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Posts Tagged ‘kate wilkinson’

Health and safety jobcuts? Haven’t we been down this road before?!

28 February 2013 15 comments

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Ministry cutting 135 health and safety jobs

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Three things here…

(1) Sacking trained, experienced health and safety inspectors?! Haven’t we been down this road before?

Why yes – indeed we have.

In the early 1990s the Mining Inspectorate was amalgamated with the Labour Dept, and mines inspectors went from 7 to two  positions. And only one of those positions was filled to service the entire country.

The result was a shoddy and lax culture of safety in  mines – and on 19 November 2010, 29 men died as as result. (see:  Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy)

Mines Minister Kate Wilkinson took “responsibility” and resigned immediatly after the Commission report was released.

It was a faux resignation, of course. She ‘jumped’ before the Commission’s report forced Key’s hand. It was a cold, calculating strategy to minimise and close down media and public scrutiny of National’s past performance in de-regulation and reliance on “market” forces.

National does not seem to have learnt a single damn thing.

(2) The irony of sacking 135 people from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has also not escaped me.

Doublethink at it’s best?

I think so.

(3) The 135 sacked employees are expected ” to reapply for their positions through a rigorous process including psychometric testing “.

“Psychometric testing”?!

National is allowing government departments to use a technique that is controversial at best, and  voodoo ‘science‘ at worst,  to interview potential employees?! When  did this bit of hocus-pocus chicanery become State sector policy?

All in all, this is further indication of the mess that National is creating, and will leave an incoming government to clean up.

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Previous related blogposts

Heather Roy – head down the mine shaft?

W.o.F “reforms” – coming to a crash in your suburb

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Taking responsibility, National-style

5 February 2013 29 comments

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"The National Party is built on age-tested principles that reflect what is best about New Zealand. We are a party of enterprise; a party of personal freedom and individual responsibility; a party of family; an inclusive party; a party of ambition." -John Key, 27 May 2007

“The National Party is built on age-tested principles that reflect what is best about New Zealand. We are a party of enterprise; a party of personal freedom and individual responsibility; a party of family; an inclusive party; a party of ambition.” – John Key, 27 May 2007

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"We also need to remember the enduring principles on which the National Party is based – individual responsibility, support for families and communities, and a belief that the State can't and shouldn't do everything." - John Key, 30 January 2007

“We also need to remember the enduring principles on which the National Party is based – individual responsibility, support for families and communities, and a belief that the State can’t and shouldn’t
do everything.” – John Key, 30 January 2007

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So let’s see how well Dear Leader and National  Does Responsibility…

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John Key blames burglary on drug addicts

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Blame: drug addicts

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Key blames production firm for DVD music woes

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Blame: music production company.

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Worth blames media for Key 'ticking off'

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Blame: the media (always a good flogging-post for polis in trouble)

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Key blames Labour for his Govt's wage gap failings

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Blame: previous Labour government, Recession

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Key blames Hubbard for SCF collapse

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Blame: Allan Hubbard. (Hubbard had not been convicted of any offense.)

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Bill English blames Labour for bad economic management

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Blame: previous Labour government (again).

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Govt refuses responsibility for credit downgrades

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Blame: previous Labour Government (yes, again),  Europe, and the United States.

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Key blames Wall St, Minto blames Key

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Blame: Wall Street (an industry sector in which Key used to work)

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Key blames popularity dip on election campaign

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Blame: election campaign (damned inconvenient, these “election” things)

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Key blames edgy policy for poll drop

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Blame: Polls, “edgy” things, state asset sales, and “lots of challenges out there”.

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Key blames messenger in Beckham comments

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Blame: “Somebody” (or anybody, whatever)

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Pike River - Key blames company for disaster

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Blame: Pike Rive mining company (which was following de-regulated safety laws enacted by National in 1991.)

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Govt blames global economy for jobless woes

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Blame: “global economic headwinds” (but not an excuse beneficiaries may use).

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Govt blames election, rugby on DPS blowout

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Blame: Rugby World Cup, the general election, and Diplomatic Protection Squad.

And when National has run out of people, institutions, countries, and things to blame – they can always refer to  the mystical realm,

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Parata blames 'karma' after Ministry of Education staff miss pay day

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Blame: Karma.

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And of course, there are the none-too-subtle attempts to blame welfare beneficiaries for not having the jobs that existed prior to 2007/08,

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Free birth control for beneficiaries

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Beneficiary drug testing plans unveiled

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Cost of beneficiaries $78b - report

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Taking responsibility, National-style – means someone else copping the blame. Or sunspots.

Are we all clear on this?

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Addendum

Clayton’s Responsibility – The Responsibility You’re Taking, when You’re Not Really Taking Responsibility,

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Kate Wilkinson resigns as Labour Minister

Full story

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Wilkinson’s resignation was almost on top of the public release of the Pike River Royal Commission of Inquiry report. She was the “sacrificial lamb”, with the deliberate  objective to short-circuit media and public debate over National’s culpability in the de-regulation of the Mining Inspectorate in 1992.

Wilkinson’s “resignation” wasn’t taking responsibility – it was a carefully-crafted exercise in damage-control.

Note that Wilkinson retained her other portfolios (at the time), along with her $250,000-plus salary plus Ministerial perks and allowances  (see:  ‘What have I done wrong?‘).

Indeed, any attempt by National to  take responsibility was watered down when Key said,

Under successive governments, since 1992, the influence and reach of the mining inspectorate was eroded.”

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Mr Key says the Government accepts there were systemic failures in the regulatory regime across successive governments.” – John Key, Govt responds to Pike River Royal Commission, 5 November 2012

So there you have it. Key’s comments attempts to spread responsibility as far as possible across twenty years of successive governments. Because, as we all know, if you spread responsibility – like margerine – as wide as possible, it becomes thinner and thinner until there’s bugger-all of it left.

The Nat’s spin doctors earned their tax-payer funded salaries that day.

Taking responsibility National style reminds me of that famous phrase from the 1970  movie, “Love Story“,

Love Means Never Having to Say Youre Sorry

For Dear Leader and his cronies, the sentiment is the same,

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John Key Power Means Never Having to Say I'm Responsible

“Power Means Never Having to Say I’m Responsible.”

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Previous related blogpost

It’s official: Key’s mind is someone elses’ responsibilty

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Folic Acid vs Vitamin B9

2 September 2012 10 comments

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Folic Acid

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Definition

Folic acid is a water-soluable vitamin belonging to the B-complex group of vitamins. These vitamins help the body break down complex carbohydrates into simple sugars to be used for energy. Excess B vitamins are excreted from the body rather than stored for later use. This is why sufficient daily intake of folic acid is necessary.

Description

Folic acid is also known as folate, or folacin. It is one of the nutrients most often found to be deficient in the Western diet, and there is evidence that deficiency is a problem on a worldwide scale. Folic acid is found in leafy green vegetables, beans, peas and lentils, liver, beets, brussel sprouts, poultry, nutritional yeast, tuna, wheat germ, mushrooms, oranges, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, bananas, strawberries, and cantaloupes. In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required food manufacturers to add folic acid to enriched bread and grain products to boost intake and to help prevent neural tube defects (NTD).

Purpose

Folic acid works together with vitamin B12 and vitamin C to metabolize protein in the body. It is important for the formation of red and white blood cells. It is necessary for the proper differentiation and growth of cells and for the development of the fetus. It is also used to form the nucleic acid of DNA and RNA. It increases the appetite and stimulates the production of stomach acid for digestion and it aids in maintaining a healthy liver. A deficiency of folic acid may lead to anemia, in which there is decreased production of red blood cells. This reduces the amounts of oxygen and nutrients that are able to get to the tissues. Symptoms may include fatigue, reduced secretion of digestive acids, confusion, and forgetfulness. During pregnancy, a folic acid deficiency may lead to preeclampsia, premature birth, and increased bleeding after birth.
People who are at high risk of strokes and heart disease may greatly benefit by taking folic acid supplements. An elevated blood level of the amino acid homocysteine has been identified as a risk factor for some of these diseases. High levels of homocysteine have also been found to contribute to problems with osteoporosis. Folic acid, together with vitamins B6 and B12, helps break down homocysteine, and may help reverse the problems associated with elevated levels.
Pregnant women have an increased need for folic acid, both for themselves and their child. Folic acid is necessary for the proper growth and development of the fetus. Adequate intake of folic acid is vital for the prevention of several types of birth defects, particularly NTDs. The neural tube of the embryo develops into the brain, spinal cord, spinal column, and the skull. If this tube forms incompletely during the first few months of pregnancy a serious, and often fatal, defect results in spina bifida or anencephaly. Folic acid, taken from  one year to one month before conception through the first four months of pregnancy, can reduce the risk of NTDs by 50-70%.It also helps prevent a cleft lip and palate.
Research shows that folic acid can be used to successfully treat cervical dysplasia, a condition diagnosed by a Pap smear, of having abnormal cells in the cervix. This condition is considered to be a possible precursor to cervical cancer, and is diagnosed as an abnormal Pap smear. Daily consumption of 1,000 mcg of folic acid for three or more months has resulted in improved cervical cells upon repeat Pap smears.
Studies suggest that long-term use of folic acid supplements may also help prevent lung and colon cancer. Researchers have also found that alcoholics who have low folic acid levels face a greatly increased possibility of developing colon cancer.

Preparations

To correct a folic acid deficiency, supplements are taken in addition to food. Since the functioning of the B vitamins is interrelated, it is generally recommended that the appropriate dose of B-complex vitamins be taken in place of single B vitamin supplements. The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for folate is 400 mcg per day for adults, 600 mcg per day for pregnant women, and 500 mcg for nursing women. Medicinal dosages of up to 1,000-2,000 mcg per day may be prescribed.

Precautions

Folic acid is not stable. It is easily destroyed by exposure to light, air, water, and cooking. Therefore, the supplement should be stored in a dark container in a cold, dry place, such as a refrigerator. Many medications interfere with the body’s absorption and use of folic acid. This includes sulfa drugs, sleeping pills, estrogen, anti-convulsants, birth control pills, antacids, quinine, and some antibiotics. Using large amounts of folic acid (e.g., over 5,000 mcg per day) can mask a vitamin B12 deficiency and thereby risk of irreversible nerve damage.

Side effects

At levels of 5,000 mcg or less, folic acid is generally safe for use. Side effects are uncommon. However, large doses may cause nausea, decreased appetite, bloating, gas, decreased ability to concentrate, and insomnia. Large doses may also decrease the effects of phenytoin (Dilantin), a seizure medication.

Source:  The Free Dictionary

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Overdose risks

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The risk of toxicity from folic acid is low, because folate is a water-soluble vitamin and is regularly removed from the body through urine.

Source: Vitamins and minerals: efficacy and safety, U.S. National Library of Medicine

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Folic Acid. Folate. Vitamin B9. Vitamin Bc. Folacin. Pteroyl-L-glutamic acid.  Pteroyl-L-glutamate. Pteroylmonoglutamic acid. Take your pick.

All different names to one of many naturally occurring compounds which our (and other animals) bodies need to survive.

Before western society decided to process the hell out of our foods, we ingested Folic Acid/Vitamin B9 in vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, turnip greens, lettuce, cabbage, brussel sprouts, broccoli, beans, peas,  lentils, bananas, oranges, peaches, Sunflower seeds, and meats such as liver and poultry, etc.

See:  Foods rich in folic acid and vitamin B12

So it’s not exactly some weird concoction, brewed up  by a mad scientist slaving over bubbling beakers and arcing electrodes in Victor von Frankenstein’s basement,

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When the issue first arose in 2009, the debate whether to add Folic Acid/Folate/Vitamin B9/Vitamin Bc/Folacin/Pteroyl-L-glutamic acid/Pteroyl-L-glutamate/Pteroylmonoglutamic acid to all breads,  was lost on Day One  when the vitamin was referred tro as “Folic Acid”.

This blogger will be the first to admit that  had never heard of “folic acid” or “folate”.

Folic acid… Sounded suspiciously like hydrochloric acid… sulphuric acid… hydroflouric acid…  Nasty chemicals which have no place in the human body.

Except that the unfortunately-sounding apellation – folic acid – had nothing to do with any of the above tissue-damaging chemicals above. Like ascorbic acid – aka, ascorbate or Vitamin C.

Like most  people, the substance was more recognisable with it’s more benign label; Vitamin B9. A quick googling soon informed me that folic acid = Vitamin B9.

*whew*

Panic over.

Visions of a nefarious government secret agency lacing our food with ACID were dispelled.

But… how many other people failed to make the connection? Most folk have only a basic understanding of  Nature and science. Fears arise easily – especially when things have gone terribly wrong in history…

Atomic power… asbestos… pesticides… thalidomide… chloroflurocarbons… human-produced atmospheric CO2… History is littered with triumphs of science and technology – only to learn later that there were unintended consequences.

Heck, the Ancient Romans used to store and  drink wine from urns made from lead. Wine is acidic… and it leeched lead from it’s vessels. The consequential lead poisoning must have been horrific.

The 21st century version of lead-poisoning in antiquity is plastic bottles containing BPA (bisphenol A) – which has been discovered to have nasty effects on the human body.

See: BPA Chemical Leaches From Hard Plastic Drinking Bottles Into The Body, Study

When humans are unfamiliar with something, they are naturally cautious and wary. (A survival trait, no doubt, when our ancestors had to cope with poisonous plants, big nasty  insects, hungry sabre-tooth tigers, and other perils of  Paleolithic Earth.)

The reality  of Vitamin B9 was  simple and straight forward; it was a natural compound that could reduce the incidence of Neural Tube Defects. But even that term – Neural Tube Defects – meant nothing to the average Bloke and Blokette.  It was a vague medical term that  99% of us had never heard before.

Another way to explain Neural Tube Defects is spina bifida (one form of NTD),

The human nervous system develops from a small, specialized plate of cells along the back of an embryo. Early in development, the edges of this plate begin to curl up toward each other, creating the neural tube—a narrow sheath that closes to form the brain and spinal cord of the embryo. As development progresses, the top of the tube becomes the brain and the remainder becomes the spinal cord. This process is usually complete by the 28th day of pregnancy. But if problems occur during this process, the result can be brain disorders called neural tube defects, including spina bifida…

… Spina bifida, which literally means “cleft spine,” is characterized by the incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord, and/or meninges (the protective covering around the brain and spinal cord). It is the most common neural tube defect in the United States – affecting 1,500 to 2,000 of the more than 4 million babies born in the country each year.

See: MedicineNet.com – Spina Bifida (Neural Tube Defect)

Whilst many with spina bifida can walk with assistance-devices, others will be confined to wheelchairs for their entire lives.

Many will have problems with urination, having to use plastic catheters inserted into their urethra/penis to urinate. Some will need hygiene pads to contain uncontrollably excreted faeces in their underwear. Others have other surgically-enhanced techniques for relieving themselves.

A number will require ongoing surgery to address complications caused by their condition,

Some children will need subsequent surgeries to manage problems with the feet, hips, or spine. Individuals with hydrocephalus generally will require additional surgeries to replace the shunt, which can be outgrown or become clogged.

Some individuals with spina bifida require assistive devices such as braces, crutches, or wheelchairs. The location of the malformation on the spine often indicates the type of assistive devices needed. Children with a defect high on the spine and more extensive paralysis will often require a wheelchair, while those with a defect lower on the spine may be able to use crutches, bladder catherizations, leg braces, or walkers.

Treatment for paralysis and bladder and bowel problems typically begins soon after birth, and may include special exercises for the legs and feet to help prepare the child for walking with braces or crutches when he or she is older.

See: How is spina bifida treated?

For people  with spina bifida, in wheelchairs, they will need ongoing assistance until their final day.  The way they overcome they restricted mobility and challenges  is nothing short of heroic.

There are many things they will struggle with, and many that will be beyond their abilities without varying degrees of assistance.

For  many of us, visiting a friend who happens to live a few dozen steps up from the road is something we do without much consideration. Not so for a person with spina bifida.

Imagine the degradation of being lifted up stairs to enter a building, and being carried up by others. (Not all buildings have electors or ramps, contrary to public perception – and 99.99% of private homes certainly do not have elevators.)

If you’re in a wheelchair, you will most likely never journey through New Zealand’s wilderness.

And going to a beach will most likely involve being carried bodily onto the sand. (Unless they can afford an expensive, specialised, wheelchair.)

A home for a person with spina bifida has be be totally adapted to his/her needs; wheelchair ramps (both front and rear door);  bathroom adapted to be a “wet area”; modified cabinets, benches, oven, sink, in kitchens; lowered light switches, etc.

The State has to provide ongoing assistance in many areas of a wheelchair bound person’s life and home.

Relationships can be more difficult to form, as many people do not see past a wheelchair or crutches.

I encourage an able-bodied person to try to spend 24 hours in a wheelchair. You probably wouldn’t  make it past 30  minutes.

I write this not for pity for people with spina bifida – they don’t need our pity – but for understanding that for every decision we make, there are consequences.

Not adding vitamin B9  to bread will have consequences; women giving birth to babies afflicted with spina bifida.

Critics of fortification use the cliche of  “mass medication” and insist that pregnant women take vitamin B9 supplements to assist their unborn child.

“Mass medication” is a mis-nomer. Vitamin B9 is not “medicine”. It is a natural occurring compound like Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, etc, etc, etc.

And if folic acid/vitamin B9/folate/whatever was so harmful – why are bottles of B9 supplements available in every single supermarket, chemists, health-food shop in New Zealand?

No one has ever suggested that adding Vitamin C to our fruit drinks is “mass medication” – it would be ridiculous to suggest so.

And by the time a woman discovers that she is pregnant, it may be too late to take Vitamin B9 supplements,

Folic acid, taken from  one year to one month before conceptionthrough the first four months of pregnancy, can reduce the risk of NTDs by 50-70%…”

Source:  The Free Dictionary

Where did the campaign, along with the “mass medication” meme, originate? Like many of these fear-campaigns, it’s a matter of ‘following the money‘,

The Bakers’ Association has labelled the compulsory introduction “mass medication” of the population, and warned that bread containing folic acid will be less safe than it is now. “

The Bakers’ Association “mass medication” rhetoric was followed by ex-National MP, and neo-liberal,  Katherine Rich, who was now leading the NZ Food and Grocery Council,

Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said there was no good reason to medicate an entire nation without clear benefits and known risks.

“They are embarking on a medical experiment of grand proportions,” she said. “If there are long-term effects and the Government is keen on adding folic acid, they should indemnify”.”

See: Bakers furious at ‘mass medication’ of NZ’s bread

See previous blogpost: Crony Watch!

The same Katherine Rich who opposed liquor controls for supermarkets and has been a staunch defender of  light-handed regulation of the alcohol industry.

See: Big Alcohol‘s Global Playbook: New markets, reduced regulation and lower taxes

Interesting how two separate business organisations were using similar fear-tactics; “mass medication” (Bakers’ Association) and “medical experiment” (NZ Food and Grocery Council ). And note that the NZ Herald in which those comments were reported is dated 17 May 2009 – one of the very first references to “mass medication”.

These fear tactics were unsupported by any hard facts, and relied on dubious “experts” and dodgy “science”. It was all very convenient for commercial interests that were more concerned at cost – than the health of this nation’s children.

Bomber Bradbury, from the ‘Tumeke’ blog summed it up nicely when he said,

” There was also a torrent of anger about ‘putting stuff in my food, personal choice blah blah blah’. I’m all for the heavy hand of Government regulation if it means avoiding 70+ children each year (abortions plus live births) being born with deformities. I don’t buy into the ‘personal choice’ stuff at all, we all concede certain choices to live together and if putting folic acid into bread reduces deformities, what’s the problem? The issue HAS to be based on the science, and right now there is science that suggests a connection with cancer – if that science is as weak as some have posted here, and is as weak as Gluckman thinks it is, then it should be a 6month review tops to explore that and make a call. Kicking for touch with a 3 year moratorium is weak by Key and means 200 kids + will be born with deformities in those 3 years.

The irony that many claimed this was the ‘nanny state putting medicine in my food’ misses the point that it will be the nanny state who will have to provide for the deformed children.”

See: Folic Acid U-turn wrong call

Bomber Bradbury has hit the nail on the head when he says,

The irony that many claimed this was the ‘nanny state putting medicine in my food’ misses the point that it will be the nanny state who will have to provide for the deformed children.

Bingo!

Profits from bread: privatised.

Massive financial costs of 20+ children born with spina bifida: socialised.

How many times have we heard that?!

Concerns over “increased cancer” fears were dispelled in a discussion on 8 July, on TVNZ’s Q+A, with Andrew Marshall from the Paediatric Society of NZ,

GREG BOYED

First and foremost, a couple of hundred more cases of cancer per year – what are your responses to that?

ANDREW MARSHALL

Completely false. If we look at the United States where they introduced mandatory fortification in ’98, there’s been a reduction in all cancers since that time. So it’s not true it will increase cancer. It reduces cancer overall.

GREG What are your thoughts on Dr Smith’s science, because, as he said, he’s done extensive studies on an extensive number of people.

ANDREW I’ve reviewed his studies. He is very selective in the studies he chooses. He talks about a meta-analysis of 38,000. There’s a different meta-analysis using a similar population – some of the studies overlap – of 35,000, which is much stronger. It shows no relationship with cancer, no increased risk, no statistical risk. So he’s selective in the studies he chooses, and he’s chosen a weaker study which showed a borderline. Even the writers of that study said there was no definite increase; it was borderline.

See: Q+A: Transcript of Andrew Marshall interview

On 2 September 2012, “Food Safety” Minister, Kate Wilkinson was interviewed on TVNZ’s Q+A. Greg Boyd asked why National had decided not to opt to add vitamin B9 to nearly all bread.  In a breath-taking example of ignoring real research and common sense, Wilkinson said,

The decision that was made was really based on consumer choice rather than the science, because, as you know with science, you can have scientists arguing black and scientists arguing white. At the end of the day, the consultation went out. The submissions were clearly in favour of voluntary, so people can make up their own mind whether they want folic acid in their bread or not. “

As Q+A producer, Tim Watkin,  said on the ‘Pundit’  blog,

So the baking industry won the day over the medical folk, not by the strength of their arguments or superiority of their science, but by the weight of numbers.

Bizarre.

We’re an anti-intellectual enough country at the best of times, but to be so cavalier about science is a terrible signal to send.

See: Q+A: Interview with Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson

For Wilkinson to state,

The decision that was made was really based on consumer choice rather than the science…

The clear message is that people want choice.”

… means we have abandoned common sense and policies made for social good,  and allowed commercial interests and the paranoia of a few individuals, to determine the health and safety of our children?!

One must also ask that if National was swayed by “the submissions were clearly in favour of voluntary” – why have they not taken heed of the vast number of submissions opposing state asset sales.

See: Hundreds beg committee to stop sale of state assets

Selective much?

Executive director, John Forman, from The Organisation for Rare Disorders was also  obviously disappointed by National’s decision,

“Up to 20 babies every year will die or be seriously disabled by neural tube defects (NTD) in New Zealand, thanks to the Government’s decision today to keep the fortification of bread voluntary.”

See: Folic acid to remain voluntary

Indeed, whilst we enjoy our “choice” – unborn children do not. Their future lives will be blighted by the choices that we adults have made for them.

Spooked by back-room dealings and manipulations by vested interests, we have allowed ourselves to be panicked and corralled like a bunch of sheep. The food industry maintains its profits by not having to pay for vitamin B9 to be added to bread, and National maintain’s it’s slavish adhrerence to the mantra of “personal choice”.

Another example of the Cult of the Individual, with it’s nasty, self-centered “Me First” attitude, and all it’s dreadful consequences.

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Additional

Bakers furious at ‘mass medication’ of NZ’s bread (May, 2009)

Q + A: Paul Holmes interviews Sue Kedgley and Kate Wilkinson about folic acid (July, 2009)

Minister sides with bakers on folic acid (July, 2009)

Will bill make food safer or be a form of control? (February, 2012)

Folate fortified bread back on table (May, 2012)

Australians beating us over meat labelling (May, 2012)

Folic acid to remain voluntary (August, 2012)

Q+A: Interview with Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson (September, 2012)

Previous blogposts

Crony Watch!

Other blogs

Tumeke: Folic Acid U-turn wrong call (July, 2009)

The Pundit: National’s folic tangle (July, 2009)

Corporations & Health Watch: Big Alcohol‘s Global Playbook: New markets, reduced regulation and lower taxes (December, 2011)

The Pundit: The folate debate – no easy choices (July, 2012)

The Pundit: Get foliced! Now science is just a ‘nice to have‘ (September, 2012)

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Another National Disgrace!

12 April 2012 1 comment

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Q: National intends to spend $900 million on one of the above. Can you guess which one? (Answer at the bottom of page.)

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National’s arrogance in the last month has stunned most of the country. Aside for some diehard, right wing, National/ACT groupies – many people who voted National last November must  be seriously questioning their decision.

In an all-out effort to alienate the public and paint themselves as arrogant autocrats, National has, or is currently involved in;

  • Secret negotiations with Sky City to  amend current legislation and allow the casino 500 extra pokie machines in return for a $350 million convention centre. Neither John Key nor any other Minister will disclose what these secret negotiations entail, citing “commercial sensitivity”.  Which is kinda strange as there are no other casino operators in Auckland to be sensitive about. What is certain is that more pokies = more problem gamblers.
  • Secret negotiations with a private secondary school in Whanganui, to facilitate integration with the State schooling system. What on Earth could be so sensitive as to keep details secret – how many pieces of chalk can they possibly  use?!
  • National’s intention to prevent further public scrutiny of SOEs once they are part-privatised. This will treat part-privatised SOEs as full private companies rather than  semi-public enterprises.
  • National is keeping secret contract details of first to part-private, part State-owned schools (Public Private Partnership)
  • Proceeding with massively unpopular State Asset part-privatisation despite over-whelming opposition from the public.
  • Mining on the  conservation estate (never a popular move).
  • And now a threat by National Minister, Bill English, to use the government veto on all private members’ Bill, irrespective of  any Parliamentary  mandate.

It is this increasingly public display of arrogance from National that is now colouring their style of government.  They are no longer even bothering to hide their disdain for the democratic process;  transparent government; or public opinion.

Associate Education Minister, Craig Foss was particularly arrogant in his attitude to answering questions on Whanganui Collegiate’s secret integration into the State school system, when he was interviewed on Radio NZ’s “Morning Report” on 11 April,

Listen to more from Craig Foss on Morning Report

Bill English is on record as stating categorically that even if Parliament votes to put the Bill to a Select Committee, that National will veto it (at the third reading).  In effect, regardless of a majority in Parliament voting to consider the Bill – the minority National Party  will ‘kill’ it. A minority dictating to the majority?

We know what that’s called, don’t we?

In fact, we haven’t had this kind of authoritarian rule since this chap ran practically everything,

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Sir Robert Muldoon, Prime Minister of New Zealand, 1975 to 1984

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English has complained that our economy cannot cope with an estimated extra $150 million on extending paid parental leave from 14 weeks to six months. He claims,

We have maintained paid parental leave and we currently spend about $150 million [a year] on it.

But we are still two or three years from getting out of the woods on the deficit so we think it is a bit soon to be trying to expand entitlements when our big challenge has been to maintain them as they are.

That’s just misleading the public. The fact is doubling it will cost another $150 million a year. You’d have to borrow half a billion over the next three or four years. We’re simply not willing to do that.

Expanding entitlements at this stage would be ”getting a bit ahead of ourselves when we are still $10 billion away from clearing our overdraft.

“We’ve got to get on with that and be fair to everybody in achieving surplus and people can have those choices once we get there.” – Source

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If our $10 billion overdraft was such a major sticking point, it obviously did not stop National from “investing” $220 million into a rugby tournament,

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Full Story

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Or State Owned Enterprises lavishing $54 million in staff bonuses,

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Full Story

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Or any of the following government expenditure for “must haves” such as,

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Full Story

PSA National Secretary, Richard Wagstaff, is certainly correct when he states that recorded crimes rates are dropping and the  projected prison muster for 2016 has been calculated to drop from  11,561  to about 8200.

Which makes one wonder why National is about to squander nearly a billion dollars on another prison we may not need, and is likely to end up being moth-balled. (National has a tradition of indulging in ‘Think Big’ projects – only to have them closed down later.)

One billion dollars… twice the amount we could be spending on paid parental leave, according to Bill English,

“You’d have to borrow half a billion over the next three or four years.”

A new prison is a “must have”.

But according to National’s Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson,  extending paid parental leave was “simply unaffordable“.

Every parent in New Zealand should be thoroughly dismayed at National’s priorities. Throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at rugby games and prisons seems to make National positively delirious with joy – but investing in the future of our children is “simply unaffordable“?!

Nothing describes the warped nature of National’s priorities worse than this.

Parents take note:  National will not invest in your children.

Not until they grow older;  go off the rails;  and end up in prison.

Then, National will positively lavish your child with cash.  For a prison  cell.

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Related Blogpost

Priorities?

Media reports

Nats under pressure over parental leave

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Answer to above question (as if you didn’t already know):  $900 million will be spend on a new prison at Wiri, in Sth Auckland.

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= fs =

A Slave By Any Other Name…

9 March 2012 5 comments

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slavery

slav·er·y

[sley-vuh-ree, sleyv-ree]
noun
1. the condition of a slave;  bondage.
2. the keeping of slaves  as a practice or institution.
3. a state of subjection like that of a slave: He was kept in slavery by drugs.
4. severe toil; drudgery.
Origin:
1545–55; slave  + -ery

Related forms
pre·slav·er·y, adjective, noun

Synonyms
1.  thralldom, enthrallment. Slavery, bondage, servitude  refer to involuntary subjection to another or others. Slavery  emphasizes the idea of complete ownership and control by a master: to be sold into slavery. Bondage  indicates a state of subjugation or captivity often involving burdensome and degrading labor: in bondage to a cruel master. Servitude  is compulsory service, often such as is required by a legal penalty: penal servitude. 4.  moil, labor.

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doublethink

dou·ble·think

[duhb-uhl-thingk]
noun
the acceptance of two contradictory ideas or beliefs at the same time.
Origin:
double  + think;  coined by George Orwell in his novel 1984  (1949)

– n    
deliberate, perverse, or unconscious acceptance or promulgation of conflicting facts, principles, etc

Dictionary.com

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Last week, right-wing blogger; pollster; and National Party activist, David Farrar wrote this eye-opening piece for the NZ Herald,

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Full Story

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The story revolves around abuse, violence,  and exploitation of foreign seamen on Foreign Charter Vessels, as this Department of Labour media statement outlined on 5 March,

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Department of Labour takes tough action against Foreign Charter Vessel

The Department of Labour has found that there was major non-compliance with the Code of Practice on Foreign Fishing Crew and the Approval in Principle (AIP) to employ foreign crew by the New Zealand charterers of the ship, the Shin Ji.

The Department started its investigation into the Shin Ji after crew walked off the ship in protest at the conditions they were facing last June.

The Code of Practice requires payment of the minimum wage plus $2 per hour for actual hours worked, but in no case less than 42 hours per week over the course of the engagement. Deductions may not take wages below the minimum wage for all hours worked.

The New Zealand Charter Party is required to keep accurate records and make these records available to the Department on request, but insufficient documents were provided to make a full financial assessment on crew remuneration. As a result the Department was unable to verify whether the crew of the Shin Ji had been paid their minimum requirements or whether AIP and Code of Practice conditions were met.

In addition, there were allegations of mistreatment made by several crew that present a prima facie case that the provisions of the Code of Practice in relation to fishers’ welfare were not met. A final conclusion could not be made in this area as the New Zealand Charter Party Administrator, Tu’ere Fishing, failed to respond to these allegations.

The Department has now decided that all work visas under the most recent AIP will be cancelled.

The acting head of Immigration New Zealand, Steve Stuart, says the sanctions imposed by the Department show how seriously breaches of the Code of Practice are taken and reflect a tougher approach by the Department.

“Our auditors have carried out a meticulous and thorough investigation and it shows very clearly that the New Zealand Charter Party failed to comply with the Code,” Mr Stuart says.

The Government has already accepted a recommendation by the Ministerial Inquiry into Foreign Charter Vessels (FCVs) to update the Code of Practice and strengthen the immigration approval process for crew.

The Department is also to strengthen the monitoring and enforcement of FCVs and increase the thoroughness of inspections. The Department has improved its auditing system, with the first audits being undertaken by external auditors next month.

Source

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A Ministerial Inquiry released a similar report, highly critical of crew-abuses on FCVs,

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Foreign Charter Vessels Inquiry report released

Thursday, 1 March 2012, 12:43 pm
Press Release: New Zealand Government

Hon David Carter
Minister for Primary Industries
Hon Kate Wilkinson
Minister of Labour

The Government has resolved to take a stronger line on the operation of foreign charter vessels (FCVs) in New Zealand waters, say Primary Industries Minister David Carter and Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson.

The Ministers today released the report of the Ministerial Inquiry into Foreign Charter Vessels.

The Inquiry, which was initiated by the Government last year, focused on several issues, including labour standards and protecting New Zealand’s reputation.

Mr Carter says the Inquiry panel has done a thorough job.

“The report is clear that the issues are not widespread in the New Zealand commercial fishing industry, but they are serious where they occur and need to be addressed in a co-ordinated manner, backed by legislative change,” says Mr Carter.

The 15 recommendations touch on a wide range of ministerial portfolios, including fisheries, labour, immigration, transport and foreign affairs and trade.

The Government has already decided to accept in principle, and act on, the Inquiry Panel’s first six recommendations.

The first three recommendations are for practical improvements that can be addressed quickly, and in some cases are already being made.

“The recommendations include updating the Code of Practice and strengthening the immigration approval process – both of which will help ensure better conditions for workers on FCVs,” says Ms Wilkinson.

“We will also be adopting a recommendation that the New Zealand fishing companies chartering foreign vessels have to show the Code is being followed. This is a significant move as it puts the onus on those companies, rather than the Department of Labour, which currently has to prove the Code has been breached.”

The Department of Labour is also to strengthen monitoring and enforcement of FCVs and increase the frequency and thoroughness of inspections.

MAF is to strengthen monitoring and enforcement of FCVs, including placing an observer on all FCVs fishing in New Zealand waters and considering non-fisheries offences when making FCV registration decisions.

Maritime New Zealand is to strengthen enforcement of FCV compliance with maritime safety standards.

Recommendations 4 to 6 propose closer inter-agency co-operation, to be overseen by an inter-agency steering group. This includes setting up a pilot programme for at-sea monitoring of compliance with fisheries, vessel safety and labour standards – targeting high-risk FCVs.

The remaining recommendations cover legislative amendments, ratifying international conventions, and significant policy changes. The Government is further considering the Inquiry Panel’s report and these recommendations before announcing any decisions.

View Ministerial Inquiry into Foreign Charter Vessels Report:

http://www.dol.govt.nz/News/Media/2012/foreign-charter-vessels-2012-ministerial.asp

http://www.maf.govt.nz/news-resources/news

Source

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Foreign Charter Vessels are a means for local fishing companies to use cheap labour to fish New Zealand’s 200km territorial waters. It can be a profitable operation, paying crews from mostly Third World or developing countries such as Indonesia, much lower rates of pay than their New Zealand counterparts. (Congratulations to ourselves – we’ve found a way to import “sweat shops” from Asia to our territorial waters.)

The Seafood Industry Council (SEAFic) made this statement about Foreign Charter Vessels on their website. It is important to note that, as SEAFic stated quite clearly,

A charter vessel from another country is not foreign countries catching our fish – it is a hired vessel working for a New Zealand-owned company.

This is important because although the “charter vessel is from another country” – it is still covered by New Zealand law. That includes labour legislation such as minimum wages. The crew cannot be paid under the minimum wage ($13.50 per hour) whilst operating in our territory. SEAFic goes on to’paint a picture’ outlining the obligations of Foreign Charter Vessels to follow NZ law,

Chartering a vessel to catch your quota is like hiring a bus to get your sports team to another town.  You wouldn’t buy a bus just for the one trip.  The bus driver, who is trained and qualified to do the job, comes with the bus.  You cannot ask the driver to do anything outside the law.  You cannot, for example, let the driver continue driving without break for excessive hours, even if he or she wants to.

Furthermore, as SEAFic explained,

The crews of charter vessels are entitled to the same employment rights and conditions as anyone working in New Zealand. However, the crews do not qualify for social support services or ACC and therefore do not cost the taxpayer.

And,

The crews of charter vessels are entitled to the same employment rights and conditions as anyone working in New Zealand. However, the crews do not qualify for social support services or ACC and therefore do not cost the taxpayer.

The Ministerial Inquiry found that not only were FCVs violently abusing their crews, but were not paying them properly. Any complaint from a crewmember often resulted in that crewman being removed from the Vessel; shipped back home; and not paid for any of his work,

The terms of the first contract, the “real” one, would later haunt him. In it, IMS spelled out terms with no rights. In addition to the agent’s commission, Yusril would surrender 30 percent of his salary, which IMS would hold unless the work was completed. He would be paid nothing for the first three months, and if the job were not finished to the fishing company’s satisfaction, Yusril would be sent home and charged more than $1,000 for the airfare. The meaning of “satisfactory” was left vague. The contract said only that Yusril would have to work whatever hours the boat operators demanded. ” – Source

Crew members were also abused, assaulted, and sexually harassed,

The boatswain would grab crew members’ genitals as they worked or slept. When the captain of the ship drank, he molested some of the crew, kicking those who resisted. As nets hauled in the catch — squid, ling, hoki, hake, grouper, southern blue whiting, jack mackerel, and barracuda — the officers shouted orders from the bridge. They often compelled the Indonesians to work without proper safety equipment for up to 30 hours, swearing at them if they so much as asked for coffee or a bathroom break. Even when fishermen were not hauling catches, 16-hour workdays were standard. ” – Ibid

This abuse came to the attention of the US media and various companies that bought the product that had been caught and processed by FCV crews. The article below was written for a major US business website, and reveals cases of violence and exploitation on FCVs contracted to New Zealand companies, and working in New Zealand’s territorial waters. I encourage people to read it,

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Full Story

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To put it mildly, American clients and the US government were not happy. No company wants to have it’s reputation tarnished by allegations of slave labour associated with their product. Customers tend to feel queasy buying something they know was produced by another human being who was treated as a slave. Not a good look.

And up till now, New Zealand has being getting away with it because,

Asked about allegations that FCVs in New Zealand employ slave labor, [Ashley] Hawkins said [U.S. supermarket chain] Whole Foods is “in compliance with the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, New Zealand is not considered high-risk.” “- Ibid

It seems that our luck has run out, and National has had to sit up and take notice,

“The Government has resolved to take a stronger line on the operation of foreign charter vessels (FCVs) in New Zealand waters, say Primary Industries Minister David Carter and Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson.

The Ministers today released the report of the Ministerial Inquiry into Foreign Charter Vessels.

The Inquiry, which was initiated by the Government last year, focused on several issues, including labour standards and protecting New Zealand’s reputation.

Mr Carter says the Inquiry panel has done a thorough job.

“The report is clear that the issues are not widespread in the New Zealand commercial fishing industry, but they are serious where they occur and need to be addressed in a co-ordinated manner, backed by legislative change,” says Mr Carter.” – Source

Which brings us back to Mr Farrar’s opinion-piece in the NZ Herald on 2 March.

As described at the beginning of this piece, Farrar is a right wing blogger and National Party activist. Which makes his ‘Herald’ opinion piece somewhat more surprising.

Farrar repeats the background litany of abuse that the FCV fishermen have been subjected to,

A failure to pay minimum wages under NZ law (which the FCVs have agreed to do) is the least of the abuses. They get told they will lose the little pay they do get unless they lie to the NZ authorities about how much they are paid. Any complaints can see them lose bonds worth more than their earnings. They are forced to work long and dangerous hours with no regard for safety.

But even worse than there, there are several documented cases of physical violence, sexual abuse and even rape of the (mainly Indonesian) staff who work on these vessels. They are basically treated as slaves during their incarceration on the vessels. Actually many slaves in the Roman republic were treated better, than what has happened to these workers in our territorial waters.

At this point, it is worth reminding ourselves that Farrar is a member of National – a right wing political party that does not like trade unions very much. As National MP, Jami-Lee Ross, said on 11 January, about the Ports of Auckland industrial dispute,

This is in fact a story of the Maritime Union biting the hand that feeds them. It is a story of industrial action that, if left to go on much longer, could have disastrous consequences for the Ports of Auckland…

Up until recently, cool heads and rational people sitting around negotiating tables have meant that little focus has been placed on the role that unions play in society. However, with the bare-faced mockery that the Maritime Union is making of civilised negotiations New Zealanders will soon begin to question what position unions should hold in the modern Kiwi workplace.” – Source

Traditionally, National  has always been anti-Union and pro-business. That’s just the way it is.

Farrar has stated that,

“I do not regard National as always right, but it is the party which I believe gives me the greatest opportunity to achieve the New Zealand I want.” – Source

So what to make of Farrar lamenting the condition of workers on FCVs,

These abuses have gone on for far too long. New Zealand has even ended up on the watch list of the US State Department whose annual Trafficking in Persons Report mentions fishing in New Zealand as a problem area.”

Or this part, which bears a remarkable similarity to Union-style concerns,

New Zealand law and policies require staff on board FCVs to be paid the at least $2 an hour over the New Zealand minimum wage, or $2,700 a month gross for a 42 hour week. But in reality many of the Indonesian fishers get paid little more than $150 a month or less than $1 an hour. They get told they must sign two employment contracts – one for the NZ authorities, and the real one which details a much lower rate of pay.”

If one were to be generous, it could be asumed that the sickening abuse of FCV fishermen is a step too far even for a hardened rightwinger like Farrar. A free labour market market is one thing – but slavery? Nah, that’s the line he will not cross. In fact, Farrar even says,

“They are basically treated as slaves during their incarceration on the vessels. Actually many slaves in the Roman republic were treated better, than what has happened to these workers in our territorial waters.

It is interesting that Farrar uses the term “slaves” – twice! – and once in the title of his opinion piece! – but more on that shortly.

If, however, one were to read “between the lines”, certain aspects of his piece offer another motive for his (faux?) concerns,

These vessels fish in our exclusive economic zone, on behalf of NZ companies that have quota allocations in different fish stocks…

New Zealand has even ended up on the watch list of the US State Department whose annual Trafficking in Persons Report mentions fishing in New Zealand as a problem area…

The Ministerial inquiry has not recommended phasing out the use of FCVs. The main reason for this is it seems there is not enough capacity in New Zealand to fish all of our quota ourselves. This surprises me with so many people unemployed, but I guess not many people want to be out at sea for weeks or months at a time. There are also issues of capital and specialist equipment…

This means that even these changes may prove ineffective, and the eventual solution may have to be require all vessels fishing in our EEZ to be New Zealand flagged ships. This would have adverse economic consequences…”

Taking these comments into consideration, the subtext appears to be  one that is more alligned with economic concerns – i.e. “adverse economic consequences” as Farrar himself says at the end.

So, which is it; a hidden streak of concern for workers and their rights which heretofore has never been seen in David Farrar?

Or a deep concern that these abuses are an annoying distraction which might have “adverse economic consequences” on our profit/loss end-of-year bottomline?

Luckily, we have Mr Farrar’s own blog, Kiwiblog, upon which to draw further insights from.

David Shearer says Labour is not taking sides the in Ports of Auckland dispute, but here are two of his MPs on the picket line.

I guess they have no choice as the Maritime Union is actually an affiliate member of the Labour Party, and one of their donors. Not even the documented examples of union hostility to female and non European workers is enough to shake their support of the union.” – Labour Not taking sides, 27 February 2012

Strangely, Farrar states that “here are two of his MPs on the picket line” at the Maritime Union/Ports of Auckland Ltd (POAL) dispute – as if it were a bad thing?

Can it be that Mr Farrar disapproves, or may even be hostile, to the POAL workers who are on strike? Let’s keep reading further blogposts from Mr Farrar,

Phil Twyford blogs:

Len Brown was elected the people’s mayor on a wave of support across west and south Auckland. People opted decisively for his plan for public transport, and a modern inclusive vision for the city that embraced the young, the brown and working people.

Which makes it puzzling that he is choosing to stand by and watch while his port subsidiary tries to contract out 300 jobs. …

It is all the more puzzling given the Mayor’s commitment to reducing social inequality, reflected in the excellent Auckland Plan. It is hard to see how we are going to build a more prosperous and inclusive city by stripping the city’s employees of their work rights and job security. …

It is time for Len Brown and his Council to rethink their demand for a 12% return, and replace it with something reasonable and not excessive. He should tell the port company casualisation is not an acceptable approach to employment relations in a port owned by the people of Auckland.

This is the same Phil Twyford who spent years saying that Wellington should not dictate to Auckland, yet is now trying to bully Len Brown into putting the interests of the Labour Party (for the Maritime Union is part of the Labour Party) ahead of the interests of Auckland.

Len knows he would be toast if he kneecapped a Council subsidiary, just to please the Labour caucus in Wellington.” – Maritime Union wants total control, 29 February 2012

After weeks and months of strikes, and a growing loss of business to other ports, it was inevitable that Ports of Auckland would go down the only viable path left to them, which is contracting out.

The Herald reports:

Ports of Auckland said the decision to introduce “competitive stevedoring ” was partly the result of the impact of long running industrial action on its business.

Redundancies would begin later next week, with striking staff encouraged to apply for new positions, he said.

“This decision has not been made lightly, but we believe it is vital to ensuring a successful and sustainable future for the Port, including protecting jobs over the long term,” he said.

Ports of Auckland Chairman Richard Pearson said the company’s priority was to win back lost business.

“This decision will reassure the wider market and customers that we plan to achieve a sustainable lift in the port’s competitiveness as soon as possible.

One can’t continue with a situation where you get paid for 43 hours and only actually work 28.” – Maritime Union succeeds in getting their workers sacked, 7 March 2012

Oh, dear, not looking terribly good for poor Mr Farrar. His comments above do not seem to be very sympathetic to striking workers – workers who are not seeking higher pay as their main claim, but are desperately trying  to stop POAL employers from casualising the work force and contracting out their jobs to stevedoring companies.

And next,

Last night on 3 News they interviewed a couple of staff working at the Port of Tauranga. What a stark difference it was to the Ports of Auckland. They talked of a culture of getting the job done, and even pride about increasing efficiency.  An extract:

Throughout the Auckland dispute, the Port Of Tauranga has been held up as an example of how Auckland could operate – profits are at a record high, and the port seems to have a contented workforce which gets the job done quickly and efficiently.

David Hone has worked at the port for 18 years and, like 90 percent of employees, is a shareholder in the company.

He says “working in a place that you’re part owner [of]” means he’s more invested in the success of the business.

It’s one of the key reasons the port is so successful, according to chief executive Mark Cairns.

“If you have a stake in a company your behaviour changes when you’re an employee,” he says.

I’m a huge fan of employees being shareholders, and POT seem to be a great example of how well this can work. It is such a shame that Mike Lee a few years back deprived POAL employees of this opportunity.

Profits and efficiency do not need to be the enemy of having a happy workforce. It is just when dinosaur unions get in the way, that it does not happen. Look what has happened at POAL since the unionised staff went off the job:

Ports of Auckland chairman Richard Pearson says flexible rosters increase productivity and the 50 non-union workers have proved that.

“We’re operating at a 25 percent production improvement on what we were achieving 3 or 4 weeks ago before the strike,” he says.

“They don’t want to go slow so they can get another shift, they just want to work.”

Imagine the incentive at the moment. If you can delay a ship for another 90 minutes, then you get an extra eight hours pay.

There’s a lot of focus at the moment on the possible expansion of the Port into the harbour more. POAL makes the point that if they can lift labour productivity by a conservative 20% it would give them the equivalent of two new berths, allowing the Port to accommodate five extra ship calls each week.” – What a difference, 8 March 2012

Ok, it’s fairly clear that David Farrar has little or no concern for workers on the Ports of Auckland – workers who are his fellow Kiwis.

So one has to view his faux concern for workers rights on Foreign Charter Vessels with a little more than just a passing suspicion.

Farrar stated that,

“They are basically treated as slaves during their incarceration on the vessels. Actually many slaves in the Roman republic were treated better, than what has happened to these workers in our territorial waters.

It is interesting that Farrar refer to the term “slaves” in the context of the Indonesian fishermen on Korean FCVs.

The Maritime Union – representing it’s members – is struggling to preserve hard-won conditions that have been built up over the years. Without a Union, workers in this country would be abused; cheated out of wages – or paid a subsistance sum; exploited; over-worked; expected to work in dangerous conditions, risking injury or worse; and generally treated like… slaves.

The Indonesian fishermen had no Union to protect their rights. And strangely, New Zealand observers had reportedly “seen nothing untoward,

When asked for comment, Chief Executive Officer Eric Barratt said Sanford’s observers, which the company placed on all their foreign-chartered vessels (FCVs), reported that the ships “don’t have any issues with labor abuse.” – Source

Remarkably, Farrar sees nothing incongruous with his clearly-stated anti-Union beliefs.

Either he is incredibly naive – or else is a skilled practitioner at the art of ‘doublethink’. Perhaps he truly believes that workers do not need the protection of trade unions? And that all employers will treat their workers fairly?

Shall we ask some crewmen from Korean FCVs whether they need a Union or not?

Or perhaps they can rely on their Korean ‘masters’ to treat them well and pay them fairly?

What say you, Mr Farrar?

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Addendum

In October last year,  SEAFic stated,

‘We need more cheap foreign fishermen’

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New Zealand’s fishing industry needs more cheap Asian labour not less, the Seafood Industry Council (SeaFIC) told a ministerial inquiry into the use of foreign charter vessels.

FCVs, flagged in mainly Asian states, operate New Zealand’s deep sea fishery with around 2000 low wage crews from Third World countries.

SeaFIC says New Zealand-flagged fishing boats cannot get local crews and they now want to import low wage labour as well.” – Source

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Previous Blogposts

Is this where New Zealand is heading?

Foreign fishing boats, Hobbits, and the National Guvmint

Additional Reading

Radio NZ: Parliament debates Hobbit law change

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

Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill

Legislative History: Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act 2010 No 120, Public Act

Slavery and Food Security: The Fishing Fleet

‘Model’ fishers face grim charges

References

NZ Govt: Ministerial inquiry into Foreign Charter Vessels

Seafood Industry Council: Charter Vessels

Seafood Industry Council (SeaFIC) Foreign Charter Vessels Submission

Seafood industry fact file

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Foreign fishing boats, Hobbits, and the National Guvmint…

2 March 2012 7 comments

… what could be the link, you wonder?

Those of us with reasonably long-term memories can recall the industrial dispute between Actor’s Equity and Peter Jackson, which became public on 27 September 2010.

The s**t quickly hit the fan, with allegations; counter-allegations; hysterical threats; and quite a bit of egoism.

There was even a panic that “The Hobbit” would be taken out of New Zealand and made in Eastern Europe, or Kazahkstan, or Outer Mongolia. None of it was true, as an email dated 18 October 2010, between Jackson and Economic Minister, Gerry Brownlee clearly stated.

But it certainly ramped up the public hysteria; the moral panic against the “hairy arm of unionism”; and seemingly threatened our very national identity.

In response, the government did something quite extraordinary; they passed legislation to change the status of all employees  “so that workers involved with film production work will be independent contractors rather than employees“.

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It was done unilaterally and it was done within twenty hours. Assent by the Governor General was given the following day,

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Legislative history

28 October 2010 Introduction (Bill 229–1), first reading, second reading, committee of the whole House, third reading
29 October 2010 Royal assent


Reference

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It usually takes a natural disaster of cataclysmic proportions, or a Declaration of War, (or the passing of MP’s superannuation regulations in the deads of night) to effect legislation at such breathtaking speed.

Legislation usually takes months to pass, from First Reading; to Select Committee;  to the last Reading; passing; and enactment.

The last time Parliament passed legislation at near light-speed was in the late 1980s, when they passed a law regarding their superannuation entitlements. That was done late at night; when the media were absent; most of us were asleep; and took a matter of hours.

(When the media  discovered this, and duly reported it, public odium was heaped upon politicians – even more than usual.)

So it was unusual and quite bizarre that National passed what was called the “Hobbit Law” in one day flat.

Something must’ve spooked the horses. Perhaps our politicians were dazzled by the bright lights of Hollywood glamour?

Korean and Indonesian fishing boats, by comparison, are not quite so dazzling and glamourous. In fact, they stink of fish; the crew look wretched; and the fishing boats themselves are dangerous rust-buckets that will sink with little provocation.

Yet, in the last couple of weeks, the fishing industry and our use of FCV (Foreign Charter Vessels), with the cheap, exploited labour of their Korean, Indonesian, and other nationals’ crews, has hit the international headlines. All of a sudden, the New Zealand fishing industry was in the global media spotlight – and for all the wrong reasons.

The world had discovered that we were using cheap, exploited labour to do our dirty work. The New Zealand fishing industry was practically engaging in slave labour,

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On March 25, 2011, Yusril became a slave. That afternoon he went to the East Jakarta offices of Indah Megah Sari (IMS), an agency that hires crews to work on foreign fishing vessels. He was offered a job on the Melilla 203, a South Korea-flagged ship that trawls in the waters off New Zealand. “Hurry up,” said the agent, holding a pen over a thick stack of contracts in a windowless conference room with water-stained walls. Waving at a pile of green Indonesian passports of other prospective fishermen, he added: “You really can’t waste time reading this. There are a lot of others waiting, and the plane leaves tomorrow.”

[abridged]

The experiences of the fishermen on the Melilla 203 were not unique. In a six-month investigation, Bloomberg Businessweek found cases of debt bondage on the Melilla 203 and at least nine other ships that have operated in New Zealand’s waters. As recently as November 2011, fish from the Melilla 203 and other suspect vessels were bought and processed by United Fisheries, New Zealand’s eighth-largest seafood company, which sold the same kinds of fish in that period to distributors operating in the U.S. (The U.S. imports 86 percent of its seafood.) The distributors in turn sold the fish to major U.S. companies. Those companies — which include some of the country’s biggest retailers and restaurants — sold the seafood to American consumers.”

Full Story

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On the 25th of this month,

The Government has received a report from the ministerial inquiry into the use and operation of Foreign Charter Vessels. Primary Industries Minister David Carter and Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said they would consider its recommendations before announcing any decisions. The inquiry was charged with looking at labour, immigration, maritime safety and fisheries laws around the use and operation of fishing boats. Former labour minister Paul Swain chaired the panel, launched after a series of damning revelations about slave labour conditions and abuse. ” (Source)

Five days later, the report from the Ministerial Inquiry was released  to the public,

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Source

Radio NZ: Listen to more from Checkpoint

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There we have it;

  • New Zealand had been using slave labour to fish it’s territorial waters, and exploiting the crews of FCVs for our profit,
  • Fishing companies like Sanford deny that any problem of abuse and exploitation is occurring,
  • and most astonishingly, our government is dragging it’s feet on this horrendous situation and implementing only  six of fifteen recommendations from the Ministerial Inquiry’s report.

In an interview on Radio NZ’s “Checkpoint“, on 1 March, the Minister for Primary Industries, David Carter, had this to say in response to being questioned on this issue,

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RNZ: “So fifteen recommendations – you’re acting on the first six? Why not take them all onboard?”

Carter: “Because some of the others require two things; legislative change and we need to investigate how we can progress that through the House. And equally importantly, some of them would have, or potentialy could have, economic impacts on the industry.

That is why we have released the Report today. We want the industry to comment on the other recommendations so that we can do some more work on them and take something back for a Cabinet process [interuption] in a couple of months.”

RNZ: “In the future do you see that these recommendations  will be taken on?”

Carter: “I think a good number of those recommendations will be taken on.”

RNZ: “How many?”

Carter: “Well at this stage we’ve, ah, ah, we’ve certainly kicked of the first six because they’ve been able to be done without legislation. As I say, the others now need further investigation to find out what their impact will be  before we agree to do them. But one thing the government is absolutely determined to do is raise the standards so there is no chance for abusive labour practices occurring on foreign charter vessels whilst they’re in New Zealand waters.”

RNZ: ” Will you take on the recommendations that have – that may cause problems economically? Make it unviable?”

Carter: “What we want to do is… the first thing I’d like to make is that foreign charter vessels operate and improve the efficiency of the New Zealand fishing industry. We therefore want to know what would be the economic impacts of these further changes.

Radio NZ: Minister talks about crackdown on foreign fishing vessels

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What comes out of David Carter’s comments is that,

  1. The governments wants to consult with fishing companies before implementing any further recommendations. These would be (some of) the same fishing companies that contracted and used Foreign Charter Vessels to catch fish for them, to sell for big profits to overseas markets.
  2. The govermnment “want[s] to know what would be the economic impacts of thse further changes – before implementing any further recommendations. Obviously, “economic impact” is more important than the maltreatment, abuse, and exploitation of other human beings?
  3. According to Carter, the government will have to “investigate” the recommendations further as “ some of them would have, or potentialy could have, economic impacts on the industry“?

Two months?!

And yet this is the same government that passed legislation through the House in one day, to satisfy the demands of Warner Bros corporate executives!

Where were the concerns of government on that issue? Where was the investigation into what “economic impact” that would, or could be, in fast-tracking law through Parliament at a speed rarely seen in this country?

Where was the desire for thegovernment to seek comment from the  film industry, before considering  legislation”?

What we are seeing here is the amorality of a government that values the glitter and glamour of a Hollywood “epic” movie above  the fact that modern-day slavery is taking place in our territorial waters, and New Zealand companies are profiting from the misery and violence   inflicted on other human beings.

The NZ Seafood Industry Council laid it all out last October (but we were too pre-occupied with lost penguins and hillside signs, to take note of this news item,

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‘We need more cheap foreign fishermen’

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New Zealand’s fishing industry needs more cheap Asian labour not less, the Seafood Industry Council (SeaFIC) told a ministerial inquiry into the use of foreign charter vessels.

FCVs, flagged in mainly Asian states, operate New Zealand’s deep sea fishery with around 2000 low wage crews from Third World countries.

SeaFIC says New Zealand-flagged fishing boats cannot get local crews and they now want to import low wage labour as well.

Despite high unemployment it was hard to get New Zealanders to work on fishing boats.

New Zealanders did not like being at sea for weeks at a time, working in uncomfortable conditions and living in an isolated and enforced alcohol and drug free environment.

“It is not seen as an attractive work place for many people.”

SeaFIC says FCVs hiring Asian crews was no different to companies going to low wage countries.

“Many New Zealand businesses have exported jobs previously done in New Zealand to other countries with wage rates considerably less than minimum wage rates in New Zealand.”

It named Fisher & Paykel, Fonterra and Icebreaker.

Air New Zealand uses Chinese crew on its China service who are paid less than New Zealanders doing the same jobs.

Without referring to the Rena grounding it said most ships operating on the New Zealand coast are crewed by people from the same low wage countries used by FCVs.

It said New Zealand was seen in other countries as a source of cheap skilled labour and pointed to Qantas hiring New Zealand crews at rates lower than Australians would get. The New Zealand film industry was based on cheap labour, SeaFIC said. 

There were not enough New Zealanders to fill vacancies created if FCVs were ordered out.

The inquiry opened public submissions in Wellington today. It will hold hearings in Auckland, Nelson and Christchurch.

It was set up following a University of Auckland study into FCVs and media reports citing cases of labour abuse and exploitation.

Last year an aged FCV, Oyang 70, sank off the Otago coast, killing six.

The government in setting up the inquiry said they were concerned at the damage to reputation New Zealand was suffering over FCVs and allegations it  was a form of human trafficking.

SeaFIC say there is no evidence that FCV companies are failing to pay their crews according a code of practice which requires crews to receive the New Zealand minimum wage.

New Zealand’s reputation is not a function of compliance by the companies, but the result of public opinion.

“The intensity of comment in the media, whether based on fact or allegation, may present risk to international reputation.”

FCV crews do not pay tax or Accident Compensation levies.

“A tax paying, single New Zealand resident not entitled to any additional tax or welfare assistance would need to earn $37,650 gross ($32,760 net) to be better paid than a crewman on a FCV.”

Through FCVs, the fishing industry was transferring over $65 million annually to citizens of developing countries.

By comparison, it said, the New Zealand Government gave just $31 million to Oxfam and Volunteer Service Aboard to work in such countries.

SeaFIC admitted that their submission was not supported by all its members and amounted only to a majority view of fishing quota owners who use FCVs.

Source

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Words fail me.

Actually, no. I do have words.

On this issue, the people and government of New Zealand  has let itself down badly. For the pursuit of money, we have turned a blind eye to naked, brutal, exploitation. We have lost sight of  simple, common decency and how to treat foreign workers.

As far as I’m concerned, if the U.S. government, or Europe, decided to boycott our seafood exports – then we richly deserve it.

This is what happens when a society is governed by the dictates of the “free market”.

Where do we go from here, as a society? Do we continue down the road of valuing profit before human dignity? Or do we reassess our priorities and decide that we need to regain some of the basic  values of fairness that we seem to have forgotten in the last 27 years?

It’s our call.

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Previous Blogpost

Roosting Chickens

Is this where New Zealand is heading?

Additional Reading

Radio NZ: Parliament debates Hobbit law change

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

Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill

Legislative History: Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act 2010 No 120, Public Act

Slavery and Food Security: The Fishing Fleet

 

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Fifty cents an hour? I’m under-whelmed by Dear Leader’s Generosity…

8 February 2012 5 comments

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Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson today announced a 50 cents per hour  increase in the minimum wage, from $13 an hour, to $13.50 an hour.

Our Dear Leader says,

Between making sure that people can feed their children and look after their families and themselves and also ensure that they keep their job…

“…We’re on our way to the magical $15 people talk about, but we can’t get there in one step.” – John Key, 8 Feb

Dear Leader is now saying that families  “can feed their children and look after their families” on minimum wage?!

That’s not what Bill English said last year.  When questioned by Q+A’s Guyon Espiner on this issue, English responded,

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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:  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:  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.Source

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In today’s “Dominion Post“,  Kate Wilkinson says that, “Government was advised raising the minimum wage would result in up to 6000 job losses“.

Noticeably,  she does not disclose what advice, or from whom, she is referring to. It can’t be Treasury advice, because as TV3’s Patrick Gower reported on his blog last year,

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“…research from the United Kingdom suggests minimum wages may have no effect on employment, or that minimum wage effects may still exist, but they may be too difficult to detect and/or very small.” – Source

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NZ  Treasury stated that “…the claim a minimum wage rise may cost jobs has not been true in the past“. – Ibid

In other words, Wilkinson and Key are making it up as they go along. And finding it increasingly difficult to keep their ‘stories’ straight, it would seem.

On the other hand, there is little ambiguity in this story from a couple of years ago,

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It beggars belief that New Zealanders – a national once proud of their  egalitarian society – can view this situation with anything but angry disdain.

When did it become socially acceptable that the richest 1% increased their wealth by a massive 20%, as well as gaining the greatest benefit  from the 2009 and 2010 taxcuts, whilst those on the minimum wage increase their income by a measely 50 cents an hour?

50 cents an hour. Or $20 a week.

By contrast, our elected representatives did very well last year from their pay increases.

Do you want to know what MPs, Ministers, and the P.M. are now paid?

Click here

John Key’s words continue to  echo throughout New Zealand,

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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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Here’s a thought, Dear Leader; if the top 1% could increase their wealth by 20% – why not increase the Minimum Wage by precisely the same amount?

That would raise the minimum wage to $15.60 an hour.

Still not as high as our Aussie cuzzies enjoy – but getting there.

So what about it, Dear Leader, are you keen to share the wealth around a bit?

Show us how “unrelenting” you really are.

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Previous Blog post

Bill English: Minimum Wage Not Sufficient to live on!

Treasury’s verdict on raising the Minimum Wage? – Part II

Additional

Minimum wage rising by 50c

Other Blogs

NZ Govt celebrate Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday with 50 cent increase in minimum wage

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