Gordon Campbell on cutting labour costs, and Superstorm Sandy's divine message

It is now just over 20 years since the Employment Contracts Act was passed, and 12 years since its main provisions were overturned. Unfortunately, the mindset that gave birth to the ECA hasn’t changed very much in the interim, judging by the changes to employment law announced yesterday. All of which confirms that the only thing that centre right governments know how to do is to drive down wages and working conditions, cross their fingers and hope. Well, lets be clear about this : cutting labour costs is not a growth strategy. It wasn’t for the Bolger government, and it won’t be the case for the Key government either. These measures are just a freebie being tossed to employers, at the cost of further social misery and income inequality.

Essentially, the package of measures announced yesterday remove the Part 6A protections currently available to workers hired by private contractors in commercial cleaning, catering and security work on sites such as public hospitals, schools and pre-school centres, rest homes and Parliamentary offices. As things stand, these workers tend to be paid close to the minimum wage – and the experience of the last 20 years has shown them to be particularly vulnerable to cut-throat competitive tendering between the contractors bidding for the work. That’s why the law was originally changed, to protect them.

What the Part 6A provisions did when they were passed in 2004 was to provide some security and continuity for such workers. A new and successful tender would not immediately cost them their jobs, or result in their wages and employment conditions being ratcheted downwards overnight. That protection has now gone. Thanks to yesterday’s changes, small and medium size businesses will now be given a virtual free hand to shed staff and cut wages at will, on winning a new contract – or even merely in the wake of an internal restructuring.

This change was not the only aspect of yesterday’s poisonous little package. The provisions to foster good faith bargaining and collective bargaining have also been eroded. You have to wonder about the priorities here. Given all the social and economic problems facing New Zealand thanks to the precarious state of the economy and the job market, why is the Key government choosing to make the jobs of the people working in rest homes less secure, and even more poorly paid than they are now? What it suggests is that the centre right really doesn’t have a clue about how to grow an economy. All they do is to throw freebies to business in the form of tax breaks and regressive labour laws. Again, we’re seeing more 19th century solutions for 21st century problems from this government.

Sandy Goes Stateside

Interesting to see the sudden saturation coverage of Superstorm Sandy once it began killing Americans and destroying First World infrastructure, as opposed to the relative media disinterest when it was only lives and property in Jamaica and the Bahamas that were being lost, or damaged. Given that the last big storm to touch down on the US mainland had hit during the Republican convention in Florida, some found it tempting to see the hand of the Almighty in the advent of Sandy only days before the presidential election – and sure enough, quite a few fundamentalist websites have been describing the Superstorm in quite apocalyptic terms.

This wacko site, for instance, chose to depict yesterday’s storm and a simultaneous tiny earthquake off the Los Angeles coast as being caused by….the sins of the gays. One commenter noted that the word “Sandy” (and related names such as “Sandra”) have a root derivation that means “Defender of Men.” Clearly then, since the US has surrendered so completely to the gay menace, then Superstorm Sandy should be seen as God’s scourge, and as a celestial defence of manliness and heterosexual virtue. As usual, Stephen Colbert got there first. Some time ago, with reference to Hurricane Isaac, Colbert explained the science of how gays originate hurricanes:

“Hurricanes form from rising moisture created by hot steamy man action aboard a gay Caribbean cruise. When that sin gets high enough it makes the angels cry and those tears fall to earth in the form of massive precipitation because homosexuals are a vital part of the water cycle. That’s why the gay symbol is a rainbow!

Unlike rape and its outcomes which are to be embraced as God’s will, the society that condones gayness is to be destroyed, preferably by a howling tempest. Can it be coincidental that only days before Sandy arrived on the scene, the polling margin enjoyed by President Barack Obama over Mitt Romney in New York State had reportedly widened? Even God, it seems, is now reading Nate Silver.