5. Consultation — Kōkiri
The employment environment described above forms a backdrop to information collected
in two separate projects in 2003. The first was a specific outreach project undertaken
by the Commission involving 551 participants, and the second was the general
public consultation undertaken for the Action Plan.
Both participation exercises were aimed at ‘taking the pulse’ of
what New Zealanders felt about the ‘right to work’ from their own
experiences. This information was then analysed against the cycle of employment
from entry to exit using the following human-rights elements:
- Empowerment: empowers individuals and groups by using their voice in decision-making,
allowing them to use rights as leverage for action.
- Accountability: introduces accountability for actions and decisions, which can
allow individuals and groups to complain about decisions, policies and practices
that affect them adversely.
- Non-discrimination: seeks non-discrimination among individuals and groups through
the equal enjoyment of rights and obligations by all individuals.
- Participation: emphasises participation of individuals and groups in decision-making.
- Agreed human rights and norms: links decision-making to the agreed human rights
norms as set out in the various human rights covenants and treaties.
Figure 1: Framework for analysis of the employment cycle
Protection from unemploymentTop
A surprising finding of this consultation, given its timing – with the
country enjoying record labour market participation – was the emphasis
that a broad spectrum of New Zealanders interested in employment issues placed
on job creation. Job creation was referred to by employment specialists, local
body officers, politicians, industry spokespeople and unionists.
There is an implicit assumption, perhaps, in the notion of the ‘right
to work’ that employment should be currently available and universal.
However, the right to work comprises several aspects and, while it may fall
short of a guarantee of full employment, it includes the idea that New Zealand
should strive for full employment, the availability of work for everyone able
and willing to work ‘by all reasonable means’ (Van Dooren, 2003).
Moving towards full employment is conditional upon economic development and
a broad degree of consensus among Government, employers and workers about the
role of work. The private sector is crucial to job creation and helps shape
national and social policy. Trade unions have acted as a traditional mainstay
of tripartite activities with Government and employers, and are vital to workers’ protection
Major Government strategy documents about employment, such as the Employment
Strategy, and policy analysis such as Work Trends acknowledge in a variety
of ways that a revolution is occurring in the world of work in relation to
the way we work, work-based technologies, and the types of work we do. The
challenge is to ensure that, in the rapidly changing labour market, currently
disadvantaged groups are not further marginalised in terms of access, participation
and pay, in the information society. While there has been progressive improvement
in data collection relating to employment, data disaggregated by the various
prohibited grounds of discrimination must be available for the measurement
and comparison of vulnerable groups.
Consultation, particularly in regions such as Taranaki, Dunedin and Rotorua
and in industry sectors such as wood processing in the Bay of Plenty, shows
that some New Zealanders feel they have a much greater voice in regional employment
strategies – through local government processes and specific, individual
job programmes – than they do in influencing nation-wide Government policies.
However, the same participants are keenly aware of the influence of job creation
on economic sustainability and social cohesion in their communities. Debate
about job creation could usefully focus on the interrelationships between national,
local and industry sector strategies.
Pathways to workTop
Free choice of employment is a core element of the right to work, but for certain
groups in New Zealand society this choice is greatly hindered because of who
they are. For many disadvantaged groups, the decision to participate in work
is not enough to gain access to the labour market. New migrants, Maori and
Pacific peoples, unskilled youth and mature workers trying to re-enter the
workplace and women returning from family responsibilities are groups that
systematically struggle to gain employment in comparison with other groups.
Disabled people are even more at risk of exclusion. These groups face systemic
employment disadvantage, even in a buoyant labour market.
Discussing pathways to work necessarily involves examining achievement in education
and training in preparation for work. Significantly, Maori initiatives in education,
such as kohanga reo, kura kaupapa and wananga, may be helping to close the
gaps in employment outcomes for Maori.
The Action Plan research shows that three factors are critical in accessing
good employment for traditionally disadvantaged groups.
- overcoming stereotypes
- job readiness
- intensive case management.
Stereotypes, which usually involve covert bias against potential job applicants
or groups of people who might present for work, exist at societal, employer
and employee levels and were freely talked about as a human rights issue. Positive
evidence from this study showed that indirect, subconscious discrimination
can be overcome when employers give people different from themselves a fair
Employers spoken to emphasised their need, given the fast-paced and competitive
nature of industry, for job-ready applicants. This requires both relevant entry
skills and education, and an increasing need for on-the-job training throughout
working life. Data collected about the importance of job readiness also highlighted
motivation, flexibility and an ability to take personal responsibility for
Intensive case management emerged from our research, in relation to migrant
workers, youth at risk, mature workers and local government initiatives, as
an essential element in matching at-risk potential workers with employment
at a time when it is increasingly a focus of Government intervention. It involved
a number of features such as making connections between job seekers and available
opportunities, reducing the risk of failure, providing confidence and support
for both employer and employee.
The right to rest and leisure and reasonable limitation of working hours was
a dominant theme in this study. The tension between an individual’s work
responsibilities and those outside of work, known as work-life balance, was
for many participants both an individual and organisational concern and, for
employers, the subject of their EEO initiatives.
Work-life balance is now part of public thinking and Government and institutional
responses are currently aimed at finding realistic solutions in an increasingly
demanding work environment. The level of priority placed on work-life balance
issues, however, remains patterned along the lines of gender. Working women,
still shouldering the majority of the care for dependent family members, find
harmonising work and family responsibilities less achievable than do working
men. Gender-specific problems sometimes require gender-specific solutions,
in spite of the work-life balance struggle being relatively universal.
A prerequisite for providing ‘just and favourable’ work conditions
for all workers is to create work environments free from harassment. Despite
organisational acknowledgement of sexual harassment, it endures as a problem
for many workers. Bullying, which also involves abuse of workplace and societal
power, is becoming increasingly recognised by employers as a destructive human
resource issue. The good news is that organisations acknowledge these problems.
Some fresh approaches are needed to ensure strategies for prevention match
their current form.
Participants cited abolition of gender disparities in pay and employment opportunities
as fundamental to decent work conditions. There is no shortage of language
in the international human rights conventions about the centrality of ‘equal
pay for work of equal value’ in realising human rights at work. Most
recently, the CEDAW Committee urged greater efforts to eliminate occupational
segregation that disadvantages women. But many employers, especially those
of casualised workers, are far from ready or able to wrestle with the complexity
of the gender pay gap. When a pay scheme has been negotiated within their organisation,
as part of a Collective Employment Agreement and with union input, employers
are legitimately assured that the scheme is free from gender and race bias.
Indirect and even unconscious discrimination in setting women’s pay rates,
and historical devaluation of women’s work – factors not typically
addressed in an organisation’s pay scheme – are not fully understood
by employers as factors contributing to the gender pay gap. A business information
campaign would stimulate private sector debate about pay equity and gain impetus
from the work of the Pay and Employment Equity Task Force. A Pay and Employment
Equity Unit is being created within the Department of Labour to support the
implementation of a five-year Government plan of action.
The right to work relies in part on the willingness and ability of not only
Governments, but society as a whole to respect and help fulfil these rights.
In New Zealand, many medium and large companies tend to be involved in social
and community outcomes in addition to traditional financial outcomes. Strong
ties to their local people through sponsorships, community-based employment
programmes, and the support of local activities weave the organisation into
a symbiotic relationship with its region that relies on the strength of both
parties. When one strand becomes strained because of the impact of global business,
economic hardship, population decline, or social instability, the other is
also affected. A better understanding of the interconnections between business
and communities may go a long way towards ensuring the well-being of both.
The growth of corporate social responsiveness in New Zealand is to be welcomed.
Maori businesses in this study indicated that both ideas and capacity for starting
a business grew directly out of whanau, hapu and community needs, an organic
process that was reliant on the expertise, goodwill, and close family connections
of the Maori locations where the businesses were based. This grassroots-up
approach to business development was in contrast to the corporate model of
social responsibility observed in larger companies, where businesses were created
and sustained alongside, not within, the community.
Transition from the labour market Top
Transition is likely to increase, not decrease, as a feature of the labour
market. Two groups of vulnerable workers are most obviously at risk: women
returning to the workforce and older workers. Women returning to the labour
market from family responsibilities have benefited from the Government’s
paid parental leave – the majority resume employment with the same employer.
However, those men and women who exit the labour market for longer periods
because of family responsibilities often struggle to re-enter the workplace
under the same conditions and with the same status. Some work part-time, even
if they want longer hours, as step towards full-time employment.
Older workers are especially vulnerable in times of economic recession and
industry change. Economic restructuring in New Zealand in the 1990s saw middle
level management, mainly men in their mid 50s, lose their jobs and become mature
job-seekers. Mature job-seekers face pervasive societal stereotyping that indirectly
discriminates against employment opportunities (McGregor & Gray, 2001).
The rights of older people in relation to work are increasingly a focus of
attention (ILO Recommendation 162 (1980)). While age is a prohibited ground
of discrimination, there is a need for more active consideration of means for
preventing discrimination on the grounds of employment and occupation. Employers,
too, would like a rethink about the blunt instrument of performance management
in negotiating the transition from the work force of older workers at the end
of otherwise valuable working lives. The right to the “enjoyment of just
and favourable conditions of work” (ICESC, article 7) has particular
significance for the health and safety and working conditions of older workers.
What does this mean for the right to work?Top
International understanding of what benchmarks should be used to assess aspects
of the right to work (such as what constitutes ‘full employment’)
is still developing. In New Zealand the right to work is expressed in a broad
range of international instruments and domestic statutes. In addition, a number
of government department strategies impinging on employment are guiding policy,
and individual initiatives around decent work and pay equity are influencing
practice. At the level of the workplace, though, the significant drop in unionisation,
with its accompanying loss of organised employee advancement and protection
presents new problems from a right-to-work perspective: how can full understanding
of employment rights by employers and employees who are outside of organised
coverage be achieved beyond minimal legislative compliance? The promotion of
the right to collectively bargain and the right to freedom of association is
essential for a strong trade union movement.
New Zealand is obliged to respect, promote, protect and fulfil the right to
work. While definition of the right to work and its evaluation may be incomplete,
elements such as the free choice of employment, protection against unemployment,
anti-discrimination, equal pay, and just and favourable work conditions are
widely understood and accepted. New Zealand has some flexibility in how it
fulfils these within its social and economic environment. In taking the pulse
of New Zealanders about employment issues at a time when the economy was buoyant,
the two consultation projects showed that, overall, most people felt New Zealand
was positively and progressively realising the right to work. They were equally
emphatic, however, about the challenges posed by systemic and structural disadvantages
in the labour market, and demonstrated willingness to improve them.
Findings from consultation
"Secondary tax for more than one job discriminates against low income groups who are more likely to have several part time jobs"
New Zealanders involved in the consultation process provided feedback on positive
achievements in relation to the right to work and also the areas that needed
attention. In some cases, contradictory ideas were expressed, particularly
about the role of Government in the employment relationship.
Positive comments were received about:
- minimum wage rates, particularly for youth
- well policed work standards
- occupational safety and health standards
- paid parental leave
- trade union activity
- legislation that ‘enables workers … to be protected from the excesses
of the free market’
- the openness of the job market
- Government’s lack of interference in who can get a job.
Identified areas for improvement were:
- lack of employment opportunities
- rates of pay, especially for women
- a work culture of long hours
- poor quality on-the-job training
- protection for unemployed people
- discrimination against older workers and new migrants
- tax disadvantages for single income families
- employers’ attitudes to union membership
- lack of information about, and the complexity of, grievance processes
- legislation impinging on individual freedom of choice and contract.