Labour employment policy a win-win for all

Yesterday, Labour announced that sick leave for workers would be doubled from 5 to 10 days.

It was one of several changes announced today by Workplace and Safety Relations Minister Andrew Little. It comes in a year when COVID19 has put unprecedented pressure on New Zealanders in their places of employment, where essential workers have been supermarket workers, bus drivers, cleaners as much as police, fire and ambulance personnel. Those other important changes are:

  • Recognising security guards as vulnerable workers to ensure their terms and conditions are protected.
  • Ensuring that Seafarer Welfare Centres provide better services.
  • Raising the age for workers to be allowed to perform hazardous work, and ensure all workers have the right to elect health and safety representatives.
  • Strengthening the Employment Relations Act to make it harder for collective agreements to be undermined.

Ultimately though, it is a win-win for all New Zealanders, because whilst employers in the short term feel the pinch, in the longer term their employees will be more productive because they will not feel the financial pressure to come to work when they need to be recovering. In turn the vast majority of workers will be able to return to work at 100% capacity.

Five days has never been quite enough. I do not get sick very often, but when I do get sick, I have been known to lose an entire working week getting over it, then running at about 3/4 speed for another week after that. That means I could lose all of my sick days in one go, and if I were to get sick again later in the year, I would have no paid sick leave to cover it. If one has a sick child and they have something infectious, it might well be that one needs a couple of days off to get better, but if a person is the solo money earner in the house, that might make finances tight.

There will always be a couple of nit wits who think that the extra days sick leave will give them more opportunities to skive off and go to the beach, or engage in activities that be normally only carried out someone well enough to be working. They deserve to be disciplined. The worst of them deserve to lose their jobs if their absenteeism is becoming a problem. But that will not be the vast majority of workers.

Trade unions, advocates and the Green Party all welcomed the move as a major step forward and said they would work with Labour to make sure that the measures are implemented.


N.Z. in lock down: DAY 9

Yesterday was DAY 9 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

After taking yesterday off, I tried to focus today on my University study. I am some distance behind in the lectures, which fortunately can be done at ones own pace. However, I want to try to finish the lecture material for the week I am currently working on before we have what was meant to be a 3 day block course starting on Monday, which has now turned into something quite different. I think that my weekend is going to be dominated by study.

The course material that was being looked at this week was about the necessity of council plans, planners and the planning profession. It looked at the first and second generation council plans and critiqued the processes undertaken to get there. I got to see a break down of “the good, the bad and the ugly” of the first generation plans, but immediately started wondering if anything had actually been learnt from them.

Every afternoon about 1530-1600 hours, I put my sneakers on and go for a walk. On days when the weather has looked dodgy or the forecast has been for rain, such as on Sunday (DAY 4) I have restricted it to just a couple of kilometres or about 20-25 minutes relatively brisk walking. On better days like yesterday, the walks have been up to 8-9 kilometres and, lasted about 80 minutes. I go by myself and I walking at speed. I am not stopping for any one, and for the most part do not have to stop for traffic at intersections – with the very vast majority of Christchurch at home, sometimes even on the major routes such as Fendalton Road and nearer to home, Wairakei Road, I can go for a few minutes without seeing a single car.

It is interesting to see how various businesses are handling COVID19. Two service stations within walking distance of my place are open. One has blue tape on the floor every two metres to denote the recommended physical distancing one needs to maintain. The other does not. Both have a plastic shield at the counter with just enough room underneath it to slide coinage and move the EFTPOS machine. Dairies are closed – there are two down the road from me and both are shuttered. Their daylight operating hours have been cut.

A Countdown supermarket about 1.5 kilometres from my place with an underground car park is perhaps a better example of how the rules are being enforced. Although most people are keeping their distance, where the ramp down to the underground car park meets the foyer and main entrance, a staff member is counting people as they enter and leave and sometimes a security guard is present to make sure people stick to the 2 metre rule. Behind the check outs there is blue tape on the floor to indicate where people waiting in line need to stand. I thought that all staff would have masks and gloves, but apparently not so.


Prevalent “She’ll be right” attitude harming New Zealand

You can see it manifesting in all manner of economic activities. Whether it is fisheries or construction, mining or farming, our attitudes to the necessary regulatory framework of laws, policies and practices, needs much work. And as we try to address the problems caused, it is be coming clear that many segments of New Zealand society are going through the motions s of pretending to want change but are not serious about voting accordingly.

I am trying to understand the mindset of these people. As much so that I can honestly debate them, but also because I wonder how well formed their ideas are in the first place. Maybe they are disgruntled and don’t see anything beyond the Labour-National duopoly interspersed with New Zealand First. Maybe the neoliberal argument of not having a regulatory framework that protects workers has bitten them and the whole concept of is “red tape”. Maybe they simply believe the message they like the most, irrespective of how true or proper it is.

Whatever the case, one thing is very clear. Where this attitude is prevalent, behind it some dark cases of massive injustice exist. One only has to look at the Oyang fishing trawlers that have docked at Lyttelton over the years and recall the tragic, criminal and negligent events that went on on Oyang 70, 75 and 77 trawlers. What about the  boat that sank off the Kaikoura coast that could not take more than 5 tons of fish and somehow managed to have 20+? Only when the fishing cameras that the Minister for Regional Development has tried to stop being installed on vessels, will we know who is doing (or not doing)what.

What about the people at the liquor stores whose owners have been the subject of action because they systematically underpaid their staff by the tune of tens of thousands of dollars? Whilst I am pleased that these cases have had considerable media time, I am sure that there are plenty of liquor stores around the country where the owner somehow thinks they are not subject to New Zealand law and that the non-New Zealanders working there have no rights.  Only when there is a law change that bars the guilty parties from being owners and/or operators again will the message to potential offenders be strong enough to have effect.

More than nine years after the Pike River Mine blew up, how many of the recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry have been implemented? And how many are still to be implemented? The R.C.I. found that negligence was widespread. Methane detectors that were meant to warn of dangerous concentrations in the mine were not working. The Chief Executive, Peter Whittall who went from being the public face with massive national respect for how he appeared to handle the situation, has left New Zealand and gone to Australia. The mothers/husbands of the dead men might be going to get their loved ones back, but for me the real measure of justice will be making sure that they are the last people in New Zealand to die in a mine explosion.

But for me the worst is the Canterbury Television Building disaster. On a truly black day in New Zealand history, the primary source of fatalities on 22 February 2011 was a collapsed building that should not have been occupied on the day that the earthquake hit. At the very latest, it should have been evacuated and red stickered immediately following the Boxing Day aftershock. The Royal Commission of Inquiry found numerous failings into the building design, the approval of the design, its construction and the sequence of events that lead to a building not fit for purpose, being open for business on that day.  Similarly the P.G.C. building which also fatally collapsed that day killing 18 people was not fit for occupancy. We cannot claim to be a first world nation when we do not provide an adequately safe built working environment.

How much longer are we going to let this toxic “She’ll be right” attitude pervade New Zealand society? And who will be the next person or group to suffer for our slackness?

Water safety in New Zealand not so water tight

When I was at primary school we had what was known as swim week. It would occur in February in the first or second week of school, just after we had returned from summer holidays. The aim of swim week was an all out drive where the whole school learnt to swim, about water safety and some basic first aid such as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Sometime after I left it seems to have stopped. Or maybe I just did not notice, as once I left Cobham Intermediate swimming lessons were not so much of a priority for my family.

Whatever the case, it is certainly something that should be happening in New Zealand schools near the start of each year. We are a nation surrounded by water. We are a nation with lovely beaches, great rivers and lakes to swim in (fresh water quality is a separate issue). And swim in them we do. And ignore the official warnings, and natural warning signs we do too.

Anyone who has watched Piha Rescue when it was on television (to this day I have no idea why it was cancelled, for it did a huge public service by helping to keep the focus on water safety at beaches), will have seen how quickly someone can get into danger. Anyone who has read a newspaper in the last few weeks will have noticed cases of drownings and near drownings. Some of these were simply avoidable, if people had been following lifeguard instructions and stayed within the flags; not gone into flat areas of water between waves where rips have formed.

Tragically in the last couple of years a new dimension to water safety in New Zealand has emerged. In 2017 there were two incidents in fresh water environments where the danger was well advertised by signage, lighting and sirens. They happened below the Aratiatia Dam on the Waikato River. Anyone familiar with this dam will know that every few hours during daylight the spillway control gates open to let water down a rugged rocky channel to form spectacular rapids. Prior to the gates opening a siren sounds three times, warning lights on the dam flash. There are also permanent signs warning about the danger. The water volume per second goes from 0m³ to 90m³ in just a few minutes. Tragically it has not stopped several lives being lost over the years and several more nearly being lost. With numerous other hydroelectric power stations around New Zealand, some with submerged intakes and other structures that take or discharge water, perhaps this needs to be a part of water safety campaigns in New Zealand too.

It is not just dams though. A tragic case occurred in Canterbury several years ago. Afghan refugees going for a swim in the Waimakariri River had observed others going into the river and decided to go in themselves. Unfortunately, not being from a country where water safety would have been a priority, none knew how to swim and at least one drowned.

98 people died from drowning in 2012, 90 in 2014 and 113 in 2015. This year in 2018, there has already been one death.