Wednesday, 21 July 2010

national conversation about work

I/S has a good post up about the human rights commission report "what next? national conversation about work". this is an extremely important piece of research, and dr judy mcgregor discussed some of the issues on nine to noon this monday (9.08am).

i was privileged to take part in this project, by being at one of the meetings that was held in hamilton. the waikato report can be found here, and yes, because i am a shameless attention-seeker, i have to point out that this person is me:

Participants spoke about the fear felt by ethnic workers when complaining about work conditions. "Ethnic workers don‟t complain because they‟re afraid that employers will find a way to get rid of them", one female Muslim worker said.

although i did say more than that: this is especially an issue for those migrant workers here on work permits. their ability to complain about conditions is almost nil, because loss of a job means being sent out of the country and i have personally encountered women who just wouldn't dare complain out of this fear. this is also an issue for migrants with permanent residence, because again, the costs of job loss is higher. access to welfare benefits is restricted, and there is already a considerable level of financial pressure caused by the shift to a different country and setting up home here. they just aren't prepared to take the risk of losing a job by complaining.

while we know that a complaint about work conditions, environment or equal pay shouldn't lead to the loss of a job, the reality is that there are ways to make the working environment even more difficult for the person who makes trouble. and those who are on work permits won't be in the country long enough to take a case against unfair dismissal.

i'd also like to highlight one of the issues that I/S raised: the fact that women want more transparency around pay:

One of the participants said, “Women are strongly discouraged from discussing our salaries with one another. I have no way of knowing if a male in my position with the same experience makes more than me. I would prefer transparency and the sharing of knowledge.”

Women in different areas of work expressed frustration at the lack of progress on pay and employment equity in both the public and private sectors.

this is one issue i feel really strongly about. i think both women and ethnic minorities suffer due to the secrecy around pay rates. i'd actually like to go back to the old awards system where pay rates were open, and people knew what others in the workplace were paid. secrecy allows discrimination to flourish and there is absolutely no need for it. if someone is performing better than others doing a similar job and they get paid more because of it, then everyone should know about it. if they're getting paid more for no apparent reason, then everyone should know about that too. fairness in pay is dependent on a free flow of information.

the report details "ten priorities for action on EEO". but who in this government is going to pick them up? the minister for labour, hon kate wilkinson? not holding my breath. the minister for women's affairs and ethnic affairs, hon pansy wong? haven't seen any concrete action from her thus far on any major issue, and she made no effort to stop the scrapping of the pay equity unit.

there really isn't anyone at all.


Carol said...

We need this conversation about workers rights, now more than ever. We need to be looking very carefully at what the government's proposed changes to employment relations laws mean to all people, but more specifically for women and other relatively marginalised workers such as immigrant workers.

I think we also should be looking towards alliances with other workers. We need to be considering plans of action for a widespread movement to focus on these proposed changes and their repercussions. I'm not entirely sure where to start with this? Maybe it would be useful to have some live meetings?

Maybe look at each of the proposals and consider how they will specifically affect women?

The 90 Day trial for all workers when they start a job: how will the workers experience of this be affected by child care responsibilities? Maternity? And for those immigrant workers already afraid to complain about unfairness? Will they be even more fearful under this rule?

The 90 Day Rule, vagueness about whether employers need to give any explanation for terminating employment before the 90 days: Will this make it easier for employers to get away with sexual and/or racial harassment?

Proposed Annual leave buy-out: Will this create tensions for parents torn between needing the extra money and needing the holidays to look after children? And shouldn't the focus for the government be on improving wages rather than undermining workers?

Proposed "simplification" of procedures for employees making grievances: will this mean employers are more lax about the way they procede when responding to complaints about harassment?

Proposed restrictions on union representatives entering work places: will this mean the more fearful workers are less likely to join unions to get the union support they will increasingly need in this climate?

Proposed change to make it possible for all employers to tell workers they must work on public holidays, and take their public holiday on another day: obvious problems here for many people, especially single parents, and all those with child care responsibilities.

So, those are a few ideas that come to my mind so far.

Carol said...

Oh, I forgot to include the proposed change to needing a doctor's note for 1 day's sick leave (although employers already can ask for that) - presumably it means employers will be more vigilant in policing 1 day of sick leave - and possible repercussions for those with child care responsibilities.

Carol said...

I know lack of comments on a topic doesn't necessarily mean that people aren't interested, aren't reading about it, and/or aren't taken real action on the issue.

However, I am VERY disappointed that almost a week after the Nat Party announced the biggest attack on workers' rights in a decade, have resulted in hardly any comments at all on this site.

This is one of the biggest issues facing all working people in NZ, and with very real and specific consequences for women in various sections of society.

It gives the impression of feminists being a privileged bunch, who have no concern for those in more secure areas of employment (with the exception of this topic started by Stargazer). Actually, overall, if NACT has their way, these proposed law changes will impact on most workers. But they will have biggests impacts on the young and the less well-off.

Or is it that, at the moment, women generally have just been too busy with their various, and multiple, commitments to comment?

Julie said...

Carol, you may have noticed that I haven't written anything of substance here in over a week, including in comments. This is because I have other stuff on and currently no laptop at home as it is off getting fixed. It's not because I don't want to write, it's because I can't. A little bit of slack would be nice, particularly given the strong history we have had here in the past of showing we do care about workers' issues, and particularly how they affect women.

I've been specifically thinking about how the cashing up of the fourth week's AL will impact on pay equity. I know there's something in there but I haven't quite worked out how to express it yet. And I don't have an opportunity to write it up even when I do work it out, probably for another week yet.

Frankly I get a bit pissed off, with all the work that goes into keeping this blog going behind the scenes, and all the pro-life trolls we are dealing with at the moment, to get a comment of this nature from someone who has been supportive in the past. Maybe it's because it's 10am and I haven't had time for breakfast yet.

Carol said...

Julie, I understand that you are very pressed for time. And you do already provide a lot of input on this site. I wasn't so much thinking about the people who are part of this blog and do regularly make new entries while living busy lives. I have been thinking about the visitors to the site, who have an opportunity here to comment, but haven't provided any.

It makes it seem like there isn't a wide cohort of feminists with an interest in this topic. People readily provide a lot of comments on other topics. I would have thought this one should have got a lot of comments, because it is of such a big and wide import.

My apologies if my previous comment seemed unsupportive and pressurising.

I was also looking to see if any other NZ feminist blog had commented on this issue so far. I haven't seen any on the few such sites that I am aware of.

Anonymous said...

Oh christ, another person determined to tell feminists what they should and shouldn't care about.