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“Fool me once”…

17 November 2017 5 comments

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Fool me once, shame on you.

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Fool me twice, shame on me!

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That was then, this is now (1)

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So what was National’s problem with the number of committee members on Select Committees? “Shadow leader of the House“, Simon Bridges, accused the new Labour-Green-NZ First coalition government of “ trying to limit scrutiny of its actions by attempting to cut the number of Opposition MPs on select committees because it is short on numbers itself ”.

Bridges claimed;

One of the most important ways to do that is through the select committee process. But rather than fronting up to that scrutiny, Labour is now saying it wants to allow fewer elected representatives to carry out that vital function – that’s undemocratic.

While the number of positions on select committees has traditionally matched the number of MPs in Parliament, Labour wants to restrict the number because it doesn’t have enough members of its own.”

It’s true. The new Coalition government was going to reduce Select Committee numbers from 120 to 96.

But Bridges was not being truthful with the public when he blamed Labour for wanting to  “restrict the number because it doesn’t have enough members of its own”.

In fact, that decision was made by the Standing Orders Committee in July of this year, when National was in government.  National’s David Carter was Speaker of the House and Chairperson of the SOC.

The National government SOC report stated;

“We do not favour specifying the number of seats in the Standing Orders. The Business Committee should retain the ability to determine the size of each committee. We propose instead that the Business Committee adopt a target of 96 seats across the 12 subject select committees. We considered models based on 108 committee seats, which would have little impact given the decrease in the number of committees, and 84 committee seats, which would leave too many members without permanent committee seats—a matter considered below. A total of 96 seats will result in most committees having seven, eight, or nine members.”

Bridges belatedly admitted that the reduction in Select Committee numbers was a decision made by National when it had been in government. But he complained that National had made the decision because they were trying to be ‘nice’ to Labour and other opposition parties;

We were a Government [in July] … trying to accommodate the Opposition who wanted that. But now the Opposition doesn’t want it. Because back then, it is such a disadvantage to us.”

“Disadvantage”?

David Carter’s July 2017 report was clear in its intent;

“We believe there would be some merit in decreasing the overall number of select committee seats while retaining the proportionality requirement. Committees are generally larger than is necessary for them to be effective, and some members have too many committee commitments. With a decrease in the number of subject committees from 13 to 12, committees would become even larger if the overall membership remained around 120.

A decrease in committee seats would provide more flexibility for parties to manage committee attendance and absences. This flexibility would also allow members to attend committee meetings according to their interests, expertise, and availability. Government backbench members would not be expected to be on more than two committees each, allowing them to be more focused in their committee work. There could also be greater scope to arrange extended sittings at the same time as committee meetings, as fewer members would be required to attend those meetings.”

No mention made of “trying to accommodate the Opposition”. Carter’s report was more concerned with  National backbench MPs  being over-worked. “Making nice” with Labour is not mentioned.

National’s modus operandi of dishonesty appears not to have changed as they begin their long twilight Decade of Opposition.

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Hypocrisy, National-style

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National’s Simon Bridges also said on 6 November;

The role of the Opposition is to hold the Government to account, to scrutinise its actions and to advocate for the views of the people they are elected to represent. One of the most important ways to do that is through the select committee process. ”

Curiously, the role of Select Committees to “hold the Government to account, to scrutinise its actions and to advocate for the views of the people they are elected to represent” did not seem to tax Mr Bridges’ noble views when National forced through the so-called ‘Hobbit Law’ in 2010.

The “Hobbit law” – aka the Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act 2010 – was enacted under Urgency from First Reading to Royal Asset in under 48 hours!

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Such unheard of rapidity to pass legislation – even under Urgency – was the political equivalent of a starship travelling at near-light velocity. Needless to say there was no Select Committee over-sight.  There was no scrutiny. And MPs did not get an opportunity to “advocate for the views of the people they are elected to represent“.

According to right-wing National apparatchik and blogger, David Farrar, and then Opposition Labour MP, Grant Robertson, the National government used Urgency to pass seventeen laws during it’s first two yours in office. There was no public consultation permitted. No public submissions sought.

National’s (mis-)use of Urgency during it’s nine years in office  shows Bridges to be hypocritical when he preaches;

 The Government must let parliamentary structures fully reflect the decisions of voters and allow its ideas to be tested – that’s in the interests of all New Zealanders.”

But when Simon Bridges was Minister for Labour in 2014, his view on passing health and safety legislation was in stark contrast. As I reported three years ago;

Helen Kelly accused Minister of Labour, Simon Bridges of slowing progress of the passing of the Health and Safety Bill, and actively interfering and restricting the terms of a Worksafe NZ review of safety practices in the forestry industry. She said,

We know the minister has restricted right down what they’re allowed to look at. They’re not looking at fatigue. They’re not looking at weather. They’re not looking at hours of work. Simon Bridges has said, ‘no, wait for the review’.

Bridges response on Radio NZ’s Morning Report, on 28 April [2014], did nothing to allay fears that he was  taking the side of forestry operators and doing everything within his power to stymie reform of the industry, and resist implementation of a stricter safety regime.

When Morning Report’s Susie Ferguson pressed Bridges on  when the Health and Safety Reform Bill would be passed into law, his response was derisory and dismissive,

We can’t simply, ah,  because Helen Kelly sez so, do something in two days.

...  But I don’t think it’s a position where we can simply snap our fingers and change  systemic, ah, ah, deep  problems overnight. Indeed it would be entirely wrong for us to do that.

Hypocrisy on so many levels… where does one even start with the National Party?!

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Treachery, National-style

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In holding to ransom the election of Trevor Mallard as Speaker of the House, National bluffed it’s way to increase the number of their MPs that can be appointed to Select Committees. This was despite a clear understanding between the new Coalition government and National that Trevor Mallard would be elected unopposed as Speaker, and National’s Anne Tolley as Deputy Speaker.

By demanding a vote be taken, National reneged on their agreement.

The threat from the Opposition Benches was a  dire  warning to the new Coalition government that National was prepared to play dirty.

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Chris Hipkins and Grant Robertson negotiate with duplicitous and disloyal  National Opposition MPs

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The  Coalition has been taught a clear lesson. As Leader of the House, Chris Hipkins said after the fiasco;

Lesson learnt, they won’t catch us out on that ever again in the future.

Adding;

Perhaps when dealing with the Opposition, I’ll be a little more careful to make sure I get a specific undertaking from them in future.

Indeed, Chris. Be very careful.  The lesson of National’s willingness to engage in dirty tricks; double dealing; and other obstructionist tactics should not be lost on any Labour, Green, or NZ First MPs.

National MPs lack honour.

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National’s desperation to remain relevant

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For National, the stakes are high and they will do everything within their power – perhaps pushing as close to the edge of legality as humanly possible – to achieve the destruction of this Coalition government, and spark an early election.

Make no mistake. National realises two crucial things are in play;

#1: Polling Decay in Opposition

The longer the Nats remain in Opposition, the  faster their public support will erode. Post 2008, Labour’s polling continued to plummet, whereas National’s ascendancy continued to build on it electoral success;

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The longer National stays in Opposition, the further it’s public support will fall. It is hard to imagine that it’s election night result of 44.4%  will be maintained to the next election in 2020.

In short, the Nats risk growing irrelevancy the longer they stay out of government.

#2: Dismantling the Neo-liberal Paradigm

Chris Trotter wrote on 26 October;

“ We face an economic system without the slightest idea how to solve the problems created by its discredited policies and practices. Nevertheless, the Neoliberal Establishment remains very strong, and just as soon as it settles upon an effective strategy of resistance, the fightback will begin.

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The Labour-NZ First-Green Government will be presented by these hard-line rightists as an illegitimate and dangerously anti-capitalist regime. Its anti-business and anti-farming policies, they will argue, are not only incompatible with genuine Kiwi democracy, but also constitute a direct attack on the sanctity of private property. As such, it will not be enough to merely oppose this far-left government; it will be necessary to fight it head-on.

Brexit. Donald Trump. Justin  Trudeau. Jeremy Corbyn. Emmanuel Macron. Whether on the Left or Right, or Mad Populist; whether in office or not; there is a mood for change sweeping the globe. The promises of neo-liberalism; the “free” market; and globalism have failed to materialise for the many – whilst amassing vast wealth for the few.

“Trickle down” has become a sick joke that offers opportunities for cartoonists…

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… but not much else for the unemployed; the low-paid; and the precariat. It’s hard to be a cheer-leader for globalisation when your job has been “exported” to Shanghai; outsourced to Manila; or replaced by a robot.

It is against that back-drop of growing public resentment against the neo-liberal orthodoxy that National understands it is living on ‘borrowed time’. The longer they remain in Opposition, the more time the Coalition government has to un-pick the strands of neo-liberalism and reinstate the role of the State in commerce, workplace relations, housing, education, health, and elsewhere.

The more that neo-liberalism is unravelled, the harder it will be for National in the long-term to re-build. Especially if a resurgent State succeeds in housing the homeless; fully funding public healthcare and cutting back waiting lists; and all the other cuts to social services that National sneaked through gradually, without being noticed except by a few.

Expect desperation to be the motivator for everything National does in the next three years.

They know the clock is ticking.

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That was then, this is now (2)

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On 24 October,  Bill English was interviewed on Radio NZ’s Morning Report by Susie Ferguson. He was asked about his earlier comments  about the current coalition being a “minority government”;

English began by voicing that the incoming coalition government had not won the “popular vote”. First he complained that his Party should have been the government simply because of it’s size;

“ The voters at large probably expected that if you got 44 and a half percent of the vote, you were some part of the government or the big part of it.

Then he suggested that the formation of the coalition was somehow “unusual”;

“…How to hold to account a government that’s been put together in an unusual way.

English did not fully explain why the coalition formation was “unusual”.

Then he hinted that the Coalition government might not be legitimate;

Just remember this is a prime minister who’s the first one in a hundred years who lost the popular vote and lost it by quite a bit.”

… It didn’t win the vote.

English’s comments might make sense under a First Past the Post system – but under MMP his arithmetic doesn’t add up.  Added together, Labour, NZ First, and the Greens won more votes than National and ACT. More people voted for change than the status quo.

Which prompted Ms Ferguson to remind English that the new Coalition government is made up of three parties, so how was that different to the National-led government that he (English) led?

English’s response again reflected First Past the Post thinking, by referring to National as the larger party and thereby somehow entitled to rule;

“…when an election is lost, a larger party captured the direction New Zealand wanted to go in.

Ms Ferguson had to remind Mr English that 44% is not a majority. The arithmetic simply did not support the National leader’s expectations of a “right to govern” based on size. Perhaps because he understood the nature of Radio NZ listeners, he was forced to admit;

I accept that, absolutely… It’s a legitimate result…

Well, I’ve been saying all year that the… all the other parties put together can beat you on the day. And that’s what happened on Thursday. So that’s MMP. That’s how it works.

But despite claiming to understand how MMP works, he couldn’t result a further dig at the Coalition;

Put it this way, if the Labour Party got 44% of the vote, I think anyone would argue they’d be in a stronger position to start a government than they are today.

But Ms Ferguson was having none of English trying to have a bob-each-way and put to him a simple question; did the National Party have a moral mandate to be the leading party of government?

To which English could only reply:

We accept, like everybody else should, that’s its a legitimate result of MMP. No contest about that. That’s how the rules work, we all knew that.

Nine days later, and English was back on the warpath, threatening to de-stabilise the Coalition government under the pretext of Opposition;

We are the dominant select committee party and we’re not the government, and that is going to make a difference to how everything runs.

It’s not our job to make this place run for an incoming government that’s a minority.

Remember this, we are the opposition with a minority government, it’s a term the media don’t use but you’ll get to understand that it is a minority government with a majority opposition and the Greens as the support party, and that’s how we’re going to run it.

The constant reference to “minority government” and National being the “dominant party” carries on the narrative being run by English’s party strategists; that this new coalition is a “minority” (it’s not); that National was denied it’s rightful position as government (it wasn’t); and that the election results were somehow “stolen” (not true).

With 65% of NZ First supporters showing a strong preference to coalesce with Labour, Winston Peters’ decision was sound and democratic. Any other decision – such as allying with the Nats and ACT – would have had destructive consequences for NZ First.

Which, of course, would have suited National perfectly. The Nats have already  destroyed two political parties (United Future and Maori Party) and neutered a third (ACT). Another notch on their belt would not have concerned them greatly.

Indeed, look on National as the Planet Jupiter – drawing in debris such as asteroids and comets with it’s massive gravitational field; effectively “scouring” the solar system of small objects.

National draws in smaller parties with it’s massive political-gravitational pull, and consumes them.

No wonder the Green Party exercised caution and ensured their trajectory carried them safely away from National’s crushing embrace. A “Teal Coalition” would have torn apart the Greens as effectively as Jupiter smashed  Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in 1994.

But if English and his cronies in Her Majesty’s ‘Loyal’ Opposition believe that “it’s not our job to make this place run for an incoming government that’s a minority” – then they had best tread carefully.

The voting public are not all gullible fools and they do take notice.

As does the media.

On 9 November and 10 November, Fairfax media ran two consecutive editorials on the incoming coalition government and National’s role as Parliament’s newest Opposition.

On 9 November, an editorial writer cautioned National;

Oppositions whose sole aim is to sabotage the government, however, risk alienating the voters. In the United States, the Republican Party repeatedly tried to shut down the government altogether by denying it the money it needs to function.

The long-term risk is that this strategy will be tried by the other side when the roles are switched. The result could be the kind of paralysis of government too often seen in the United States. Oppositions don’t gain in the long term by making the country ungovernable.

In New Zealand, there is also a strong tradition of giving a new government a “fair go”. Voters traditionally allow some leeway, and even grant it a kind of temporary political honeymoon…

And on 10 November, similar warnings were issued;

The opposition has already signalled that it intends to make life more difficult than usual for the Government, but it must be very careful not to alienate the public as it does so. ”

The greatest irony may soon become apparent: it is not the new Labour-Green-NZ First coalition that will be scrutinised during this Parliamentary term.

It may be the National Opposition that is held to account.

 

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Postscript
As National’s webpages tend to disappear from their website, along with their statements, they have been saved for future reference.

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References

Parliament: Simon Bridges

NZ Herald:  National’s list of laws passed under urgency

National Party:  Government trying to limit scrutiny

Parliament: Review of Standing Orders – Report of the Standing Orders Committee – Rt Hon David Carter, Chairperson – July 2017 (p19)

NZ Herald:  National clashes with Labour – ‘erosion of democratic rights’

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

Radio NZ:  Unions seek prosecution over deaths

Radio NZ: Minister of Labour responds to criticism (audio)

Parliament: Health and Safety Reform Bill

TVNZ:  Anne Tolley still gets nod as Deputy Speaker despite Nats ruthlessly attacking Labour

NZ Herald:  Labour and National face off in Parliament opening over Speaker vote

Wikipedia:  Opinion polling for the New Zealand general election, 2011

Electoral Commission:  2017 General Election – Official Result

Time:  The Richest People in the World

Radio NZ:  Bill English faces first caucus since defeat (alt.link)(audio)

Electoral Commission: New Zealand 2017 General Election – Official Results

TVNZ:  Bill English warns of stubborn opposition to new government – ‘It’s not our job to make this place run’

NBR: Majority of NZ First supporters want party to ally with Labour – Colmar Brunton

Fairfax media:  Talk of a teal deal is speculation, nothing more, says James Shaw

America Space:  Remembering Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9’s Impact on Jupiter, 23 Years Ago This Week

Fairfax media:  Editorial – National wins a battle but winning the war is different

Fairfax media:  Editorial – the prime minister’s positive way forward

Other Blogs

Bowalley Road:  Strategies Of Right-Wing Resistance – It CAN Happen Here.

Bowalley Road:  Settling The Stardust – The Grim Logic Behind National’s Opposition Tactics

The Daily Blog:  How dare National claim an ‘erosion of democracy’

Previous related blogposts

National, on Law and Order

Muppets, Hobbits, and Scab ‘Unions’

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

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 12 November 2017.

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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 – 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 8 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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= fs =

Roosting chickens

25 September 2011 6 comments

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I think we all remember the ‘Hobbit‘ fiasco, last year. The cast of this little tragi-farce included Actor’s Equity; Peter Jackson; Warner Bros; and John Key and his guvmint.

It also included a gentleman by the name of Greg Ellis, who played a ‘bit part’, as leading a “break-a-way” group of actors (numbers unknown) and formed the so-called “New Zealand Actors’ Guild – Te Taurahere i Te Hunga Toi Whakaari“, in October 2010.

Mr Ellis formed the NZAG to oppose Actor’s Equity, who at the time were attempting to negotiate with SPADA (Screen Production and Development Association – Waka Papaho). The NZAG came out firmly in support of Peter Jackson’s views that actors and production workers were “independent contractors”, and not employees. Though, in an expression of  “generosity”, Mr Ellis’  “temporary” (operating since October,  2010) website did ask,

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“One of the big issues that has been at the heart of recent disputes has been the status of actors as employees on productions…

… Tell us about the up and down sides of being an independent contractor and let us know – do you want to remain self employed?”

Self-employed or employee?, October 26th, 2010

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As we have no way of knowing who is a member of NZAG – or for that matter how many members they have – it is difficult to determine what sort of response there was to that question, if any.  Considering that NZAG’s existence is predicated on keeping actors as independent contractors, and not as employees (as Actor’s Equity was wanting) – what would NZAG/Greg Ellis do if their membership opted for status as employees?

Though there must have been some form of response, as Mr Ellis later comments,

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“One of the things that irks us most is the CTU’s failure to acknowledge that almost all actors prefer to be self-employed contractors. “

The CTU trolls through the past again”, April 14th, 2011

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One wonders how Mr Ellis arrived at the conclusion that “almost all actors prefer to be self-employed contractors”?

How many members does this so-called “Guild” actually have? It can’t be that many, as they have registered themselves – not as a Union, but as a charity,

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“Just sent off an online application to become a registered charity.  That means that people can make donations to us and have them classed as charitable donations by the IRD.”

“Applying to become a charity”, January 30th, 2011

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I’m not even sure if this is legal?! It certainly begs the question as to how an organisation dedicated to the advancement of it’s own members can be classed as a charity?

It certainly puts paid to one of the posters on the NZAG’s blogsite, who believes that the NZAG is some kind of “union”,

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James says:
October 27, 2010 at 10:49 am

“Truth to the membership and real principles based on the strength of coming together are the base of every union.”

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But moving along.

The NZAG criticised Actor’s Equity for daring to want negotions with SPADA.  NZAG said,

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“The NZ Actors’ Guild believes that it is churlish and argumentative to call into question the whole casting process that has already benefited New Zealand performers and will continue to give countless opportunities to actors outside the speaking roles. The actors in the roles of stand-ins and doubles are also on generous contracts for extended periods of time and there will be the opportunity for a large number of performers to benefit from extra roles, giving many actors valuable experience and an ongoing income in uncertain times…

… So New Zealand actors will be rubbing shoulders with overseas counterparts but Kiwis are present in this Hollywood film in large numbers and this is to be celebrated.”

NZ Actors’ Guild seeks to celebrate the positive impacts on the lives of Kiwi actors, March 14th, 2011

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According to NZAG/Greg Ellis, Actor’s Equity were firmly cast as the “bad guys” in this affair. Actor’s Equity had no right to demand negotiations to improve the conditions of actors and other staff. After all, as NZAG claimed, “almost all actors prefer to be self-employed contractors”.

The government, led by our unfeasibly popular Prime Minister, John “The Baptist” Key, acted accordingly. They fulfilled their cameo-role as The Guvmint , and amended legislation that ensured that actors and other movie staff were independent contractors – not employees. At the stroke of a legislative pen, the rights of an entire class of New Zealand workers was taken away.

The Employment Relations Act 2000 was amended via the Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill,  introduced to Parliament on 28 October, last year,  under Urgency*,  as part of a deal between Warner Bros and Government ministers to keep ‘The Hobbit‘ film production in New Zealand. (Though, as was later discovered in an email from Peter Jackson, there was little likelihood of  the production actually moving overseas.)

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The Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act made film industry workers independent contractors by default, avoiding the definition in current employment legislation of what constitutes an “employee”.

Just imagine, you are an employee on Friday, with four weeks annual leave; sick pay; the right to join a Union if you so wish; and job security.

Then you arrive at work on Monday and, by Government decree, you are now classed as an independent contractor. No more annual leave; no more sick pay; no more job security. And because you’re an independent contractor, the law forbids you the choice of belonging to a Union.

Yes, my fellow New Zealanders, that is precisely what happened.

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When the media enquired further, Gerry Brownlee’s office stated that,  “the Government was comfortable with its action and would not be commenting further“. Source.  Yeah, I’ll bet they didn’t want to comment further!

However, as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for,

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Source

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“New Zealand Actors’ Guild secretary Greg Ellis said the changes could see local talent overlooked. “New Zealand may become merely a filming location and the creativity and innovation currently present in our creative sector could be lost.”

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Oh, good lord, the IRONY! Greg Ellis complaining about a law change that will impact on local actors’ working rights – when he himself led the charge for a breakaway “Actors  Guild” from Actor’s Equity – in support of Peter Jackson and Warner Bros!?!? And then the government amended employment laws to suit Warner Bros?!?!

The casualisation and erosion of actor’s rights in New Zealand started with National caving in to threats from certain quarters, in October last year, and Mr Ellis certainly played his part (albeit minor, perhaps) in undermining Actor’s Equity.

In fact, let me remind Mr Ellis about his comments last year;

“Actors’ Equity claims 600 members were reported to be unhappy about the casting of New Zealand roles in The Hobbit, but Actors’ Guild chairman Greg Ellis was pleased as punch.

“The NZ Actors’ Guild believes that it is churlish and argumentative to call into question the whole casting process that has already benefited New Zealand performers and will continue to give countless opportunities to actors outside the speaking roles. ” Source

Mr Ellis’s colleague in the breakaway “Guild/Union/Charity”, also seemed to be quite pleased back in March of this year, when we crowed,

“”I have a great contract and awesome working conditions and a performance fee that is almost double my ‘day job’ wage,” says guild member Gareth Ruck.

“I look at the hundreds of fellow actors and crew members I’m working with and think how bad it could have been if Equity had its way.”” Source

I wonder if Mr Ruck will still be as happy if this government pushes through with it’s Bill? And just how much better would it have been had Actor’s Equity “had its way”?

And I think Mr Ellis was being somewhat optimistic when he naively expressed this sentiment,

“I think that an actor’s destiny needs to be controlled by New Zealand actors who are aware of our industry. There’s no point having people outside the country deciding our destiny, especially not people like Helen Kelly who don’t understand how our industry works or the relations inside it.”Source

There is nothing quite so dangerous as a person with good intentions, but wholly misguided in his actions, and in attempting to help others  has played into the hands of interests that he does not fully understand. In fighting Actor’s Equity, Mr Ellis and his NZAG have been well and truly  ‘played‘  by government, Warner Bros, and Peter Jackson (who would tolerate no intrusion into his private movie-making empire).

Look out the window, Mr Ellis, Mr Ruck, et al – your chickens have come home to roost.

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* “Urgency” in Parliamentary terms  means that thre Government’s Bill does not go to a Select Committee for public discussion; the public has no say on the contents of the Bill; and Parliament has no oversight. It is “rammed” through, simply bcause the Government can do it – it has the numbers. It also means that the Bill can  contain horrendous mistakes (as has happened in the past), and the public is powerless if they disagree with the Bill, or any aspect of it.

This current government has passsed more laws through “Urgency” than any other in recent history.

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Further reading

NZ Actors’ Guild Seeks To Celebrate The Positive Impacts On The Lives Of Kiwi Actors

The Hobbit law – what does it mean for workers?

Helen Kelly (NZ Council of Trade Unions): The Hobbit Dispute

Sir Peter: Actors no threat to Hobbit

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