Robert Reid: Can we change the way we do business? Why are unions essential in the protection of workers?

Interviewed by

Lisa Er

Robert Reid: Can we change the way we do business? Why are unions essential in the protection of workers?

In New Zealand, neoliberal reforms have widened inequality and undermined the country's self-image as an egalitarian paradise.

New Zealand hasn’t been a social-democratic paradise since Rogernomics’ deregulation, selling off public assets, and slashing state investment.

“Over the past 30 years, more than $350 billion has flowed out of New Zealand's economy to overseas banks and foreign owners of our assets.

At the same time, the share of the economy going to working people has fallen from over 50 per cent to just over 40 per cent, cutting NZ $20 billion a year from pay packets.

That's not a coincidence. Reducing employment rights and, more specifically, reducing the rights of New Zealanders to build economic power has led to a massive transfer of wealth away from the majority of Kiwis - our families, our communities and small businesses.”

https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11987935

New Zealand needs to move away from our reliance on a low-wage economy where companies compete by paying people less.

We need to remove the temptation to throw more cheap labour or longer work-hours at a problem, and make investment in skills, productive capital and innovation the better option.

The situation that New Zealand currently is in can be directly related back to the National government’s Employment Contracts act of 1991. The Employment Contracts Act (ECA), once it passed, had a devastating effect on workers’ rights and living standards in New Zealand. It dealt a body blow to the trade union movement, one from which we’ve never recovered. Union membership almost halved between 1991 and 1995, with union density going from 41.5% to 21.7%,

The ECA gave employers the right to refuse to negotiate with unions, and made it much easier to use lockouts and ‘scab’ labour or migrants to break workers’ resistance.

It eliminated hard-fought reforms like compulsory union membership, compulsory employer-employee bargaining, and unions’ special place in this process.

Listen to Robert’s interview including a shocking revelation about how New Zealand employers have been caught treating migrant workers, that feels like the final nail in the coffin of assuming New Zealand is the world’s best place to live and work in.

Robert Reid is President of the 28,000 strong FIRST Union after retiring as General Secretary in November of last year.

He talks about his life, his work in trade unions, the community and the role of trade unions today.

Robert has recently been appointed to the NZ Government’s Welfare Experts Advisory Group.

From school age Robert was an organiser, forming a Students Union while still at High School, starting the Organisation to Halt Military Service to get rid of conscription during the War on Vietnam and becoming the International Vice President of the NZ University Students Association in his first year of university.

Dropping out of university and starting a family at a young age, Robert worked at General Motors in Petone for 10 years where he learnt his trade unionism until, like tens of thousands in the manufacturing industries was made redundant as Rogernomics named after Roger Douglas the radical monetarist Minister of Finance in the 4th Labour Govt. With its neo-liberal trade policies kicked in. Robert spent the next period of time working with unemployed and community employment groups until returning to union work with the Council of Trade Unions as a regional organiser out of Palmerston North.

With the Employment Contracts Act of 1991 decimating the trade union movement, Robert worked in Asia for 6 years helping in the establishment and growth of independent and genuine trade unions across the region. Robert came back to the NZ trade union movement helping to rebuild it again by being part of the formation of Unite and with roles in the Trade Union Federation, the Footwear Union, the Clothing Union and then as President, then General Secretary of the National Distribution Union which together with the Finance Union FINSEC, became FIRST Union.

During this period Robert also completed a Graduate Diploma in Economic Development and worked in the Green Party Parliamentary office for 2 years on the Buy Kiwi Made campaign. Robert has also served on “industry good” boards such as Textiles NZ and the Forest Industry Safety Council.

Robert lives with his partner, Maxine Gay in Mangere Bridge and is a doting grandfather to 6 grandchildren.

 

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Lisa Er

Lisa Er

Born in the UK Lisa emigrated with her parents to New Zealand at the age of 16. Already politically active Lisa has continued to have a passionate interest in peace, politics, and the philosophy behind what we do.

A primary school teacher for 14 years, Lisa then turned her hand to business and created the well known Lisa's Hummus, which she sold a few years ago. Now Lisa is immersed in creating a better political system via www.theawarenessparty.com

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