Monday, July 19, 2010

Way down in the hole

Something happened to the body politic in the weekend, but it's too soon to say exactly what it was. John Armstrong rightly declared the National party conference at Sky City a vacuous stage-managed affair. The Young Nats got their token limelight with the only remit of the weekend (the Keep It 18 thing, which suits the shareholders just fine), but it was otherwise a very glossy love-in.

Conference attendees were happy enough to hear of John Key's crackdown on labour protections. Outside the venue, union groups did their performance art thing for the cameras. So stupid to try and storm the building. You'd think Sue Bradford would be getting too old for the aggro. But no, they were mired in old tactics once again.

Helen Kelly and others had enough ammunition to put across some succinct soundbites. Russell Brown is fairly doing his nut on the matter of selectively leaking a state-funded report to the party faithful to justify the new rules. A study which seems so skewed, even John Key was backing away from bits of it by Sunday morning on Q&A.

Then on Monday morning, Nine to Noon gives some airtime to Dr Judy McGregor, the EEO Commissioner who talked about a much more thorough report into the NZ labour market from the Human Rights Commission. No Right Turn sums up the three myths uncovered:
"...they found that workers are not slackers"
"the HRC also found a culture of long working hours"
"But the really disturbing stuff is about gender discrimination and pay equity..."

On the first point, the overwhelming majority of workers I have observed are not slackers. Very few people go to work to do the absolute minimum possible. You want corroboration? Here's the excellent RSA Animate backing it up:

The HRC second myth aneurysm is that NZers are slack workers. On the contrary, NZers aren't afraid to work long hours. By OECD standards, NZ works long hours as much as Japan. Unfortunately, we don't get the same pay as Japan. No, we're way down with the Greeks on the take home pay.

On the third point, I have no opinion. Hospitality has been low rent for long enough that equal pay is not an issue. But I do appreciate the desire for more transparency over pay rates.

The HRC Report catches my eye on the matter of the disability labour market:
People with disabilities face considerable difficulties securing and sustaining employment and problems of underemployment. Disabled people with tertiary qualifications experience the same level of unemployment as non-disabled people without qualifications and in general disabled people are twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people...

A group of Deaf in Hawke's Bay talked about the multiple barriers inherent in the recruitment process. They talked about assistance needed for preparing Curricula Vitae (CVs), phoning prospective employers and organising an interpreter for the rare occasions when they got a job interview. There is no resident sign interpreter in Hawke's Bay. Sadly the interpreter was often perceived by prospective employers as a support person rather than as an impartial interpreter.

Fears that lack of hearing created a higher risk in terms of health and safety were also prevalent.
My bold. Although I inhabit the in-between world of the demi-Deaf, this all rings so very true and it's not just the tinnitus talking. I was advised that tertiary study helps get a foot in the door. Utter rubbish. My first job after graduation was alongside school leavers at a Telecom Call Centre front line (My career in inappropriate job placements has a long a colourful history).

While I understand that John Key had to throw his backers some kind of simple bones to chew over, I'm not quite sure why he had to throw them the underclass bodies. Key's smile and wave ambitious for the underclass advertising jingle has now officially expired.

I think this is where it all falls down for Key. He sold himself on being ambitious for the underclass, but here he is selling out that constituency against all rational advice. He led the union heads to believe he would move in good faith, and he has clearly trashed that understanding. And on a very personal level, John Key has continually failed to provide any quid for his pro quo. Not one iota of some Edward de Bono lateralism, just a reinforced distrust of the wage slaves.

The big winner from all this is Sky City, who rely on a high churn of lonely robots for their vast workforce. I should know, I used to work there. Sky City is legendary for the hateful work environment, from the floorstaff to management. Never have I seen a place so rife with justifiable sickies.

The swathes of National and Act activists with Sky City shares will be rejoicing on the anticipated extra squeeze for dividends being extracted from the masses. But for the many waiters, cooks and others who served and entertained National last weekend, it's just one more reason to smile harder and pretend not to be a minimum wage performing monkey.