The state of the nation

I probably don’t have a lot to add to what’s already been said about Andrew Little’s state of the nation speech this morning.

It was sensible and forward-looking – an excellent rejoinder to the “Angry Andy” meme which Cameron Slater has been desperately trying to build.

It was focused on jobs – something which seems like it should be natural to the Labour Party but which (for any of a vast number of reasons which are regularly argued on leftwing blogs) hasn’t got a lot of cut-through in recent years.

There was the acknowledgement of the importance of working with business, and especially small business, to create jobs – but concrete points about job security and particularly the scrapping of zero-hour contracts to make it clear that we’re not working within the rightwing “deregulate them and they will come” model. (Which won’t really come as a surprise to the Farrars or Hootons of the world who were quick to demand that Labour scrap its policy on unfair, never-created-any-actual-jobs 90-day trials.)

The Labour Party – and you could argue the wider NZ left – is at the start of a three-year project to rebuild our movement and win in the 2017 general election. I reckon we’re off to a pretty good start.

Repost: Employment law: it’s toasted

In an early episode of Mad Men, when the company’s going for the Lucky Strike account, sleazebag antihero Don Draper asks the client exactly how cigarettes are made. They talk through the process, mentioning the tobacco is toasted – and Don says, “there’s your line. It’s toasted.”

But, the Lucky Strike guys protest, all cigarette tobacco is toasted. There’s nothing special about the way Lucky Strike toasts its tobacco.

“Doesn’t matter,” Don says. “You’re the only people talking about it.”

Watching Mad Men explains a truly depressing amount about the success of John Key’s government.

Take their employment law changes: right now, they’re legislating away the right to a tea break, replacing the current mandatory minimum rest periods (two 10-minute breaks and one half-hour break for an 8-hour shift) with non-mandatory, “if your employer thinks it’s unreasonable they can take it away” rest periods. And the examples that keep getting cited are of teachers (those unreliable moochers) “just” walking out of a classroom when break time rolls around, or air traffic controllers “just” downing tools and letting all the planes crash.

The fact is, minimum breaks aren’t currently set to a compulsory schedule. The law does not say, “if you start at 8am then you must stop work at 10am for 10 minutes”. They’re a minimum level because some employers absolutely would make you work a twelve hour shift non-stop if they could (and probably pay you $2 an hour for it too.)

But you never hear about it. And because people are generally well-natured and assume their political leaders are well-natured too (and that their media is well-informed and analytical and will provide any necessary context) it just gets taken for granted that there must be a problem with our current break system. Because, well, the Minister says of course he supports regular rest breaks! National wouldn’t take them away unless there was a problem, right? It’s just giving people flexibility, and they obviously need flexibility, you can’t just have air traffic controllers wandering off and letting all the planes crash.

It was the same story around 90-day fire-at-will trials. Under the old law, employers could put new workers on probationary periods – longer probationary periods than the 90-day trials, even! The difference was, those probationary periods had to be genuine trials. Workers had to be given feedback on their performance, and still had basic work rights – unlike the 90-day trials.

But you never heard about it. And because people are generally well-natured, etc, it just got taken for granted that we needed the 90-day trial period. Because, well, they wouldn’t do it if it already existed, right? It’s just fair to allow employers to give someone a go, right? Why are you complaining about job creation?

It’s lying by omission, capitalising on people’s goodwill and faith that our government isn’t really an out-of-control pack of cynical profiteers, who rule for the rich and powerful and put no stock in ideas about wellbeing, community or anything besides the money they can get their hands on right now.

Watch for it.

(For a side-by-side comparison of the tea break rules, check Helen Kelly’s Twitter.)

Added: I’d already written this article when Mike Hosking’s diatribe about “just work hard and your boss will never exploit you” came out. Suffice it to say, I think if you’ve never worked in a role where your rest breaks were strictly scheduled, and you didn’t have to worry about how much you earned in your first job, you are a very, very privileged person.

Three more years

This election result is not the end of the world for me.

I don’t have kids. I don’t have to worry about whether their school will be closed, or privatised, whether they have shoes to wear or a lunch to take to school every morning. I don’t have to find the money for “voluntary donations” which are needed to cover the basic costs of their education, or desperately search for flexible work which fits around daycare, if I can even find daycare.

I don’t have any chronic illnesses. I don’t have to worry about fighting tooth and nail to access the support I need just to manage my condition. I don’t have to worry about being bullied into “seeking work” when it’s impossible for me, and the jobs aren’t there. I don’t have to wonder how I’m going to pay for all the prescriptions I need.

I have a well-paid job with a great employer. I don’t have to worry about being fired on a 90 day trial, paid less than a living wage, or having to argue just for the right to a rest break in the middle of my shift.

I don’t have trouble paying the bills. I don’t have to worry about the price of power now that our power companies are increasingly privatised and being run for profit over service.

I don’t work in a high-risk job. I don’t have to worry about dealing with ACC over workplace injuries while my negligent boss gets to fly away to his next role without any consequences.

I’m a homeowner. I don’t have to worry about living in a damp, drafty house which makes me sick, or trying to put together enough to buy my first home when the mortgage is going to take 50% of my take-home pay.

I’ve never been a victim of sexual or domestic violence. I don’t have to worry about whether the local refuge is going to be able to keep its doors open, or

I don’t live in Christchurch. I don’t have to worry about soaring rents, living in a tent in someone’s back yard, or waiting four years just to get a basic insurance claim settled.

I’m not a public servant, or a striking worker. I don’t have to worry about my name and personal information appearing online and in the media when a Cabinet Minister decides they don’t like what I have to say.

So I may not suffer much under three more years of National in government. Because I am incredibly lucky. To quote people who aren’t as lucky as me:

https://twitter.com/writehandedgirl/status/513283402464624640

The campaign for 2017 begins now, because we have to do better for everyone.