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Archive for 8 March 2014

Radio NZ: Focus on Politics for 7 March 2014

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– Focus on Politics –

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– Friday 7 March 2014  –

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– Demelza Leslie –

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A weekly analysis of significant political issues.

Friday after 6:30pm and Saturday at 5:10pm

After being officially appointed as the new ACT leader, Jamie Whyte is now being heralded as the saviour of the party that’s struggling to even register in political polls.

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Radio NZ logo - Focus on Politics

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Click to listen: Focus on Politics for 7 March 2014 ( 16′  37″ )

  • ACT,
  • Jamie Whyte,
  • RMA,
  • Three Strikes Law,
  • Epsom,
  • John Banks

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Acknowledgement: Radio NZ

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Purchasing “justice” on the New Zealand open market…

8 March 2014 3 comments

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ladyjustice

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Timeline

19 November 2010: An explosion at Pike River Mine, on the West Coast, kills 29 miners.

10 November 2011:  The Department of Labour  lays 25 charges against Pike River Coal Limited (in receivership);VLI Drilling Pty Limited (Valley Longwall),  and Peter William Whittall.

31 July 2012: Valley Longwall International (VLI) pleads guilty in the Greymouth District Court to three health and safety charges and on 26 October is fined $46,800. Pike River Coal’s  receivers enter no plea and a year later are fined and order to make payments to the families. PRC did not pay the fine and made only a minimal payment to the victim’s families.

25 October 2012: Peter Whittall enters not guilty pleas.

30 October 2012:  A  Royal Commission of Inquiry concludes and presents a report to the Attorney-General, Chris Finlayson.

5 November 2012: Royal Commission’s report made public and   Kate Wilkinson resigns as Minister of Labour.

10 December 2012: “Prime Minister John Key will personally apologise to the families of the Pike River 29 after a Royal Commission report blamed the Government for lax oversight of the mine.” (Source)

16 October 2013: Peter Whittall’s lawyer, Stuart Grieve QC,writes secretly to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) suggesting that  in ‘‘advance of the $3.41 million being made available, it is proposed [with precise terms to be agreed] that  …  the Ministry will not proceed with the charges laid against Mr Whittall by advising the Court that no evidence will be offered in support of any of the charges.’’

12 December 2013: Judge Jane Farish drops all charges against Peter Whittall saying, ‘‘Some people may believe this is Mr Whittall buying his way out of a prosecution, but I can tell you it’s not.’’ Peter Whittall agrees to pay compensation of $3.41 million to the families of the dead Pike River miners.

27 February 2014: Stuart Grieve’s secret letter to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is made public under an OIA request.

Denials

 ‘‘Some people may believe this is Mr Whittall buying his way out of a prosecution, but I can tell you it’s not.’’ –  Judge Jane Farish

‘‘It arrived by Stuart Grieve, nobody asked if they were prepared to offer money – they offered money. Very careful legal advice was taken as to whether it was proper to take this into account at all. We got clear legal advice that we should take it into account, and it was one, but only one, of that factors, and not the predominant factor in the decision that was taken.’’- Geoffrey Podger, CEO, WorkSafe NZ

‘‘I wish to make it very clear, again, that there was no such arrangement between the defence and prosecution.’’ – Brett Murray, General Manager, Worksafe high hazards

Stuart Grieve: “This letter didn’t just come out of the blue. That’s not how it happened. Although that is perhaps the impression that seems to have been given by what I’ve read read, that Worksafe chief executive said that the letter just arrived, and we offered money. That’s not how it happened at all. The [letter] needs to be looked at in context. Over a period starting from about, quite early last year, the solicitors for the defendent, Mr Whittle, and I, were getting disclosure from  MBIE that very quickly revealed that they had, there were  significant problems with the electronic disclosure and then that in turn revealed that there were significant problems with the way  the investigation had been  carried out because a lot of relevant materials stored on computers operated by all sorts  of employees of Pike [River Mine] had not been recovered or retained and a lot of that would well have, could well have been relevent to the defence. There were also significant problems with the evidential aspects of the case.”

Mary Wilson then asked, if the case was looking so bad, if the evidence was looking so poor, what was the advantage in paying $3.41 million to get the charges dropped?

“As a result of all these difficulties, I mean the trial was going to be a long one anyway, but these difficulties which would have had to be contested in court would have made the, on our assessment, the trial would’ve, could have lasted anything between  four to six months. And it was going to be horrendously expensive. If this trial had proceeded and the ministry had failed, the families would’ve got nothing. As it stands now, the families ended up getting the reparation that had been ordered by the judge against the company, which was of course in receivership.”

Mary Wilson pointed out to Grieve that the directors hadn’t been prepared to pay compensation, unless Mr Whittle wasn’t charged.

“Well, look,  all I can say to you is that the money was offered , the charges were dismissed, but the suggestion that it was a backroom deal, is just quite wrong. This was not something that was just agreed by the prosecution. It was at the Court hearing when the charges were dismissed. The Prosecution said that it was considered on principle and conventional basis in accordance with the prosecution guidelines. It had gone, as we understand it, we were told it  was going to be considered by the solicitor-general, so that it went to, you know, significantly high up, in [the] Crown Law office. You know, to say that it was just a back room deal, sort of, is a criticism that’s easily made, but we were told from  the outset that it was going to be considered by the Crown on a principled basis and as I understand it and the submissions to the Court confirm it, that’s how it was done.” – Stuart Grieve QC, interviewed by Mary Wilson, on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint

Conclusions

  1. A secret deal was offered by  solicitor, Stuart Grieve, on 16 October 2013, that in return for payment of $3.41 million dollars by Peter Whittle, that the Crown would drop all charges against Whittle.
  2. On 12 December 2013, Judge Jane Farish dropped all charges against Peter Whittall, and an agreed sum of $3.41 million was offered by Peter Whittle as “compensation”.
  3. The secret deal was finally made public on 27 February.
  4. According to Grieve, the Solicitor General was aware of the deal; “It had gone, as we understand it, we were told it  was going to be considered by the solicitor-general, so that it went to, you know, significantly high up…”
  5. Denials that this was not a “secret back room deal” fly in the face of what looks very obviously a secret back-room deal.

Questions

  1. Is this going to be the new ‘norm’ for the justice system in this country – that a person can buy their way out of a conviction?
  2. Will the government be publishing a tariff for what “compensation” is demanded in payment, according to  severity of charges?
  3. If not, will the Solicitor General, Stuart Grieve, Judge Farish, and anyone else associated with this affair, be resigning their position?

Because, really, this isn’t just a case of something rotten in the state of Denmark…

… this is a case of advanced decomposition.

Heads must roll.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 28 February 2014.

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References

Wikipedia:  Pike River Mine disaster

Ministry of Business, Employment, and Innovation: Pike River Charges Laid

Fairfax media: Whittall ‘part of Pike deal’

TV3: Key to apologise to Pike families in person

ABC News: Prosecutors drop charges against former Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall

NZ Herald: Pike River: Labour accuse Govt of dodgy deal

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A proposed Labour-Green-Mana(-NZ First?) agenda – part toru

8 March 2014 3 comments

Continued from:  A proposed Labour-Green-Mana(-NZ First?) agenda – part rua

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new-zealand-national-party_3382 adapted 2014

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An incoming Labour-Green-Mana(-NZ First?*) coalition government will have much work to do – especially in it’s first three years.

In the six years that National has been in power, they have passed many odious and often repressive pieces of legislation. Labour and the Greens have already committed to repealing some of these laws and policies.

As a Labour-led coalition government addresses growing problems of child poverty; income inequality; a shortage of decent, affordable housing; and chronic unemployment, a legislative programme will demand a long list of progressive reforms.

In no particular order;

The 90 Day Employment Trial Period

An amendment to the Employment Relations Act 2000, Section 67A, allows  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.

By April 2011, this was extended to all companies regardless of staff numbers. (A typical National strategy; start small – then encompass an entire sector.)

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

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So aside from empowering employers and disempowering workers, what exactly was the point of enacting this piece of legislation? Because it seems that an awful lot of people lost their jobs through this legislation. As one media report stated,

It is not known how many workers were dismissed during the trial period, but the figures revealed 27 per cent of employers said they had fired at least one new employee during or at the end of their trial.

This means at least 18,000 people lost their jobs in the first three months of employment last year, with the actual figure likely to be much higher.

And precisely how does this raise wages, as per Dear Leader’s past promises (see below)?

This law gives too much power to one party in the Employer-Employee relationship, and it has no place in a fair-bargaining workplace.

On 17 October 2010, Labour promised that this law would be scrapped by an incoming Labour-led government. I hope the current Labour leadership has not resiled from this commitment.

Ports of Auckland Dispute – Shipping Lines Price Fixing

“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

Putting to one side 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 John Key has been advocating?

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.

This appears to have been motivated  by a high degree of price-fixing by shipping cartels, as was pointed out by the Productivity Commission in April 2012,

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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  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.

An incoming Labour-led government should immediatly implement the Productivity Commission’s recommendation,

“The commission recommends that New Zealand require shipping companies wishing to collaborate to fix prices or limit capacity to demonstrate to the Commerce Commission that there will be a public benefit which will outweigh the anti-competitive effects.”

This problem must be addressed by an incoming government. It is simply intolerable for foreign corporations to be dictating labour laws; industrial relations; and wages, in a supposedly sovereign nation.

Youth Rates

From 1 May 2013, National  re-introduced a new Youth Rate. The rate would be set at $10.80 an hour [soon to be increased to $11.40 per hour]– compared to the then- minimum rate of $13.50  an hour  [soon to be $14.25 on 1 April this year], and would include 16 to 19 year olds.

John Key stated,

“For a lot of employers, they will go out there and say, ‘I’m going to give somebody a go that’s been in the workforce before’ and so the balance is against that younger person. That’s very disheartening for them – they are good young people, they just want a chance.

So I think it’s got to be seen in perspective – the vast overwhelming bulk of youngsters actually won’t go on a starting out wage.”

Which conflicts with John Key’s other assertions that he wants to see wages rise;

We think Kiwis deserve higher wages and lower taxes during their working lives, as well as a good retirement.” – John Key, 27 May 2007

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

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

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

Youth rates won’t achieve that goal, Mr Prime Minister!

There is no good reason why Youth Rates should actually create new jobs. More likely, a drop in youth wages will simply create more ‘churn’ in employment/unemployment numbers.

As David Lowe, Employment Services Manager for the Employers and Manufacturers Association, inadvertently  revealed,

Without an incentive an employer with a choice between an experienced worker and an inexperienced worker will choose experience every time.”

As Lowe admitted – there is no new job for the  younger worker. S/he is merely displacing an older worker.

As it is, figures from Statistics New Zealand’s  Household Labour Force Survey showed that unemployment for young people had already fallen by the March 2013 Quarter – a full two months before Youth Rates came into effect;

In the year to March 2013, there was a large fall in unemployment for people aged 15–24 years (down 10,500). This fall can be largely attributed to a decrease in unemployed 20–24-year-olds (down 11,200). This was an atypical fall in unemployment, as the number of people unemployed for this age group usually increases during March quarters. The unemployment rate for people aged 20–24 years fell 4.1 percentage points to 10.9 percent – the lowest rate since the September 2009 quarter.

The employment rate for 20–24-year-olds rose over the year to March 2013. There was also an increase in the number of people aged 15–24 years not in the labour force over the year. Behind this was a rise in the number of young people outside the labour force who are studying (up 25,000). The number of both 15–19-year-olds and 20–24-year-olds in study rose –  up 16,200 and 8,800 respectively.
NEET rate declines

In seasonally adjusted terms, the NEET (not in employment, education or training) rate for youth (aged 15–24 years) decreased 1.5 percentage points, to 12.5 percent in the March 2013 quarter. This is the lowest youth NEET rate since the September 2011 quarter. The NEET rate for people aged 20–24 years fell 2.4 percentage points to 15.9 percent.

As the global economy continued to improve; the Christchurch re-build moved into high gear; and demand for our exports increased, unemployment was bound to eventually fall.

In which case, paying young workers a lower wage than their older counterparts was nothing more than a “gift” handed to employers.

As such, it has no place in a modern, civilised society. Youth rates are exploitative and demoralising. They also drag adult wages downward, as employers can opt for cheaper labour, as  David Lowe stated above.

In October 2012, Labour’s then-Leader, David Shearer condemned youth rates,

“It’s not going to create jobs by driving down wages.  These people are going to leave and go to Australia.

We need an economy that provides decent, secure jobs and good incomes and where young people have hope and opportunity, not the low-wage vision promoted by National.”

An incoming Labour-led government must repeal this exploitative legislation.

Continued at:  A proposed Labour-Green-Mana(-NZ First?) agenda – part wha

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(* At this point in time, NZ First’s leader, Winston Peters,  has not indicated which bloc – Labour or National – he intends to coalesce with. As such, any involvement by NZ First in a progressive government cannot be counted upon.)

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Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen

To be continued at:  A proposed Labour-Green-Mana(-NZ First?) agenda – part wha

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References

Parliament Legislation: Employment Relations Act 2000, Section 67A

NZ Herald: Will the 90 Day trial period make a difference?

Beehive:  90-Day Trial Period extended to all employers

Trading Economics: New Zealand Unemployment Rate

Waikato Times: Thousands sacked under 90-day trial period

Radio NZ:  Labour would scrap 90 day trial – Goff

Fairfax media: Calls to end shipping lines’ price fixing

Fairfax media: Jackson pulls back from port comments

Radio NZ: PM defends lower youth pay rate

Scoop media: Starting-out wage will help young people onto job ladder

Statistics NZ: Household Labour Force Survey: March 2013 quarter

TV1 News: Employers back youth ‘starting wage’

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