minister is Minister for Children.

In school, civics is part of the curriculum, and young people are taught recent history of our country; the mistakes we have made; and how they can hold politicians to account.

Meanwhile, she has persuaded some of her whanau to return to New Zealand. They like what they see and can feel themselves ready to become a part of a true, inclusive New Zealand Society.

The best thing about the three futures I’ve described above? The power to choose which one we’ll have is entirely in our hands. No one else can give or take it away from us.

Which is it to be, I wonder?

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Perhaps nothing better illustrates the three possible futures for the toddler pictured above than the all-too real – and thought-provoking – story of Aroha Ireland, formerly of low-income area, McGehan Close.

In February 2007, Key shamelessly exploited Aroha’s situation to attack the then-Labour-led government;

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Aroha Ireland, John Key, McGehan Close, Waitangi Day

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As I further reported on 23 November 2012 on Key’s cynical publicity stunt,

It’s somewhat disturbing to note that National list MP Jackie Blue, who had a close personal  relationship with Aroha’s family, played along with the photo-op. That was despite reservations expressed by some,

“Labour list MP Dover Samuels was the only one publicly labelling Mr Key’s invitation a stunt yesterday, but others quietly voiced similar concerns.”

The family, though, seemed blissfully unaware that they were little more than pawns in National’s pre-election grand strategy and expressed their comfort with events,

“…Mrs Nathan told Close Up last night that the invitation had given her daughter a good opportunity.

She continued to disagree with some of Mr Key’s views on McGehan Close, but she believed he was trying to push for positive changes.”

The 2007 episode ended badly for Aroha and her mother, as the NZ Herald reported on 10 February 2010,

The mother of the 12-year-old girl John Key took to Waitangi three years ago says she has been let down by the Prime Minister, and her daughter now wants nothing to do with him.

Joan Nathan said she and her family were worse off since National won the election.

She’d lost her job with National list MP Jackie Blue, arranged by Key, and a training allowance she received had been cut.

“They gave me the job to sweeten the deal, and then as soon as they got elected I got the sack,” she said.

“I’m pretty anti-Mr Key at the moment”..

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“He’s just made everything worse for us and made it easier for ones that are higher up. I’m struggling every week.”

 

On 7 September this year, Fairfax Media published this up-dated story on  Aroha Ireland, formerly of  McGehan Close, and now residing comfortably in Australia;

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Aroha of McGehan Close flees NZ

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In his story above, Fairfax reporter Simon Day wrote,

Three years later Aroha, now 20, feels she was used by Key – and the Prime Minister won’t be getting her vote.

“The last time I spoke to him was when he took me to Waitangi Day. After that I have never heard from him again. I absolutely believe that I was used as a publicity stunt,” she says. “I wouldn’t vote for National.”

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Now, she says, the opportunities she has in Australia just aren’t available here.

“I have a full time job that pays good, $38 an hour,” she says. “I have a house, rent is cheap, about $265 a week for 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, double garage, me and my husband are close to buying our own house. Life couldn’t be any better. There was nothing left in New Zealand.

“All this from someone who came from a ‘dead end’ street, right?”

She recently returned home to visit her mother. She couldn’t believe how expensive the price of living in New Zealand was compared to Australia.

“Petrol has shot up – $2 for petrol, really? I also brought about seven or eight items from one of the supermarkets and it came to a total of $78. No wonder people can’t fill their fridges. I’m glad I got out of New Zealand when I did.”

Over the past four years she has seen her mother’s financial situation worsen. “My mum works full time and she is still struggling really bad,” she says. “It is like she is worse off.”

“I have everything that I would never ever have in New Zealand. I would probably still be on the benefit if I lived in NZ right now.”

It seems that for Ms Ireland, of the three possible futures I outlined in 2012 - voters have chosen this path to follow;

Future 2

More of the same, but she has been fortunate enough to be able to find resources and support from whanau over-seas – and she is of to Australia.

In Australia, she finds a relatively good job with decent pay. Her work conditions are protected by a strong Union; she has access to decent social services; and the government assists her and her new partner to build a house. They are both working; earning higher and higher incomes; and contributing to Australia’s economy and tax-base.

In a year or two, she helps other members of her family escape from New Zealand.

They leave behind a no-longer-smiling Prime Minister who is promising to “revitalise the economy” to “entice overseas Kiwis to come back” – then cuts another  1,000 workers from the State Sector and sells the last remaining profitable State Owned Enterprise.

The economy in Australia may be slowing – but it still offers job prospects, housing opportunities, and social services that we here in New Zealand seem to be losing on a daily basis.

Especially when our housing crisis is worsening; child poverty continues to be a blight on our society; wages and wealth disparity continues to widen; social services are being pared back; and government is planning to introduce so-called “labour market reforms” that will further drive down wages, conditions, safety, etc.

This is what voters chose on 20 September.

However, be that as it may, there is one thing that every student of Quantum Theory understands – the future is never set in concrete.

The future can be changed.

Because it must.

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References

Fairfax media:  Aroha of McGehan Close flees NZ

NZ Herald: A Day Out with Friends In High Places

NZ Herald: Family still on struggle street after Key leaves

Scoop Media: Employment Relations Amendment Bill

Additional

NZ Herald: ‘No point’ in new state houses – Bill English

Acknowledgements

Election Commission: Orange Guy

Previous related blogposts

John Key: When propaganda photo-ops go wrong

National Housing propaganda – McGehan Close Revisited

What will be her future?

Other Blogs

The Daily Blog: Chocolate milk shortage and creepy Santa? Let’s talk about real news

The Daily Blog: Ideological Blitzkrieg – Privatization of state housing, more charter schools & more union crushing employment law

The Standard: Poverty and the need to belong

The Standard: No point in state houses

 

 


 

 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 October 2014

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John Key’s track record on raising wages – 5. The Minimum Wage

11 November 2012 7 comments

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Continued from: John Key’s track record on raising wages – 4. Rest Home Workers

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5. The Minimum Wage

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From 2004 to 2008, the minimum wage rose from $9 to $12 – an increase of $3 in four years.

From 2009 to 2012, the minimum wage rose from $12 to $13.50 – an increase of $1.50 over three years.

See: Dept of Labour – Previous minimum wage rates

Last year, Labour, the Greens, NZ First, and Mana campaigned to raise the minimum wage to $15 ($16 for Mana).

When a worker at a fast-food outlet asked John Key to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, he  rejected the proposal, saying,

It will go up, but it won’t go up straight away.”

See:  Raising minimum wage won’t cost jobs – Treasury

Key’s right. At the glacial speed that National increases the minimum wage, it will take another three years to deliver $15 an hour.

Yet it took only a couple of years to implement two massive taxcuts that gave hundreds, thousands,  of dollars a week, to the top income earners.

Priorities, eh?

The real insult is that  Key and English both admit that the minimum wage is difficult to live on.

Key said,

Look, I think it would be very difficult for anyone to do that.”

See:  Ibid

GUYON:  Okay, can we move backwards in people’s working lives from retirement to work and to wages?  Mr English, is $13 an hour enough to live on?

BILL ENGLISH:  People can live on that for a short time, and that’s why it’s important that they have a sense of opportunity.  It’s like being on a benefit.

GUYON:  What do you mean for a short time?

BILL ENGLISH:  Well, a long time on the minimum wage is pretty damn tough, although our families get Working for Families and guaranteed family income, so families are in a reasonable position.

See: TVNZ’s Q+A: Transcript of Bill English, David Cunliffe interview

The Department of Labour claimed  a rise in the minimum wage  would cost 6,000 jobs.

But Treasury disagreed, saying,

This has not been true in the past. The balance of probabilities is that a higher minimum wage does not cost jobs.”

Raising the minimum wage would certainly benefit SMEs (Small-Medium Enterprises), as low-income earners spend their entire wages on goods and services. Any rise in paying wages should be offset by increasing till-takings with customers spending more.

So it appears blatantly obvious that no good reason exists not to raise the minimum wage.

After all, in 2009 and 2010, National gave away far more in tax cuts for the rich.

And precisely how does this raise wages, as per Dear Leader’s promises?

Next chapter: 6. Youth Rates

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John Key’s track record on raising wages – 4. Rest Home Workers

11 November 2012 7 comments

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Continued from: John Key’s track record on raising wages – 3. Ports of Auckland Dispute

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4. Rest Home Workers

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Amongst the lowest paid workers in this country, Rest Home caregivers earn around $13.61 an hour – just barely above the minimum wage of $13.50.

Human Rights Commissioner, Dr Judy McGregor, found out first-hand what the job entailed,

Spending hours on her feet, lifting, hoisting, feeding, bathing, dressing and toileting her charges took its toll – and for just $14 an hour, the Human Rights Commission’s equal opportunities commissioner compares it to a form of modern-day slavery.

“The complexity of the job was actually a surprise for me. It’s quite physical work, and it’s emotionally draining because you are obliged to give of yourself to other people,” she said.

“Saint-like women do it every day so that older New Zealanders can have a quality of life”.”

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Full story

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When this was point out to John Key, the following exchange took place on morning TV,

Key acknowledged there were problems with rural rest homes workers paying for their own travel, effectively reducing their wage below the minimum wage of $13.50 an hour.

“Travel is one of those areas where we are looking at what we can do,” he told TVNZ’s Breakfast programme.

However, the Government could not afford to give DHBs the $140 million required to enable rest homes to pay their staff more.

“It’s one of those things we’d love to do if we had the cash. As the country moves back to surplus it’s one of the areas we can look at but I think most people would accept this isn’t the time we have lots of extra cash”.”

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Full story

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But there seemed plenty of cash – taxpayer’s money – to give politicians some fairly generous salary increases,

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Full story

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And a “lack of money” certainly didn’t stop the country from spending over $200 million of public money on a sporting tournament,

Budget blowouts have pushed public spending on the Rugby World Cup well above $200 million – without counting $555 million in stadium upgrades and $39 million in direct losses from hosting the tournament. “

See: Blowouts push public Rugby World Cup spending well over $200m

If  Key was serious about raising wages, he should clearly have made the lowest paid his Number One Priority. The 2009 and 2010 tax cuts would have made an excellent opportunity to give the biggest tax cuts to the lowest paid workers.

Instead, those tax cuts went to the very top. On top of that, the rise in GST from 12.5% to 15% would have impacted the hardest on those on minimum wage.

Double whammy.

So precisely how does this raise wages, as per Dear Leader’s promises? (Or could it be that when Key promised to raise wages – he was referring to his own?)

Next chapter: 5. The Minimum Wage

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John Key’s track record on raising wages – 3. Ports of Auckland Dispute

11 November 2012 5 comments

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Continued from: John Key’s track record on raising wages – 2. The 90 Day Employment Trial Period

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3. Ports of Auckland Dispute

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“The average income has been about $90,000, so it hasn’t been a badly-paid place. But the problem is flexibility when ships arrive and when staff get called out, how they can cope with that.” – John Key, 12 March 2012

See: Jackson pulls back from port comments

Putting aside from the myth of  POAL maritime workers earning $90,000 – so what?

Even if it were true (which is doubtful) – POAL has never released the workings of how they arrived at that sum, despite requests), isn’t such a good wage precisely what Dear Leader was advocating in his quotes above?

POAL management sought to reduce costs;  casualise their workforce; and compete with Ports of Tauranga for shipping business. Unfortunately, competing on costs would, by necessity, involve driving down wages.

There is also a high degree of price-fixing by shipping cartels, as was pointed out by the Productivity Commision in April,

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Full story

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Rather than supporting the workers, Dear Leader bought into a situation where international shipping companies were playing New Zealand ports off against each other, to gain the  lowest possible port-charges.  Even local company, Fonterra, was playing the game.

Here we have a situation where New Zealand workers were enjoying high wages – something John Key insists he supports – and yet he was effectively allowing international corporations to create circumstances where those wages could eventually be cut and driven down.

As with the “Hobbit Law”, our Dear Leader appears to pay more heed to the demands of international corporate interests than to fulfilling his pledges to raise wages.

Precisely how does this raise wages, as per Dear Leader’s promises?

Next chapter: 4. Rest Home Workers

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John Key’s track record on raising wages – 2. The 90 Day Employment Trial Period

11 November 2012 5 comments

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Continued from: John Key’s track record on raising wages – 1. The “Hobbit Law”

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2. The 90 Day Employment Trial Period

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An amendment to the Employment Relations Act 2000, Section 67A, allows for employers to sack – without just cause or a chance for an employee to improve performance – within a 90 day period.

It gives unbalanced power to employers who can blackmail an employee or get rid of them at the slightest whim.

It also makes workers less willing to be mobile in the workplace. Why change jobs at the risk of being fired within 90 days of taking up a new position?

When the 90 Day Trial period was first introduced in April 2009, it applied only to companies employing 19 staff or less.

See: Will the 90 Day trial period make a difference?

By April 2011, this was extended to all companies regardless of staff numbers.

Has it helped  generate more jobs as National claimed it would?

Evidence suggests it played very little part in creating employment, and indeed unemployment went up after both legislative changes,

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Source

So aside from empowering employers and disempowering workers, what exactly was the point of enacting this piece of legislation?

And precisely how does this raise wages, as per Dear Leader’s promises?

Next Chapter: 3. Ports of Auckland Dispute

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John Key’s track record on raising wages – 1. The “Hobbit Law”

11 November 2012 7 comments

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Continued from:  John Key’s track record on raising wages – preface

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1. The “Hobbit Law”

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On 20 October 2010, Peter Jackson released this statement to the media,

“Next week Warners are coming down to New Zealand to make arrangements to move the production offshore. It appears we cannot make films in our own country even when substantial financing is available.”

See: Warner preparing to take Hobbit offshore – Sir Peter

It was the opening shot of a public war-of-words between Jackson and his camp, and Actor’s Equity.  An industrial dispute had been elevated to DefCon One, and things were about to ‘go nuclear‘.

Almost overnight, a mood of hysteria gripped the country; we were about to lose ‘Our Precious‘ movies to Eastern Europe, Mongolia, or Timbuktu.

Public panic reached levels unseen since the 1981 Springbok Tour, or the satanic child abuse-ritual stories of the early 199os. There were patriotic street marches (flaming torches were considered but rejected because of OSH concerns.) Union officials were harassed in public; vilified; and threatened with death. A well-known  actress – popular up till this point – considered leaving for Australia after receiving death threats, because of her pro-Union stance.

See: And everybody take a deep breath – please

It was the nastier side of New Zealand’s collective psyche which we’ve come  to be familiar with. We do ‘mob hysteria‘ very well.

John Key and National would have none of it, of course. Dear Leader acted with authoritarian style not seen outside ex-Soviet republics, African, and Middle East  dictatorships.

As the Dominion Post reported,

The Hobbit dispute was resolved after Warner Bros executives jetted into New Zealand for a meeting with Government ministers at Mr Key’s official Wellington residence, Premier House.

After two days of tense days of talks with Warner Bros bosses, who were chauffeured around Wellington in Crown limousines, the Government agreed to a raft of measures including a $20 million tax break to keep the two Hobbit movies in New Zealand.

An agreement to change New Zealand’s employment laws clinched the deal after studio bosses and Jackson threatened to move production off-shore over a stoush with the actors union. Labour lawswere were [subsequently amended].

See: PM’s ‘special’ movie studio meeting

The labour law that the Dompost piece referred to was the Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill which made film industry workers independent contractors by default – thereby changing the definition in employment legislation of what constitutes an “employee”.

See: The Hobbit law – what does it mean for workers?

Even if the nature of your employment mirrors that of an employee with a boss who determines your hours of on-site work; supplies all your tools and work materials; dictates your workplace requirements, including meal breaks – your employer can still treat you legally as a “contractor”.

A worker under these conditions has all the obligations of an employee – but none of the rights.  That same worker may be deemed a “self employed contractor” – but has none of the usual independence of a contractor.

A worker in this “limbo” has had all his/her security of employment; minimum wages;  holidays; and right to collective bargaining stripped away.

In effect, for the first time in our democracy, a government has legislated away a  workers right to choose. They no longer have any choice in the matter.

All done at the stroke of a pen. No consultation. It was all decided for you, whether you wanted it or not. Only a totalitarian, One Party, regime could match such dictatorial powers.

The “Hobbit Law” took precisely two days from First Reading to Royal Assent. An Olympic record in law-making.

See: Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act 2010 – Legislative history

By 21 December 2010 – two months after Jackson had sent the entire nation into a spin with his first press release –  an email dated 18 October, to Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee, revealed a startling new picture,

There is no connection between the blacklist (and it’s eventual retraction) and the choice of production base for The Hobbit”.

“What Warners requires for The Hobbit is the certainty of a stable employment environment and the ability to conduct its business in such as way that it feels its $500 million investment is as secure as possible.”

See: Sir Peter: Actors no threat to Hobbit

Peter Jackson and John Key knew precisely how to pull this country’s strings and make workers and the public dance to their tune. They managed to con workers to demand losing their own rights as employees. Well played, Mr Jackson, Mr Key.

So precisely, how does this raise wages, as per Dear Leader’s promises?

Next chaper:  2. The 90 Day Employment Trial Period

See also previous blogposts:Muppets, Hobbits, and Scab ‘Unions’, Roosting chickens

Additional

Tech Dirt: The Hobbit Took $120M From Kiwi Taxpayers – Maybe They Should Own The Rights (5 Dec 2012)

Fairfax Media: To save regular earth, kill Hobbit subsidies (6 Dec 2012)

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John Key’s track record on raising wages – preface

11 November 2012 19 comments

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Preface

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By now, I think most readers of this blog (and other sources of  political information) will recall certain statements made by Dear Leader over the last four years,

We will be unrelenting in our quest to lift our economic growth rate and raise wage rates.” – John Key, 29 January 2008

See: National policy – SPEECH: 2008: A Fresh Start for New Zealand

“One of National’s key goals, should we lead the next Government, will be to stem the flow of New Zealanders choosing to live and work overseas.  We want to make New Zealand an attractive place for our children and grandchildren to live – including those who are currently living in Australia, the UK, or elsewhere.

To stem that flow so we must ensure Kiwis can receive competitive after-tax wages in New Zealand.” – John Key, 6 September 2008

See: National policy – Speech: Environment Policy Launch

“I don’t want our talented young people leaving permanently for Australia, the US, Europe, or Asia, because they feel they have to go overseas to better themselves.” – John Key, 15 July 2009

See: Speech: Key – business breakfast

“Science and innovation are important. They’re one of the keys to growing our economy, raising wages, and providing the world-class public services that Kiwi families need.” – John Key, 12 March 2010

See: National policy – Boosting Science and Innovation

We will also continue our work to increase the incomes New Zealanders earn. That is a fundamental objective of our plan to build a stronger economy.” – John Key,  8 February 2011

See: Statement to Parliament 2011

The driving goal of my Government is to build a more competitive and internationally-focused economy with less debt, more jobs and higher incomes.” – John Key, 21 December 2011

See: Parliament – Speech from the Throne

We want to increase the level of earnings and the level of incomes of the average New Zealander and we think we have a quality product with which we can do that.” –  John Key, 19 April 2012

See: Key wants a high-wage NZ

Key has repeated the same pledge every year since 2008. It has become a mantra, “raise wages, raise wages, raise…”.

But words are easy. What has been Key’s actual track record? How does Dear Leader’s words reconcile with his actions? What have been the results?

The following chapters give an insight into the rhetoric and reality of the National Party and it’s leader, John Key.

1. The “Hobbit Law”

2. The 90 Day Employment Trial Period

3. Ports of Auckland Dispute

4. Rest Home Workers

5. The Minimum Wage

6. Youth Rates

7. Part 6A – stripped away

8. An End to Collective Agreements

9. Conclusion

10. A New Government’s Response

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