$16 minimum wage ‘just a start’

July 7, 2014

Labour is planning to lift the minimum wage from $14.25 to $16 an hour in its first year in government – and that’s just the start.

Unions have been lobbying Labour on the issue, but the pressure is still on; they want much more.

Labour leader David Cunliffe is comfortably nestled between Labour’s union affiliates.

“Colleagues, comrades – we are part of a broad labour movement,” says Mr Cunliffe.

The unions are strong within that movement. They are pushing hard for a jump in the minimum wage.

Labour has already indicated two increases in its first year – one before Christmas from $14.25 to $15 an hour, and today came the details of the second.

“Even that’s starting to look a bit stingy, so we’re looking at a further increase within the first year,” says Labour’s labour spokesperson Andrew Little. “I expect it will be up around $16 an hour.”

So $16 an hour by April next year – for the unions leaning on Labour, it’s a pay-off, but just a start.

A pay-off for unions but extra costs for employers, price increases for customers and less job security for workers.

“It needs to be more, above $18, but it certainly would be a big boost,” says president of the Auckland Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU) Jill Ovens.

“I think the second increase needs to be more than $16; it needs to start moving to two-thirds of the average wage over the term of the Government,” says CTU president Helen Kelly. . .

New Zealand does have a problem with low wages.

But if pay increases are to be sustainable without boosting inflation and threatening jobs and the businesses which supply them, they have to be linked to productivity increases and the ability to pay them.

Add other Labour policies which will reduce flexibility and increase regulation and businesses and the jobs which rely on them will be even less secure.

Unions which regard a $16 minimum wage as just a start could find it is also the end to some jobs and some businesses.


Cosy deal continuing to end of year

January 15, 2014

The Taxpayers’ Union blew the whistle on the $19m wasted on contracts for workplace safety training:

Material released by the Taxpayers’ Union show a cosy deal between Business New Zealand, the Council of Trade Unions (“CTU”) and ACC has cost ACC-levy payers $19 million since 2003.

The documents, available and summarised below show ACC knew that millions paid to Business NZ and the CTU to provide health and safety training did little, if anything, to reduce workplace accidents.

Recent ACC analysis concludes that, even with optimistic assumptions, for every dollar spent on the training 84 cents is wasted. 

A 2013 briefing to the Minister for ACC, Judith Collins, states that the CTU has found it “challenging” to meet its performance obligations even though it has been contracted for service since 2003. 

The documents show that Business NZ and the CTU worked together with ACC to create the venture and doubts about the value of the scheme have existed since at least 2008.

It appears that Business NZ and the CTU have created a nice little earner for themselves. But we think it’s a disgraceful example of big corporate and union welfare chewing through taxpayer cash. We think members of Business NZ and the CTU should be asking hard questions of their respective management teams.

Even the report in 2008 shows that that whole scheme was achieving little more than ‘engagement’. While ACC, Business NZ and the CTU must have known the scheme was worthless, they all allowed further millions to be spent.

This is the worst example of government waste the Taxpayers’ Union has seen to date. It involves two quasi-political organisations from the left and the right complacent in receiving taxpayer funds, likely knowing that the benefit was a small fraction of the amount being spent.

The Taxpayers’ Union is calling on Ms Collins to put an end to this hand out to Business NZ and the CTU.

ACC Minister Judith Collins says this has all the markings of a taxpayer rort:

. . . Ms Collins told Radio New Zealand’s Summer Report programme on Wednesday the scheme is clearly not working and she does not intend to waste more money on it by taking further action, since the contracts are unlikely to be renewed.

The minister said the programme looked like a very cosy deal set up in 2003, leaving the people it aimed to help with nothing.

“I think it’s pretty clear what happened and the review that’s been undertaken by ACC has already shown that it has been a waste of money,” she said.

“I actually think it has all the hallmarks of a rort.” . . .

There’s nothing new in cosy deals which give unions public funds for programmes which may or may not be value for money.

Business New Zealand members should be asking very serious questions of the organisation to find out why it too has been wasting money in this way.

Yesterday it looked like ACC was canning the scheme but today the Taxpayers’ Union says the schemes have been extended to the end of this year.

Despite the ACC telling media yesterday that it decided ‘late last year’ to can the programme, we learned this morning that the contracts were renewed in December. The end date is now 31 December 2014.

It appears that ACC only changed its tune since the Taxpayers’ Union publicly exposed the rort.

Remember, it’s not the Taxpayers’ Union who labelled the training scheme a waste of money, it’s ACC’s own experts. Telling the public that they will scrap the scheme but waiting for the new contracts to expire is not good enough. They conveniently failed to mention that the contracts have just been renewed…

The Taxpayers’ Union is also backing the Minister for ACC’s reported comments that Business NZ and the CTU should pay the wasted money back to ACC. With such clear evidence that the money did little if anything to improve workplace safety, we think Business NZ and the CTU are morally obliged to stop wasting this money and compensate ACC levy payers.

ACC fees are being reduced for most workers and businesses.

If it wasn’t wasting money on useless training it might be able to make further cuts.

Workplace safety is a serious business, it shouldn’t be a vehicle for a rort by unions and the group which is supposed to work in businesses’ best interests.


Collins questions ACC funding of CTU

October 2, 2013

ACC Minister Judith Collins is questioning ACC funding the CTU to provide injury prevention training:

“The Council of Trade Unions’ (CTU) published annual accounts show the CTU has been paid up to $1.3 million (highest year was 2009) each year by ACC. In 2012 the total paid to CTU under three contracts was $669,000,” Ms Collins says.

“In the biggest contract shown in CTU accounts, ACC pays the CTU to provide training to health and safety representatives that large employers (over 30 staff) are legally obliged to have.

“Currently this is free-of-charge to these large businesses – it remains to be seen why ACC and levy payers should have to pay for this.

“It is not clear to me whether the provision of free training services for big business to carry out their legal obligation, is a good or fair use of levy payers’ money.”

The CTU and two other entities have similarly arranged contracts getting paid by ACC per person trained. The current fee is around $360 per person trained but the CTU has a higher maximum earning potential.

“ACC is investing up to $40 million a year on injury prevention. I’m advised all injury prevention investment is being reviewed to ensure it is evidence based and achieves results,” Ms Collins says.

It is perfectly reasonable to ask why businesses are funded for something they are legally obliged to have and a review to ensure that money spent on injury prevention is evidence based and achieves results is sensible.

ACC is back on a sound financial footing and its annual report annual report, released yesterday, shows a net surplus of $4.9 billion, which was $3.6 billion ahead of budget.

Chair Paula Rebstock said:

. . . the surplus would allow ACC to reduce the deficit between its assets and the lifetime cost of every claim on the books by $4.9 billion to $2.3 billion.

“The scheme is well on track to meet its objective of being financially sustainable – the point at which assets match forward costs – by 2019.

“More importantly, ACC’s strong performance has given the Government the confidence to signal that it believes decreases in ACC levies in 2014-15, and again in 2015-16, are sustainable. That is great news for all New Zealanders, particularly as it follows a $630 million reduction in levies for households and businesses in 2012-13.” . . .

“To ensure we maintain sustainability we will continue to evolve the Corporation. We will greatly increase our spending on injury prevention, and we will embark on a programme designed to improve outcomes for our clients through better case management and rehabilitation services. . .

Increasing spending on injury prevention is commendable but it provides an even stronger argument for a review which ensures that money currently being spent is well spent.


Wide approval for workplace safety reform

August 8, 2013

Labour Minister Simon Bridges has announced the most significant reform of New Zealand’s workplace health and safety system in 20 years.

“The Working Safer package represents a major step change in New Zealand’s approach to meet our target of reducing the workplace injury and death toll by 25 percent by 2020,” says Mr Bridges.

“The reforms recalibrate our approach so we are working smarter, targeting risk and working together to improve performance in workplace health and safety.

“This is the legacy we owe to the Pike River families, the families of the 75 people who are killed each year in New Zealand workplaces, and the estimated 600 to 900 who die annually from the long-term effects of occupational disease.”

Mr Bridges says Working Safer addresses the recommendations of the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety which provided Government with a solid foundation to work from.

“We will improve the legislation and back it up with clear guidelines and enforcement, and investment in a strong new regulator WorkSafe New Zealand.

“But achieving the target is not something we can do alone. It also requires leadership and action from business and workers, working with government, sharing the responsibility and driving the solutions on the ground.

“Good health and safety makes good business sense.  It is an investment in improved productivity, staff engagement and in an organisation’s reputation in the community,” Mr Bridges says.

The rabid anti-business sector doesn’t get this.

Safe businesses are better businesses for people, productivity and profits.

Included in the reform package are:

  • an overhaul of the law, supported by clear, consistent guidelines and information for business on their requirements
  • more funding for WorkSafe New Zealand to strengthen enforcement and education and implement the changes
  • a focus on high risk areas
  • stronger focus on occupational harm and hazardous substances
  • better coordination between government agencies
  • improved worker participation
  • stronger penalties, enforcement tools and court powers.

More details on the package here.

BusinessNZ welcomes the changes:

BusinessNZ Chief Executive Phil O’Reilly said it was a significant step in the right direction.

“Moving to a principles-based regime in which health and safety responses are tailored to the business rather than the current one-size-fits-all approach will be a real help to many businesses, as will a simpler approach to levy setting and other costs.

“We are also pleased to see a heavy emphasis on clarifying responsibilities and on providing information and guidance to businesses and their employees.” 

Mr O’Reilly urged that care be taken in finalising the law to avoid unintended consequences. . .

ACC is supportive:

ACC’s Chief Executive, Scott Pickering, says ACC is looking forward to working closely with the new Crown agent ‘WorkSafe New Zealand’. The agency forms the cornerstone of the Government’s response to the recommendations of the Independent Taskforce on Health and Safety.

“WorkSafe New Zealand will bring a new, sharper focus to the importance of workplace safety, and ACC will provide all the support we can to ensure more Kiwis go home safe and sound at the end of their working day.”

Mr Pickering says he’s very mindful of the important role ACC plays in injury prevention, but he also looks forward to seeing what can be achieved with a more collaborative approach.

“There’s a growing awareness that New Zealand’s high work-related injury rates require united action, with Government agencies, businesses and workers all working together towards the same goal. . .

Forest Owners Association supports the reforms:

“The government has a vital role to play in improving safety in the workplace,” says president Bill McCallum. “It has the power to pull a range of levers that will influence attitudes, understandings and behaviours of all involved.”

He says lax attitudes to safety are prevalent in New Zealand and even with the best will in the world, it is a battle to get safety to be seen as the number one priority by every individual in the workplace.

“What we desperately need is a change in culture at all levels of our society, so that unsafe work practices are rejected as being socially unacceptable. We have seen huge changes in social attitudes to drink driving and tobacco smoking, thanks largely to government support for campaigns addressing those issues.

“We now need the same focus brought to bear on cultural attitudes that portray risk-taking as being acceptable.

“The real game changer will be when we get acceptance from everyone involved – from the boardroom through to the worker in the forest – that we have a collective and personal responsibility for health and safety. This is a responsibility to and by the worker, as well as to their workmates, their families and the businesses they work for.”

The package has also been welcomed by the CTU:

Helen Kelly, CTU President said “the announcements today acknowledge that our health and safety system is in need of an overhaul, and we welcome the direction taken by the Government with these proposed changes.”

“Moves to strengthen worker participation at the workplace are particularly positive and will help keep Kiwi workers safer at work. The inclusion of a general duty to involve and consult with workers on health and safety matters, and strengthen the role of H&S representatives will give workers a voice in how health and safety is handled in their workplace”.

Her only complaint is no worker representative on the Worksafe New Zealand Board.

Even the  the Public Service Association: welcomes the reforms, though it too complains that there’s no representative for workers on the Worksafe board.

Work safety is the responsibility of employers and employees, wide support for the reforms from representatives of both is a good start.


Unions oppose freer trade

October 31, 2012

Unions on both sides of the Tasman are opposing freer trade between Australia and New Zealand.

. . . Approaching the 30th anniversary of Closer Economic Relations (CER), the CTU has teamed up with its counterpart the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) to fight some of the key recommendations made by productivity commissions of both countries.

The unions have written to the productivity commissions rejecting a proposal to reduce all remaining tariffs to five per cent, unless there is a public inquiry into the impact on jobs. . .

This is a blinkered approach which would hold back both countries.

Tariffs are a subsidy for businesses paid for by consumers.

They are anti-competitive, protect inefficient businesses and workers, restrict choice for customers and inflate prices.

Australia is our biggest trading partner. We have far more to gain from access to a market about five times bigger than ours than we have to lose.

But the gains aren’t all one-way.

The freer trade is across the Tasman the better it is for both countries.

 


Not a good week for unions

October 22, 2010

It should have been a good week for unions.

The CTU and EPMU got plenty of publicity at the Labour Party conference last weekend and they tried to capitalise on that with marches against the government on Wednesday.

But that was all overshadowed by stories which put them on the wrong side of public opinion.

Few question the difficulties teachers face in their job. But demands for a 4% pay rise are out of step with the generally accepted need for frugality, and refusing to teach some classes when pupils are close to exams isn’t winning them any sympathy.

Nor is there much sympathy for claims by health workers when doctors say  strikes are putting patients at risk.

But the most damage to unions is that by the actors whose actions have put the filming of The Hobbit at risk.

Weta Workshop’s boss Sir Richard Taylor last night said the New Zealand film industry was “at some level of peril”.

He said a $670 million US-backed production of Tolkien classic The Hobbit could be produced elsewhere if a union boycott of the project was not lifted.

“We are deeply concerned it may [go overseas].

“Our industry is being put in a very dire place by very few people who have nothing to do with the film industry in New Zealand.”

A poll on the New Zealand Herald website last night showed 88% of respondents blamed the union for the Hobbit debacle and only 16% blamed Peter Jackson.

Phil Goff and his MPs have been notable for their silence on this issue.

That’s probably because it’s difficult for outsiders to discern much difference between unions and Labour so a bad week for one is a bad week for the other.


Striking on a political whim

October 19, 2010

The NBR reports:

Thousands of workers from Kaitaia to Bluff will stop work for two hours on Wednesday to attend union meetings protesting against the Government’s employment laws, says the Council of Trade Unions (CTU).

Imagine the chaos if employers, contractors and sole operators stopped work every time they disagreed with government policy.

It wouldn’t happen of course because these people can’t afford to stop work on a political whim. Funny how the people they pay, can.

Is it just coincidence the strike is being called by the CTU which played a big role at the Labour conference last weekend?

Is it another coincidence that they they didn’t strike at the many actions of the previous Labour-led government which compromised productivity and provided disincentives to employment?


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