The labour reforms this week reveal a government that has given up on any hope for a competitive economy and is willing to engage in class warfare on behalf of its 'Judith Collins wing'

Last week, evidence was again made plain of a shocking, unacceptable safety record in ports and forests. The Government responded by passing a new law to remove the right to a tea break.

Put aside the fairness argument for a moment and think through these priorities. It sends a dangerous signal that the health and safety of employees doesn't need to be a priority. 'If you can shave off a few expenses by taking shortcuts around safety - do it. We'll back you.'

Guaranteed tea and meal breaks don't intrude into most work places. Most people take breaks when they can and no one measures. The law is there as a safety net for people who work for unreasonable employers.

For all the bleating about 'flexibility', there's nothing in it for employees. The law says that if you lose your tea break you have to be compensated. In other words, if you work you have to be paid. I guess they think they're being kind by not actually introducing indentured servitude.

The flexibility to negotiate breaks is already there, as Labour Minister Michael Woodhouse inadvertently demonstrated by saying that at his DHB, he let nurses on night duty go home early if they worked through their breaks.

The most successful companies in the world usually take the health and safety of their staff seriously because thinking through every step of a process both improves operational performance and keeps people safe.

Rest breaks keep people safe. If businesses don't plan for them, they are not planning their operations properly. So removing tea breaks is not about improving the performance of our economy; it's ideology. It's John Key chucking red meat to his base who have hated the Labour-lite policies of the last six years. It's a signal to the Judith Collins wing of the National party that 'it's all OK, we do know which side we're on in the class struggle.'

For six years government ministers, with some glaring exceptions, have given Oscar performances. They tilted their heads with compassion, left alone interest-free student loans, Working For Families and superannuation. They talked of a bright future where a new flag fluttered above a cycle path.

And then this week the child catcher took away the candy. No more collective bargaining. Your pay will be docked if you take action against a bad employer. And no more tea breaks.

The anti-politics persona has been an act. How could the PM call Labour's Working for Families 'communism by stealth' in opposition, and then embrace it in government? Either his political principles are ankle deep, or it was cynical.

Their vision for the economy is class warfare – a vision where they run the economy for people who already have wealth at the expense of those who are still trying to make it. 'In order to make our lives better we have to make yours more miserable.'

You can't make people better off by paying them less. The way you actually grow an economy and make working people wealthier is to look after them, steadily improve skills and working conditions, and grow the intellectual property of the economy so you can compete in a globe full of opportunity.

National is giving up on a competitive economy and replacing it with one where our only competitive strength will be low wages and unsafe conditions.


Comments (6)

by Charlie on November 01, 2014

Josie, you normally have decent point to make in these posts but this time around you missed the mark by a mile.

Firstly it is just disingenuous to link the accident rate in the forestry industry with smoko breaks. Childish really.

Secondly the accident rate in tree felling operations was just as bad when Labour was in government. You and your Labour mates sat on your hands and did nothing about it. This National government has completely restructured safety adminstration, initiated inquiries into the issue and is in gthe process of bringing in tighter safety legislation right across industry. It seems they actually care!

Lastly, I was chatting with a friend last week who is a motor mechanic. A young man, he said he preferred a bit of flexibility in his workplace. He'd sometimes work over his lunch or morning break so he could get off early on a Friday.  If a client is waiting for a car, he'll sometimes work through his break to finish it off and take a late lunch. So there is a bit of friendly give and take between him and his supervisor. I suspect that's how most real people in real jobs would want it.


by barry on November 01, 2014

Charlie, the forestry accident rate has got steadily worse over the last few decades at a time when other workplaces (mining excepted) have generally become safer.  the reason for that is because the work has increasingly been contracted to small operators.  And yes it is related to workers being encouraged to work longer hours with fewer breaks in the name of flexibility and efficiency.  The workers have little choice except to accept these conditions if they want to work.

Your example shows that flexibility already existed under the current law. I too have flexibility about when (or if) I take tea breaks and fit these in around meetings or deadlines.

The real problems come for sole charge shop assistants and some factory workers (or according to the propaganda air controllers) where it is not convenient for the employer for these employees to take breaks ever.  That means giving up breaks would become a condition of employment and is no longer subject to negotiation.  It really does become a health and safety issue.

by Ross on November 02, 2014



What you seem to be saying that flexibility already exists in the workplace. So, why the need for the new law?

by Charlie on November 02, 2014

Ross: Despite my knowledge bordering on omniscience I am not plugged into the comings and goings of every workplace. That given, I'm sure that somewhere there is a clique of diehard unionists demanding everyone sit down at a smoko table at 10am and drink luke warm tea, when a sizeable proportion of their colleagues sit there quietly seething because they were halfway through a job and wanted to finish it, then take a break.

by william blake on November 03, 2014
william blake

The boss brings a plate of cakes to smoko time, he sit down and eats all but one of them. As he gets up to leave he warns the workers that that union bastard is after some of their cake.

by Andin on November 04, 2014

 "I'm sure that somewhere there is a clique of diehard unionists demanding everyone sit down at a smoko table at 10am and drink luke warm tea," 

Seems one exists in your fetid fantasy world. One day when you grow up you might be separate your fantasy's  from, well, everything else.

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