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Posts Tagged ‘Helen Kelly’

Why a Four Year Parliamentary Term is not a Good Idea

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it's time to meet the muppets of the government

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Three years or four?

John Key has made suggestions to  reform certain  aspects of the Parliamentatry electoral cycle,

  • A fixed date for elections, such as our American cuzzies have
  • And extending the Parliamentary term from three to four years

The first suggestion – having a fixed date for elections – is sound. Anything that takes a wee bit of power away from politicians should be welcomed.

On that basis – anything that takes a wee bit of power away from politicians should be welcomed – extending the Parliamentary term from three to four years is one that fills me with disquiet.

I’ve heard the arguments for extending the Parliamentary term,

  1. It’s more efficient
  2. It gives government more time to achieve things
  3. Governments spend the third year of their current term in election mode to win the next election

None of those three arguments convinces me.

1. It’s more efficient

So is the One Party State; an autocratic ruler; or a  Parliamentary term of ten or twenty years . But would we be any better of, in terms of  public participation democracy? (Think: Putin in Russia.)

2. It gives government more time to achieve things…

That statement is never completed. It gives government more time to achieve – what? What incredibly complex, radical reforms are there that require an extra year (or more) for a government to have more time? What does Key have in mind that demands a four year term?

Remember that Select Committees work in unison, not one at a time, and Legislation can be passed in as little as 48 hours – as “The Hobbit Law” showed us (see: Helen Kelly – The Hobbit Dispute) – not that I’m advocating legislative changes conducted at warp speed.

Perhaps governments might have “more time to achieve things” if time wasn’t wasted with petty point-scoring in the Debating Chamber?

3. Governments spend the third year of their current term in election mode to win the next election

Perhaps a government might not have to spend the entire third year in “campaign mode” if, in the preceding two years,  they worked with the people and not against them?

A phrase comes to mind…

By their works ye shall know them.

A good government shouldn’t have to spend the entire third year in “election mode”. A bad government will never have enough time to campaign for re-election.

It’s not the length of time that should matter to a government, but what they achieve with it. If the people approve, a good government will be returned with a decent majority. A good government should have nothing to fear from the electorate.

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beehive

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Looking at the last 30 years, would I be inclined to give politicians (of all hues) an extra year?

Not bloody likely.

And I’m not referring to the scandals; the cronyism; unpopular asset sale programme; rising unemployment; cynical beneficiary bashing; growing child poverty and widening  income/wealth gap.

I’m referring to attitude.

John Key wants us to trust him with an extra year in power.

But has he given us reason to trust him?

If anything, Key’s attitude of dismissive, casual arrogance does not reassure us that he (or his successors) would use additional political power without a corresponding rise in said arrogance.

To remind the reader of what John Key really thinks of us and his critics…

1. Critics

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key stephenson

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In May 2011, journalist journalist Jon Stephenson, wrote a scathing expose of New Zealand’s involvement in Afghanistan and questioned whether they were complicit in torture.

The article outlined two instances last year where SAS forces allegedly captured suspects and handed them to Afghanistan authorities, including the Afghan secret police, the National Directorate of Security, which has a reputation for torturing prisoners.

New Zealand has signed several international conventions outlawing the inhumane detention of prisoners, including torture.

Source: PM attacks journalist over SAS torture claims

When challenged, Stephenson offered,

“I’m happy to put my information before an inquiry. Any fair or impartial inquiry will show that they are the ones misleading the public. Not me.”

Source: IBID

It which point Key jumped in with this derisory response,

I’ve got no reason for NZDF to be lying, and I’ve found [Stephenson] myself personally not to be credible.”

Key then attempted to smear Stephenson’s character by accusing him of making a bogus phone call.

We should not forget John Key dismissal of  Nicky Hager’s book, on CIA involvement in NZ military activities in Afghanistan. Key said,

I don’t have time to read fiction.”

Key claimed  that the book contained “no smoking gun”, just supposition, which, “makes it business as normal for Nicky Hager”. (Despite the book having 1,300-plus footnotes to referencing documentation.)

National ministers also seem to have little hesitation in attacking their critics in quite nasty ways. Remember Natasha Fuller,  Jennifer Johnston,  Bradley Ambrose, and even Bomber Bradbury who fell foul of the system when he dared criticse Dear Leader?

If there are “trust issues” here – they seem well founded.

2.The Poor & Unwise “life” choices

Key’s disdain of those who do not meet his world-view was perhaps best summed up on 17 February, 2011, when he was reported as making these comments,

When Labour’s social development spokeswoman Annette King asked about Salvation Army reports of high demand for food parcels, Mr Key responded by saying it was true that the global recession meant more people were on benefits.

But it is also true that anyone on a benefit actually has a lifestyle choice. If one budgets properly, one can pay one’s bills.  And that is true because the bulk of New Zealanders on a benefit do actually pay for food, their rent and other things. Now some make poor choices and they don’t have money left.

Source: Food parcel families made poor choices, says Key

Well, at least we know the real thoughts of the boy from a subsidised State house, raised by a solo-mum receiving state assistance, and who had the benefit of a free, taxpayer funded University education.

3. Public Opposition

On 4 May 2012,  over five thousand people took part in a peaceful,  anti-asset sales Hikoi to Parliament,

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Aotearoa is not for sale hikoi - anti asset sales march   - wellington - 4 May 2012

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Key’s response was instructive,

How many people did they have? John Key asked reporters. “Where was it? Nope wasn’t aware of it.”

Key says the National Party has a clear mandate to proceed with privatising some state assets.

“Well over a million New Zealanders voted for National in the full knowledge we were going to undertake the mixed ownership model,” he said.

“So look, a few thousand people walking down the streets of Wellington isn’t going to change my mind.”

Source: Key unfazed as protesters descend on Parliament

Nearly a year later, on 12 March, a 392,000-plus signature petition was presented to Parliament. The petition  was  signed by ordinary New Zealanders who wanted nothing more or less than a say in their future.

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12-march-2013-presentation-of-anti-asset-sales-petition-parliament-referendum

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Key’s response?

Key said of the opposition petition you could be as sure as little green apples [that] huge numbers of them are not bona fide names on the list” and would have to be struck off.

“They’ve probably taken over a year to get maybe 300,000 names, we’ve had 285,000 pre-registrations in a matter of days”.

Source: Government to ignore asset sales referendum

And according to Green Party co-leader, Russell Norman, Key further disparaged New Zealanders who signed  the petition by saying,

…that the Prime Minister has said the people who signed this are children and tourists….

Source: IBID

Charming.

Key forgot to add, “let them eat cake”.

Unbridled Power?

Never forget that we are governed by an “elected dictatorship”,

  • There is no Upper House to scrutinise legislation from governments.
  • There is no written constitution to safeguard our interests.
  • Referenda have all the ‘bite’ of a toothless octagenarian (not that I support binding referenda – especially without Constitutional safeguards to protect the rights of minorities).
  • There are no mid-term elections; right-of-recall; Presidential Veto; or any other controls over elected representatives.

Once elected, unless a Member of Parliament is found guilty of a criminal act, we have zero control over them.

The upshot?

Just because this  government  is still (apparently) popular with the aspirationists and middle classes, is not a reason  to trust Key – or any other politician for that matter.

There have been too many broken promises; secret agendas; and bitterness from raised expectations that were soon dashed.

It is a truism that trust has to be earned.

And thus far, the glimpse that we’ve had into our current Prime Minister’s persona, is not one that fills me with confidence or trust.

New Zealanders may wish to reflect carefully before giving politicians any more power. It may be ok when it’s “your man (or woman) in power”. You may feel different if it’s the Other Guy running the country.

The issue simply boils down to one simple question;

How far do you trust the buggers?

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 15 March 2013.

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References

Wikipedia: Election Day (United States)

NZ Herald: Food parcel families made poor choices, says Key (17 Feb 2011)

NZ Herald: PM attacks journalist over SAS torture claims (3 May 2011)

NZ Herald: Charities’ food handouts at record after Govt cuts (18 Oct 2011)

TVNZ: Key unfazed as protesters descend on Parliament (4 May 2012)

Fairfax media: PM John Key Wants Four-Year Term For Parliament (7 Feb 2013)

Fairfax media: Government to ignore asset sales referendum (12 March 2013)

 

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The Union Report – 14 May 2012 – Online now!

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The Union Report

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– 14 May 2012 –

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– Helen Kelly & Laurie Nankivell –

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Issue 1:  What is this dispute actually over, what are the work conditions for Meat Workers like?

Issue 2: How has Tally’s behaved since becoming 100% owners of Affco.

Issue 3:  What does it say for NZ’s industrial relations when a multi-million dollar family can simply deem to throw a union out of its business?

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Acknowledgement (republished with kind permission)

Tumeke

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Authors of our own mis-fortune?

20 February 2012 5 comments

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“Those who would actively choose to drive New Zealand into further debt to pay for tax cuts lack real ambition for our economy.”Finance Minister Michael Cullen, 7 March 2008

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“…in 2005 we promised tax cuts which ranged from about $10 to $92 a week, roughly $45 a week for someone on $50,000 a year. I described it as a credible programme of personal tax cuts and I’m committed to a credible programme of personal tax cuts. I believe that an ongoing programme of personal tax cuts that delivers the sort of magnitude that we’ve had in the past is potentially possible.”John Key, Leader of the Opposition, 20 May 2008

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“National will fast track a second round of tax cuts and is likely to increase borrowing to pay for some of its spending promises.” –  John Key, Leader of the Opposition,  2 August 2008

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“Our tax policy is therefore one of responsible reform…  We have ensured that our package  is appropriate for the current economic and fiscal conditions… This makes it absolutely clear that to fund National’s tax package there is no requirement for additional borrowing and there is no requirement to cut public services… National’s rebalancing of the tax system is self-funding and requires no cuts to public services or additional borrowing.”John Key, Leader of the Opposition, 20 October 2008

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“Taxpayers do not want further tax cuts if they mean more government borrowing, a new survey shows. The survey comes as social welfare campaigners say tax cuts failed to help those most in need. The New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development survey found that while most people wanted tax cuts planned for 2010 and 2011, they did not want them if it meant further borrowing… The survey found most people would spend the tax cuts on living expenses, while others looked to credit-card debt and mortgage payments. “New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development, 11 April 2009

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In 2008, National campaigned on promises of tax cuts knowing full well this country could not afford them. By November 2008, as New Zealand went to the polls, the international global banking crisis was in full swing, and recession was beginning to hit nearly every single nation on Earth (Australia and China were the lucky exceptions).

By March 2008, the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corp had identified 76 American banks as “in trouble”.

By July 2008, US financial giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were in trouble – and by September, both corporations were placed into a form of receivership.

A week later, and Lehmann Bros – one of the largest financial institutions in the US filed for bankruptcy. On the same day, the Russian stock market was forced to close, as shares plunged by up to 20% in a day.

On 26 September 2008, it was officially declared that New Zealand was in full recession.

(See full Time here.)

Against this backdrop, National proceeded with it’s election promises of tax cuts. As unfolding events would show, they were irresponsible promises – and carrying them out in April 2009 and October 2010 was even more reckless,

“John Key has defended his party’s planned program of tax cuts, after Treasury numbers released today showed the economic outlook has deteriorated badly since the May budget. The numbers have seen Treasury reducing its revenue forecasts and increasing its predictions of costs such as benefits. Cash deficits – the bottom line after all infrastructure funding and payments to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund are made – is predicted to blow out from around $3 billion a year to around $6 billion a year.”NZ Herald, 6 October 2008

Fast-forward four years, and we are now having to pay for those taxcuts – which were funded by borrowing other peoples’ savings from offshore banks,

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Source

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Full Story

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Full Story

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It is obvious to all but the most blinkered National/ACT supporter that our debt is growing because we have a shortfall of revenue, caused by this government’s ill-conceived tax-cuts. That shortfall is in the order of $1.4 billion.

A business columnist for the NZ Herald wrote,

“Just how much became apparent yesterday with the $1.4 billion drop in forecast tax revenue for this financial year.

The overall upshot is the Government’s cash deficit has blown out from $13.3 billion to $15.6 billion this year taking into account the unexpected expenditure and the drop in forecast tax revenue.”Fran O’Sullivan, 15 December 2010

CTU President, , Helen Kelly wrote,

“The unsuccessful tax switch (we called it a “tax swindle” at the time) last year was not fiscally neutral as was claimed. There is a $1.4b revenue hole. It wasn’t a fair switch. The gap in take- home pay between someone on $30,000 and someone on $150,000 a year grew by $135 a week as a result of tax cuts made by this Government.”Helen Kelly, 23 May 2011

And ex ACT MP, Muriel Newman said,

If we look back at the state of the books just before the last election, the impact on the country of the recession and the earthquakes become more evident. Crown revenue today is $1.4 billion lower than three years ago and Crown expenses $2.2 billion higher.Muriel Newman, 14 November 2011

Interestingly, Ms Newman blames the  blow-out in  government debt on “the recession and the earthquakes” – but makes no reference to the ’09 and ’10 tax cuts. In fact, she pours petrol on a bon-fire by saying that “ACT would lower the top rate of income tax to 25% and the company tax to 12.5%“.

One can imagine what that would do to the government deficit! (But then again, ACT would sell every single state-owned enterprise and scrap most welfare, to fund their deep tax cuts.  A society governed under ACT policies would be utterly alien to anything most New Zealanders could have dreamed of. I suspect Australia’s population would rise by four million, practically overnight.)

And, spelling it out in even simpler terms, the PSA’s analysis of the figures,

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“Tax Cuts Widen the Gap Between Rich and Poor

  • Government chose to make tax cuts in worst recession in 70 years
  • Total tax cuts worth $5.5 billion
  • Top 10% income earners got tax cuts worth $2.5 billion
  • GST increased to 15% – hurts low and middle income most
  • Tax cuts + GST left $1.4 billion hole in budget

Since 2008, National has introduced tax cuts that cost New Zealand around $5.5 billion a year in lost revenue. Most of the benefit has gone to the wealthiest.

National’s first set of tax cuts – the personal tax cuts and ‘Independent earner rebate’ taking effect in April 2009 – cost approximately $1 billion a year.

The second set of cuts – cutting the top income tax rate from 38% to 33%, and the company rate to 28% – will cost $4.5 billion a year, according to figures from the 2010 Budget. That gives a total of $5.5 billion.

National claimed that because it was also increasing GST, the tax changes would be “revenue neutral” – that is, the increase in GST would cancel out the income tax cuts. In fact, the losses from the income tax cut will outweigh the gains from GST by $1.4 billion. In other words, the so-called “tax switch” has blown a $1.4 billion hole in the budget.

The tax cuts have also made New Zealand a less fair place. According to Labour, the wealthiest 10% of New Zealanders will get 43% of the tax savings. And the gap in take-home pay between someone on $30,000 and someone on $150,000 a year grew by $135 a week as a result of the tax cuts.

New Zealand’s income tax rates are among the lowest in the OECD, as the Tax Working Group acknowledged.

In Australia , for example, income over $80,000 is taxed at 37%, and income over $180,000 is taxed at 45%.

Figures from the OECD itself show that, before National’s tax cuts, New Zealand’s “all in” top income tax rate – a measure that includes all taxes on income, including local and regional ones – was 38%. In contrast, the all in top income tax rate in Australia was 47%, and in most countries it was higher still.”PSA.org.nz

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This blog can confirm the PSA’s statement that “figures from the OECD itself show that, before National’s tax cuts, New Zealand’s “all in” top income tax rate – a measure that includes all taxes on income, including local and regional ones – was 38%“.

Why did they do it? Why did National make a $1.4 billion committment it knew we could ill-afford?

Answer:

  1. Because they could.
  2. Because they wanted to be the government. Badly. And nothing quite wins votes like promises of tax cuts (even unaffordable ones).
  3. Because they probably had no idea how bad the recession would be? Rubbish. Of course they knew: John Key’s background was in international finance. He knew precisely how bad the Recession was – and how bad it was likely to get in Europe.

The question is: why did we, the voters, do it? Why did 1,053,398 New Zealanders cast their vote for National in 2008? Why did we vote for tax-cuts – something we knew was unaffordable?

Whatever the reason, we are having to pay for those tax-cuts – or rather, the $1.4 billion in revenue short-fall that we now have to borrow from overseas.  In doing so, as this government continues to post budget deficits, it continues to cut back on services; raise government charges; and sack those state workers who have spent many years of their lives doing all the things we expect done for us in education, health, defence force, border control, conservation, etc.

It is inevitable that, unless New Zealand wins the international equivalent of Lotto, this government (or it’s successor, sometime in the next three years) will have to raise taxes again. Or, steal a page from Gareth Morgan’s book and implement a new, Land/Wealth tax. There is no other way to pay of our debt and pay for Christchurch’s re-build.

Something for all New Zealanders to ponder, next time National (or any other Party) promises us a tax cut, in return for our votes.

In the mean time, Bill English signed a document last year called a “PREFU” – Pre Election Economic & Fiscal Update,

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This document is now worthless. It may have only one use left.

And finally, will Finance Minister Bill English accept “overall  responsibility for the integrity of the disclosures within the Update“?

Does any politician ever accept responsibility for anything?

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Harbour battles & casual fear

13 January 2012 2 comments

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Why is newbie National MP, Jamie Lee-Ross, getting involved in pay negotiations that don’t concern him personally?

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Full Story
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Ports of Auckland is not a state Owned enterprise. Therefore, Mr Lee-Ross has as much to do with that company and it’s employer-employee negotiations as he might with any other company in the country.

Is he intending to comment on the next wages-negotiation between Fulton Hogan and it’s staff? Fletcher construction and it’s employees? Perhaps he might feel inclined to comment on Wattie-Heinz negotiations with their workers?

While we’re about it; Mr Lee-Ross has a very generous tax-payer funded salary; with free travel perks; and a gold-plated superannuation fund that tax-payers (again) subsidise.

His  salary comes to $141,800 – quite generous for these recessionary times. In fact, on 17 November last year, it was increased from $134,800, and back-dated to 1 July 2011.

In which case, so what if maritime union workers are well remunerated? They do a hard, dangerous, dirty job – one that most of us would think twice before doing. Being highly paid is also National Party policy, as John Key outlined in 2008;

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

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Perhaps Mr Lee-Ross is unaware that the Maritime Union appears to be fulfilling National Party policy?

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With a full-blown propaganda war now in effect between the Ports of Auckland management; right wing politicians; and various reactionary groupies on one side, and the Union, workers, their families,  and  supporters on the other – the first casualty has indeed been truth.

Specifically, the amount earned by maritime union members. First of all, I would point out that the wages paid to maritime workers is actually irrelevant.

It’s really no one’s business what Port of Auckland’s employees are paid. That is a matter between bosses and workers.

After all, how many other New Zealanders would really welcome the glare of public scrutiny on their incomes? (Especially self-employed – many of whom have a tradition of doing “cashies”, which they fail to declare to the IRD.)

The spotlight on maritime workers’ incomes seems to have emanated from the Ports of Auckland, CEO, Tony Gibson, who said,
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“…the average wage for a stevedore is more than $90,000 a year and the lowest rate is $17.12 an hour.” – Source

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Catherine Etheredge, Port of Auckland’s Senior Manager Communications, posted this statement on The Standard,

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I can confirm that the average remuneration for a full time stevedore, in the year ended June 30, 2011, was $91,480. The average remuneration for a part time stevedore (guaranteed at least 24 hours work a week) was $65,518.

53% of full time stevedores (123 individuals) earned over $80,000. 28% (43 individuals) earned over $100,000 with the highest earner making $122,000.

The averages were calculated by POAL’s payroll team based on actual payments, including for leave days, medical insurance and superannuation contributions. (For employees covered by the collective agreement, POAL matches their superannuation contributions up to a maximum of 7%.) We excluded those who had worked for less than the full 12 months e.g. had left part way through the year.

Employees are also entitled to 15 days sick leave per annum, accruing up to 45 days. All shift workers are entitled to five weeks annual leave. Training for all stevedoring tasks (crane driving, straddle driving and lashing) is undertaken in house and is paid for by the company.

One question that has been asked is how many hours you have to work to earn that $91,000. Stevedores who earned the average $91,000 in the 2010/11 financial year were paid for an average of 43 hours per week, excluding leave days. If you factor leave days in, that increases to 49 hours per week.

This leads to the key issue for the company – the high amount of paid downtime – an average of 35% of total hours paid. An employee getting paid for a 43 hour week is only working around 28 hours; for a 40 hour week, 26 hours. In a busy week, employees get paid for 66.5 hours but can only work for a maximum of 44.5.

On Monday 9 January, to give a recent example, we paid 26 staff a total of $5,484,80 for downtime, because they were entitled to be paid until the end of their set eight hour shift even though the ship had finished & they had gone home. In another example employees worked two hours of an overtime shift but were paid for the full eight hours.

This is not a cost-efficient nor sustainable labour model, especially when the company is not covering its cost of capital, cannot therefore justify further investment in order to grow, and its closest competitor has a labour utilisation rate in excess of 80%. (At Port of Tauranga stevedores start and finish work when a ship arrives and departs).

The company has offered an upfront 10% increase to hourly rates along with the retention of existing terms and conditions in return for more flexible rosters which would significantly reduce the amount of paid downtime. Employees would have the opportunity to plan their roster a month in advance. This proposal would result in a people being remunerated for fewer overall hours at a higher rate than they would currently get for the same paid hours. To be fair, until such time as container volumes recover/improve, the 10% increase to hourly rates would not (as some commentators have suggested) push average remuneration over $100K.” – Source
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Yet, at least one blog-poster at “The Standard”  noticed a discrepancy in Ms Etheredge’s statement, and questioned her figures,

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I’m not sure this bit adds up – would appreciate someone to check my math 🙂 .

For 123 workers to be 53% of the workforce, that gives a work population of 232. But for 43 individuals to be 28% of the workforce, the population is 153. I assume there’s a typo in there somewhere. If 43 workers are indeed on more than $100k out of a population of 232, then that means an actual top-echelon level of 18% of the workforce.

And I’m not familiar with the organisational structure on the port – does this average include only personnel with no personnel that report to them, or does is include the shift leaders or even a tier above small-team supervision?” – Source

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It is further worth noting that Ms Etheredge states,

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This is not a cost-efficient nor sustainable labour model, especially when the company is not covering its cost of capital…

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“Not covering its cost of capital“? Yet, according to the National Business Review, Ports of Auckland posted a $24.9 million profit in  the year to June – up 2.1% on the previous year.

And in October 2010, Managing director Jens Madsen said that “overall container volumes in the three months to September 30 were up nearly 8% on the same period last year“.

The Maritime Union states,

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A stevedores guarantee for 40 hours per week is $1,090.40 = $56,700.80 per annum @ 260 shifts per year.  To earn the money being quoted by Mr Gibson, stevedores would have to complete an extra 1,377 hours.  Stevedores are required to work days or nights, weekends, public holidays – basically any shifts 24/7 often 16 hour shifts.” – Source

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Helen Kelly, from the CTU says on the same blog-page,

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The first position was that Port workers earn an average of $91,000 for a 26 hour week. This was widely publicised and is now being so seriously challenged they have been flushed out to provide the correct information.

Now it appears the $91,000 is for a 49 hour week and this includes superannuation, medical insurance etc. Assuming the superannuation is 7% then $6,370 of this is a super subsidy, leaving an avearage annual salary of $84,000. Given these “average” workers are working 22.5% more hours than a “normal working week” of 40 hours, then $20,475 of this salary can be considered payment for the extra working hours.

This leaves an avearage wage of $64,155 which includes medical insurance.

The union says a stevedores guarantee for 40 hours per week is $1,090.40 = $56,700.80 per annum @ 260 shifts per year. Regardless, the position has changed dramatically since the Ports first shots rasing questions about the other information they are using to disguise the agenda to make permanent workers into casuals.

It would be great if the Port could provide the avearage salary of the 20% of casuals workers they employ at the port by hours worked?” – Source
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The figures quoted by the Ports of Auckland appear to have been somewhat “massaged” – ie, presented in such a way as to present the best possible “message” for management. Of course, it is difficult to verify what the workers are paid without sighting payslips.

But the wording of Ms Etheredges statement and her reference to “average”, indicates that there is more to this matter than we’ve been told.

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But this isn’t even about a wage-increase – that is a mis-representation by the Ports of Auckland – as the 10% wage-increase was an offer from MANAGEMENT to the Union, in return for casualising the work-force. As the Maritime Union stated,

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The union position is clear. It does not want the 10%; it wants secure, ordered and transparent rosters for its members.”  – Source

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Casualisation would mean that instead of having a 40-hour job (which most New Zealanders aspire to), it  would be part-time, and on-call. Workers would be  sitting at home, waiting for a phone call to come to work.

No one can raise a family; put food on the table; and pay a mortgage with a “McDonalds”-style casual-job.

Jamie Lee-Ross states,

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Every Aucklander has a stake in the Ports of Auckland. It is not a privately owned company. Nor is it listed on any stock exchange. Each and every share in the company is owned by the Auckland Council on behalf of 1.4 million Auckland residents and ratepayers. The destruction in value in one of our city’s largest public assets is alarming and has to be of concern to us all. ” – Source

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Three points:

1. Whilst ratepayers most certainly do own the Ports of Auckland, there is no risk to them, nor the shareholding Auckland City Council.

Ports of Auckland posted a $24.9 million profit in  the year to June 2011. So it is a self-funding operation, and quite a profitable one at that.

2. It is disturbing that Jamie Lee-Ross is not as concerned about the “destruction in value” of jobs. Maritime workers face losing their full-time jobs, and instead turned into casual workers.

How can a workers raise their family when they don’t know what they’ll be earning from day to day; week to week?

3. It’s nice to see a National MP recognising the fact that Ports of Auckland is owned by the people of Auckland. Hopefully, Mr Lee-Ross will remember this when his government colleagues vote to sell the first state owned enterprise, Mighty River Power – which is also owned by the people.

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Despite John Key’s pledge in 2008, it seems clear that National and their business fellow-travellers are content to see wages cut.

Bill English stated as much on “Q+A”, on  10 April 2011, when he seemed to express satisfaction that New Zealand’s wages were more “competitive”, by around 30%, to Australia’s,

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BILL Well, it’s a way of competing, isn’t it?  I mean, if we want to grow this economy, we need the capital – more capital per worker – and we’re competing for people as well.

GUYON So it’s part of our strategy to have wages 30% below Australia?

BILL Well, they are, and we need to get on with competing for Australia.  So if you take an area like tourism, we are competing with Australia.  We’re trying to get Australians here instead of spending their tourist dollar in Australia.

GUYON But is it a good thing?

BILL Well, it is a good thing if we can attract the capital, and the fact is Australians- Australian companies should be looking at bringing activities to New Zealand because we are so much more competitive than most of the Australian economy.

GUYON So let’s get this straight – it’s a good thing for New Zealand that our wages are 30% below Australia?

BILL No, it’s not a good thing, but it is a fact.  We want to close that gap up, and one way to close that gap up is to compete, just like our sports teams are doing.  This weekend we’ve had rugby league, netball, basketball teams, and rugby teams out there competing with Australia.  That’s lifting the standard.  They’re closing up the gap.

GUYON But you said it was an advantage, Minister.

BILL Well, at the moment, if I go to Australia and talk to Australians, I want to put to them a positive case for investment in New Zealand, because while we are saving more, we’re not saving more fast enough to get the capital that we need to close the gap with Australia.  So Australia already has 40 billion of investment in New Zealand.  If we could attract more Australian companies, activities here, that would help us create the jobs and lift incomes.

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Bill English seems to want it both ways; lift wages – but yet keep wages “competitive” with Australia. I guess one day he might make up his mind.

De-unionisation is currently proceeding throughout the country. Another industrial dispute is at CMP Rangitikei where contract negotiations between the ANZCO-owned plant and the NZ Meat Workers Union has resulted in one hundred and eleven  workers locked out at their  plant when they resisted pay cuts of up to 20% and reductions in conditions.
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Full Story

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There is a silent war going on in this country. It is a war to destroy any and all  remaining unionised-protection for workers and to increase “flexibility” and “competitiveness”. Such moves will have the consequences of driving down wages even further, and which will increase business profits, and dividends for shareholders. Tough luck, I guess, if it’s done at the expense of staff.

Businesspeople and shareholders: two of National’s core constituents.

Little wonder that employment confidence has taken a steep nose-dive,
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Full Story

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One thing should be perfectly clear to every worker in this country; if a strongly unionised workforce such as Ports of Auckland workers, and ANZCO freezing workers,  can have their employment conditions arbitrarily changed, and casualised against their wishes – the question on everyone’s mind must be, “Who is next in line? Is it me?”

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As well as attempting to drive down labour costs by destroying the Maritime Union, there appears to be another, lesser-known agenda at work in the backrooms of various “movers and shakers” – privatisation.

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Full Story

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Note that the above article came out on the same day as the NBR published a report, “Imports drive Ports of Auckland profit higher“.

It would appear that this is not just a battle for the control of worker’s pay and conditions – but for the  Ports of Auckland itself.

As the National Business Review reports  stated, the Ports of Auckland is a growing, highly-profitable business.

The attack on Maritime port workers by PoA management is, I believe, designed to achieve a single goal, exploiting several methods,

  • Attack workers’ rights and conditions; create chaos on the waterfront; paint the Union as “lazy greedies”; and stir up Auckland ratepayers’ anger, until they’ve had enough and want the Ports of Auckland sold off. Result: easy privatisation of a very valuable asset.
  • Change the current, permanent, workforce into a casualised workforce. Result: reduce wage costs for new, private owners.
  • Drive the Maritime Union of the Ports of Auckland. Result: greater casualisation if the workforce; lower wages even further; eliminate all workers’ protection.

This, I believe is the real agenda.

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Previous blog story

At gunpoint, maybe?

Sources

Scoop: Union Biting the hand that feeds

National Party MP: Jami-Lee Ross – Biography

John Key  SPEECH: 2008,  A Fresh Start for New Zealand

TVNZ Q+A: Guyon Espiner interviews Bill English (transcript)

Wanganui Chronicle: Overseas labour concerns union

NZ Herald:  Sentiment on work prospects gloomy

NBR:  Imports drive Ports of Auckland profit higher

NBR: Plea for ratepayers to give up port control

NBR: Increased traffic at Ports of Auckland

NBR:  Ports of Auckland profits hold steady

Additional

Scoop: POAL documents show senior management running own agenda

Chris Trotter:  The Auckland Ports Dispute: An Injury To All

Chris Trotter:  Port bosses sensitive to show of union power

Tumeke: The Manufactured Crisis at Ports of Auckland and why did Len Brown walk into it?

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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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