Monday, 29 July 2013

Labour promises to ditch Charter Schools & TV3 News loses cred

Today David Shearer released news that every teacher and parent who cares about education and the
future of our children will consider music to their ears:  Labour will ditch Charter Schools as soon as they return to government and are currently drafting a bill so it will be ready to roll on day one.

Labour will repeal charter schools legislation

David Shearer  |  Monday, July 29, 2013 - 15:55
Labour will repeal the legislation allowing the creation of charter schools immediately upon becoming government, Labour Leader David Shearer said today.
The National government is expected to announce candidates for the first charter schools this week.
“Charter schools won’t be good for education. They won’t have to have registered teachers, won’t have to teach to the curriculum and won’t be subject to the same accountability as state schools.
“They are an ideological experiment inflicted on the country as the result of a dodgy cup of tea deal between John Banks and John Key.
“Labour has been working with groups in the education sector to draft a Bill repealing recent Education Act changes that allow charter schools to be established.
“We’re not going to wait until we’re in government to get to work on this, we’ll be ready to go on day one.
“I’ll be releasing a draft Bill soon, but in the meantime I want to send a clear signal to anyone considering establishing a charter school that there is no future for them when Labour returns to government.
“Any government that I lead will make decisions in education based on what’s best for kids and learning. The charter schools experiment fails at the first hurdle.”
Labour News

We also know the Greens, Mana and New Zealand First have the same views on Charter Schools as Labour does.  So there will be support for this bill to go through providing New Zealand gets out and votes in Election 2014.

Most main stream media outlets carried this such as Radio New Zealand, the New Zealand Herald and TVNZ.  Surprisingly, neither the Herald or TVNZ had managed to round up a government spokesperson to belittle Labour's announcement and spout their usual GERM lies. 

This is probably because Hekia Parata is currently on a junket visiting education ministers around the world, John Key is in transit from Korea to.... I think he's about to go on holiday.  And I just saw Gerry Brownlee on the news tonight entertaining Tom Cruise, his son Connor and a whole lot of Warner Bros execs with Team New Zealand at the Louis Vuitton Cup in San Francisco.  Goodness knows where Steven Joyce is!  Probably fixing someone else's cock up, while Jonathan Coleman scrambles to deal with the latest debacle of our armed forces declaring investigative journalists as akin to terrorists!!  And does anyone care about what John Banks has to say on Charter Schools?

Meanwhile, as I write this, Stuff (Fairfax) have nothing on it, and TV3's news website, which used to be good, must be suffering from receivership, because it's suddenly become unsurfable and I couldn't find a reference to Labour's Charter School policy announcement at all.

However there is plenty to be had on 3 News over David Shearer's housing policy announcements yesterday - and it is not pretty.

Patrick Gower, 3 News Political Reporter, spent much of tonight's piece on the 6 o'clock news giving John Key time to say that the Labour housing policy was racist and that his advice is that it would breach New Zealand's Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China.

David Shearer was barely given time to state anything about the policy or the advice regarding the FTA he has received.  Luckily we have Mr Shearer's press release to refer to:

Labour to restrict non-resident purchases of homes

David Shearer  |  Sunday, July 28, 2013 - 09:23
Labour will restrict the ability of non-residents to purchase New Zealand houses, as part of its comprehensive package of policies to help New Zealanders get into their first home.
“I will restore the Kiwi dream of home ownership that has slipped out of reach for tens of thousands of Kiwis.  I don’t want to see our kids become a generation of renters,” says Labour Leader David Shearer.
“House prices in Auckland have risen by 28 per cent since June 2009. The problem is clear – there are just not enough affordable homes.  And overseas speculators are adding to the problem.
“That’s why the next Labour government will introduce restrictions so that non-residents will not be allowed to buy any existing house, flat or apartment.
“Many other countries, including Australia, China, Singapore, the UK and Switzerland target overseas speculation in housing.  New Zealand’s lack of regulation leaves the door wide open for international speculators.
“IRD records show that more than 11,000 overseas investors own properties here that they don’t live in.  An estimated 2,600 homes were bought last year by offshore property speculators that had no intention of living here.  That’s a big chunk, given that just 4,700 new homes were built in Auckland last year.
“This policy will reduce demand and help take some of the heat out of the market.  It will put Kiwi buyers at the front of the queue.
“By itself this is not a silver bullet for housing affordability – but it is part of the solution. 
“It sits alongside Labour’s KiwiBuild policy to build 100,000 affordable homes over 10 years for first time buyers, and our plan to tax property speculation.  Together these policies will increase the supply of entry-level housing and reduce speculation-driven demand.
“Labour’s comprehensive housing affordability plan will mean first home buyers get a fair crack at getting into the housing market,” says David Shearer.
Labour News

I hope you noticed the part about which other countries, including China, restrict foreigners owning their houses and land.

I've long watched 3 News.  I've found them entertaining, informative and often they beat TVNZ to the punch on some issues.  Until recently I have considered 3 News to be trustworthy to report the news with honesty.

But that belief has taken a beating lately.

The continued innuendoes about David Shearer's leadership, the constant niggle to make a story out of.... well, what, really.

But what took the cake for me was the story on 3 News of the GCSB protests on Saturday night when presenter Sasha McNeil said that rocks and bottles were thrown at the protest held in Palmerston North (from the 4:30 minute mark).  It was never verified, and I know someone who was there that has categorically stated on social media that no rocks or bottles were thrown, that it was a peaceful protest.  How low have standards sunk at TV3 lately?  And are the receivership troubles a reason for this?

A complaint has been laid with the Broadcasting Standards Authority and police have confirmed that this report was untrue. 

TV3's Auckland bureau chief Keith Slater said an email from a person within the Palmerston North area provided the tip.
He would not comment on why it wasn't verified.
''3 News acted on information provided that was incorrect and we will rectify that error,'' he said before the apology went to air.

Complaints are now being made about the quality of the apology.  (Oh how good it would be to include a link to this apology... but I can't find one!)

So I am going to say here that David Shearer has met the standard on Charter Schools.  There is no place for Charter Schools and their unregistered teachers in New Zealand's quality public education system.  Now step up and make definitive statements on National Standards and PaCT please David.

However, 3 News and a number of reporters are failing the standard.  They need to get their balance back and verify information before broadcasting.  I beg 3 News to up their game... because I like watching you, but if you continue to perform this way I will have to switch channels.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Charter Schools, Partnership Schools, Kura Hourua - Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

As I began writing this blog, rumour had it that Destiny Church's application to run a Partnership School aka Charter School aka Kura Hourua had been denied.

And guess what - it has, yippee!!  But who has been accepted?  That will soon be announced by our Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, sometime in August on a day something else big happens so she can drop it in on the quiet.

It worries me who will run a Charter School.  And for all Hekia's tantrums that they are actually Partnership Schools or Kura Hourua, you can't mistake a wolf in sheep's clothing.

I'll be pretty pleased not to see Destiny running a Charter School.  And here is why:
  • They'd get to set their own curriculum - now considering the clap trap that comes out of the Destiny Church is regards to doctrine and how they expect their congregations to cough up large tithes, I don't consider Destiny to be true to the word of Christ.
  • Charter Schools are meant to be open to all who come, not just a specific group of people, therefore this gives Destiny an opportunity to evangelise to a captive audience.  I'm not opposed to the preaching of faith... just not to a captive audience, it should be for those who seek comfort and are exploring their spirituality.
  • Without the comfort of the OIA we will not be able to see how Destiny would spend those education dollars they have been gifted or how their students are succeeding, or not, as the case may be.  That is very concerning.
Politically it would not be a good choice for Hekia Parata to include Destiny in the first intake of Charter Schools.  The vast majority of the country would be greatly opposed to seeing a religious organisation with some cult-like characteristics receive tax payers dollars to possibly indoctrinate young and impressionable children.

John Banks, Associate Minister of Education and ACT leader who supposedly required the establishment of Charter Schools as part of his coalition deal with John Key's National government, favours the KIPP model from the US. 

KIPP moved into the void created by Hurricane Katrina when the schools of New Orleans were damaged and destroyed.  In fact choice has been mostly eliminated in New Orleans because where once public schools stood and served each community, it was replaced by a KIPP school.

So what is KIPP?  The following comes from their website:

KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program, is a national network of free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public charter schools with a track record of preparing students in underserved communities for success in college and in life.

There are currently 125 KIPP schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia serving more than 41,000 students. More than 86 percent of our students are from low-income families and eligible for the federal free or reduced-price meals program, and 95 percent are African American or Latino. Nationally, more than 93 percent of KIPP middle school students have graduated high school, and more than 83 percent of KIPP alumni have gone on to college.

Since our founding, it has been our core belief that all students, regardless of their zip code or demographics, will learn and achieve. We are committed to serving the students who need us most and refuse to accept anything less than an excellent college-preparatory education for students from low-income communities. 

Essential to creating a great system of schools is having our eyes on the same goal: college graduation. At KIPP, teachers, leaders, students, and parents are all united around this goal.  By providing outstanding educators, more time in school learning, and a strong culture of achievement, KIPP is helping all students build the skills needed to make it not only to, but through, college.

And those who oppose the KIPP invasion say:

  • This blog Schools Matter: A former KIPP teacher shares her story tells of a foreign languages teacher being recruited from teaching a college class to teach in a Year 9-12 KIPP school.  She was at 5.00am, at work by 6.40am and did not leave before 6.30pm, had an hour to eat her dinner before she started grading papers until 9.30pm.  During her evening she was also on call for parents and students.  She worked a 90 hour week and had no social life.  By the end of the school year the majority of the start of year staff, 70%, had resigned or been fired, and her job was gone as they cut her subject.

I asked about learning the rules like standing up against the wall and the imposed silence in many KIPP lunchrooms.  She said the rules were communicated during in-services, as part of the Big List. 

Big list? I asked.
         . . . . The big list is basically anything and everything because in low income schools . . . [it’s] sort of  the methodology behind teaching in low income schools. . . .The big list is every system or procedure that we have in place so that basically it’s controlling every variable in an environment, which is generally uncontrollable.  For example, where teachers are in the morning.  Where teachers are when they greet students in their classroom.  What time you need to have all your copies and everything done and ready.  What students should dress like when they come into the building.  And some of it we just went all off those and we created this big list.  And that was something we did during in service and then we did also while we were at KIPP summit.  You set an expectation and the kids have to meet that expectation every day all day without prompters. 
          INT:  Without fail.

R:  Without fail.  And that’s the KIPP culture that’s supposed to be the KIPP culture.  Now it varies from school to school because you have different school leaders and KIPP sort of  does this let the stallions run things, where it’s like let the principal run the school how they see fit.
[Other former KIPP teachers talked about children learning to ride the bus the KIPP way, getting off the bus, going to the bathroom the KIPP way, sitting in a desk the KIPP way, and walking in the hall all according to KIPP, how to act when visitors were in the building, and how to accept punishment.]

  • This news article by a Nashville television station identifies a long known secret: getting rid of the problem students out of Charter Schools right before testing time and sending them back to the public schools.  In fact, KIPP is known to have the highest exclusion rate across the US, and the public schools end up soaking these kids back up.
However, Kipp Academy is also one of the leaders in another stat that is not something to crow about.
When it comes to the net loss of students this year, charter schools are the top eight losers of students.
In fact, the only schools that have net losses of 10 to 33 percent are charter schools.
MNPS feels it's unacceptable as well, because not only are they getting kids from charter schools, but they are also getting troubled kids and then getting them right before testing time.
Nineteen of the last 20 children to leave Kipp Academy had multiple out-of-school suspensions. Eleven of the 19 are classified as special needs, and all of them took their TCAPs at Metro zoned schools, so their scores won't count against Kipp.

  • KIPP schools require parents and students to sign a pledge to abide by KIPP’s strict behavioral code and their rigorous curriculum. Drug-addicted, sexual and physically abusive parents, and dysfunctional families need not apply.  Public schools have almost a 50 percent higher percentage of handicapped children than KIPP does.  Approximately 60% of public school children have transferred (changed schools during the year), but KIPP solves this problem by not allowing children to transfer into their schools after the start of their school year.  It is hard to compare results of KIPP schools to local public schools as many of KIPP’s less able students have dropped out.  (source)

Recently Catherine Isaac, former ACT party president and candidate who was gifted the plum job of heading the Partnership School Advisory Group by her good mate John Banks, wrote an opinion piece for The Australian entitled Education's Fresh Charter

Released from many of the major constraints of regular state schools, the schools have one central requirement: they must attract and enable educational success for students underserved by the country's school system, notably Maori and Pasifika....  While there is some flexibility and devolution of management, and provision for special character and Maori language immersion schools, it is largely a tightly regulated, one-size-fits-all approach.

Ms Isaac then goes on to extoll the virtues of the Swedish Free Schools, after condemning the opposition in New Zealand by many including NZEI and PPTA:

Interestingly, when Sweden moved 20 years ago to introduce a form of charter school, now a highly successful mainstream feature of its school network, its teacher unions did not oppose it. Instead they saw it as an opportunity for teachers to gain professionally from more alternatives and innovation in education.
Subsequent surveys have shown this to be true, with significantly higher teacher satisfaction rates for teachers in "free" schools, compared with their regular state school counterparts.

Isaac then says there "has been a clear demonstration of support for the initiative from the communities across the country for whom it was designed" citing one body, the Iwi Education Authority.

Well here is a bit of rebuttal to this:
  •  New Zealand schools have a lot of flexibility to introduce learning opportunities for students.  Some schools have farms, some have business schools, some have adventure/outdoor ed schools, some have sports academies, some focus on enviro issues, some teach bilingually or full immersion in Maori or another language, some have an awesome focus on the arts....  really the only constraint is National introducing National Standards and narrowing the curriculum and not allowing the New Zealand Curriculum to shine to its full potential.
  • New Zealand schools have lots of great programmes to improve the outcomes of students.  Sadly the Ministry of Education has axed or restricted the funding to a number of these great programmes.  Reading Recovery is a successful programme... however the funding for this has decreased over the last few years, just ask your local primary principal.  There is a follow on programme for kids who need further support after Reading Recovery, but I've rarely seen a school funded for it.  The MOE began funding ALIM and ALL last year to give a boost to those 'just below the standard' in numeracy and literacy.... they funded the beginning, and just when schools get going they cut the funding and expect schools to fund it from... yeah, where?  The biggest kicker is that the MOE cut the funding to Te Kotahitangata programme that has been successful in improving the relationships between students and teachers, improving the teachers' ability to teach and communicate with students, and the students' self belief as learners.  It's been replaced with a programme from the USA.  That's culturally sensitive to our Pacific Island and Maori students isn't it.
  • Are Sweden's Free Schools all they are cracked up to be?  In May it was announced that one provider was closing a number of schools, meaning hundreds of kids would no longer have a school.  It was closing them because they couldn't cover the economic loss any longer.  That is why education should not be a business.  Many in Sweden are now looking at their sliding rankings internationally and are questioning whether or not Free Schools are working.
  • And as for Isaac's assertion that there has been a clear demonstration of support for Charter Schools, she was obviously deaf and blind when the submissions to the Education Amendment Act happened at the Science and Education Select Committee meetings.  I know a number of people who personally attended and listened, and the majority of submissions were overwhelmingly opposing Charter Schools and they had well thought out and researched submissions.  Isaac quoting the Iwi Education Authority, one loan voice from Maori and Pacifica groups, needs to remember that this group was only established in June last year, and even though there are some well regarded educationalists on this group (including Iria Whiu, former NZEI national president), how many people does this group really represent?
  • Finally, only five applications to initiate Charter Schools were received by the Minister.  This number hardly screams and outstanding need for Charter Schools in New Zealand.

Just now I have seen that the ombudsman has released a report saying that the public does what transparency over the Charter Schools issue and that there clearly is not enough clarity.  In a press statement released by NZEI it says:  "In a ruling just released, the Ombudsman, Prof Ron Paterson, has found that the Ministry of Education had “no good reason” for refusing to release the names of organisations expressing an interest in setting up a charter school."  Remember that Catherine Isaac was in charge of this process.  She even made commitments to two organisations responding to the call for applications that the process would be confidential.  This is public money we are talking about and the public wants to know how it is being spent and by whom.
This policy is a huge fail.  It fails public accountability.  It fails our already quality public education system.  It fails the group of students, Maori and Pacifica in particular, that it aims to improve outcomes for.  It fails because it has not captured the imagination of the New Zealand public.
In short, it fails the standard.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

When Life Gives You Lemons, Dealing With WINZ Sucks Even More

Sometimes life gives you lemons... things don't go the way you plan... life is hard.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you do not have a job.

In 1930 the first unemployment benefit was established in New Zealand.  The Unemployment Act promised relief payments to those who registered as unemployed and then it followed that there would be no payments made without work, meaning those registered would have to participate in government 'make work' schemes such as building roads and working on farms or in forestry projects.  The Social Security Act of 1938 followed and made it that the benefit was "payable to a person 16 years of age and over who has been in New Zealand for at least 12 months and is unemployed, is capable of and willing to undertake suitable work, and has taken reasonable steps to secure employment".  (Wikipedia - Welfare in New Zealand).  And since then more benefits have been added and many changes have occurred.

You can have all the qualifications and work experience in the world... but you may not be the person for that organisation or another one, and the next thing you know you are unemployed, leaving bills unopened on the table, getting inventive with food (or inviting yourself to other people's places to eat), popping $10 in the petrol tank, scraping together enough to pay the rent so you won't be homeless, scouring the net for jobs to apply for (including those out of the sphere of your qualifications and experiences).

This is the reality many people find themselves in at least once in their lives.  Suddenly the rug is pulled out from under them (they are made redundant, the company goes into liquidation, a contract comes to an end and another doesn't materialise, or you stuff up big time and get the "don't come Monday") and they think "It's ok, I'll find another job, and if I have to I'll go to WINZ for help."

If you haven't been there... count yourself lucky.  It's not a place I want to be ever again... but this was my life twice during 2010.

I had a fixed term position and I had not secured a new position so I knew that my pay was coming to an end, and I reduced expenditure in accordance.... but money only lasts so long, and then it is gone.  For nearly two months I was on the bones of my bum.

It was scary, demoralising, depressing, soul destroying.... and that was before I dealt with WINZ.

Dealing with WINZ I was made to feel the lowest of the low, like filth on the bottom of one's shoe.  Like I was an uneducated lay about who was feckless and without gumption.

I was ridiculed because I did not come to WINZ as soon as I became unemployed  -  I honestly thought I could secure another job, or earn enough as a reliever, the eternal optimist.  I was told to sell possessions, which I refused to do as most of what I owned was second hand already when I got it so it wouldn't yield much, and then it would cost me more to replace them later on.  I was told to move to a cheaper house.  From experience, as I have moved a lot, I can tell you it would have been more expensive for me to move than to stay where I was.  I was told to cancel all my insurances  -  I refused as I reckoned as soon as I did that I'd crash into a brand new BMW, my house would burn down and I would need a major operation - never cancel your insurance!!

The day I went to WINZ I actually opened a power bill to find it was a notice of disconnection.  That sent me into a mad panic.

I had to pull the tears out to the lady at WINZ.  To her credit, she probably deals with a lot of sad cases each day who know all the ways to manipulate the system.  But I was at desperation stage.  I had no money left to pay the next lot of rent.  My power, phone, internet and gas were about to be disconnected.  I couldn't put petrol in my car to drive the 90km back to where I lived (no public transport in a rural district where the townships are isolated from each other by geographical land features of a large size).

Luckily for me though, I had been to a job interview the day before and secured the job.  Unfortunately it would be about six weeks before I started the job (the nature of my profession), and another two and a half weeks after that until I would be paid.

I have found before that having a job to start means WINZ is more likely to help you.  They can see that you are a short term project, that you'll be quickly off the books.  If you are going to stick around for a much longer period of time then they will put as many road blocks in the way to them helping you as they possibly can.

So because I was going to be starting a job, WINZ reluctantly agreed to pay my power and gas bills and a contribution towards my phone and internet bills and the next rent.  No money to get the 90km home though.  And I'd be paying them back these advances (this was to take me about two years to do this, as more was later added to the total during the second time as a 'government employee'). 

I was granted the Unemployment Benefit and an Accommodation allowance.  It all came out at close to $240 per week.  My rent at the time was $300 a week (living in a popular coastal town, that I'd moved to because of my previous position, is expensive) which meant I still had a shortfall.

The position was a fixed term position, with the possibility of extending it... which didn't happen, and again I found myself suddenly without employment.  I went to an interview prior to finishing, but another worthy applicant won that position.

This time I didn't wait as long to visit WINZ.  I was back after my last pay went through.  This time I had to do one of their "job seeker seminars" where they taught me to suck eggs on how to apply for a job.  They showed me the jobs they had available.... they were very few and not where I lived.

But I was no slouch.  I investigated several options.  I had interviews for two very different positions loosely linked to my expertise.... came extraordinarily close to taking one, which would have led me out of the country for a while.... and then a new opportunity came along.  I applied on a Friday, was rung that afternoon to come for an interview on Monday, got the job to start Friday (someone else was in a hurry to leave, and this is a short time frame for my profession).

This brought in new complications for dealing with WINZ.  The job wasn't in the area I lived in, but just over two hours away.  I had accommodation with family close to the job.... but I didn't have the dosh to physically get to the job - I needed petrol in the car. 

I made an emergency appointment with the local WINZ office to sort this out.  I turned up at the appropriate time to find all the staff had gone home sick!!!  This was too much.  I raged at the poor person at the other end of the 0800 number, who then put me onto the main district office 90km away.  I was never going to make it to that office to get it all sorted, so they sent me to the local community centre who gave me petrol money to get to the new job.

That was my 2010 experience. 

This week Paula Bennett, the Minister of Social Development (or whatever they are calling it this year!) introduced changes to the beneficiary system - not just the unemployment benefit, but ALL benefits.

On Monday 15 July, the following came into being:
  • the DPB, Unemployment and Sickness Benefits won’t exist.
  • Replacing a complex system of seven categories are three main benefits:
            -  Jobseeker Support for those actively seeking and available for work            
            -  Sole Parent Support for sole parents with children under 14 years           
            -  Supported Living Payment for people significantly restricted by sickness, injury or
  • all beneficiary parents will have to ensure their children:
            -  attend 15 hours a week in ECE from 3-5yrs           
            -  attend school from age five or six           
            -  enrol with a PHO, Integrated Family Health Centre or GP
            -  complete WellChild/Tamariki Ora checks
  • The changes also require anyone with work expectations to be drug-free, and benefits can now be stopped if people fail to clear outstanding arrest warrants. 
  • From October 2012, changes for sole parent beneficiaries introduced expectations to be available for part-time work when their youngest is school-age and full-time work when their youngest turns 14.
Some of these reforms look like good ideas.  I think those with outstanding arrest warrants should not be getting my tax payers dollars, particularly if it is for something more significant that parking fines.  Getting more kids enrolled with a GP for consistent health care and enrolled in early childhood education is great too.  I also agree that it is a good thing to get people back into work for their own self worth as well has for their ability to earn more money and be contributing members of society. 

But here is where I have some problems (like many others):
  • Show me the jobs!!!  Those ghost jobs.....  most part time work for solo parents does not fit into school or ECE hours... so then there is the problem of childcare and the expense of it and the safety of it.  Until you address those issues, this is not going to fly.
  • Forcing people into work when they have valid health reasons for not working is going to be problematic.  Who makes that decision?  The individual's own GP, or is this going to be like the ACC debacle of the last few years where some contracted doctor reviews the paperwork without meeting the client and declares they are fit for work.  Then what happens if one (or more) of these people goes back to work and they end up in a worse condition as a result, or go postal?  This is going to be a huge problem, and it will blow up in Paula's face if she has not done this properly, which knowing National, it won't have.
  • Duh - it's already a legal requirement to have your child enrolled at school by age 6.  That is a dumb one.
  • 15 hours of ECE for children of beneficiaries - another problematic issue.  For starters, this takes choice away from the parents.  Is anyone forcing a family with one working parent and one stay at home parent into a minimum number of ECE hours?  What makes that stay at home parent any better at educating a pre-schooler than a stay at home beneficiary parent?  What if there is no appropriate provider in your area where you live?  What if you do not have the transportation to the ECE provider?  And for three year olds, most kindergartens don't offer sessions meeting 15 hours, in fact in some areas you are lucky if you get your child into a kindi before they turn four... and playcentres don't count under this policy... so again the beneficiary parents are denied choice for how their pre-schooler receives their pre-school education.
  • Children in ECE last year were given an identification number.  While the article Kindy kids to have ID numbers in the NZ Herald proclaims it is for children of beneficiaries, all children received one on enrolment (or if they were already enrolled).  However this raises questions about how these numbers and the data collected will be used as well as privacy issues.  Will these numbers be used to monitor and dob in beneficiaries?
  • While doctors visits for under 5s are supposed to be free, that is not the case in every area.  And children under 5 do not always wait for business hours to need a doctor.  Consequently parents fork out big time when they have to do an out of hours doctors visit.  Just this week a case in Hamilton was highlighted of a parent leaving a doctor's surgery as there was a $35 cost for her ten month old baby to be seen as she was from out of town.  So make ALL consultations free for under 5s even out of normal hours and even when it is not their actual doctor or clinic (provided they are enrolled).
  • Not every parent is a fan of vaccinations.  Part of being a parent is making those decisions.  I do not think it right for the state to force the parents of a child into giving them a vaccination that they fundamentally don't agree with.  If that is the parent's choice, then get them to sign a document stating that they made the decision not to vaccinate after researching thoroughly.  Then be it on their heads if something unfortunate happens.
  • Drug testing - while I agree that being drugged out on the job is not a good thing I do have an issue with making beneficiaries do a drug test and pay for it themselves.  If you have a history of drug taking, lost a previous job as a result of drug taking, or are applying for a job in an industry that requires a clear drug screen, sure, go for testing them... and in the first two instances, make the beneficiary pay.  But I see this as a slippery slide into all beneficiaries having to pass drug tests to get a benefit very regularly, and if you have no history of taking drugs, then this would be on the nose.  Just because you are a beneficiary does not mean you take drugs.  If I had been asked to do this I would have been highly offended. 
  • WINZ says it will continue your benefit  "If you agree to take part in an approved activity for at least six weeks and you are still entitled to your benefit, it will be restarted."  (  That's great.  But we have a significant lack of drug and alcohol programmes in New Zealand, and the ones we do have are struggling to keep up with demand and gain appropriate funding.  Providers are sounding a warning.
Of course if you don't comply with the changes, your benefit gets cut.  If you are a parent, how do you feed your kids then?  Do these changes really benefit children in the long run?

I was watching a documentary a few weeks ago late at night A Civilised Society.  The synopsis is as follows:

This documentary looks at the new right ideology that transformed public education in the 80s and 90s and the schism it caused with teachers. Interviews with parents, teachers and unionists are cut together with archive footage of treasury officials and politicians advocating that schools be run as businesses. There are vexed board of trustees' meetings, an infamous deal between Avondale College and Pepsi, and teachers take their opposition from the classroom to the streets. The film is the third in Alister Barry's series critical of neo-liberal reform in NZ.

In the fourth segment, from memory, it shows a principal from an Auckland school saying that children were coming to school hungry, the only meal of the day of consequence was what her school was providing that day, and the children would go home to a cup of tea and some bread for dinner that night.

New Zealand has an epidemic of rheumatic fever.  Other western countries have eliminated this disease.  It is rife here.  Why? 

Rheumatic fever primarily affects children between ages 5 and 17 years with only 20% of first-time attacks occurring in adults, and occurs approximately 20 days after strep throat. In up to a third of cases, the underlying strep infection may not have caused any symptoms.  The illness is so named because of its similarity in presentation to rheumatism.  (Wikipedia)

Rheumatic fever in New Zealand has been shown to be predominant within Maori and Pacific Island groups and with poor people.  Over crowding within the home is one significant factor, as is cold and damp homes.  It causes heart problems when left undiagnosed and untreated.

Last November, Professor Norman Sharpe, the medical director of the National Heart Foundation, said, "I feel ashamed, I feel it is intolerable - we have people coming here from overseas, young doctors from the UK and they can't believe we have rheumatic fever. It scarcely exists in the UK."  He praised the Government's sore-throat swabbing programme in schools, which he expected would control rheumatic fever, but it was a "bandaid" and the problem needed to be addressed "upstream" too, by dealing with poverty, overcrowding and poor quality housing.  (NZ Herald 9/11/12)

There is a programme in South Auckland aiming to eradicate rheumatic fever, and even they are surprised by its extent.  Nurses have found higher rates than expected of streptococcal throat infections in a mass South Auckland programme aimed at cutting the high rates of rheumatic fever in the region.  Because overcrowding is a major factor in strep-throat contraction the coalition is also looking to grow the programme so that housing needs are addressed by Whanau Ora workers or Housing New Zealand.  Nurse Lynn Vasquez, 27, works at East Tamaki and Dawson Road Primary Schools. Her work also includes treatment for serious skin infections such as scabies - which have been eradicated from her schools - boils, infected eczema, cellulitis and school sores. Across the region 2404 children have been treated for skin conditions.  "Overcrowding is a massive, massive issue," she says.  (NZ Herald 17/7/13)

And how will these welfare changes improve things for kids like these? Because I predict a rise in rheumatic fever and serious skin infections and other respiratory ailments like asthma (cold, damp and mouldy houses contribute to this) due to these welfare changes, because overcrowding in houses will increase, people won't be able to afford to go to the doctor or pay for their power bills to get heating (thus increasing sickness), and there will be considerable problems arising from a lack of appropriate diet affecting how children perform in schools so therefore a comprehensive food in schools programme is essential.

But what sticks in my craw the most about these changes and the previous changes to the welfare system since November 2008, particularly the ones against solo parents trying to better themselves, is the hypocrite that Paula Bennett truly is.

Credit where credit is due, Paula Bennett has pulled herself up by her bootstraps... but every piece of help provided to her under the beneficiary system has since been scrapped by her.

Is Paula Bennett even human?  Because I see no compassion for children or their parents in any of these policies.

Her track record in how she deals with those who oppose her is on par with her colleagues (in particular Judith Collins reworking events and reports to suit her, Hekia Parata breaching privacy and Anne Tolley being the bully), but to breach the privacy of WINZ clients and bully them is beneath the level of behaviour expected for a Minister of the Crown.  Ms Bennett clearly doesn't see anything wrong with herself breaching privacy of WINZ clients, that she is above the law.  And then to claim that she won't rule out doing it again is to further question how ethical Ms Bennett is.

I contend then that Paula Bennett fails the standard for the following reasons:
  • She is a hypocrite - she wouldn't be where she was today if it wasn't for all the programmes she axed in 2009.
  • She is clearly not putting children at the centre of her policies, because all these policies will have an adverse affect on children whether she likes it or not.
  • These policies will lead to more people being trapped in a cycle of poverty, and consequently poverty related illnesses (e.g. respiratory conditions, lack of nutrition, mental illnesses).
  • Paula thinks that families slip in and out of poverty on any given day, so does not recognise that poverty is a huge factor in the current New Zealand society.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Simon Bridges fails the standard

Several weeks ago, Simon Bridges, the Minister of Labour, announced he was making some changes to employment law.  He released a media statement on the 5th of June 2013, which I have included below as well:
Legislation to ensure more fairness, flexibility and clarity in employment law passed its first reading in Parliament.
The Employment Relations Amendment Bill proposes a package of measures to improve workplace arrangements in order to lift productivity and help create jobs.  
Labour Minister Simon Bridges told Parliament the Government wants to ensure that employers have the freedom to compete and expand, while key protections for employees are maintained.
The key features of the Bill are:
• The extension of flexible working arrangements so any employee, not just caregivers, can ask for flexible work.
• A return to the original position in the Employment Relations Act where the duty of good faith does not require the parties to conclude a collective agreement. Instead, the Employment Relations Authority may declare whether collective bargaining has concluded.
• Allowing employers to opt out of multi-employer bargaining.
• Allowing for partial pay reductions in cases of partial strike action.
• Removing the 30-day rule that forces non-union members to take union terms and conditions.
• Changes to Part 6A so employers have greater certainty over the transfer of employees in certain industries such as cleaning, catering, orderly and laundry – if there is a restructuring or change in the contracted service provider. Small to medium-sized enterprises with fewer than 20 employees will also be exempt.
• Faster Employment Relations Authority processes.
• Greater clarity as to what confidential information employers are required to provide to affected workers in situations such as dismissal or redundancy.
• Requiring parties to provide notice of a strike or lock-out.
“I am especially keen to hear what affected parties have to say on the Part 6A proposals in the Bill, and will carefully consider their submissions and the recommendations of the Select Committee,” said Mr Bridges.
The Independent Taskforce on Health and Safety has recently made its recommendations to the Government, which are currently being considered.

“I want to signal my intention that, where desirable and practicable, this Bill will be the vehicle to implement any changes that need to be made to the employment relations regime as a result of the Government’s response to the Taskforce.
“Overall the proposed changes reflect a pragmatic approach to promoting flexibility and fairness in the labour market.”
On the 9th of June, Mr Bridges appeared on the TV1 political programme Q&A where he described his changes as "moderate, centre right law" over and over again.  When challenged by Corin Dann that the employment law was working, Bridges said that parts were unworkable or sloppy, creating problems, that we need more fair, flexible law that improves flexibility and profitability and will flow through to higher wages.  Corin pointed out that the changes would take away the rights to negotiate pay rises through collective bargaining, which Simon refuted by saying that collective bargaining was not fair for employers.  Simon Bridges claims that collective bargaining doesn't work, citing the Ports of Auckland dispute.  Corin pointed out that strikes have declined and are not so much of an issue in New Zealand anymore and asked how would low income workers be protected.  Simon Bridges again described these changes as moderate and pragmatic.
Simon Bridges became the Minister of Labour after Kate Wilkinson fell on her sword (finally) on November 5 2012 as a result of the Pike River inquiry (although Chris Finlayson held the position in the interim until John Key did his cabinet reshuffle in late January 2013).  Bridges also holds the portfolio of Energy and Resources.
Before Simon entered parliament as the electorate MP for Tauranga (replacing Bob 'The Builder' Clarkson in 2008) he was a lawyer, a Crown Prosecutor.  Considering Simon was a lawyer, you would expect him to know the law, be able to read it, understand it, apply it.
It appears not.

As you can see from the picture above, Simon Bridges has a poor understanding of one of the most basic tenets of the current legislation.  Pretty poor from a lawyer.

Simon Bridges wants to refuse new employees the right to 30 days to decide if they want to join the union.  Simon Bridges wants to give employers the right to pay new employees less or more with worse or better conditions than their unionised employees from the get go.  While this may be advantageous for the employees who are being paid better and are receiving better conditions, what about the (most likely more numerous) employees who will be worse off?

And why would you remove the requirement for good faith bargaining and allow employers opt out of multi-employer bargaining?  It certainly won't benefit employees or their relationships with their employers.  These changes are a tool to benefit employers only, to maximise their profits.

Before you say I am opposed to businesses making a profit, let me say that profits are important.  It demonstrates a successful business and that is a good thing for the owners/shareholders, employees, community and the country as a whole.  However, profits should not be made to the detriment of employees (their conditions, health and safety), the best interest of the community or country, or the environment, fauna and flora. 

New Zealand is a founding member of the International Labour Office (ILO).  Apparently, some of the above changes mooted are contradictory to our obligations under membership in the ILO.  Even his own officials told Mr Bridges that the amendments pertaining to employers opting out of collective bargaining contravened the ILO workers conventions that New Zealand subscribes to.  On June 4th, Simon Bridges told parliament in answer to a question from Darien Fenton during question time that he would discuss the changes with the ILO when he attended their conference later in June "with my new bestie Helen Kelly... and we'll be able to ask them then what they think".  However, he did not meet with the ILO in the end.  He refused to meet with them so he would not have to hear from the ILO directly how he was breaking the conventions.  The opposition has said that Simon Bridges effectively misled parliament, a very serious charge.

This is pretty typical of a National party minister.  As Helen Kelly put it, "Clearly this is a case of ‘hear no evil’"  Mind you, he has had some great role modelling.  Anne Tolley and Hekia Parata are infamous for throwing their toys out of their play pens when their officials tell them something they don't want to hear (probably why Novopay was such a botch up, because MOE officials couldn't tell them that Talent2 wasn't up to scratch), and Steven Joyce also isn't above throwing a wobbly either I've heard.

At this point (shock, horror) I am going to put up my hand as being a left-leaning, card-carrying unionist, who is involved in my industry union at branch and regional level, and gets to participate at a national level through the Annual Meeting.  I defend the right of the average person to belong to a union because I believe we would not have the standards we have in the work place today if it wasn't for workers uniting and standing up for fair pay, fair working hours and fair and safe working conditions.  I want to preserve the conditions we and others before us have fought for, and continue to strive for better conditions for workers that also allow for business and the public sector to strive for good.

One of the things that is not mentioned at the beginning of this blog is the intention to change the rules around meal and rest breaks.  The legislation covering this was brought in by Labour List MP Sue Moroney under Steve Chadwick's "Breaks and Infant Feeding Act" in 2008, and was enacted in 2009.  Prior to this Act there was no requirement under New Zealand employment law for meal and rest breaks, unless stipulated in each individual or collective employment agreement.  Under this Act, workplaces are required to do the following according to the Department of Labour:

Employees will be entitled to the following paid rest breaks and unpaid meal breaks:
  • one paid 10-minute rest break if their work period is between two and four hours;
  • one paid 10-minute rest break and one unpaid 30-minute meal break if their work period is between four and six hours;
  • two paid 10-minute rest breaks and one unpaid 30-minute meal break if their work period is between six and eight hours.
If more than an eight hour period is worked, these requirements automatically extend to cover the additional hours on the same basis.

This link will take you to the page where the Department of Labour lists all the changes proposed, and the information about meal and rest breaks is on pages 12-13 of this PDF.

So why was the legislation for meal and rest work breaks introduced in 2008?

With the Employment Contracts Act in the 1990s the collective awards that previously covered most workers were swept away.... and consequently so were the stipulations for rest and meal breaks.  In the twenty or so years since, many young people and immigrants have joined the workforce in New Zealand.  The CTU says "The Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU) report that largest number of calls and queries are from workers asking about meal break entitlements especially where small workplaces are not covered by collective agreements."  (CTU Submission to the Industrial Relations and Transport Select Committee ~ Employment Relations [Breaks and Infant Feeding] Amendment Bill ~  May 2008 page 7).

The fact that an Indian restaurant in Auckland has recently been exposed as paying its migrant workers less than $4 an hour for a 70 hour work week show that the company is willing to work their employees as slave labour by how they pay them... so what about their legal rights to meal and rest breaks?

These meal and rest breaks are also vital for health and safety reasons and for sustained productivity.  The following comes from page 6 of the 2008 CTU Submission:

8.2       In certain industries workers are exposed to greater health and safety risks.  Workers who work long working hours, who work shift work and who work at night have higher exposure to health and safety risks.


8.3       Rest breaks are also recognised as having a role in ensuing worker productivity. Research undertaken in a car plant in Swansea over a three year period found that the risk of accidents during the last half-hour of a two hour period of work, was double that for the first half-hour. The suggestion is that more frequent breaks could reduce accidents. It was concluded that increasing the frequency of rest breaks of workers who operate machinery could substantially reduce industrial accidents and that frequent work breaks (e.g. ten minutes every hour) can improve work performance[1].

[1] Working Time and Health: Fact Sheet, International Labour Office, Geneva, 2004.
Clearly, employees are there to ensure the employer makes money and a profit.  But no employer should profit at the expense of the health, safety and well being of their employees.

Yet New Zealand has a shocking workplace health and safety record.

Just two and a half years ago we lost 29 men to the explosion in the Pike River Mine.  As a nation we watched the West Coast go into full rescue mode... be pulled back for safety reasons.... and then have their hearts broken as a second explosion dashed all hopes.  The nation mourned with the West Coast as a memorial was televised live.  Personally I cried copious tears for the families.

Last year the inquiries demonstrated that systematic failures led to the deaths of the 29 men.  This is a simple outline:
  • a lack of mine safety inspectors - there were two for the whole country.
  • deregulation of the mining industry.
  • a lack of mining industry specific regulations.
  • use of non-company contractors within the Pike River workplace to cut costs.
  • poor safety training by the company - particularly for the contractors.
  • modifications to equipment that monitors gas levels so work onsite could continue.
  • lack of safety gear within the mine.
  • lack of exits from the mine.
  • pressure from management to carry on work despite gas readings.
  • a culture of "she'll be right" within the company.
There was that quiet pressure from the top of the company to compromise the health and safety of the workers because they wanted the top quality coal out to make money.

The company was convicted in April for the deaths of the 29 men.  This last week the sentencing was handed down.  The families of the those who died, as well as Daniel Rockhouse, who survived, read or submitted their victim impact statements.  These men were sons, brothers, fathers, husbands, uncles, nephews, cousins, sweethearts.... their families have been devastated, their lives have altered course immeasurably due to a company that did not value health and safety or the lives of their employees and contractors. 

Judge Jane Farish ordered that Pike River Mine Company pay each survivor and the 29 families $110,000 compensation each, or $3.41 million in total.  She also fined the company $360,000 over nine health and safety employment charges.  The company says it does not have the money to pay.  It estimates it can give $5,000 per family.

Is an employee's life worth only $5,000?

Since the Pike River disaster there has been a call for a law to be implemented to allow a company to be charged for corporate manslaughter in the advent of a workplace death.  Simon Bridges should soon be announcing a decision about this possibility  Personal liability for directors has also been called for.  A strengthening of the laws governing mining are also on the table.

In the meantime, Simon Bridges has introduced some guidelines to make mining safer.  They do not change the law and have no legal force.  These guidelines recommend directors provide a clear job description for the chief executive, which includes health and safety responsibilities, and to conduct management performance reviews.  Yip-bloody-pee!!

But we have another industry in New Zealand where we have lost the equivalent number of workers - 30 in six years - forestry.

On Wednesday night TV3's 3rd Degree broadcast a story about the conditions forestry workers work and die in.  Guyon Espinor went to work with the forestry workers, talked to a widow of a forester, parents of a forester, the CTU and the industry leaders.

Forestry has always been a dangerous industry.  Men have died throughout the history of clearing forests.  However, in today's modern world we should be able to minimalise the chance of death or injury. 

There are an average of 330 accidents per year.  Four foresters have died this year alone.... so far.  50% of foresters work longer than 40 hours a week and 10% work longer than 60 hours a week.  There is no cap on the number of hours a forester can work in a week.  The code of practice merely says that workers are entitled to “regular rest breaks, a meal break and a daily or nightly sleep period”.  They risk injury or death for about $20 an hour on average.

The CTU are leading a campaign to make forestry a safer industry.


Ken Callow was killed in October 2011 in the Wharerata Forest south of Gibson when a pine tree fell and crushed him.  He was a father of two young sons.  The official report into his death says he was "the architect of his own demise".  The parents of Ken Callow do not want to apportion blame, however they do ask one question: why are so many of our young men being killed or seriously injured in the forestry industry?

What is truly scary though is that the Department of Labour holds no true and correct record of the number of deaths in the forestry sector.  "Shane Philip Frater, 28, died on 1 May 2009 in a forestry block near Te Pohue, off the Napier-Taupo Rd, when he was hit by a branch of a tree as it slid down a hillside.  “Despite the Department of Labour carrying out the investigation it now has no record on its database of this forestry death, or record of his death in the statistics for forestry deaths in 2009, raising questions about how many other Forest fatalities are not recorded,” Helen Kelly said."
The CTU, families and industry leaders are calling for an inquiry into why so many foresters die on the job.

Yet Simon Bridges doesn't think that we need an inquiry.  He reckons he has got enough reports and that he has a "strong sense of what the solutions are".

So how does Simon fail the standard?  Let me catalogue the ways:
  • Simon wants to end the requirement for employers to bargain in good faith - big fail there Simon, as that merely creates a wedge between employers and employees.
  • Simon want to allow employers to bow out of multi-employer bargaining - big fail here too Simon.
  • Simon refuses to hear his officials and the ILO and the CTU when they all say his legislation contravenes the conventions New Zealand is signed up to under the ILO - that is a major fail and demonstrates a flagrant disregard to workers rights by New Zealand internationally.
  • Simon is removing the requirements for rest and meal times - another epic fail as studies have shown that productivity is higher when workers receive regular work and meal breaks, and that health and safety statistics are more likely to be on the positive side of the ledger.
  • Simon's guidelines for directors of mining companies have no teeth whatsoever - another fail.
  • Simon's refusal to have an inquiry into the health and safety of forestry workers is another fail.
Simon would do well to remember he is the Minister of Labour, not the Minister of Employers.   He is there to ensure that the Department of Labour enforces the law of the land on how businesses operate and how their employees are trained, paid, and treated.

You're not there to ensure some rich fat cat gets richer or fatter Simon!!!  Consequently, you fail the standard.  Big time.

Thanks for reading through to the end.  This post has taken several weeks to compile and events overtook my initial thoughts (e.g. Pike River and the forestry issue) so I felt compelled to include those issues too.  I know it was a long blog.... but I hope it was food for thought.