PO Box 2 Blackball

Paul Maunder's blog



The intricacy of inequality

Workplace Relations legislation is important. The details can bypass the ordinary citizen, but changes reverberate.

Here’s an example. A new company has taken over the Grey District Council’s rubbish collection, recycling and landfill operation contract. The previous contractor was an Aussie cowboy outfit looking to get a toehold in New Zealand and in order to do so, tendered too low. Council thought they were getting a bargain, but there were endless problems: equipment breakdowns, staff not paid on time, not meeting outcomes…the parent company went broke and the NZ offshoot was obviously heading the same way. The Council found an Auckland-based company to take over the contract, but something had to be squeezed to make it viable. Labour costs were the only available option. Here’s how workplace legislation brought in my National enabled that to happen.

The previous Labour Government had brought in legislation that forced a new contractor in low paid sectors of the economy to take on existing staff at the same rates of pay and on the same conditions. This stopped the precarious, low paid and vulnerable cleaners, catering staff and the like from being endlessly squeezed by the contracting out process. (Boss: ‘Sorry, Teuila, I can’t pay more than the minimum wage because if I do I won’t win the contract and then everyone will lose their jobs. You understand?’) National changed that legislation. If there were 19 or less staff involved the law no longer applied.

So, the new contractor in Greymouth sacked all the existing staff and asked them to reapply for their positions – and to take a wage cut. If they were re-employed they were covered by the 90 day legislation that National also brought in, which enables the employer to dismiss an employee within the first 90 days – without giving a reason. Because of the previous issues, some of the employers had joined a union and even held a picket. The new contractor is anti union and gave these employees the sack.  He could do so because of the 90 day law. There won’t be any collective bargaining taking place on this work site, and collective bargaining is the proven way to get better wages and conditions.

Mission accomplished: labour costs down, potential troublemakers expelled, workforce bargaining power weakened. No wonder we have a society of growing inequality.

And the Council? Well, this is not a governance matter, this is management. The councillors, who are elected and could have pressure brought to bear, have no role to play. The mayor tried to intervene and was told to shut up. The Council staff belong to an in-house or ‘yellow union’, negotiating with the CEO, who is of South African origin. So much for good old West Coast working class heritage: ‘We don’t take any shit down here.’ Pull the other one, mate.

Members of the NZ Taxpayers Union are laughing all the way to their gated village.


Congratulations, Theo Spierings


We read the statistics regarding child poverty: 1 in 4, 300,000, that sort of thing, but what does it mean – even for those who aren’t going to school hungry or living in cars? What does it mean to be seriously under-resourced and stressed and how does it happen?

A relationship doesn’t work out. Immediately the formulas kick in: one for the DPB, another for the accommodation supplement, another for child care, another for child support – this one ensuring a toxic relationship continues into bitterness and often a desire for revenge. When circumstances change, the formulas have to be renegotiated and there is always a time lag. With the increase in precarious work this becomes a constant, daily battle. This is compounded if there is a major expense or a normal life crisis: a rotten tooth,  the death of a family member or something wrong with the car. There’s pressure to work, but will that work coincide with school hours and school holidays or does after school care need to be found?

These are still young people who need some social life. If families are not there or unsupportive, baby sitters have to be found, and paid. Otherwise, there is no respite from the 24/7 of providing for the needs of children. And children get sick and children get careless. It is reasonable to occasionally wish they had never happened and regret that the best portion of an adult life is lived in relative misery. Of course, love wins out, but occasionally the resentment must be felt, plus the accompanying guilt. Meanwhile, the battle with the bureaucracies continues. With the increasing ease of ‘dobbing in’ the Ministry for Vulnerable Children might start sniffing around – the Ministry is largely a surveillance agency based on hypocrisy: how can a state that creates vulnerable children rescue them? A job opportunity which might provide some satisfaction means you’re not home at 3pm. The child care occasionally breaks down and the kids are left alone. Meanwhile, in the talk back ear, you’re a bludger, a burden on the taxpayer and in need of micro managing by the state.

It’s a situation where having children is damaging to all involved. Of course, that’s what they want. In the old days, the mother had to adopt. Nowadays you suffer differently, but the intent of the suffering is the same: Take that, you slut. And when people are under-resourced and subject to social revenge, there are under-resourced children who don’t cope with the stresses of adolescence. Living in poverty means the random wash of the digital world is attractive and addictive. The cycle begins again.

And meanwhile the CEO for Fonterra, Theo Spierings, gets $8 million annually. It is not questioned. There is no surveillance involved.

In the wider view, this is about the working class being reproduced as cheaply as possible. And in this case it is providing the bulk of the disposable workers for the precarious occupations. Of course it’s not as bad as the Filipino women leaving their children at home to serve the wealthy matrons in Dubai or London or Rome or New York, but it is the same pattern.

Unfortunately, a change of neo-liberal management, even a resolutely positive one, is not going to fix this issue. It requires a revolution.

In another  space, this is interesting:

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