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In her own words: Helen Kelly’s vision for the Labour Party

The inspirational union leader and workers’ advocate has died aged 52. Today we republish her vision for the party that many hoped she’d one day lead.

The tributes are flowing in this morning for the formidable Helen Kelly.

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Helen Kelly in 2014. Photo: NZ Tertiary Education Union

In November last year The Spinoff invited contributors to write a passage they’d like to see pasted into Andrew Little’s first Labour Party conference speech as leader.

Helen sent us this:

‘Our vision of a good place to live and work’

Working people will be included in policies by Labour. We will ensure all workers, whether they work in forestry, retail or on our farms, are able to have a genuine say in the wages paid in the industry. We will legislate for genuine industry level bargaining so that issues like hours of work, wages, training and pay increases are discussed and agreed rather than set by each employer or left to the government to regulate.

The current model rewards the employer with the cheapest labour costs. It incentivises employers using zero hours, it incentivises employers to not invest in training but to steal others’ trained staff and it encourages employers to make workers work long hours without breaks and at the detriment of their safety or consideration of their families. Labour will stop this. Cheap employers won’t be able to compete on the price of the labour they rip off and good employers will prosper. That is the sort of future New Zealanders want – that is our vision of a good place to live and work – and we can do it. We can be a much happier, fairer, safer and economically secure country.

The current government designed the current model. This is why it removed the tea breaks. This is why it removed the obligation of employers to collectively bargain, this is why it has an open door migration policy and this is why this government is making zero hours lawful. It wants low wages to prevail. Under Labour we will restore the balance which is good for business as well as workers. We will encourage employers to be successful because they value and invest in their staff and are innovative rather than simply competing by short changing their workers.

We have seen how the current government policy works – meat workers at AFFCO are being forced to sign awful individual agreements even though they want a collective. They are being forced to accept big weekly reductions in wages and to accept variable shifts and no guarantee of hours. They are even being told they can’t meet each other outside work without the employers consent.

They are seasonal – if they don’t accept these new provisions, they have been told they will not get their jobs back. This is the type of employer the government likes and we don’t! Their employer is maximising its use of the current governments cuts to workers’ rights – and how does the government respond? Does it care that these workers – living in some of our most remote provincial towns – are having their wages cut by one of the richest families of this country? Does it heck: it made their boss a knight. Arise Sir Peter was its response. AFFCO are doing what this government has designed – cutting wages and taking more of the wealth these workers generate for itself – it’s by design!

Labour knows that fair incomes and decent work is not a zero sum game and we will be a government that works for everyone. We will build a country that is good to work in including for our young workers. Has the government’s current approach increased jobs or seen significant economic growth? No it has not – it is short term and has left more people jobless, vulnerable to insecure hours, untrained and under paid.

Labour will change this – workers and employers will be able to negotiate wages that share the profits of the industry. They will be able to negotiate hours of work that suit the industry but that offer security. They will get a tea break and lunch break, and we will provide incentives for employers to invest in training. We will make NZ a good place to run a business and a good place to work!

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