Full Employment in New Zealand at the expense of Kiwi workers

On the surface New Zealand is “booming” but it is doing so at the expense of the working class. It is not surprising that under such conditions trade union membership has significantly increased and strikes over collective agreements and pay have broken out.

In April the Labour lead government announced that unemployment was at a 27 year low and that beneficiary numbers have nose-dived by 35% in the last year resulting in a drop of 82% since Labour came to power nearly 8 years ago. Long-term unemployment has dropped from 70,000 to 12,000. This 27-year low is mirrored by a significant drop in Maori unemployment to fewer than 10,000. A marked reversal for Maoris when compared to the National Government in the 1990s.

New Zealand has the lowest unemployment rate in the OECD of 3.7% which is in effect by capitalist terms full employment, whereas in Australia the figure is 4.5%

Additionally to this the Finance Minister, Michael Cullen, is crowing about the fact that in the last 8 months the government has had a $6.5 billion surplus and the two superannuation funds have returned an extra $700 million above forecast. In fact the government's net assets increased by $11.7billion in this period, thereby increasing every New Zealander's collective worth by $4500 (£1670/ €2450)!

Whilst this is good news it doesn't take a genius to work out that not everything is rosy in the Kiwi garden as it first appears. The question that springs to mind is: has the Labour government managed to overcome the problems of capitalism?

The answer to this is quite clearly no. The Labour government over the last 8 years has, like most western governments, benefited from the world boom. The programme of the government has been pro-capitalist at the general expense of New Zealand workers who have at best been granted minor reforms.

What the figures don't tell you, and Helen Clarke (the Prime Minister) conveniently forgets to mention, is that the term "employed" had been redefined some time ago to mean anyone who works for 1 hour or more a week. Many workers end up working irregular hours and have to go to the WINZ (Unemployment Office) to get a top up to their wages.

In effect the Labour government has allowed an itinerant workforce of part time and casual labour to be created and is a direct result of pandering to the needs of the bosses at the expense of secure full time jobs. This is graphically expressed by Air New Zealand, which was bailed out by taxpayers at a cost of $1billion and the government has an 81% stake in it. Not only has the government allowed engineering and other skilled jobs to go to China with its non interference stance with the company, but after announcing record profits Air New Zealand wants to outsource its ground staff further casualising the Air New Zealand workforce. Since when does the majority shareholder remain silent on an important issue like this? Obviously it is more interested in its dividend than in the fate of New Zealand workers which it has control over.

Similarly, the state television service, Television New Zealand (TVNZ), announced that 60 staff are to go in its news department, and further contracting out of staff is on the cards. This is strange behaviour if the quality of the news is anything to go by. In fact one would have assumed more investment was required. TVNZ was deregulated some time ago and relies on advertisements for the bulk of its funding, and therefore is compromised as a public sector broadcaster. In future it is difficult to see how it will deliver on the government charter. Not that this will bother the government.

Despite this readers may still think that full employment is creating a bonanza for workers. However the following comments from Alasdair Thompson from the Employers' and Manufacturers' Association will put paid to any such notion. Alasdair Thompson laments the fact that skilled workers were moving overseas for better wages. The individual contract legislation and culture championed by the right to openly attack collective bargaining and trade unions has come full circle as skilled workers move to more regulated economies such as Australia.

Additionally, Phil O'Reilly at Business New Zealand claimed low employment was a problem for employers who were reluctant to sack skilled staff because they might not get them back again when they needed them! The phrase "leopards don't change their spots" comes to mind.

Obviously with the individual contract legislation in place, workers in an economy and employment that are "booming" have barely kept up with inflation. Prices for essentials have gone up considerably, whilst employers are still driving down terms and conditions to maximise profits. It is not surprising that under such conditions trade union membership has significantly increased and strikes over collective agreements and pay have broken out, graphically illustrated by last year's supermarket lockout at Progressive Enterprises. It is no wonder that New Zealand has a long hours culture.

The way forward is for the Labour government to stop pandering to the bosses and to adopt bold socialist policies which would improve the conditions of the working class and attack the main problem which is capitalism. The crumbs offered from the bosses' table are getting very meager indeed even within this so-called boom which is on the back of our sweated labour.

The Labour Government must break with big business and right wing economic policy and adopt a programme which will lead to the abolition of capitalism in New Zealand.

  • End casualisation: Immediately repeal the individual contract legislation.
  • Instigate a far-reaching programme of meaningful public works to improve infrastructure, housing, health and education for all.
  • Introduce an immediate 35-hour week without loss of pay.
  • Retirement at 55 with a livable pension for all.
  • Minimum wage of at least two thirds the average wage.
  • Break with the anarchy of the capitalist free market. Labour to nationalise the big monopolies, banks and financial institutions that dominate our lives. Compensation to be paid on the basis of proven need.
  • All nationalised enterprises to be run under workers' control and management and integrated through a democratic socialist plan of production.