Employment is not a charity provided by bosses

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classwar

In 2005 as the finance ministers of the G7 gathered in London, Nelson Mandela remarked “massive poverty and obscene inequality are such terrible scourges of our times – times in which the world boasts breathtaking advances in science, technology, industry and wealth accumulation – they have to rank alongside slavery and apartheid as social evils.”

In recent historical periods citizens have walked past slaves and victims of apartheid without flinching. There was an acceptance that such victims were either not fully human beings or at least, less deserving beings than those in privileged positions of power or those who were free due to an accident of birth.

Although, slavery and forced labour are still far too common in today’s world the moral justification which makes them acceptable has gone from our societies.

Mandela again: “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”

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The recent decades of globalization, deregulation and privatization have massively increased inequality and poverty in countries as rich in resources as Aotearoa New Zealand. The need to increase profits by driving down costs has been regarded as ‘inalienable law’ by big business promoters of globalization and their narrow cheerleader economists who lack any kind of moral universe in which to frame their prescriptions for inequality.

In our obsession with raising GDP and attracting investment, our nation has eroded the human rights of its citizens. Yes we have enshrined the rights to be free from discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, age and so on but none of these rights threaten the economic order.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights refer to the State’s duty to protect against human rights abuses. This means all human rights,  rights that cannot be diluted or compromised and includes the right to food and the right to join a union and the right to collective bargaining. Businesses also have a duty to promote human rights, protect against human rights abuses and to remedy any violations within the company’s sphere of influence, including within its supply chain.

New Zealand as part of the UN and the OECD has signed up to these commitments. Is it not time to hold Government and Business to account for their duties and obligations?

As the President of the NZCTU keeps reminding us, the mainstream media, NZ businesses and their Government are locked into a model in which employment is viewed as a charity. This permits and frames an environment where social protections and opportunities for advancement have been systematically stripped away. If workers have rights, the moral justification for the deregulation of the labour market can no longer be framed in a charitable model. “We should pay our servants more” is not an approach which is grounded in the observance of human rights.

It is time poverty and inequality were placed at the top of the political agenda as  social evils which must be eradicated just as slavery and apartheid once were. These injustices should not be reduced to vacuous excuses about what is good for the economy. The economy is there to serve people, all people, and to reduce poverty. People should not be required to sacrifice their human rights for the sake of the economy.

Some political and business leaders are now recognizing that this economic model that increases inequality is bad for business and is threatening society. The world needs a pay rise. Yes most of the worlds’ workers do but this approach is a band aid and does nothing to address the human rights deficits. How many of society’s elite are advocating a return to one of the main tools for reducing inequality – collective bargaining? Inequality will not be reduced by hope and dreams. It will be reduced by regulation and practical tools. Taxation is one tool, collective bargaining is another.

A NZ Government which is serious about reducing poverty and inequality will not just promote collective bargaining in an Employment Act as the last Labour Government did but rather will establish the rules and framework for comprehensive collective bargaining that leaves no sector untouched.

In doing so, we will not only make great advances in fighting poverty and inequality but will also enhance human dignity and observe our human rights obligations.

 

32 COMMENTS

  1. Nothing is stopping people organizing collectively to bargain now. What you would like is collective bargaining to be given more power by the State than other methods of bargaining in the labour market. That is essentially as insidious as government providing subsidies to Rio Tinto or tax breaks for Movie making. I presume you oppose these so why should collective bargaining get special treatment then?

    • I think you are practising deliberate denial with your statement. Successive governments have made it extremely difficult for unions or collective bargaining. Since the eighties every employment law has been skewed towards the employer. Neo Libs and angry white men like you won’t be happy until the gaps so wide it can never be crossed. NZ has always had a happy society because all parts of society are cared for and included.

      • Nations with less flexible labour markets have a whole set of other problems. Unemployment in nations where Unions are much stronger than NZ tend to be much higher. You just need to look at places like France, Spain, and Italy to see that. Regardless I’s still not sure what ‘rights’ were stripped away from Unions anyway. They seemed to have lost the ability to go out on sympathy strike and have industry wide agreements plus the State basically forcing people to join even if they didn’t want to. Do you think we should go back to that?

        • No, going from one form of failed capitalism back to another form of failed capitalism is obviously not going to work. Time to move on from failed capitalism altogether and start acting as a community rather than as competing individuals.

          • I wonder what you suggest that we try next, a form of failed collectivism, a form of failed socialism or maybe a form of failed communism.

            • I think we get back to a true mixed economy, one that has elements of capitalism and socialism in it.
              Aged care – under a true mixed economy would be the responsibility of the collective so there would be no profit, such as there is at the moment. Without a profit motive, the workers could be a paid a reasonable wage and there would maybe still be some saving from not having to fork out to share holders. Charter schools will go down the exact same track, as schooling like health care is a thing for the collective to do with no profit motive.
              Next big corporations, why do we need a giant American corporation to provide us with hamburgers for crying out loud?
              I am concerned at how the small business man is being swallowed up by big business and this is the dark side of capitalism. I suggest we work to keep the dark sides of both systems at bay and stop being at loggerheads with each other over stupid points and work together for a world where everyone, including the cleaner, can make a living wage.

              • Do you advocate banning McDonald’s in NZ?

                I would so love that to be official policy of a serious left leaning party.

                • I have a friend who used to run a coffee cart right outside Starbucks in Cathedral Square in Christchurch

                  he did a roaring trade.

              • “Charter schools will go down the exact same track, as schooling like health care is a thing for the collective to do with no profit motive. ”

                Why? What exactly is wrong with services such as education and healthcare being delivered by firms with a profit motive? It works extraordinarily well already in NZ, so what’s the problem?

                • It was more socialised 30 years ago and we did better. The problems that we had then was that capitalism was failing but the capitalists and economists blamed the socialist aspects of society for that failure. In other words, they shifted the blame from where it should have been to where they wanted it to be.

              • Raegun – with respect to your point on small business, I think you have a valid point there.

                Big corporations have the resources to deal with complex regulatory frameworks, and in fact it is often regulation that kills off small business

                We may call this “corporatism” for want of a better word. In this model, big government and big corporations feed off each other and the small business owners and the middle/lower earners come out worse off

                So this isn’t a left/right issue. A more economically liberal society would free up the small businesses to flourish and the large corporates that feed off big government (and vice versa) wouldn’t hold the balance of power.

                • What a load of bollocks. We already have the most liberal business environment and that’s not doing anything for the small businesses.

                  The problem is that the large corporations take up all the resources to make themselves richer which allows them to take more resources. This is a function of profit.

            • It is collectivism that supports our society. Without it, society would fail which is actually what we’re seeing as we try to increase capitalism.

  2. Many employers can call the shots when jobs are becoming as rare as hens’ teeth; more jobs are being out-sourced to China and technological advances are replacing many other workers in NZ.

    • the only jobs that are “rare as hens teeth” are the menial low or no skill anyone-can-do-it-especially-a-Chinaman type job.

      Get out into the provinces of NZ. There are more jobs than people to do them out here.

      • I expect most of the population is employed in the type of mental labour you mention, so shouldn’t we be looking after them in a compassionate society? I would suggest workers’ co-operatives, where the profits and losses are shared with all involved, is a fairer form of capitalism.
        I don’t quite know what you mean by “the provinces of NZ”, if you mean industrial parks near big cities they may be jobs, I don’t know, however, if you mean country towns like those in the Waikato, I can tell you from personal experience that you’re talking through a hole in your head.

        • What do you mean ‘the Waikato?’ I said the provinces, not the outskirts of Auckland!

          Out in the provincial towns there are employers crying out for decent staff. By decent I mean someone who turns up on time…or in a lot of cases just turns up to work. Someone who has common sense, a reasonable command of the English language, someone who can take and follow instructions, who is willing to work a bit of overtime in the busy times and take pride in their work and themselves.

          It is my opinion, based on my 20 years experience as an employer, that career choices are moving too fast. What I mean is that (according to a study done about 10 years ago) gen X people tended to specialise and on average had 8 job changes and 1-2 career changes in their working lives. Gen Y on the other hand have on average over 30 job changes and 7 career changes in their working lives. That means that to an employer they lack in-depth skills for any job and give the impression that they lack ‘stickability’, making it hard to justify spending money and time to train a person up to a higher skill level (and pay grade) while having a niggling thought that they will probably leave just when they become a major asset. That is why, in my industry, there is a huge pay difference between the beginners and the skilled. Employers have a lot of capital tied up in these people and need to pay them well to retain them. By the way, I am not talking about your average shiny arse middle manager, I’m talking about site managers, skilled machinery operators, drivers, welders and repairers and others with real tangible hands-on skills. That type of skill is tradable and worth gold to an employer. As an aside, I can tell you from experience that I have met people with 10 years experience at their job and others with 1 year experience 10 times over, if you know what I mean!

          You may be tempted to shoot the messenger on this one, but I can also talk from personal experience and assure you that there is work out there for those who want it.

          I presume your reference to ‘mental’ jobs was a typo, but in my opinion a compassionate society doesn’t pay benefits that allow people to make the decision to live on them long term. A compassionate society offers all of us an equal opportunity to achieve the best that we can and WANT to be. Sometimes, or should I say most of the time, we need at least one HUGE change of mindset, put your balls on the block type of major seachange to get to where we really want or deserve to be.

          All I seem to see on this blog is people blaming others for their problems. It is never too late to get out and make a new start.

          • Mike says…”What do you mean ‘the Waikato?’ I said the provinces, not the outskirts of Auckland!”
            Taupo, Waikato is approximately 280 kilomertres from Auckland, and that’s not even the furthest southern extent on the region. Even driving East to Whitanga on the Thames ,Coromandel is around 200 kilometres… “outskirits of Auckland”, really?
            You may be correct in saying there are jobs for certain skills in the area, but I know for a fact that there are very few jobs for “menial” workers (sorry about the previous typo, and for calling people servile).
            As I think I have said to you before, I believe unemployment is a lasting problem because of out-sourcing and technology. Hell, it may not be long before a robot takes over those skills that you talk about training people for.
            Perhaps young people realize that the world is changing and it’s very unlikely they will stay in the same job all their working lives. Remember bank tellers, filing clerks, petrol pump attendants, telephone operators, and car paint sprayers for example. In your line of work they even have machines to weld these days.
            I served an apprenticeship and eventually rose to the top of my profession, but my job was eventually taken by suitably qualified people who could be paid less than I was. I’m not complaining about that, it’s just part of the brave, new world we are living it. Young people probably have a different mind set because they understand this new world better than we do and they have a right to complain about how we are screwing it up.

          • Gen Y on the other hand have on average over 30 job changes and 7 career changes in their working lives. That means that to an employer they lack in-depth skills for any job and give the impression that they lack ‘stickability’, making it hard to justify spending money and time to train a person up to a higher skill level (and pay grade) while having a niggling thought that they will probably leave just when they become a major asset.

            Employers have been screaming for more labour flexibility and now that they’ve got it they’re whinging about it.

            All I seem to see on this blog is people blaming others for their problems.

            Maybe that’s because other people, specifically employers and government, are the cause of the problems.

  3. We need more than collective bargaining. We need all businesses to become cooperatives so that the workers have an active say in their employment. Leaving businesses in the capitalist ownership model will leave workers open to abuse and having their rights removed.

    • Better still, what is stopping you going into business yourself? I suggest you sell something that you are sure the capitalists are overcharging for. Maybe you could sell electricity, processed foods, petrol, accommodation in rental houses, school uniforms, satellite TV, or computers and computer software.

      As an employer, remember to keep pushing for collective bargaining on behalf of your staff, push for 26 weeks paid parental leave, regular paid time off for union meetings, union reps visiting the worksite unannounced and uninvited, and push for students and the unskilled to be paid as much as experienced and long term employees. Oh yes……and pay all your staff AT LEAST $24 an hour. Sound silly? It doesn’t have to be. Do it now and show those ratbag employers how it’s done.

      Just remember to pay lots and lots of tax, pay your shareholders and equity partners a dividend that is a better rate of return than they would get anywhere else and is reflective of the risk of their money.

      Oh yes….and be a good financial provider to your own family, maintain a realistic work/life balance and be an active member of the the collective society. And don’t forget to donate as much as society expects you as a businessman to donate to every worthy cause you are told to donate to.

      • Mike,
        You don’t seem to understand that we are talking about a paradigm shift away from the form of capitalist you’re espousing.
        I suspect that if workers were sharing in the proceeds of the business venture they would be motived to insure that venture was a success.
        Co-op Taxis, as the name suggest, is an example of this system. I know one Auckland taxi driver who is quite happy working under this system although, quite naturally, he whines about management practises at times. The difference is that he has an democratic input in how the business is run.
        I’m not suggesting for a moment that worker involvement will solve all capitalism’s problems, but I am confident that it’s time we at least tried a new model as this one seems to be broken.

        • Co-op Taxis sounds like it is working well. Good on them. Good on you also for getting the idea that sharing in the proceeds of doing business is one of the best motivators for ensuring that a business does well. I have never said that boss/worker is the only way to go or that co-ops are not, but I will always say that profit is good. Profit allows businesses to stay viable, technologically up to date, pay lots of tax (!) and secure a positive future for all who work there. Profit encourages venture capital and also, as word gets out that there is money to be made, encourages competition which is good for the consumer. Business competition gives the consumer choices, cut throat price competition and the extra venture capital invested allows the company to to potentially produce more for less and offer even better choices and prices to the consumer. Win/Win!

          • The citizens and mayor of Marinaleda may choose to disagree with your “..always say that profit is good”.

            They took the view that unemployment was undesirable, and set up a collective programme that ensures 0% unemployment when the surrounding region has 36% unemployment. A different approach to the value of business.

            It is a values and priorities consideration – that every business owner makes – much more complicated than a simple – profit is always good motto.

            • Molly,
              Thanks so much for sharing that inspiring story. I sincerely believe we all need to develop a stronger sense of community and start working with nature if we’re to have a worthwhile future.

          • but I will always say that profit is good.

            That would be because of your ideology and ignorance. Profit is the dead-weight loss in society that causes society to not be able to afford things that it needs such as good health care, well maintained infrastructure, superannuation, R&D, etc, etc.

            Profit encourages venture capital and also, as word gets out that there is money to be made, encourages competition which is good for the consumer.

            Really, you need to read The Entrepreneurial State. VC pretty much does nothing for an economy.

            Business competition gives the consumer choices

            Why do we need a choice and how much does having that choice cost?

            cut throat price competition and the extra venture capital invested allows the company to to potentially produce more for less and offer even better choices and prices to the consumer. Win/Win!

            Cut-throat competition reduces profit down to zero (that’s it’s job even in free-market capitalism) and the reality is that venture capital provides zero for massive windfall profits.

      • Just remember to pay lots and lots of tax, pay your shareholders and equity partners a dividend that is a better rate of return than they would get anywhere else and is reflective of the risk of their money.

        You obviously don’t know the meaning of the word cooperative. Quite specifically, they don’t have either shareholders or equity partners (otherwise known as bludgers).

    • Mostly I’m with you, Draco. However, what is the work we want done in this transition phase?

      There’s traditional artisan work needing apprenticeships.

      There’s trade work which needs training and innovation.

      The work of agriculture and horticulture – which can be either highly mechanised, or peasant traditional (think boutique oils, for example).

      There’s the fading glories of offices, middle managers, bureaucrats.

      And the rising precariat – whether they be cleaners or drivers; writers or web designers. People who benefit from having more than one ‘master’ and workplace, simply to have a wider range and depth of work experience to offer to prospective hirers.

      A co-operative, now, is not simply about the workers taking over the factory and making it pay. Maybe in the Third World.

      The underlying premise that people are very capable of finding effective ways to work, trade and prosper seems to be the one that’s on the rise. We’re no longer illiterates from the countryside needing to be hounded into working ridiculous hours for the prosperity of others. Or being blinded by the self-serving drivel from ‘our betters.’

      Please to remember there’s a growing reservoir of people who don’t show on the unemployment figures – and the current workplaces and unions are ignoring them: people over fifty, people more skilled manually than academically, disabled people, and those needing to work part time. The Invisibles. The ones not served by unions.

      Co-ops have potential – and communities of interest might have a bit more.

      It seems very useful to keep this topic, and associated threads, right at the top of the agenda. We’re in a transition phase and enterprise as usual simply will not serve.

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