||Issue No. 272||15 July 2005|
Home Ground Advantage
Interview: Battle Stations
Unions: The Workers, United
Politics: The Lost Weekend
Industrial: Truth or Dare
History: A Class Act
Economics: The Numbers Game
International: Blonde Ambition
Training: The Trade Off
Review: Bore of the Worlds
Poetry: The Beaters Medley
The Locker Room
The vision thing
You C.A.N. Do It
PM Rallies on Spin
When Howard mounted his New Zealand defence of AWAs, last week, he told Australians that a survey done in the Shaky Isles showed overwhelming employee satisfaction with workplace reform based on individual contracts.
"We find that while 85 percent of people originally opposed labour market reform, 18 months after the changes, 73 percent of employees were either 'very safisfied' or 'satisfied' with their working conditions and terms of employment," the Prime Minister said in a detailed "intellectual and economic case" for his workplace agenda.
What Howard neglected to mention, however, was that his 73 percent figure came from a 1992 survey conducted by Teesdale Meuli.
The firm was a "management consultancy" that made big money by delivering thousands of workers onto individual contracts.
Tony Teesdale, a one time rally driver, and his partner, Paul Meuli, joined forces in 1990 to take advantage of opportunities opened up by radical industrial changes in the 1991 Employment Contracts Act.
Ten years later, the operation was sold to US giant, TMP Worldwide, for an undisclosed sum.
NZ Council of Trade Unions education officer, Don Farr, said Teesdale used "confusion and obfuscation" to get Kiwis onto individual contracts.
"I had a number of dealings with him and his whole operation was geared to moving people out of unions and onto individual contracts," Farr said.
"He would go through a long, drawn out process. In one instance, I clearly recall him telling workers of a leading bank, at one centre, that colleagues in other centres weren't interested in retaining penalty rates. Of course, they were never allowed to meet face to face.
"In the end, the individual agreements his process said were wanted by bank workers turned out to be almost identical to the ones he had prepared for McDonalds.
"Almost every individual agreement done with Teesdale in the finance sector was done on the back of a union agreement. In other words, individuals got the same wages and conditions as the union negotiated as long as they didn't join the union.
"The trouble was, over the years, as Teesdale got people out of the unions everyone lost bargaining strength. In most industries it took about six years for allowances and penalty payments to disappear and wage rates to be screwed right down."
Farr says timing is the second major flaw in Howard's argument. By October, 1992, barely 15 months after the Act was passed, few, if any, effects had been felt.
Unlike Australia, where employers can force workers onto AWAs, New Zealand employers couldn't move until existing collective agreements had run their courses and expired.
If Howard had chosen to be more honest about individual contracts he could have chosen a number of surveys conducted after their affects had bitten.
His difficulty was that, almost uniformly, they showed high levels of dissatisfaction with employment conditions.
For example, a 1998 National Business Review survey returned only a 39 percent satisfaction rating.
In 1999, New Zealand's Labour Market Bulletin published a detailed study of wage movements as they affected supermarket checkout operators over the decade to 1997. They showed real wages had fallen 11.2 percent for adults, working Monday to Friday; 30.1 percent for part time adults; and 44.4 percent for part time students.
By 1997, real wages in New Zealand were lower than they had been in 1977.
Through it all, New Zealand plunged, on OECD figures, to record the fourth lowest growth rate of the organisation's 23 member countries in 1998.
Despite low wages, New Zealand's labour productivity rose only an average 0.5 percent for the years 1993-1998. Australia, for the same period, averaged annual growth of 3.2 percent.
By the turn of the century, dissatisfaction in New Zealand reached such high levels that hundreds of thousands of working people emigrated.
This led Howard to slam the door on years of reciprocal citizenship in a bid to ground the flight of Kiwis to Australia.
According to the New Zealand Government, that country's economy is still held back by serious labour and skills shortages.
Exhaustive study of New Zealand labour market surveys published around the time quoted by Howard, last week, turns up the Heylen Research/ Teesdale Meuli paper as the one that most closely fits his 18 month timeframe.
That survey is recorded as a glowing endorsement by Right Wing ideologue, and former New Zealand Minister of Labour, Maurice McTigue, in his paper, Alternatives to Regulation.
McTigue is now described as a "distinguished visiting scholar" at the Mercatus Centre at Virginia's George Mason University.
"While 85 percent of the populace originally opposed the new labour law, 73 percent of employees are either 'very satisfied' or 'satisfied' with their working conditions and terms of employment," McTigue wrote in a passage that bore an uncanny resemblance to the words Howard would use, years later, in a keynote speech in Sydney.
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