EMA warns: Productivity key to preventing ‘new norm’ strike action

Beep, beeeep, beeeep, beep… blared from my ute’s horn as I enthusiastically blasted it out and, simultaneously, revved the striking nurses up that were stationed along Wairau Road, not far from their North Shore hospital. Placards brandished and unison in chant, they fanned in and away in front of me as I passed – arms and messages of equality raised toward the sky and to my windscreen – as I crept in Auckland morning traffic. I felt like I was wearing polka dot and leading the climb in the Pyrenees.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) had voted in favour of nationwide strikes over pay and staffing concerns and had stopped working for 24 hours.

My ‘right-behind-you-and-some’ beeping was heart felt.

Having had recent personal experience that has me fully appreciative of the role nurses and healthcare workers play through my partner’s cancer and subsequent passing, I know full well that our country’s spending is well and truly mixed up and often with priorities in wrong places. How much did that flag debate cost us? Just one of many over the years.

The ‘devalued’ feeling in this country is not just isolated to nurses. In a number of gender-dominated industries, the irks and agonies are surfacing through the cracks. The perfect example is the flipside of what nurses are facing in what is a heavily female dominated industry, to female lawyers failing to garner pay equality in their male-dominated sector.

Whether you agree or disagree with the nurses for their strike action, they are one of many segments raising placards, or threatening to, at present. Currently there’s regular reports of strike action being taken for a number of reasons, or proposed, and the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) is revving up communication at worries of the ‘new norm of industrial relations’.

“We don’t want to see a return to a ‘them and us’ mentality. What we want is a framework that promotes productive employment relationships,” says Kim Campbell, ceo, EMA.

“Strikes are costly – for both workers and businesses – and are the last resort. A negotiated settlement is preferable rather than a strike. Given the proposed changes in employment legislation, it is concerning that the current industrial action may well be providing a realistic view of what the future holds,” says Mr Campbell.

Mr Campbell believes we are tackling the fallout not the problem. He goes on to say that the fundamental requirement to drive wage growth is for New Zealand’s productivity to rise. Hallelujah, I say.

Recently, according to the EMA, the Productivity Commission’s economics and research director Paul Conway reported that the hours worked per capita in New Zealand are the highest in the OECD, but the value produced from the New Zealand labour force is the lowest. The EMA says that wages are lower than other OECD countries because our productivity is lower.

I’m sure Mr Campbell would be the first to agree that these comments don’t help those who find themselves at the lower end of the wage spectrum and facing rising bills and costs. But they do highlight a need to fix what is a problem.

“Which is why the EMA is asking Government MPs to please explain how the proposed changes to industrial relations will deliver to the stated aim of driving a productive, sustainable and inclusive economy.

“We see no evidence that anything in the suggested amendments will make one iota of difference to driving long-term productivity growth. It would seem logical to have this debate first, such as in the yet to convene Future of Work Forum, before charging ahead with changing our current employment law.

“We’ve seen the current coalition deliver pragmatic changes to some policies, and we’re appealing for the same sensible approach here,” says Mr Campbell.