Unite Union represents workers in the hotel industry including now the quarantine facilities.
We have been demanding proper personal protective equipment and mandatory use of that equipment inside those facilities from day one. We have been asking for regular testing from day one.
So it was disappointing to see some government representatives imply there was some resistance on our member’s part to that happening. That is nonsense.
Of course, criticism from the like of National and Act who have hypocritically echoed the criticism while they previously had simply echoe the “reopen now” line of big business should be treated with the contempt it deserves.
Nevertheless, what has become clear is that large parts of the government bureaucracy is simply incapable of doing a job to protect working people. They appear institutionally paralyzed when it comes to seeing workers as anything other than an expense to manage rather than a power to enhance to get things done effectively.
This includes ministries like health and education that we think are there to serve the people. Not true. They are set up to manage a hostile relationship with their own workforces to minimise costs. They do this even when it is obvious that shortages keep emerging that have to be plugged by importing labour from still cheaper countries to fill the gaps.
The Ministry of Health seemed institutionally incapable of demanding the use of masks in public spaces until the entire world was doing it. Why? They also seemed institutionally incapable of ensuring that widespread testing was being done unless people were actually lining up for tests themselves. Why? They couldn’t even comply with a direct request from the government to ensure testing was being done of all frontline staff. Why?
Almost the entire executive leadership team has been forced to resign at Canterbury District Health Board to try and stop a bullying cost-cutting board and crown monitor from forcing through. The Labour government appointed the same crown monitor as the National government used to impose cost-cutting budgets when they were in power.
We have the same problems with the agencies supposedly responsible for protecting workers. Unite had one proposal for the incoming Labour government to make our job a little bit easier. That where we had a collective agreement, new workers would be given a genuine choice to join the union and the collective agreement or go on an individual agreement. We lobbied the CTU and got support, we lobbied the Labour Minister responsible, we lobbied the Green MP’s on the parliamentary committee. At the end of the day, the proposal was derailed by the bureaucrats behind the scenes. Why?
When there was a huge fire at SkyCity this year we asked Worksafe – to government agency for work safety – to test if the air was safe to work. Not their job they said.
When workers were being sent back to work in fast food joints after moving to levels three and two we asked Worksafe to check if social distancing could be maintained. They couldn’t do that at Level 3 because they only worked from home. We told them they could request video footage from stores. They didn’t bother.
Immigration NZ seems to operate as a protection racket for employers to bring in cheap labour to exploit and lie to their potential clients about the possibility of transitioning to permanent residence.
WINZ has been turned into an institution with a culture to deny beneficiaries access not enable them.
ACC is an institution with a culture designed to deny access to cover not enable it.
Child, Youth and Family became an institution that kidnapped children not protect them
The government encouraged schools, tertiary institutions and low-quality Private Training Establishments to bring in fee-paying students to subsidise the existing education system rather than as a way to expand access for New Zealand residents. Existing inequalities were magnified by the school’s ability to “market” themselves with “whiter” more middle-class schools and suburbs preferred.
When journalists like Michael Morrah at TV3 and Phil Pennington at Radio NZ expose the lies of the bureaucrats (and misinformation from the government) they should be applauded not criticised.
If Labour and the Greens are able to form a government after the election we need to demand that there be radical changes at all these institutions of the state, incluing a cleaning out of a bureaucracy serving wealth, power and privilege. That starts by radically enhancing workers’ power within those agencies and in the communities they serve more broadly.