Iwi may be compensated for end of seaborne sweatshops

Byron Clarkfish

A government agency has warned that the state may have to pay iwi upwards of $300 million in compensation for losing their access to foreign charter vessels (FCVs). The foreign ships became notorious for paying crews of mostly Indonesian workers less than New Zealand’s minimum wage, despite fishing in the country’s exclusive economic zone.

Last year 32 fishermen aboard the Korean owned Oyang 75 jumped ship in Lyttelton alleging unpaid wages as well as physical and sexual abuse by their superiors on the ship. Another vessel owned by the same outfit had previously sunk causing the deaths of six crew members. In May the government began to prepare legislation for a ban on FCVs after media (largely Sunday Star Times journalist Michael Field) and the University of Auckland Business School began publishing findings on mistreatment of workers. The ban will be implemented over the next four years.

The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) has noted that as the FCVs were being used to fish the mainly Treaty of Waitangi fisheries quota allocated to iwi, the ban would disproportionately impact on Maori and iwi quota holders. Under treaty legislation, iwi are entitled to compensation for changes in government policy. MPI said that a “worst case scenario could result in a loss in export revenues of around $300 million annually.”  [Read more...]

FIRST Union delegates meet for conference

FIRST Union ConferenceDelegates from FIRST Union, which formed a year ago when FinSec and the National Distribution Union (NDU) merged, attended the union’s biennial conference in Auckland last month.

Secretary Robert Reid describes the union’s agenda as “Decent Work Decent Life” which covers four main areas: jobs for all, a living wage, secure work and safe work. Regarding the living wage Reid says the union will be “promoting not only the concept but to get some real wins on the board in coming years.”

“We are committing to campaign against the most insidious form of employment being labour hire or agency employment, spreading like cancer through all of our industries, and in particular for our union, in transport, logistics and wood. We have achieved recent wins in reducing the use of casual work on jobs, and this issue will remain on our bargaining agenda, as will employment practices that exist across all of our industries where targets programmes are being used to make the life of our members miserable.” [Read more...]

NZ’s Injured Workers “Would Fill Eden Park Four Times Over”

work injuriesThe number of injuries occurring in New Zealand workplaces every year would fill Eden Park almost four times, and that’s on top of the hundred workers who die in the workplace every year- an average of nearly two a week.

“This is simply not good enough and needs to change” said Rob Jager who chairs the Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety which will make recommendations to government on how to reduce workplace harm. New Zealand’s workplace injury rates are about twice that of Australia and almost six times that of the UK.

The Taskforce is made up of six members- five from business and just one form organised Labour. Jager is the chairman of Shell in New Zealand and General Manager of Shell Todd Services. Other members are Mavis Mullins, Director at Paewai Mullins Shearing; Michael Cosman, Managing Director of Impac Services; Paula Rose, former National Manager Road Policing; William Rosenberg, Policy Director/Economist for the Council of Trade Unions; and Paul Mackay, Manager Employment Relations at Business New Zealand.  [Read more...]

The dialectical relationship between work and mental health – Part 4

This is the final instalment of a four-part series by Polly Peek

From a Marxist perspective, the low pay rates of jobs with low psycho-social quality is related to the concept of exploitation – the necessity for wages to be worth less than the value created by the worker’s labour, in order to continue to make a profit. A further component of employment’s potential detriment to mental health, well-being and recovery which is not covered in the research carried out by Butterworth and other (see part 3), is workers’ experiences of alienation. In his book which looks at work and sickness, Paul Bellaby discusses the way in which jobs can accentuate certain qualities of the body and mind, but can also depreciate others. A participant from one of the qualitative interviews quoted in this book talks about alienation with great clarity, as well as its impact on well-being as a worker undertaking solitary tasks.

You hardly talk to anyone. You have no idea what is happening around you – and you lose touch with what is happening in the world. After a while it gets so that you have no conversation, and when you go out socially you do not know what to say – eventually you lose all your self-confidence. (Bellaby) [Read more...]

The dialectical relationship between work and mental health: part 3

This article is part three in a series of articles by Polly Peek. The first two parts can be read in the January and February issues of The Spark or online here (part 1) and here (part 2)

The low employment rates for people experiencing mental ill health can be attributed to a combination of individual discrimination and, more predominantly, systemic barriers. Research into occupational perspectives on recovery by Mary Kelly, Scott Lamont and Scott Brunero, highlighted the experiences of a mental health consumer who was forced to take early retirement by his employers upon disclosure that he was seeing a psychiatrist. This kind of anecdotal evidence may give perspective to the question of whether mental ill health leads to unemployment, or loss of employment erodes resiliency with the suggestion that where illness leads to unemployment, it may, in many cases not result exclusively from symptom recovery but external issues such as inter-personal discrimination.

I would argue that in these situations individual discrimination is a result of a wider systemic issue that is the bottom-line focus of businesses. This priority is evident in research such as that produced by London School of Economics and Political Science researchers which outlines the 10 billion pound annual loss to businesses as a result of “failure of employees to fulfil their contractual hours” while absent from work sick. Extending on this, the authors cite the increasing presence of mental illness in the global burden of disease as a reason for some people being absent from work up to three times as often as their colleagues. While similar finding have featured in New Zealand research such as that undertaken by Southern Cross, and cited in the NZ Herald in 2009, more attention to the abilities of employers to reduce the impact of mental illness on workplace performance could improve employment opportunities for people with mental illness in the absence of a larger societal change away from prioritising profit. [Read more...]

The Dialectical Relationship between Work and Mental Health: part 2

This article is the second of a four-part series by Polly Peek. The first part can be read online here or in the December-January issue of The Spark. ‘Consumer’ in this article refers to a person who currently or has previously used psychiatric services. ‘Bourdieuian’ refers to the theories developed by French Sociologist Piere Bourdieu and  ‘taangatawhaiora’ is a Te Reo term that translates to ‘person seeking well-being’.

The instrumental value of employment is that it creates opportunities for mental health consumers to access additional resources to improve their health and wellbeing such as financial resources and supportive social networks. From a Bourdieuian perspective, therefore, employment allows people with experience of mental illness to beneficially increase their social and economic capital. The benefit of these resources has been expanded on in research exploring resilience factors for mental health. One example of this is a 2002 Ministry of Health publication which cites economic security as being crucial for well-being as well as the availability of opportunities. Because of the lower-than-minimum-wage rate of benefits in New Zealand society and difficulties attaining work without experience, the mental health benefits that come from economic security and accessibility of opportunities is likely to disproportionately benefit those in paid work in comparison to the unemployed.

[Read more...]

The Dialectical Relationship between Work and Mental Health (Part 1)

is work good for mental health?

This article is the first in series by Polly Peek addressing the issues of work and mental health from Marxist perspective. For more information on the concept of dialectics see http://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/d/i.htmIn this article the term ‘mental health community’ refers to those people experiencing mental illness or distress, and ‘consumer’ refers to those using or having previously used psychiatric services..

The role work plays in the mental health of people experiencing mental illness is complex, with research on the topic appearing somewhat contradictory on the surface, the most prominent contradiction being whether work is overall beneficial or detrimental to well-being and recovery. Research suggests that employment, or engagement in meaningful contribution is a “critical component of the pathway to recovery” (Mental Health Commission, 2001, cited in Duncan and Peterson, 2007) and that the most significant employment challenge for people experiencing mental illness is overcoming structural barriers to attaining work. At the same time, other studies indicate that the correlation between work and wellness is not so clear-cut, and that the kinds of jobs most accessible to the mental health community are also those with the highest likelihood of decreasingwell-being and obstructing recovery. In approaching this conflict through a dialectical analysis, the question of interplay between work and mental health moves from one of ‘is work more beneficial or detrimental to recovery and wellbeing’ to one of ‘how can the contradictions of employment’s simultaneous facilitation and eroding of wellness be resolved’. [Read more...]

1000 a year die from work

According to new statistics from the Department of Labour:

Is your work slowly killing you?Every year:

  • Workplace injuries are killing about 100 people
  • More than 700 people die prematurely from work-related illness or disease
  • More than 200,000 people are seriously harmed (this corresponds to 12 injuries for every 100 workers)1
  • There are more than 17,000 new cases of work-related disease, with between 2,500 – 5,500 classed as severe
  • Construction, agriculture, forestry, manufacturing and fishing consistently have above average fatal and major injury rates – accounting for approximately 37% of all ACC claims.2

Of those 200,000 serious injuries

  • The manufacturing sector has the highest number of work-related injuries
  • The highest injury-incidence rates are in the mining industry, construction industry, and agriculture, forestry and fishing sector
  • Sprains and strains are by far the most frequent injury (90,000 claims), followed by open wounds (37,000 claims)
  • An estimated 50% of injuries result in impairment, and 6% in permanent impairment.3

Death or injury on the worksite has been a constant battle between workers and bosses. This has existed going back to the first developments of capitalism in New Zealand, where a group of Bay of Islands Maori in 1821 staged the first strike, demanding “for their labour in money as was the case in England, or else in gunpowder.” or Samuel Parnell, a carpenter who on arrival in New Zealand in 1840 refused to work longer than an eight hour day.4 [Read more...]

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