Against a backdrop of industrial action and low business confidence levels, the CTU, BusinessNZ and Ministers met to talk about the future of work

Against a backdrop of industrial action and low business confidence levels, the CTU, BusinessNZ and Ministers met to talk about the future of work
Grant Robertson by Jacky Carpenter.

Union and business bosses have met with Government Ministers to discuss the future of work, against a backdrop of pressing industrial action and record low business confidence.

BusinessNZ Chief Executive Kirk Hope and Council of Trade Unions President Richard Wagstaff met with Government Ministers on Thursday for a “productive discussion” on the future of work.

It was the first meeting between the three parties since the Future of Work Tripartite Forum was formed in May.

“We want to be the gold standard for work in the world,” Wagstaff told media after the meeting.

The forum was set up to “future-proof” the economy and to shape the policy needed for workers and businesses to be equipped for the “rapidly changing nature of work,” according to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

“We want New Zealand to be a great place to work and that means we have to tackle technology head on, so we get its benefits and mitigate its risks,” Wagstaff says.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson says its important businesses, unions and government are together in designing the road map for the future.

And so far, it seems Hope and Wagstaff are playing nice.

“We have to be on the same page in terms of what the future looks like for not only businesses but the people who work in the businesses,” Hope says.

“For businesses to succeed, we need to have highly skilled workers if we want to think about the future we want to have as a country.”

Wagstaff says for workers to succeed, they need businesses to be successful as well.

“We’re two sides of the same coin, hopefully rolling in the right direction.”

The Forum endorsed a Manufacturers’ Network pilot programme that addresses the skills shift needed in that sector to meet the challenges of automation and artificial intelligence.

“We are keen to see how this could transform the manufacturing industry and use it as a blueprint for others,” Robertson says.

Despite today’s showing of unity, both unions and businesses are facing their own issues with the Government.

In recent weeks, both IRD workers and nurses have been on strike – with the latter doing so for the first time in 30 years.

Primary school teachers will strike later this month as well.

Businesses are also having their problems, with firms’ confidence levels at the lowest point since 2008. Government policy, such as a higher minimum wage, have been blamed for the pessimism.

But Robertson says these issues weren’t discussed in Thursday’s meeting, as there are other forums to discuss these issues.

Members of the forum will meet within the next two months.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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I’d love to be a fly on the wall in those discussions.

If I was a business owner I’d look at any possible way to use technology to avoid employing people, especially union members. It’s a competitive advantage given all of the costs that the COL is adding to the mix with its ‘reform’.

Yes, it makes complete sense to do that. But you would still do that even if national was in power right? Given that the alternative isn't a labour voter or union memeber, but a most likely someone paid dirt in Asia.

I imagine the 'discussion' will be something along the lines of "We won, you lost, eat that!". Sad that so few can remember the grim days and economic devastation of the union dominated 1970's. You seriously need to listen to the old folks on this Millennials.

Yes, I told my son some hometruths when in Wellington a while back. I showed him the building built for BNZ at 1 Willis St that the boilermakers held to ransom for years and told him about the ferries that were so unreliable at Christmas that we only ever made one road trip to visit South Island Relatives. The good old days, not.

Yep that building must have so much rust sandwiched in between the metal faces.

While we enjoy our 40 hour weeks, paid holidays, lunch breaks etc.

Balance is important, eh.

One would hate to have a slanted view, purely good or purely bad.

Raking over old coals here Rick. I negotiated my own salaried conditions for close to 40 years and prospered. I have certainly never had to withdraw my labour over a conditions dispute.

I encourage my children to avoid any industry covered with a union agreement. To me it’s a sign that they have nothing unique to offer to employers. It homognises performance and pay to the lowest common denominator.

Doesn't pay to be completely oblivious to history and how one has benefited from it, however. How nice that you were in a position to be able to exercise such negotiating power. Would've not been so great were you not able to stand on the shoulders of others before you.

And others stand on my shoulders. It is the way of the world. Try getting any recognition of such out of your children!

The world is moving on and I don’t see an organised worker movement moving with it e.g. who are the most intransigent professions today? I’d say education and medical are the worst. There is disruption occurring and they are doing their best to hold back the flood gates of change. Like the old defences in World war 1 and 2, the citizens will find a way around it. Personally I think it’s ridiculous that linklaters wife hits a remuneration ceiling and likely has no chance to change her profession. That is truly sad.

Try getting any recognition of such out of your children!

True, haha. Although, I paid tribute to my father for an element of his raising me recently...and he responded, "Oh really, I don't remember doing that." :-)

On the other side we have places such as the USA where fire-at-will and zero hour contracts are completely acceptable, such has been the erosion of rights and power of employees. And developing countries where rolling 60-day hire, fire and re-hire arrangements are the norm to avoid the need to pay full-time benefits.

And NZ's courier industry where a case is before the courts because it looks awfully like people are employees in everything but name - and benefits. And exploitation of workers in NZ's hospitality sector because we've eviscerated our departments' ability to hold industry to account even for current laws.

Point being, nothing is static. Full credit to National for banning zero hour contracts before they became a norm here in NZ as they are overseas. And while we may not be having labour riots as we did in the past to get a 40-hour week or fair treatment, I highly doubt employees will be overall treated better off if we got rid of all unionism. Shareholders obviously would be.

We need some balance. Unions should probably stick around and power should ebb and flow as it's needed.

Ex Expat,

It's hard to decides which is worse;your arrogance or your bias.My wife is a primary healthcare nurse and has been for over 30 yeas. She is the type of person you and your family would deal with if sick. She reached the top of the pay scale a long time ago and no amount of professional development would allow her to move to a higher pay scale. She cannot negotiate her own terms and conditions-in common with most workers- including the good people who taught you and your family.
I truly despise people like you-you have done ok and good luck to you,but now you just want to put the boot into those further down the ladder. You are clearly ignorant of the huge role played by unions in improving the lot of working men and women. Go and read some history and acquire some humility along the way.

Look at what the union has achieved for your wife and then read what I wrote. You prove my point.

Unions are fine when they stick to their knitting. But over time they get corrupted and go all political such as when they have supported the Oz unions by calling for a strike here. ie The more general, going out in sympathy.

It proves nothing of the sort and i will come back to that. First,I find it distressing that so many people appear to be unable or unwilling to understand or even acknowledge other points of view.
At 73,I well remember the union excesses of the 70s in the UK and the Winter of Discontent of 1979,with rubbish piling up in the streets of London. I was as pleased as anyone to see the back of the ineffectual Labour government led by Jim Callaghan.I ave never belonged to a union and spent over 30 years self-employed,but I have no doubt that the decline of unionism since the 80s has altered the balance of power between employers and employees too far in favour of employers.Mostly,it is an assymetrical relationship-in other words-unequal. I could pursue this issue at length.
However,let's go back to professions like nurses or teachers.their status,as defined by income,has been steadily eroded for a good many years and the chickens are finally coming home to roost. Their unions have not been effective in ensuring that their pay scales remain competitive,but I submit that with no union,their position would have been considerably worse.
Iaccept that this is unlikely to change your mind,as like too many,you suffer from confimation bias. I can understand why,as it saves you the headache of thinking.

I was there also. These were the days where labour had excessive power over capital and it almost broke the country I voted Maggie Thatcher and John Major because the alternative was Michael Foot with Arthur Scargill as his spine, no way in hell, however these days the opposite is true and its breaking the country.

For nearly 40 years I have pretty much strongly disliked any and almost every official union rep I have met yet I am a member of a union for both tactical and strategic reasons. ie my own protection and protection of others and to try and keep a balance between labour and capital alive if only on life support.

Personally I think where you dont want ppl like nurses, firemen and police to strike their wages must be index linked in some way to ensure no pay erosion.

I find it interesting that both of you cite UK experience because I wonder how much of the more militant labor movement comes from the UK experience e.g. I note that some of the most obsequious COL supporters on Trademe forums are ex UK as well?

I dislike Unions as I feel they dumb down their members prospects and are as much a political movement as remuneration negotiators. Their inability to move with the times has led to their reduced numbers. A good example of this is the inability to allow for different conditions based on location e.g. should a Timaru nurse or teacher be paid the same as their Auckland equivalent? Why haven’t they allowed more range in the awards? More performance based pay with teachers? More innovative teaching methods or schools? More innovative approaches? They are the last bastion of the dinosaur age, unsuited to the modern economy. Just like the Maginot line they will be circumvented. I stand by my advice to my children, don’t choose employment covered by union awards. You will do much better when you are free to negotiate with your employer.

Or choose IT, where there has never been unions and never will be....unless, of course, it becomes one of the Gubmint's Target Sectors for a shake of the Union Dues Magic Munny Tree.....

That appears to be the most likely industry for my children and I’m encouraging them to be expats for a while, even if it’s just in Australia. There’s already a wider family beach head in Australia. Given the cost of flights I have no issue if they choose to settle there permanently.

What about disruption and diversity? Those words were not used once. No-one worth their salt would not use those words in such a forum. Or are they finished now?

"A fair days work for a fair days pay" should be the norm. After that both employers and employees need to be a bit flexible with changing times and conditions in the workplace. We've found that attitude has always worked well in our family. Also 'sick days' are for when you're sick, not extra holidays to be used up! Makes me cringe when I hear people here say they have so many sick days to 'use up'!

It's very easy to knock the Tripartite Forum and whine about the short-term costs of enacting its road map. It's not so easy dealing with the kind of reactionary populism that's hijacked the agenda in America & Europe and threatening to bludgeon democracy - the long-term cost of inaction. I'd hate to see coming to pass the kind of dystopian nightmare where the 1930s repeats and today's technologically unemployed become tomorrow's Bolsheviks or Brownshirts.

Scandinavia & Germany have embraced free trade, while also having strong (and surprisingly less adversarial than in the Anglosphere) union movements and fairly sharing the gains from economic globalisation. By contrast, Trump & Farage/May/Boris think they can fortress their way back to so-called national greatness.

As Louis Brandeis once said, "there can be democracy, or there can be concentrated wealth, but not both." I'll leave the last word to yours truly, who's lived and breathed the issues.