SUE KEDGLEY (Green)
: I move,
That the Employment Relations (Flexible Working Arrangements) Amendment Bill be now read a third time. This is a simple, light-handed bill that establishes a new employment right for any employees with caring responsibilities, allowing them to seek to vary their hours or their place of work.
Although the bill is simple, I hope that in years to come we will look back on it as a landmark piece of legislation that helped to break down our rigid and inflexible working hours culture and usher in a new era where flexible working is accepted as the norm rather than the exception, and where employers accept that it is in their interests to give employees more say over their working hours so they can strike a better balance between paid work and family life. I hope too that once the new right is established next year, in July, and, hopefully, extended to all employees when the legislation is reviewed in 2 years’ time, it will reduce the chronic stress that many employees experience as they try to juggle the competing demands of paid work and family life. I also hope that in time businesses will actively embrace flexible working arrangements as a way of making workplaces more productive and competitive.
This all might sound a trifle “Pollyanna-ish”, but in the United Kingdom, where similar legislation has been in place for years, the availability of flexible working hours has accelerated to the point where officials there now claim that flexible working is becoming the norm rather than the exception. In New Zealand, by contrast, the inflexible 9 to 5 mentality is still very much the norm, and flexible working arrangements are still looked upon almost as a favour, as something an employer may grant in exceptional circumstances, rather than as a legitimate and productive working arrangement.
Although many employers claim that they already have flexible workplaces, often in practice, when we drill down, it turns out to be little more than the ability for workers to adjust a lunch break sometimes or to go to the dentist, which of course falls a long way short of the ongoing changes to working hours that this bill would allow. Even where flexible working arrangements do exist, they are far more common amongst white-collar workers and managers than amongst ordinary low-paid workers. I hope that this bill will change this and ensure that all workers, no matter how low-paid they are, have the right to seek to change their start and finish times, their shifts, their work-compressed working weeks, or whatever it is they believe will help them to better balance their paid work and family lives. Of course, this will impose an obligation on employers to seek to accommodate their requests wherever they can, providing that it will not be to the detriment of their businesses.
In New Zealand we have not only an hours-driven working culture but a culture of long and excessive working hours. We work amongst the longest working hours in the world. Forty percent of us work more than 45 hours a week and a fifth of us work more than 50 hours a week, so it is no wonder that many suffer from chronic stress and what some call the “work/eat/sleep syndrome”. We are only just beginning to realise the high price we pay for our long and inflexible working hours culture, and the debilitating effect that long working hours can have on people’s lives in terms of dysfunctional relationships, children who do not get to spend enough time with their parents, workplace stress, and so on. The truth is that the time that parents spend with their children has declined steeply over the last two decades, while workplace stress and absenteeism have increased.
We are in danger of becoming a nation of wage slaves with no time for our children or for our communities. The reality is that our rigid, long working hours culture is no longer necessary in the 21st century. It is a straitjacket that we need to shed, now that we have all these wonderful new technologies like the laptop and the cellphone that can keep us in touch with the office without actually having to be there in person. We have to get our head around the fact that we do not all need to work exactly the same hours. We certainly do not need to start and finish work at the same time. Many of us can easily do some of our work from home or from another location.
If significant numbers of employees were able to vary their working hours and work from home more often, it would have very, very real social benefits, as well as environmental and economic benefits. We could dramatically reduce the congestion caused by all of us rushing like lemmings to get to work at the same time each day. There would be no need to waste taxpayers’ money building expensive new urban motorways. Carbon dioxide emissions would reduce, as would the amount of oil that we consume. In fact, if the price of oil continues to rise, we might find that encouraging people to work from home becomes one of the tools that future Governments use to try to reduce our dependence on oil.
When workplaces become more flexible, more women and in particular more older New Zealanders will be able to stay in the workplace. Employers will therefore have access to wider recruitment pools, which will ease the skills shortage that so many
people are commenting on. Productivity will increase, as well. All of the research shows that employees who have more control over their working arrangements are more motivated and therefore more productive, so there is less absenteeism, less staff turnover, less workplace illness and stress, and so on. Therefore, employers benefit as well as employees. It is a win-win situation.
With all of these benefits it makes sense that Parliament would encourage more flexible working arrangements, and encourage and protect employees who want to have more choice about how they balance paid work and family life, by basically setting up a new employment right and a framework for employees to negotiate variations in their working hours. In the United Kingdom, where employees already have this right, 90 percent of the requests made under the flexible working hours legislation have been successful. The United Kingdom’s flexible working legislation is hailed as a success right across the political spectrum. All parties are seeking to extend its provisions, and the Conservative leader, David Cameron, is a passionate advocate for extending the legislation—the right. He argues that flexible working arrangements are the key to modernising workplaces and making them more productive and competitive.
Initially, British businesses strenuously opposed the new right. Now, they actively support it. In evaluations they say that it has been well received by employers, and it has encouraged rather than compelled employers to experiment with flexible working practices. They say that employers who introduce flexible working hours are finding they can fish in a wider pool. They say that the people they recruit are more likely to be motivated and to remain employed in the same firm, and they go on extolling the virtues of flexible working.
Obviously, the new right, when it comes into effect next July, will not deliver flexibility overnight, but I do hope that as a result of this bill our rigid, long working hours culture will slowly become a thing of the past—a skin that we shed—and that flexible results rather than hours-driven workplaces will become the norm.
I thank all members of the Coalition for Quality Flexible Work, some of whose members are here, for their unwavering support for the bill. This organisation is a coalition of more than 50 professional groups, community groups, and unions, including Grey Power, women lawyers associations, Parents Centres, business and professional unions, the Council of Trade Unions, and other unions. I owe a huge debt of gratitude, too, to Ruth Dyson for her work and support in getting the bill through; to the new Minister of Labour, Trevor Mallard, for making a recent amendment to the bill; to Mark Gosche, chair of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee; to other committee members like Peter Brown and Darien Fenton; and to others for their support. I thank all political parties, except for National and ACT, for supporting the legislation, along with Gordon Copeland and Taito Phillip Field.
It is a shame that the National Party has not been able to support this bill as the conservatives have so enthusiastically supported similar legislation in England. National members say that families are the centrepiece of their policy, but this bill is aimed at reducing the pressures on families. In the final analysis it is Business New Zealand, not the interest of families, that determines how the National Party votes on legislation.
I thank all of those who have helped with this bill, because as it has proceeded it has actually been strengthened rather than weakened. We have extended the right to all persons with caring responsibilities, and we have introduced mediation and other low-level, cost-effective methods of dispute resolution that have allayed most of the concerns of employers. I hope that this bill will bring about a real change, that when we review the bill in 2 years’ time we will all agree that we should extend it to all employees, and that the fears that National Party members no doubt will start going on about in a short time will prove to be completely false. Thank you.
KATE WILKINSON (National)
: I rise to speak in relation to the third reading of the Employment Relations (Flexible Working Arrangements) Amendment Bill, which, as has been mentioned, National is opposing. Most people, including National members, support the idea of flexible working arrangements. We appreciate the benefits of flexibility. It is good for business to give employees a choice, if they can deliver the same outputs. There are advantages to both employees and employers of flexibility in the workplace. We support flexibility; we do not support legislating for it.
This bill has been lauded as light-handed regulation. It has been admitted that one of its main purposes is actually to educate by legislating the benefits of flexibility. We have heard the former Minister quoting that 84 percent of respondents supported legislation for the right to request flexible working arrangements, but if the form responses are excluded, then the figure shows that 83 percent support one or more approaches to flexibility. That is totally different from saying that 84 percent support legislation for flexibility. We support flexibility; we do not support legislation for flexibility. That result has to be balanced, too, with the fact that legislating for flexibility also received the highest level of opposition.
So what does it all mean? It means that the benefits and advantages of flexibility in the workplace are recognised, applauded, and certainly encouraged. Legislating for this flexibility is the issue, not the flexibility itself. Effective communication and a supportive workplace culture have been identified as the most important factors in making flexible work arrangements effective. We need common sense and communication, not legislation. Legislation, indeed, can have the perverse effect of discouraging flexibility, because of its prescriptive nature. If employees have to make a formal request once a year only, make it in writing, and have it formally considered, then the chances are that the process may become just too difficult. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned communication? Employers want happy employees. They want to recruit and retain good employees, and to do so may indeed mean that more flexibility options have to be provided, but we do not need to legislate for that.
We have heard, again and again, comparisons with the UK legislation. If the United Kingdom has it, then New Zealand should have it, too—probably a bit like foot-and-mouth. In fact, we know that the bill has been based on UK legislation, but I would like to add the caution about comparisons between countries and different jurisdictions; are we comparing apples with apples? When we were at the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, the officials issued a caution about such comparisons. Their advice to us was that there are questions as to the extent of the impact of this UK flexibility legislation and there are methodological inconsistencies in the sponsored research as to the impact. The results are not necessarily supported by research from other organisations, and there is no accurate pre-legislation baseline of information to measure from. Further, often the surveys do not distinguish between those eligible to request and those ineligible to request. So I think it is dangerous simply to compare our situation with the United Kingdom situation and say that this is the law for us.
We were further advised by the officials that the current set of labour market and economic and social conditions in New Zealand does not present a close enough match to any of the countries considered in this analysis for that country’s solutions to be the obvious choice. But for some reason, we have considered that the UK solution is the solution for New Zealand, and National is opposed to that.
The caution given by the officials has gone unheeded and ignored. I repeat: we support flexibility; we just do not support legislating for it. Legislation in this regard is unnecessary. The right to request flexibility in terms of working hours and working arrangements already exists in the Employment Relations Act. We do not need to over-regulate it further.
This legislation is another compliance cost, and another set of processes and procedures to navigate through. It has been estimated that it could cost another 3 hours of management time and another 2 hours of employee time. The legislation has the potential for other employees who are not eligible even to ask under this legislation perhaps to resent the priority treatment available to others. We must remember that this ability to request is not available to all employees. The legislation has the potential for queuing for flexibility—will it be “first in, first served”? Those who ask first for flexible working hours or flexible working arrangements may have their requests duly granted, but others following may have them declined. And the legislation has the potential for grievance claims and the uncertainty that grievance claims can create, both from an employee’s point of view and also from an employer’s point of view.
We appreciate that there are some grounds in the legislation for an employer to be able to refuse a request for flexible working arrangements, and there is a reasonable selection of grounds, including the inability to reorganise work among existing staff, the inability to recruit additional staff, a detrimental impact on quality or performance, an insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work, planned structural changes, the burden of additional costs, or a detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer demand.
In the original bill, the employer could refuse a request only if it could not reasonably be accommodated. The Minister then took out that word “reasonably”, which may sound insignificant but it is not. The word “reasonably” brings in the notion of objectivity; by removing the word “reasonably” it virtually means that unless it is impossible for the employer to accommodate the request, the request must be granted. For example, let us imagine that a request for flexibility was made by employee A, who wanted to take Tuesday afternoons off work. The business must stay open on Tuesday afternoons, so the only way for this to happen is if employee B offers to work those extra hours on a Tuesday afternoon. But employee B might say that he or she will work extra hours only if earning double, triple, or even quadruple pay. Is that reasonable? Well, actually, it does not matter whether it is reasonable, because under the amendment of the Minister, which was sneakily introduced, the employer has no choice. Technically, yes, the employer is able to recruit additional staff because employee B has offered to stand in, albeit on considerably extra pay. Whether that is affordable to the business is of no relevance or interest to the Minister, because under the amendment such a request can be accommodated although it certainly cannot be reasonably accommodated. That is neither fair nor reasonable, and if employment law is about being fair to both employer and employee, then in that regard this bill fails that objectivity test.
I also noted that one of the former Minister’s Supplementary Order Papers was indeed overruled by the current Minister. Minister Dyson attempted to introduce an amendment providing that an investigation or determination of the Employment Relations Authority cannot be challenged, appealed against, reviewed, quashed, or called into question in any court. At the time I raised a concern about another sneaky little amendment mentioning things like breaching the rule of law contrary to the notion of natural justice, questioning the precedent that this would set for a lay authority that does not have to act judicially to unilaterally make a decision that simply cannot be challenged. Minister Mallard overruled that with a further Supplementary Order Paper, leaving open the possibility of judicial review so as to comply with such fundamentals as the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. I thank the officials for taking note of the sneaky attempt to deprive employees and employers of their rights to natural justice.
National believes that flexible working hours and arrangements are a good idea in principle. We acknowledge the benefits of flexible working arrangements where
possible, and we acknowledge that good employers who wish to keep their good employees may do so by offering such flexible working arrangements. Flexible working practices, however, should not be enshrined in inflexible, rigid, unworkable legislated processes and procedures. We should be educating for flexibility and the benefits and advantages of flexibility; we should not be legislating for it. For that reason National is opposing this bill.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Labour)
: I just want to acknowledge the previous speaker and say that I thought hers was a very sad speech. It was a very sad speech from a member of probably one of the few parties in the world that has not carefully considered this issue and seen the benefit of this sort of approach, especially to women but also to the economy. Frankly, I had some hope that under John Key the National Party would at least come into the second half of the 20th century, but it is clear that a lot of the lessons that people such as the member in charge of the bill and many people on this side of the House learnt in the 1970s—the 1970s in the member’s case and the 1960s and 1970s in my case—have not been learnt by members opposite.
I am pleased to support the bill, and I want to congratulate Sue Kedgley on introducing it and shepherding it through the House in the way she has. New Zealander’s want, and they need, work-life balance. We are a group of people, as a country, who, compared with people in the vast majority of other countries, work too long. We do not work smart enough, we are not well enough trained, and our jobs are not properly capitalised in a way that we can be more productive. Flexible working arrangements are a key part of getting that work-life balance. It is about the quality of life and living standards.
Flexible, responsive workplaces can both deliver productivity benefits and ease our skill shortages. Flexibility can help us compete globally for skilled workers and enable more New Zealanders who want to work to participate in the labour market. At the margins, it will mean that some people will participate slightly less in the labour market but probably more productively as a result. Research carried out by the Department of Labour over the past 2 years has shown how important it is for New Zealanders to have the right workplace environments—that people participate in the labour force and balance work with other things in their lives.
Two national surveys of employees and employers about work-life balance have identified that flexible working arrangements, including flexible start and finish times, consistently ranked amongst the most helpful initiatives for people to balance work with other things in their lives. The research shows that flexible working arrangements benefit people like working parents, students, retirees, volunteers, single parents, and caregivers providing support to family and
whānau. Flexible work arrangements can also benefit employers, our community, our economy, and our environment. The two surveys suggest that a majority of employers do not see major barriers to improving flexibility, and, on top of that, employees understand the business imperatives facing their organisations. In fact, many employers already offer their staff flexible working arrangements, but many do not.
This bill provides certain employees who meet specific eligibility criteria with a right to request flexible working arrangements—that is, a change to their hours of work, times or days of work, or place of work. Eligible employees must have the care of another person and must have been employed by their employer for at least 6 months prior to making a request. The bill requires employers to consider the request and provides grounds on which they can refuse a request. The bill also provides for a process for making and considering requests, including a requirement that the employee making a request must explain what changes may be required to the employer’s arrangements. This aspect of the bill supports what we have heard through the recent
consultation. To be successful, flexible work arrangements need to suit the needs of all parties; namely, the individual concerned, his or her colleagues, and the workplace.
Amendments made to the bill during the Committee stage have strengthened the bill. Ensuring that the decision about whether a request for flexible working arrangements can be accommodated rests solely with the employer. Now only issues of non-compliance with the process as outlined in the bill can be challenged and reviewed. The process for resolving disputes that may arise as a result of a request has also been streamlined and aims to ensure the lowest possible level of intervention. Where a dispute arises an employer or an employee may refer that dispute to a labour inspector, who must assist the parties to resolve the issue. In fact, a labour inspector can be asked to assist and provide advice at any stage in the process of making or considering a request for flexible work arrangements. If after receiving assistance from a labour inspector the matter is not resolved, parties can go to mediation and the Employment Relations Authority.
It is prudent to consider the effect of any new legislation. Consequently, the bill requires the Minister of Labour to report to Parliament as soon as practicable 2 years after the commencement of the operation the effects of the new provisions, including recommendations about whether the right to request flexible working hours should be extended.
As Sue Kedgley said, the bill is based on similar UK legislation. A recent UK study of work-life balance found that nearly 80 percent of requests for flexible working arrangements had been accepted, the majority of which were accepted in whole and a smaller number resulted in compromises. Studies into the effect of the UK legislation on employers have also been positive. One such study found that 76 percent of businesses found the impact of the legislation to be negligible and 90 percent reported no significant problems in complying with the new requirements. The majority of employers also believe that the legislation has had a positive effect on employee attitudes and morale.
It is notable that the Prime Minister of the UK has just announced an independent review of how the right to request flexible work legislation can be extended to parents of children over the age of 6. Our Parliament had the foresight during the Committee stage to amend the eligibility criteria in this legislation to ensure that from the outset any worker who has the care of any other person will be able to request flexible work arrangements. Some workplaces in our country already have some form of flexibility in place and others are starting to move towards these more flexible arrangements. This bill supports the increasing trend in New Zealand workplaces.
I again acknowledge the voices of business, unions, and employees who made submissions on this bill and have stimulated the public debate about issues of work-life balance more broadly. I thank my colleagues in the House for the contribution they have made in strengthening and clarifying the intent of this bill when they debated it during the Committee stage. I would like particularly to acknowledge the work of the select committee members. This is, I think, another good example of how a Labour-led Government, working with other parties in an MMP environment, can achieve the best solution for the diverse interests of those affected by the changes.
When I and, I am sure, a number of others hit the hustings next year, we will have quite a lot of fun explaining in workplaces—in fact, some of us will probably do so when we are out in our electorates on Friday—the National Party’s opposition to flexibility in workplaces. The National members are all for flexibility for their own approach. National has a number of very, very part-time members. There are National members in this House who have not asked a single question all year. They are absolutely lazy members of Parliament. They have not got up early enough in the
morning to put a question in and to ask a question of a Minister. They take a flexible approach for themselves.
Nathan Guy: Is this the new Trevor or the old one?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: This is a wonderful, rehabilitated Minister. What I am saying is that members opposite have to decide whether they are prepared to match their practice with the ability of other people to request a similar practice and have it considered.
Hon Member: They don’t ask anybody.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No, members on the other side do not ask anybody whether they can roll up at 2 o’clock. They start their work after lunch, but they do not want other people to have the right to request a different day of work, or a half-day shifted around, or something similar. I think members opposite are looking more than a little sheepish. They know that they have made a mistake. They know deep down in their hearts that they are making fools of themselves, but for reasons that none of us can work out, mainly, a lot of the time, they are the “me too” Opposition. They are trying to cuddle up to the Government.
I am especially uncertain as to why they want to offend the Greens so much. It says something about their approach to MMP, I suppose, that they have their deep hatred of the Greens and their inability to support a bill that is promoted by a Green member in this way. I think that is very sad, because MMP does not work that way. It does not matter how different our original views are from those of other members; we work through to a compromise and get something reasonable. When something very reasonable, like this bill, is developed, then it should be supported.
PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First)
: I have to start by commenting on what the National Party said. National has got it wrong. I listened to Kate Wilkinson very, very carefully.
Hon Mark Burton: As you do.
PETER BROWN: Well, Kate Wilkinson is actually a cut above the rest—
Hon Mark Burton: No, she’s gone downhill.
PETER BROWN: Yes, clearly she has gone downhill.
Hon Brian Donnelly: She spends too much time with them.
PETER BROWN: My colleague says she spends too much time with them. I refer to clause 6A, which is the clause Kate Wilkinson referred to. Section 69AAE was inserted by clause 6A, but subsection (2) was struck out. It stated: “An employer may refuse a request only if it cannot reasonably be accommodated on 1 or more of the grounds specified in subsection (3).” She wanted to delete the word “reasonably”. Then the subsection would have said “if it cannot be accommodated”, and she asked whether it would be reasonable of a person who had offered to replace another person, who had been granted flexible working hours, to then demand quadruple pay. Well, that is unreasonable. The employer—if the word “reasonably” was in there—could deny the request. He could say that quadruple pay was not reasonable. But now that the word has been removed, as Kate Wilkinson wanted, an employer would have no grounds for refusing that specific request. The National members have got it totally wrong. Kate Wilkinson suggested that the National Party supports flexibility, but it will vote against this bill. She said that the bill is the concern, not the flexibility itself.
Let me just say that this bill is vastly different from the first version. The first version really applied to parents who had a child under 5 or a disabled child under 18. I think I am correct; Sue Kedgley is acknowledging that I am correct. They could ask for flexible working hours but only on a permanent basis. They got those hours permanently, and that would have created the situation that Kate Wilkinson referred to—the queuing and what have you. But in fairness to Sue Kedgley, I note that she accepted the advice of the
Transport and Industrial Relations Committee to put a gap in proceedings for a year, and let the employers and unions work it out and put a programme in place for establishing a more flexible working environment throughout the country.
The bill came back vastly altered, and Sue has monitored all that and taken on board all the recommendations of the select committee. It came back to the House and it has been altered again, significantly, by the Committee of the whole House. I think it was almost at the last call during the Committee stage when the Minister, the new Minister, intervened and changed it yet again. Sue Kedgley has stuck by this bill and monitored it all the way through, and she should be complimented on that.
Employers have nothing to fear from this bill. Genuine employers who care even one little iota about their staff have nothing to fear from this bill. People will still be able to go to their managers or whoever is in charge and say: “Look, I have a situation at home.” They may have to look after little Johnny or little Mary and they may want to change their hours for a particular week, and it will be done informally. But if an employer is not reasonable, is arrogant and assertive and will not listen to a request for flexible working hours for a caring situation, then an employee has the right to put in a formal request for flexible working hours.
This bill, I suggest, will affect very few employers throughout this country. New Zealand employers are basically very fair-minded. They know the importance of looking after their staff, and that has become increasingly so now that they are working in a tight labour market. I suggest that this bill will improve staff relations, but I have my doubts as to whether it will be used to any great extent, because I think New Zealanders are very fair-minded anyway, and when one gets a fair-minded employer, then he or she will listen to the staff member without the need for the staff member to resort to some sort of formal application. But if the employer wants to be arrogant, tough, and dictatorial, then the employee has the right to go to the employer with a formal request. But, even then, there are several reasons why the employer can reject such hours.
So the bill is not Draconian. It is very fair-minded. There is no great shakes about this bill. I would have thought the National Party would rethink its position. When this bill had its first reading New Zealand First was very nervous about it. I am not sure whether we supported it at its first reading. We were a bit reluctant. We thought it was going this way and that way, and that it was too limited. But we were persuaded to support its referral to the select committee to see whether we could improve it, and that process was undertaken very diligently by the committee, where, as I said, Sue Kedgley played a very practical monitoring role. We have, I think, a very reasonable bill as a result.
New Zealand will be all the better for this legislation. I do not think it will turn the world upside down. The sun will still rise in the morning, and in the fullness of time the National Party members will think: “Why the dickens didn’t we support that?”. They will say they agree with this. It will be like the situation with paid parental leave. They saw the light after a while, as they have done on a number of issues. I know that Wayne Mapp regards himself as some sort of expert in industrial relations, and he will go home and think: “Goodness me! That select committee and the Committee of the whole House made this bill a really workable bill, and I wish National had supported it.” I could tell from Kate Wilkinson’s speech that her heart was not in it. She was reading a speech that she really did not believe. It did not come across with any conviction at all. As I said, the world will not end as a result of this bill.
I suggest that it will be of benefit to a few employees who work for somebody who is very rigid, very arrogant, or very assertive in his or her approach, and who turns down an informal request. Most New Zealanders, most employees, will still be able to go to
their employers and say that they have a situation at home with their children, their mother, their father, or a person they are caring for and ask to change their hours, and that will be done without any problems at all. [Interruption] The honourable Wayne Mapp is so keen to get up and change the National vote—he is bursting at the seams there. He realises already that National has made a mistake, and he wants to get to his feet. That is an encouraging sign. The light is beginning to penetrate.
Hon Member: Don’t get my hopes up.
PETER BROWN: The member says: “Don’t get my hopes up.” This is very simple legislation. As I say, I think it will be of significance to employees who are unfortunate enough to work for a rigid employer who is not caring. Those employees have a formal out. They can put their request in writing and it has to be formally looked at. That I believe will occur on relatively few occasions, and those people will be all the better for it. New Zealand First supports this bill.
TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki)
: Kia ora
tātou. Kia ora, everyone. The essence of this Employment Relations (Flexible Working Arrangements) Amendment Bill is to ensure that workers can negotiate with their employers more flexible working arrangements to create a better work-life balance and a win-win situation for all parties. What interests members of the
Māori Party about the bill, besides this intent, was the innovative manner in which I am told the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, under the leadership of the Hon Mark Gosche, facilitated a rather novel procedural approach. I am advised that the committee’s approach in May 2006 involved the debate of an interim report by the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee that set aside the House’s consideration of the bill for a year. It was set aside so that further research could be carried out, more information sought, and greater consultation had with workers, employers, and all of those who might be interested in this bill. We in the
Māori Party understand that this has never happened before.
Quite frankly, we are encouraged by the fact that this one action perhaps demonstrates best that MMP politics can be accommodated, despite the fact that the rules under which this Parliament behaves are deeply entrenched and have yet to catch up with the changing political environment. In speaking of the rules, I refer to the Standing Orders and the Speakers’ rulings, which are remnants of another age and rules of first-past-the-post thinking and behaviour.
We are encouraged, because we in the
Māori Party, who view the world through our particular cultural eyes—for we cannot do otherwise—have a number of sayings that capture the idea of flexibility. One of the examples I want to read to members goes like this: “Nā te
ngutu kura ko te
hinengaro ko te
mahara ko te
whakaaro ko te
tīkanga.” This translates to something like: “Engaging the senses stirs the emotions; engaging the emotions stimulates the intellect; stimulating the intellect commissions the memory. From the memory comes the thoughts; from the thoughts come the words; from the words we construct customs.” Therefore, from a
Māori Party perspective it appears that the members of the select committee were stirred to do something differently, and this they did.
The motives—and no doubt there were probably different motives for each of the parties involved—are actually not of concern. What was important was that something different was tried. Time was made available, and this legislation—the whakapapa of which, like the whakapapa of many in this House, originates from the United Kingdom—will very soon become law in Aotearoa. For that, acknowledgment must go to the Green Party member of Parliament Sue Kedgley—and I say
tēnā koe to Sue—who through skill and persistence in crafting winnable arrangements with her colleagues within this House has overseen this bill through to it soon becoming an Act.
My perusal of the bill and the subsequent debates in this House certainly show that despite members of the select committee agreeing in 2006 to show their own flexibility, goodwill, and cooperation by having the bill delayed for a year, old habits do, indeed, die hard. I say that old habits die hard because, judging by the unfortunate number of times the word “majority” accompanied the select committee’s recommended amendments, it seems the members of that committee, and of this House, continue to occupy oppositional positions. When cooperation actually occurs, whistles and trumpets are blown and a press conference is called, as we saw with the bill to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act. But the normal modus operandi is oppositional. How sad is that?
Māori Party will be supporting this bill because, in our view, it is eminently sensible, as well as being
whānau, worker, and employer-friendly. We see in it so much that is good for
whānau, and it does not, in and of itself, penalise employers or other workers. We are not concerning ourselves with the modus operandi of polarised oppositional politics; our interest is in the macro level, with the belief that what is good for
Māori is good for Aotearoa. Even the title of the bill, with the words “flexible working arrangements”, indicates a relationship based on goodwill while having the guidance and protection of a legislative framework.
Māori Party is aware that often, particularly with employment issues, there is a cry that issues can be worked out between the workers and the employer. We know, however, that this is often not the case, as the issue of the power imbalance between the two groups is not properly recognised and acknowledged. Although some would say that the employee has the power—with mention made of employee’s representatives and unions being indicative of that power—and the employers and their federations and associations are the weaker entities, our experience and those of our
whānau tell us a different story.
We remember the ravages of the mid-1980s through Rogernomics, and the 1990s, too, where no doubt a bill of this nature would never have seen the light of day. That period and its ongoing after-effects are a constant reminder to
Māori of the vulnerable position of
Māori workers who become the collateral damage under a more streamlined, cutthroat, neo-liberal economic philosophy, which still remains as healthy as ever today. This bill is but a soft concession from that philosophy. It is a little gain for
whānau, and for respectful arrangements between workers and employers. Make no mistake, it is a welcome departure from neo-liberalism, but, like the opposition inherent in the parliamentary system, that philosophy has remained the modus operandi of all Governments subsequent to 1984. Again, the
Māori Party, as a keen student of both history and power, is forever mindful of the whakapapa and origins of legislation passed in this House and of those who will be the beneficiaries of it.
In ending, I congratulate Sue Kedgley most sincerely for continually keeping the
Māori Party members informed of the stages through which this bill was passing, and for continually making herself available to discuss any concerns that we might have had about the bill. Again, I say that we support this legislation.
tēnā koe, Sue. Kia ora
JUDY TURNER (Deputy Leader—United Future)
: United Future joins with most other parties in this House to support the third reading of the Employment Relations (Flexible Working Arrangements) Amendment Bill, a bill that we believe has advantages for both employees and employers. Certainly, evidence from the British experience has shown that it has been a win-win situation.
What I most like about this bill is the process that we have taken to get to the third reading. It is a stunning example of what I think all of us who are part of an MMP
system and support MMP believe could and should be the case more often. I particularly commend Sue Kedgley. As the sponsor of this bill she was willing to allow it to be delayed and parked for a season so that the Department of Labour could do some ongoing work and improve the bill so that we could move it forward.
I feel a little bit of sadness in mentioning the bill that comes straight after this one on the Order Paper tonight. The bill I refer to was a United Future initiative around private property rights. In the second reading of that bill, which was interrupted, many speakers talked about the fact that they could not support the bill because there were some things about it that needed to be fixed. Yet there did not seem to be the same will and collaboration to do that extra work, when I know that the sponsor would have willingly allowed the bill to be parked so that it could progress. It occurs to me that it is rather interesting that we can be very picky and choosy about which bills this House will allow that work to be done on, and which bills we just abandon through what feels to me at times like extreme laziness and an unwillingness to progress bills.
- Sitting suspended from 6 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.
JUDY TURNER: Before the dinner break I was talking about the process that this bill has been through and about the willingness of the sponsor and the select committee to park the bill for a season so that extensive work could be done on it by the Department of Labour. That brought about good changes. What a great example of MMP this bill has been.
I want to focus the next part of my speech on what I think is the most important gain for New Zealanders that this bill will deliver for New Zealand families. Today’s work environment is hugely different—in fact, unrecognisably different—from the work environment that my own parents lived through. For instance, when there are two parents in a family, both of whom are working, we have a family economy based around two incomes. We have very few non-commercial days. In fact, I think we are down to 3½ days in a year in which we cannot trade. We have longer working hours. New Zealanders are working longer than they did 20 or 30 years ago. We have mums and dads with preschool children using their paid parental leave and then re-entering the workforce. Parents are using day-care facilities to care for their children, with the stresses and strains that that puts on parents dropping off children who are often sometimes a little bit unwell or distressed, and wondering how that will go.
The other thing that has changed considerably in New Zealand is the fact that we have moved—and rightly so—towards community-based and home-based care for the elderly and disabled. We have closed down institutions. Therefore, the impact on families is greater in that regard too. The expectation that families will be more proactively engaged in the care of elderly or disabled family members is an absolute reality. This bill provides an opportunity for workers to negotiate flexible working hours where that fits comfortably with the needs of the employer.
When I flew down to Wellington this week, I sat on the plane across the aisle from a local businesswoman in my town. She asked me about this bill and she had a tinge of anxiety in her voice. She had heard very negative things about the bill. When I explained to her what the bill is about, she came straight back at me that with her particular business—the one she and her husband run—it would be extremely difficult for them to give flexible hours to their workers. They have a business where people work outdoors and that is very reliant on the weather. If they suddenly have a fine spell they can jump out and get a whole lot of things done. She said she could not imagine how they could offer flexible work hours. I explained to her that with the type of reasons she gave to me, she would never be forced to offer flexible work hours. She would be free to conduct her business in the way she wants and no pressure would be
put upon her. She was hugely relieved. As I went through the bill with her, she changed her opinion considerably and became quite supportive of it.
She is a family person herself, and when she saw the value there would be for family people she became quite the convert to this bill. That is what I think we are looking at here: for the public—and particularly the employing public—to understand the rights that this bill gives them. That is one of the areas of the bill that has been strengthened by the delay and by the work of the Department of Labour. We have added additional justification into the bill as to why an employer can turn down a request for flexible work hours. Again, I think that is to the credit of the member in charge and the select committee, which worked very hard; of submitters; of the officials and staff of the Department of Labour; and of everybody who has put his or her hand on the wheel to steer this particular ship and who has contributed to what is now pretty fine legislation.
This is extremely family-friendly legislation. United Future is absolutely thrilled at how it has come out of the select committee. Every concern we had in the initial stages of the bill has been addressed. We are very happy to support the third reading of the bill and to congratulate everybody who has worked on it.
Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie)
: It is a pleasure to take part in the third reading of the Employment Relations (Flexible Working Arrangements) Amendment Bill. It has been a long time coming through the select committee process and the House.
I talked with Sue Kedgley earlier about the 1-year delay we took. Having heard the submissions on this bill, we basically put down a challenge to the employers, who said that this matter did not need to be legislated for. They said that it could be done voluntarily, which is the National Party’s position. We gave employers 1 year to prove to the Government, this Parliament, and New Zealand that they were capable of going out there and introducing the spirit of this bill, in terms of a voluntarist approach. I have to say that they failed miserably. I say that because a couple of weeks ago statistics came out about the participation rates in employment in New Zealand. We heard that more people had taken up part-time employment in that statistical period than had taken up full-time employment. What was the reaction from employers and the National Party? They described that as a failure. They said that there were more workers out there now who were looking to take up part-time employment in New Zealand and that that was a failure as a result.
I want the National Party and employers to think about the commentary on that statistic. They say that they are in favour of people taking up flexible employment and of more part-time work, but when it happens they come out and say that it is a failure and that it is terrible, and they ask, how dare those workers decide to take up part-time employment rather than full-time employment? They tried to blame it on Working for Families. They tried to say that it was about Working for Families. They do not know what that last word means. I am looking forward to that funny organisation called Family First coming out tomorrow with a full-page ad in support of this bill. That will be a case of “Yeah, right!”
This legislation actually helps families. This legislation recognises that families are under pressure in a labour market that has been consistently deregulated since the late 1980s. That member over there who acts for the Exclusive Brethren does not know anything about industrial relations; that is why the National Party gave her the job. In the National Party, if someone does not know anything about industrial relations, he or she gets the job of being spokesperson. She knows how to act for the Exclusive Brethren, who actually threw money into the campaign last time because they did not like the fact that they were not exempted from industrial relations legislation. That is why the Exclusive Brethren spent the million bucks. That is what they want the
National Party to deliver, and that is what the National Party will deliver if it ever gets the chance—to exempt the people who pay the bills for them.
However, I want to get back to the bill. This is very light-handed legislation. It has been dramatically improved by the process the select committee put it through. When the bill came in, Sue Kedgley had removed a couple of bits and pieces from the UK legislation. We put them back in. The legislation was going to apply only to a small number of people, but we have actually extended it to apply to the group of people in New Zealand who will most appreciate it. I think the National Party and New Zealand business people—Business New Zealand, the Employers and Manufacturers Association, and the Business Roundtable—who purport to represent the interests of business in New Zealand need to start to think a little more deeply than their entrenched anti-union, anti-worker attitudes, which they have had for so long, have allowed. It is time for them to come into this century, not to stay back in the last one—which National members over there would do if they had their way.
The bill is about work-life balance, which the National caucus and the ACT party know a lot about. Has anybody ever seen Rodney Hide here on any other day than pay day? He sits on the same select committee as I do, and I hardly ever see him. He came in the other day to do an advert for the movie about himself.
Kate Wilkinson: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Ann Hartley): I will do it. The member knows that he cannot refer to members’ attendance in the House.
Hon MARK GOSCHE: Sorry, Madam Assistant Speaker. I apologise to Rodney Hide for that slight.
This is a bill that National members over there do not support, that Business New Zealand does not support, that the Business Roundtable does not support, and that the Employers and Manufacturers Association leadership does not support. We are told that New Zealand employers will allow flexible working hours without a law. Well, let us think about that. The Hospitality Association made the worst submission I have ever heard in my life in this Parliament. It said that there were flexible working hours in the hospitality industry—if people did not like the hours offered by restaurant A, they left their jobs and went down the road to restaurant C. That was its idea of flexible working hours. No say was given to the worker. There was no right to ask. The boss would set the terms.
Colin King: Grow up!
Hon MARK GOSCHE: I grew up a long time ago, unlike the member, working in that industry and representing workers in that industry. I have seen the worst behaviour and I have seen the best. Sadly, examples of the best behaviour are few and far between, because the lowest common denominator actually prevails. The worst employer sets the rate and the conditions, and the good ones who try to take them on find out that their prices do not match. That is why legislation is necessary in this country.
This legislation is very audacious! It allows workers to make a request for their boss to consider whether they should be allowed to have some sort of flexibility as to where they work and when they work. And the National Party is opposed to that! The National Party says that employers should have that absolute right all on their own and under the law—that is what National wants. Well, we do not think that that is the way to go.
I want to tell those people over there who are screeching like hyenas to think about this. On Monday I was at a conference. Most of the people there were women.
Dr Wayne Mapp: All your union mates.
Hon MARK GOSCHE: They were my mates. Their husbands had had strokes and could not work any more, even if they wanted to. [Interruption] I say to Bob Clarkson that they had given up their careers. They would not have stuck with him as a husband;
they would have ditched him long ago if he had had a stroke. I take my hat off to those people, because they care about their husbands and their partners, and they were there telling their stories. They were saying how difficult it was to stay in employment if a loved one had had a stroke. There was a woman there whose son had had a stroke. She had to give up, partially, her career. Fortunately, she worked in a job where she could down cut her hours to 2 days a week. But she had made an enormous sacrifice to be there for her son. I sat beside women who had done the same sort of thing in order to look after their husbands. I ask the opponents of this bill, what is wrong with that? What is wrong with their being able to make a simple request of their employers? What is wrong with it?
Chris Tremain: Why can’t they do it now?
Hon MARK GOSCHE: That member over there, who does not know industrial law from one end to the other, says they can do that now. If they could do that now satisfactorily, why have they given up their jobs? Why have they given up their careers? Why have they had to sacrifice their future? It is because they were not able to work the flexible hours that this legislation would see them work if they had an employer who was willing to listen.
I just cannot understand why anybody in this House could be opposed to this legislation, and why any employer’s so-called leader could be opposed to it. It is a simple right to make a request. If an employer says that that does not suit his or her business for reasons x, y, or z—in fact, there are about seven reasons in the bill—then he or she has the right in the law to say that for one of those reasons the request cannot be acceded to.
Those National members opposite who think they have the skill and the ability to govern had better start thinking again. The one thing they have missing is a heart. I say to Bob Clarkson that not one of those members can get up and be brave tonight by voting for this bill, instead of opposing it because they are told to. Kate Wilkinson knows that this is a sensible bill that she would actually support, if she were allowed to. But no, the whip has been called, so National members cannot vote for it. Those members are saying to New Zealanders that they do not care and that workers can go on suffering, because employers must have the absolute right to make all decisions and workers just have to cop it. That is last century; this bill is this century.
Dr WAYNE MAPP (National—North Shore)
: I guess one would have to say of the previous speaker, Mark Gosche, that it seems he is unaware of the legislation that was passed in 2000 and amended in 2004. An inherent part of that legislation is, in fact, good faith. What is good faith about? It recognises that in the modern and contemporary workplace there is a dialogue between employers and employees. The essence of what the member says is that the Employment Relations (Flexible Working Arrangements) Amendment Bill means that one can ask. Well, what employee could not ask anyway? It is inherent under the principle of good faith that one can have dialogue.
The Government is promoting the case that the only thing this bill does is give people the right to ask, and therefore we should support it. Well, I have news for the Government. People can ask right now, and they do, and in large numbers of cases, depending on the individual circumstances of the employer and employee, arrangements are made. You know, we challenged the previous speaker to table the press release where we said we are opposed to part-time work. We gave him the opportunity to do so. We asked him to give us the proof that we were opposed to part-time work. Did he raise a point of order? Did he ask to table a press release? Frankly, he was speaking arrant nonsense. We recognise that in the modern workplace people will work part-time. People do work part-time, because that is what suits their circumstances.
I want to make a general point. National members thought long and hard about this bill. We had a very substantial internal debate. We did not just take a reflexive approach and say: “Proposed by the Greens—ergo bad.” We thought about the issues and decided we needed to think about them. We ultimately decided that, no, we would not support the bill. I want to tell members the reasons why we decided this. We went back to first principles, and we asked ourselves what the fundamental problem is with New Zealand’s economy, and we said that its fundamental problem is a lack of productivity.
There are a variety of reasons why that is the case, such as a lack of capital and a lack of skills, but one of the critical reasons is excessive compliance costs. Although each of these things might not seem to be significant in itself, their cumulative effect is to add to compliance costs and regulations—and, in this instance, quite needlessly, because good faith means people can ask anyway. In huge numbers of cases, because of the dynamic of the New Zealand workplace, because we are largely small and medium sized employers, and because there is a dynamic marketplace of employers and employees, people make their own arrangements. Labour, the Greens, and, indeed, New Zealand First have said that Britain does this. Well, Britain was required to do so under the European Union.
Again, if members are looking at first principles, they should ask which economies are growing faster—the North American model or the European model. In essence, the North American model trusts employers and employees to enter into their own arrangements. It is the model that, by and large, Australia has, and that, by and large, Canada has adopted, and I guess one might say that New Zealand stands a little bit in between. We tend as a nation to borrow from both. But the difference is that Europe—particularly Western Europe—has fundamentally lower rates of productivity and overall growth. [Interruption] That is true. I know that it comes as a shock to Darren Hughes to find that out, but Europe has lower rates of growth than the North American model. A vast amount of evidence supports that proposition.
In essence, we are asking whether this is a question of supporting this bill or of supporting our overall philosophical approach. We said that the fundamental challenge facing the New Zealand economy is shown in the evidence from this week—the largest number of New Zealanders in the history of our country have voted with their feet and have gone to Australia. They have done that because there are better opportunities there.
I heard the Minister of Finance saying that it was nothing to do with wages. Well, I guess one cannot say that someone lies, but he has to be deluding himself to suggest that. He knows perfectly well that the income gap is sending New Zealanders from here to Australia, and even Mr Rudd knows that he also has to have a light-handed approach to business. So a large number of the changes made under the Workplace Relations Act in Australia would be retained by a Labor Government. That is part of Mr Rudd’s commitment. He knows that Australia needs to grow quickly, and part and parcel of that is not being excessive in the levels of regulation. So he is talking about amending that legislation, not repealing it.
New Zealanders are voting to go to Australia because of higher incomes, and those incomes are higher simply because there are fewer compliance costs. Basically, it is easier to accrue capital and it is easier to gain skills; ergo Australia has higher productivity and, therefore, higher incomes. That is because Australia has taken a different philosophical approach from that taken by New Zealand’s current Government. Mr Rudd knows the truth of that, which is why part of his election campaign is based on his claim that he will not change the situation fundamentally. That is the truth of the situation.
The New Zealand Labour Government, in contrast, is following the European model. Whenever those members look at a situation, what is the first thing they look at? They
look at whether Scandinavia, Britain, or the European Union did it. If those countries did it, then our Labour Government says that we should do the same thing. That is the path to slow growth. We would have to say that in the last few years that is exactly what this Government has delivered—slow and declining growth.
Hon Darren Hughes: Fastest in the OECD.
Dr WAYNE MAPP: There are reams and reams of reports on New Zealand’s low productivity. This is all news, it seems, to the new Minister Darren Hughes, so he should listen. He might learn something about economics. Actually, I say to Mr Hughes that he might even become a decent Minister if he did a bit of reading on this stuff in the 1 year in which he has the job.
Essentially, National has gone back to first principles on this bill. We asked ourselves two questions. First, we asked whether there is already a reasonable level of flexibility in the workplace, and we said yes to that. The evidence produced before the select committee was quite clear on that. There is plenty of flexibility in the New Zealand workplace, so that box was given a tick. The second thing we asked ourselves was whether this bill would add additional compliance costs, perhaps not in a huge way but in its own way, and the answer is obviously yes.
So on a first-principles basis we say that this bill does not help. It will add unnecessary compliance costs, and, in its own little way, it will harm New Zealand’s prospects. New Zealanders know the truth of this, and that is why they are going to Australia. This is the challenge we face in our country—whether to compete with Australia—and under our current Government, we know the answer: failure.
National says that we will turn things round in this country. We will get growth going again in this country. New Zealanders are crying out for a new direction. They are crying out for the next agenda for our country, whereby the Government will stop the interfering, nanny State ways that tie up New Zealanders and restrict freedom. You know, the last speech made by Mr Gosche seemed like a speech on electoral finance, did it not? Do members know why? It is because Labour members want to control things. They want to tie up people and restrict their freedom. That is the approach of Labour, that is the approach National rejects, and that is the approach that makes New Zealanders say they want an end to the nanny State. National will deliver that.
Hon DARREN HUGHES (Deputy Leader of the House)
: I seek leave to table a document that shows that under the Labour-led Government the New Zealand economy has grown faster than the OECD average.
DARIEN FENTON (Labour)
: I want to make a serious contribution to this debate, and I will start by congratulating the member Sue Kedgley on her determination to bring this Employment Relations (Flexible Working Arrangements) Amendment Bill to Parliament, and to see it through. From the time her bill was tabled more than 2½ years ago she has worked patiently with like-minded parties to make improvements and to meet genuine concerns. I am really proud that Labour members are supporting this bill, and that during its passage we have been active in assisting its progress.
The Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, as other speakers have mentioned, put this bill on hold to encourage employers to prove that an education process was more likely to succeed than legislation. We gave them a year in which to do that. Did they prove it? Well, no, they did not. During that period we also encouraged extensive consultation and debate on flexible working arrangements through the Department of Labour. During that time, and since that time, has the call for this legislation diminished? No, it has not. In fact, the call for it from the community has strengthened.
This bill, which is nearing conclusion tonight, although still very modest in terms of legislation, puts New Zealand further ahead in recognising the realities of the modern workplace. It takes some active steps to do something about the stresses on families and communities that the demands to put the firm before the family are causing our citizens, and that is something we should all celebrate. I continue to be absolutely astonished that the National Party, ACT, and Gordon Copeland have not signed up to this very sensible, logical, and family-friendly legislation. [Interruption] Are United Future members supporting it? Oh well, I do apologise to the member; I am sorry. But the other parties, of course, say that legislation is unnecessary. I would say to those parties that they need to get real and talk to the families under stress who have made submissions on this bill. Those members on the select committee should talk to workers about the ever-increasing expectations placed on them, regardless of their family circumstances.
Bob Clarkson: What about employers?
DARIEN FENTON: Members should go and talk to those who responded to the Department of Labour’s consultation process and to the Coalition for Quality Flexible Work—which includes employers, I say to Bob Clarkson. That coalition is made up of business, professional, and legal groups, community organisations, family advocacy organisations, and unions. They all say there is a need for this legislation.
Sometimes legislation is needed to lead cultural change, and we can take many of the family-friendly legislative changes made in recent years. I would ask members opposite whether education would have encouraged employers to provide paid parental leave.
Lynne Pillay: And opposed by them.
DARIEN FENTON: And opposed by them. Well, the answer is no, actually. It took the legislation that was introduced by this Government and like-minded parties to lead the change, which is in fact now supported by the National Party, or at least I think so. Would education have delivered 4 weeks’ holiday for working families? No, of course, it would not have done so. That is another change that is also now apparently supported by National, provided people can cash up their extra week’s leave, although those members opposed it bitterly at the time. The truth is that National and its fellow travellers do not believe that legislation should ever lead change. Those members stick to their ridiculous belief that the market dictates the way, and the invisible hand will always deliver.
Throughout the debate our long-working-hours culture has been referred to as a reason for the introduction of this kind of measure, and it is obvious that something needs to give in the world of work occupied by today’s workers.
Hon Member: The worker’s got to give a good effort.
DARIEN FENTON: This might be of interest to the member, Wayne Mapp. A book published in the United States by Madeleine Bunting, entitled
Willing Slaves, describes how our overworked culture is ruining our lives. She is actually talking about the US situation, but it is very similar to that of many other countries. Hard work is supposed to bring wealth and satisfaction, but instead, argues Bunting, it is bringing worry, illness, poverty, and debt. In Japan it is called
karoshi; we have no word in the English language that matches it. But study after study finds that long working hours increases the chance of workers suffering from illness and injury. For those doing 12 hours’ work a day, there is a 37 percent increase in risk compared with those working fewer hours. Another well-known study shows that if people work consistently longer than 40 hours a week, it will damage their health and it will damage them physically and psychologically. That is a problem, and this Government faces up to those sorts of problems. As well as being bad for individuals, long work hours are bad for families and for society. They are also bad for business, because long working hours relate
directly to lower productivity. Tired employees work more slowly, they make more mistakes, and they become sick more frequently.
The National Party likes to have a go at Labour on the issue of productivity, because National members have no new ideas other than the low-wage, low-skill economy they created in the 1990s, which caused the problems we are debating today. I suggest that they have a look at the UK. I know they will not want to talk about the UK but I ask them to have a look. Workers there work the longest hours in Europe yet the UK economy is the least productive in the industrialised world. The National Party needs to ask itself some hard questions and come up with some different answers, just for a change.
We do not want New Zealand to be like Japan, which has the longest working hours in the OECD. In 1987 the Japanese Government acknowledged that the country had a problem with death from overwork. Do we really want to go there? The Japanese Government began to publish statistics on
karoshi, as it is called in Japan. Now, lawsuits for death by overwork are common, with the victims’ families seeking compensation payments. In 2002-03 there were 819 claimants. The notion that we work to live, not live to work, should never be superseded by the notion that we work until we drop, but that is what the National Party would like to see workers in New Zealand do—work until we drop.
Flexible working arrangements are just one tool for dealing with the impact of longer working hours on family responsibilities, but on their own they will not solve our long working-hours problems and we should not kid ourselves that they will. I am watching with great interest the debate in other countries around exactly the same problems that we face here in New Zealand. What is emerging about tackling the working hours issue is the need for a mix of policies, starting with legislation like this, which gives all workers with caregiving responsibilities the right to request flexible work. But we also need to look at stronger working-hours regulation, better work organisation, more investment in technology, and improvement in low pay, which this Government is making significant strides on. There is no doubt that workers and their families are saying they want greater control over their hours and patterns of work. I ask members just to raise the issue and see what response they get from the community. This bill is an appropriate response to that, along with other Government measures either already taken or in the pipeline.
Although the emphasis in this debate has been on reducing long working hours, the Department of Labour reports that of 100,000 people who work part-time, 78,000 of them, who are women, would like to work more hours. So we have to be careful that flexible working is not seen largely as a women’s issue. Large numbers of women workers work part-time where a high and persistent part-time pay penalty is incurred. Part-time work is just not the silver bullet that the National Party seems to think it is. It has often been created explicitly to recruit or retain women, while the continuing workplace expectation that long hours are to be worked in particular jobs, such as management, helps to preserve those areas of employment as a largely male enclave.
The change in this bill from the right of parents with children under 5 or parents of disabled children under 18 to request flexible hours, to the right for any worker with caring responsibilities to make such a request, will help to balance equal opportunities with equity by enabling all parents and carers to have access to flexible hours. We want to encourage men to participate fully in their caring responsibilities, and to ensure that the reduced pay from fewer working hours or part-time work does not continue to unfairly penalise women.
This bill has been accompanied by the usual predictions of gloom and doom from the National Party and their mates at the big end of business. They talk a lot about first
principles; their principles are the principles of the Business Roundtable. The member Sue Kedgley and the Government have bent over backwards to accommodate concerns from business about potential litigation. Similar litigation in other countries has not opened the floodgates, and there have not been massive disputes around this kind of legislation.
This is a good bill. It is a simple bill. It gives workers with caring responsibilities the right to request flexible working arrangements, and it gives employers legitimate reasons to say “No”. But its real value will be in the contribution it will make towards changing the culture of New Zealand’s overstressed workplaces. I congratulate again the member on her wonderful work on this bill. I acknowledge the work of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee and the other parties, and the cooperative efforts that have gone into reaching a bill tonight that we can all feel proud of.
PAULA BENNETT (National)
: I, too, would like to commend Sue Kedgley for bringing the bill to the House because, if nothing else, it has opened up a debate, and it is a debate that, in some respects, has been worth having. The debate has been about our families and it has been about the effect of the number of hours that parents work and what it means for them. But the debate that perhaps we have not gone into when we have had an opportunity to do so with the introduction of this bill, and one that I think we could have taken the opportunity to take further, is a discussion on the role of parents, and paid work in their lives; how they juggle family, and how they juggle the issue of who is looking after their children.
There have been immense changes over the past 15 to 20 years. I do not think anyone can absolutely deny that. Are we seriously monitoring what those changes mean? Are we seriously looking at what those changes mean for families and for our children? We have one longitudinal study in Dunedin, but are we asking ourselves who is raising our children? What does a push towards longer working hours for mothers and fathers actually mean for those children when we put them into more care on a week-by-week basis? What does it mean when the Prime Minister stands up and tells women that they need to be in productive work? The Prime Minister herself stands up and says women need to get into productive work and raising children is not considered productive work.
I do not for one moment stand up and pretend to have the answers to all of those questions, because I do not think we do yet, as a society. I do not think society has had those discussions. I do not think we are even having the discussion, let alone starting to come up with some of those answers. But piecemeal bits of legislation like this bill are not the answer. Until we have actually sat down, looked at longitudinal studies, and really looked at what it means for our children to be in care for a longer time, and for their parents to be working longer hours, and look at those in significant detail, what we are doing is making it up as we go along. That is not the role of this House and it should not be the role of this Government. Legislating for flexible arrangements is simply not the answer. Looking at what is best for families is the answer. Politicians dictating to families what they think is best for them is most certainly not the answer. We need to look at common sense and formal approaches that are currently happening, and the fear that this legislation can take them away.
The difference is that members on this side of the House appreciate that New Zealanders are common-sense people. New Zealanders know what is best for them. They are getting on with it and they are doing the best job they possibly can for them and their families. Let us not continue to treat people as stupid and incapable. I think that is a really important point and one I would certainly like to make again in this House. Let us not continue to treat people as stupid and incapable. We need to recognise that people know what is good for them and know how to get it. We need to recognise
that they know how to manage their families and their working environments. They have the ability to talk to each other, to negotiate and to come to reasonable solutions.
Constantly telling people that they are incapable of making representations and decisions for themselves is, in its own way, an exploitation of those very people. It is another way of making people dependent and it is simply wrong. This is the key difference. Here the difference is stark. Members on one side of the House say: “We know what is best for you and we will legislate accordingly.” The others—on the National side of the House—believe in people. We believe in people’s ability, if given the chance, to do what is right for them and their families. Trusting people and their own abilities and their capabilities is at the heart of it. That means not regulating every part of their lives. The New Zealand people are standing up and saying “No more.” We do not believe that people want or need legislation to rule every part of their lives. Will this legislation outlaw informal requests—those common-sense approaches that are happening day upon day in workplaces throughout New Zealand? This regulation has the risk of pitting one employee against the other.
Hon Member: Just lip service.
PAULA BENNETT: One can talk about lip service, or whatever one likes, but let us deal with the realities. Let us deal with a real workplace and deal with what is actually happening in our workplaces now. People are discussing amongst themselves, and with their employers, what will work in the workplace, and they are making it happen. They are making it happen for themselves, they are making it happen for their families, and they do not need legislation to tell them how to talk to each other. People are coming to arrangements amongst themselves; what they might say is: “I need a Tuesday off to have with my young child because I want to pick my child up early.” A colleague says: “I’ll work Tuesday afternoon and step in for you.” The reply might be: “Well, I’ll do Friday morning.” They then go to the employer. They job-share and work part-time, and those arrangements are already happening.
One may not hear it out on the air waves, but there is this snippy snappy coming from the other side of the House all through this speech. Quite frankly, it is the whole “us and them” mentality. We have heard it tonight and we are hearing it now: snip, snip, snip, coming from over there, and it is that whole divisive, unhelpful, “us and them” mentality that is actually going to destroy workplace relationships. They are continuing with it, and it is their only way to try to get personal and undermine us. But the snip, snip, snippy, “us and them”, is simply not going to work when it comes to dealing with relationships in the workforce.
There is nothing wrong with people asking for flexible hours. We can exaggerate it from the other side and make things sound all dire because it is coming from the National Party, but the simple fact is that there is nothing wrong with people asking for flexible hours. They can do that now. In fact, anyone has the right now to go to his or her employer and ask for flexible hours and flexible working arrangements. It is called—and everyone, wait for this, because this is important—a conversation. It is called an actual conversation.
One of the other concerns that one must have is that these requests now must be in writing. So those people who do have trouble putting a letter together and putting their thoughts down in writing—and there are number of people who do have problems in putting a letter together, and putting a request that makes sense to their employer—are going to be disadvantaged by this piece of legislation. Because they cannot simply go and talk to their employer as they have always done, because now the request will have to be in writing. And they can, of course, ask only once a year, under this legislation. Once one starts legislating for this, this is simply what one gets—one request a year, and that is it. Who is to say that employees’ circumstances are not changing regularly?
There is a real fear that this will take away common-sense approaches in the process—another layer of bureaucracy.
How many more people will the Department of Labour need to employ to administer this bill? What will happen under this legislation is that if the employee is not happy with the result, it goes to a Labour inspector, then to mediation, and then to the employment authority. So we have three layers. We are going to need more people. How many cases does this House expect to go to the authority, and at what cost? Well, start legislating and that is what will happen.
If an employer has already approved a few requests in a year—and this is a huge concern for us as well—met with the first one, met with the second, “Yes, yes”, and finally says: “We can do no more; the answer is no.”, then that person is simply disadvantaged for the rest of year in many respects, we think. So what will happen? The employers talk to each other, talk to themselves, and come to arrangements. But that does not happen once one is putting legislation in and once one is making it in writing. It is true, and those members know it is true. It is quite a simple fact that once one starts legislating, once rules go in place like that, there are dire consequences, and it will be to the detriment of the employee.
So I stand up to say that this legislation is not what we believe will work for employees to make the workplace a better place. We simply stand by our conviction that flexible working hours and flexible arrangements are a given, and are a right for any New Zealander; we simply do not need to legislate for them.
LESLEY SOPER (Labour)
: That was apparently the National Party’s best weapon for opposing the Employment Relations (Flexible Working Arrangements) Amendment Bill. Paula Bennett, a young woman, is actually opposing this bill. Sadly, Paula Bennett may have supported this bill when she was a member of the Alliance Party. What a pity her principles have changed. What a pity the best she can do is come into this House and say that the members of the coalition for flexible work—and I shall name some of them: Parents Centres New Zealand, the New Zealand Federation of Business and Professional Women, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, Grey Power, the National Council of Women of New Zealand, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, and many other unions—do not know their own minds or know what is best for them and their workers. What a pity!
This is a great bill. It is good for women. It is good for men. It is good for workers. It is good for families. It is good for employers. It would have delivered for my father, who gave up his last job—a job he loved—to look after my mother who was semi-paralysed by a stroke. It would have worked for me years later when I looked after that same elderly father and juggled a full-time job. It would have worked for many other carers I met during those years, who struggled with either giving up jobs or somehow working a few paid hours here and there. It would have worked for all those people.
Members of the coalition for flexible work who came and said that this bill is a great bill and is necessary, and who supported Sue Kedgley and the select committee as we went through the work of making this bill even better than when it started, knew exactly what it was talking about.
What I find really sad tonight is the so-called philosophical, principled attitude of the National Party to this very, very good bill. The National Party philosophy and principle tonight is the same old sound and fury—signifying nothing—that I have heard in this House for months. It is the same old insubstantial jumping from cloud to cloud, and the same old hollow vessel catcalls across this Chamber.
The National Party is the party with a leader who has actually been heard to say that flexible labour markets are the way to go, but then somehow manages to flip-flop and lead the National Party into a flip-flop opposing this very important flexible working
arrangements legislation. How do they live with themselves? Why do they oppose the bill? They oppose it because their mates—the Business Roundtable, the Employers and Manufacturers Association, and Business New Zealand—have told them to oppose it. It is not because they believe in opposing it and not because people like Paula Bennett actually believe in what they have said tonight, but because their mates have told them to oppose it because it actually does something for workers.
Let me tell the other side of this House that not only does the bill do something for workers but it does something very significant for families and for employers. I tell members on the other side of the House that what the bill does for employers is widen the recruitment pool, keep experienced people in employment, reduce absenteeism, and make a culture in which it is more likely that staff will remain with a company. What is bad about that?
This is a very good bill. But, no, members on the other side are doing exactly what they did with paid parental leave, Working for Families, and raising the minimum wage. They oppose the bill because, philosophically, all they can do is oppose anything that might be good for the workplaces of New Zealand. They do not want good employment legislation to come out. National wants to try to get back into power so that it can restore the Employment Contracts Act and bring in a 90-day probation bill. It is not interested in good workplace legislation in this country. It is not interested in what is good about this bill. It has not even considered that this bill delivers on work-life balance. Do National members even know what work-life balance means?
They appear not to have even read this bill, which quite clearly states that workers can make a request for flexible working arrangements. There are also a number of very lengthy grounds as to why an employer may refuse a request. There are things like an inability to reorganise work, an inability to recruit additional staff, a detrimental impact on quality, and a detrimental impact on performance—and the list goes on.
This is a very light-handed piece of legislation. It provides employees with an ability to request something that improves workplace relationships in this country. But do the National Party members care about that? No. What they seem to care about is what they came to this House with: their philosophical approach, as a previous speaker called it. It is the same philosophical approach that meant opposing paid parental leave and opposing raising the minimum wage. They seem to think that anything that might be good for the workers of this country and for the families of this country is bad and therefore they will oppose it, no matter what.
It appears to me that members on that side of the House who were on the same select committee as I was, listening to the submissions on this bill, did not take in anything whatsoever of what they were told by any submitters who came to us. The submitters talked about the bill being employer friendly, employee friendly, and family friendly, and about the bill being good legislation. But, no, it appears that all that the members on the other side could see was that somehow they had to oppose the legislation, because, philosophically and on first principles, it is bad to have something that is family friendly, employee friendly, and employer friendly.
They also seem somehow to have got away from their belief in what Mr Cameron, the leader of the UK Conservative Party, had to say. Mr Cameron said that his ambition is to make the right to ask for flexible working hours available to as many people as possible. He says that he understands that having flexible working hours reduces absenteeism and means that staff are more likely to remain with a company. He seems to understand all that. Mr Key seems to follow Mr Cameron’s lead constantly, but on this particular issue suddenly the Tory party on the other side of the House has some sort of philosophical, first-principles objection to this very good family-friendly, employer-friendly, and employee-friendly legislation.
I say to the members on the other side that this is very good legislation. Sue Kedgley is to be complimented on the fact that she has brought this bill to the House, and that she was willing to take an extremely lengthy period of time and to bend over backwards to have a piece of legislation, now going through its final stages in the House, that is even better than the bill she began with. It is an excellent bill. It is the sort of bill that in many years’ time, when many of us look back at our years in Government, we will say we were very proud to have been a part of passing in the House today.
This bill delivers to New Zealanders. If the National Party thinks there is a single worker or a single woman out there whom they have impressed tonight, or with any of their other speeches opposing this bill, then they will learn otherwise. New Zealanders see this bill as the very good family-friendly, employer-friendly, and employee-friendly legislation that it is. New Zealanders are proud of its being passed. Thank you, Madam Assistant Speaker.
SUE BRADFORD (Green)
: It is great to see this Employment Relations (Flexible Working Arrangements) Amendment Bill successfully completing its long journey through the House tonight. I congratulate Sue Kedgley and all who worked with her on this bill on their tremendous achievement. I know now, after some considerable experience of my own with members’ bills in the last couple of years, just how much work, stress, negotiation, and patience is required to shepherd any bill like this through the House. It is just great that my colleague has persisted, and succeeded, with her original goal of making flexible working hours far easier to achieve for some of the workers who need this the most.
Indeed, as Lesley Soper has just said, the bill has gone further than Sue even dreamt of. It is a fantastic achievement. Although I know that many of us inside this House and outside would have liked this bill to go even further than it does now, it is a great step forward and will, I think, herald a sea change in how both workers and employers view the possibility of more flexibility in the workplace from now onwards, even in this interim period before the bill becomes law.
The fact that a majority of parties in this House support employees with dependants having access to the right to negotiate when they work full time—or more than full time—so that they can do the best for their dependants, is a great thing. I am sure that there are some National Party MPs sitting here in the House tonight who would prefer to be voting for this bill. I am sorry that their party’s ideology has, for some reason, continued to deny them that privilege. All we have heard from National members tonight—and I am sorry to be repeating some of what my colleague Lesley Soper has said, but it has been quite striking—is a kind of prolonged justification as to why they cannot bring themselves to support the bill. I am sure that a number of our National Party colleagues do not even believe their own excuses.
The National Party constantly says that one of its main goals, as it goes into the election next year, is to support the family. I do not know how many times I have heard Judith Collins say that on platforms around the country. But when something very practical comes along, like this bill, which would help to alleviate the stress that so many families experience when trying to balance the competing demands of paid work and raising a family, the National Party turns round and fails to vote for it. How can New Zealanders believe National’s rhetoric about the family if National members cannot even bring themselves to support a simple piece of non-coercive legislation like this?
Right through this debate I have been surprised that National MPs seem to be blissfully unaware that their Conservative counterparts in the UK strongly support similar legislation, and in fact have policies to extend it. This speaks volumes about how comparatively reactionary our own home-grown Tory party is, and how out of
touch its members are with progressive developments that even emanate from parties that share their conservative world view.
One of the things that I personally am most pleased about with this bill in its final form is that it has been extended to include anyone who has a caring responsibility not only for children but also for people with impairments and older or sick relatives or
whānau. I was very moved by Mark
Gosche’s speech earlier in this debate on his own situation and by his courage in giving us a glimpse of the reality of how hard it is, even with our well-paid jobs here, to cope with caring well for a dependent family member. The small moment he shared of his and his family’s reality is something that is also shared by tens of thousands of workers around the country every day, many of whom do not have the privilege of the pay or the comparative flexibility of hours that this particular job affords those of us sitting here in this House tonight. I am sure that this bill will go some small way towards making a real difference in the particularly stressed and difficult lives of workers who have those kinds of major responsibilities for family members with long-term illnesses or disabilities.
I also hope that this bill will see many of this country’s most insecure, low-paid, and vulnerable employees—like cleaners and caregivers, for example—given a new right to request some stability in their hours and their days of work. Many of those workers have children and other dependants, and have just as great, if not more of, a need and right to flexible hours as people like lawyers, policy analysts, and MPs, who operate very much at the other end of the scale.
In conclusion, I thank once again all those parties here in the House who have seen fit to support us in passing this bill for their role in making such a significant change in New Zealand’s workplace culture. The hours we are working in New Zealand these days are far too long. Wages for many people are far too low, and too many parents and other caregivers are working far more than they would like. Although we cannot hope to solve all these problems with one small bill like this, what we are doing and can do is to implement at least this reform, which will be of immense benefit to all those affected, not just in the short term but for years to come.
MOANA MACKEY (Labour)
: I seek the leave of the House to take a call on this bill.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Ann Hartley): Leave is sought for that purpose. Is there any objection? There is.
A party vote was called for on the question,
That the Employment Relations (Flexible Working Arrangements) Amendment Bill be now read a third time.
||New Zealand Labour 49; New Zealand First 7; Green Party 6;
Māori Party 2; United Future 2; Progressive 1; Independents: Copeland, Field.
||New Zealand National 48; ACT New Zealand 2.
|Bill read a third time.