Labour laws in for a shake up – guess who is leading the review?

Former Prime Minister Jim Bolger has been appointed the chair of a panel tasked with exploring our labour laws and determining what sort of overhaul they need. The panel, which was announced by Minister for Workplace Relations Iain Lees-Galloway, will report back by Christmas on the design on what Labour calls Fair Pay Agreements.

The irony is significant given that Mr Bolger was in office in 1991 when National introduced the Employment Contracts Act to New Zealand. This act had the effect of causing a significant and rapid drop in the number of people who were members of a union. Employees could choose to work under a collective contract or an individual contract. Bargaining was entirely voluntary because unions were sidelined as negotiations were directly between employer and employee.

The irony grows when one considers one of the Ministers working for Mr Bolger in that National-led Government was Ruth Richardson, who introduced the hugely unpopular “Ruthenasia” of social welfare in New Zealand. This had the effect of significantly weakening the Government social welfare. support for all who either through their own hands or circumstances beyond their control

The division over whether the E.C.A. succeeded in making New Zealand more productive is at times bitter. Australian economist Wolfgang Kasper for example said that the level of productivity had improved significantly. as had subsequent economic flexibility.

However there is no concrete evidence to support this. An article by Brian Easton in the New Zealand Listener found that on the contrary, there was only modest growth in productivity. Others pointed out the systematic dismantling of the social welfare net, the absence of significant growth in wages, compared with countries like Australia.

Prior to Mr Bolger’s National-led Government introducing the E.C.A., the 1973 Industrial Relations Act and the much earlier (1894)Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act had been pushed through the New Zealand Parliament. The 1973 legislation was an attempt to consolidate an array of outdated and inefficient Acts of Parliament, and was spurred on by widespread industrial unrest in 1968.

Not surprisingly, there is resistance to the latest round of labour law reforms, coming from business circles. Whilst Business New Zealand have indicated they will be constructive in their involvement with the panel, a spokesperson said that a chilling message was being sent to exporters that competition will be sacrificed in order to advance the interests of unions.

Let us see where the irony of this takes New Zealand. Whilst Mr Bolger will be seen by some as a slap in the face, compared with some of the social conservatives that exist today, his pragmatism will be welcome. I assume it will not be lost on the centre-left voters who have rallied in their thousands across country over the last several years trying to return New Zealand to a state of being where a welfare net was in place This would be a welfare net that can look after our very old, sick, our youngest and anyone else in circumstances beyond their control desperately seek assistance.

Immigration scams justify Immigration New Zealand revamp

New Zealand has a reputation as being a welcoming place, a believer of giving everyone a fair go. But what happens when those coming to New Zealand – a country with one of the highest transparency ratings in the world – still think that the corrupt ways of their country of origin are acceptable here?

Does Immigration New Zealand need a complete overhaul to its systems and the governing laws? Or are the governing laws fine and it is just a matter of compliance and enforcing the existing legal framework?

The number and range of scams involving the immigration of people in New Zealand from other countries justifies a complete overhaul of how migrant visas are handled in New Zealand. Migrants coming here, establishing immigration consultancies that then proceed to rip off unsuspecting migrants who come here genuinely thinking that they are taking the first steps to a better life in New Zealand, are more often than not of the same nationalities as the migrants that are getting ripped off.

In other words the visa holders being ripped off are more likely than not having it done to them by their own countrymen – I will not name nationalities, except to say they are numerous. When one looks at why, it is not difficult to draw the conclusion that this is how they would have operated in their own country and concluded that they could get away with it in New Zealand – not realizing, or caring that the authorities here are not corrupt.

This neatly brings me to the thrust of my argument. Let us establish a compulsory register of all immigration consultants in New Zealand and give all of the existing ones six months to register or be struck off as illegal. Amend the legislation governing immigration to require that all registering consultants sit and obtain N.Z.I. approved certificates stating their suitability to operate as a licensed agent in New Zealand. Have them resit the certificate every few years. A database on the Immigration New Zealand website should contain the list of all qualified agents, all agents that have been struck off.

But let me be clear. The Immigration New Zealand agency should have an in house monitoring/compliance/enforcement team that oversees the compliance of agents in the same way that migrant visas are monitored – field staff visit employers with migrant workers to make sure they are legitimate; serve compliance notices when issues are spotted and shut down non-compliant agents. The embassies we maintain in countries overseas will be advised of changes to the law; whether applicants for visas meet the requirements – of good character; no criminal record and so forth.

As for the poor education provided, that is up to the Ministry of Education to sort out non-compliant academies and so forth. Immigration New Zealand can supply them data on who is suspect and who is not, but shutting down a place of learning, unless it is run by people who had no right to be in New Zealand in the first place, should be a Ministry of Education task.

The enforcement needs to be uniform from start to end – if an agent is found to be a fraud, deport them; if a doctor is found to be bogus and not qualified, deport him/her; if the operator of an education academy or other academic institution is not legally supposed to be in New Zealand, deport them.. And tell them that they are not welcome back, with the words “Do Not Return” stamped in a prominent place on their passport.

New Zealand fisheries shame

The tuna that you eat might look good and taste good. But is the story of how it got to your plate nearly as good?

Not likely, as a Stuff investigation (see story of Tunago 61)into employment practices on ships fishing in New Zealand waters has found out. It would appear that even a decade after even more tragic events took place on the high seas off the east coast of the South Island that much is still to be learnt by the companies fishing in New Zealand waters.

In the early part of this decade trawlers operating out of Lyttelton were found to have almost slave like working conditions on board. The range of criminal offences ranged from sexual and physical assault to dishonesty about what was caught and how much, as well as dumping excess and non-compliance with an arrest order that was supposed to have one trawler tied up at port.

The trawlers involved were F.C.V.’s which were operated by Sajo Oyang Corporation from South Korea. They were under the command of Korean officers and often had an Indonesian crew. The captain of Oyang 75 was charged with a range of offences that took place on the ship that was under his command. During the trial period his ship put to sea in breach of the arrest order that was held against it. Fortunately a Royal New Zealand Navy ship was on exercises off the coast, spotted the ship and rearrested it.

Less fortunate was Oyang 70 which sank in stormy weather in the Southern Ocean taking three crew to the bottom with three more found dead in their life-jackets. An inquiry into what happened on Oyang 70 would find appalling work conditions contrary to what the crew who survived had been led to believe they would get.

At the time of the 2013 findings, a Bill of Parliament was before the House of Representatives to consider the necessity of flagging all fishing vessels with the New Zealand flag. Under maritime law, this would have made the crews of these ships immediately answerable to New Zealand authorities. The Bill of Parliament became an Act of Parliament in 2014.

I had hoped that the Foreign Chartered Vessel scandal of slave ships working the high seas off the coast of New Zealand was in a bygone era. However two articles of late have me second guessing myself

And then there is this. An investigation by Stuff into the tragic case of Tunago 61 and the deaths of two Indonesians on Fu Tzu Chiun, a long liner trawler that sailed from Taiwan, set against a grim backdrop of near certain slavery going on ships that have sailed from non-New Zealand ports, but which operate in New Zealand waters.

So, just ask yourself again:

Is that lovely tuna you are tucking into – or any other fish caugh commercially in New Zealand waters – the result of legitimate fishing activities, or the work of modern day slaves?

The case for whistle blower protection legislation

The recent case of Joanne Harrison, a lady who has been convicted of taking $725,000 from the Ministry of Transport and has gone to jail for significant fraudulent activity, had another revelation the other day. It was revealed that a few days after she was told she was under investigation and her access to the building where she worked would be revoked, Ms Harrison tried to enter the building to interfere with documents. Upon failing to get in she asked a contractor to access the building for her.

The employees who blew the whistle on Ms Harrison and her deceit were allegedly not treated well by their employers according to New Zealand First leader Winston Peters. Mr Peters. Labour M.P. Sue Moroney also questioned the treatment of two people who were thought to have raised red flags, and then found themselves jobless just a couple of months later in a review Ms Harrison had a hand in.

It is true that whistle blower protection legislation already exists in New Zealand. However it is undermined by a grossly inadequate set of protections for anyone who feels the need to report serious wrong doing. It is totally unenforced to the point that very few people – if anyone at all – have actually felt safe enough to come forward under the legislation and report serious wrong doing in their place of employment. And it is also under resourced in terms of help that can be offered those considering reporting serious wrong doing.

Insider activity can devastate companies. Of that there should be no doubt. But what happens when the people who see the most damaging activity are too intimidated to report it? What happens when a culture of fear and/or corruption that makes it too dangerous to report such activity, or the activity is reported by people to their superiors, who then sweep it under the rug?

Despite corporates having practices in place with the intention of making the process safe and easy for such complaints to be reported, there is still the risk that someone in a position of authority, perhaps with undeclared interests to hide, will clamp down on a whistle blower. They will attempt to shut them down through bribes, intimidation and harassment – it can be called bullying, but if the attempts at shutting a complainant succeed it is also an attempt to pervert the natural course of justice.

A whistle blower might continue working at the place where the activity is happening. Why should they leave or be made to fear coming to work each day, fear doing their job, because someone in a position of authority is corrupted?

New Zealand does not necessarily need a General Auditing Office like the United States, but it does need an agency where qualified people with impeccable ethics, acting in a neutral manner are able to receive a complaint, disseminate it and determine whether the company, person or people in question have a case to answer. It needs to be networked with other agencies, such as the Serious Fraud Office, the Police, and others who can investigate and if necessary, bring about a criminal prosecution.

Because whistle blowers are not going to be potentially at risk when they blow the whistle, there needs to be protections in place. In the same way the police protect witnesses to violent crimes or gang violence from intimidation and harassment, there needs to be appropriate protection for whistle blowers from the moment they report the offences through to them either being dismissed or the perpetrators found guilty and sentenced. Even then they might not be safe if in the course of prosecuting, associates of the accused or others scared that their own misconduct might be exposed, decide to track down the whistle blower.

Celebrating Labour Day in New Zealand

On 8 February 1840, two days after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed by Commodore James Hobson on behalf of Queen Victoria, a ship named Duke of Roxburgh arrived at Britannia Beach (now Petone)in Wellington. On board was a man named Samuel Parnell, an immigrant from London.Also on board the ship was a man named George Hunter, whom asked Mr Parnell to build a store for him shortly after they reached New Zealand.

Mr Parnell agreed to Mr Hunter’s request, but laid down the conditions upon which he would be prepared to work. No more than eight hours a day, observing the by then already well known slogan of Robert Owen:

Eight hours work; eight hours recreation; eight hours rest

Mr Hunter and Mr Parnell debated the point, with Mr Hunter pointing out that tradesmen work 12-14 hours per day in London. Mr Parnell countered with the point that they were in Wellington, not London. Given the shortage of skilled tradespeople at the time, Mr Hunter had no choice but to agree to his terms. Before the year was out, Mr Parnell and other workers held a meeting at which an eight hour working day was agreed. Some employers resisted, but Mr Parnell had the numbers.

So as you enjoy this long weekend, the last for many New Zealanders this year before Christmas, the weekend before end of year university exams start for many, take a moment to give thanks to Sam Parnell for something that hundreds of millions of less fortunate workers in other countries can only dream of. He gave you and me the eight hour working day in New Zealand.