Bol­ger’s crit­ics lost in the past

Kapi-Mana News - - FRONT PAGE -

These days, el­der states­men like Jim Bol­ger and Sir Michael Cullen get called on so reg­u­larly to lead re­views and task forces that Par­lia­ment can feel like that fa­mous ho­tel you can check out of, but which you can never leave.

Last week, the coali­tion gov­ern­ment in­vited Bol­ger to head a team of busi­ness lob­by­ists, union­ists and aca­demics in­ves­ti­gat­ing the re­form of work­place re­la­tions. Wrong­footed, the Na­tional Party chose to at­tack its own for­mer leader for ac­cept­ing the job.

The bad blood goes back decades. The neo-lib­eral wing of the Na­tional Party has never re­ally felt that Bol­ger was one of them, and the feel­ing has been en­tirely mu­tual.

Back in Oc­to­ber, 1980 when the ide­o­logues wanted Bol­ger to top­ple Robert Mul­doon (in the so-called ‘‘colonels coup’’) he de­clined to be their agent, largely be­cause he thought the cure they were of­fer­ing would be worse than the dis­ease. Tac­ti­cally, Bol­ger then out­flanked his right-wing crit­ics by bring­ing in vol­un­tary union­ism in 1983.

Those an­cient bat­tles were one fac­tor be­hind last week’s crit­i­cism by Na­tional MPS­cott Simp­son, who claimed that Bol­ger would be ideal for ‘‘tak­ing us back to the 1970s’’. Yet if any­one seemed to be liv­ing in the past dur­ing last week’s ex­changes, it wasn’t Jim Bol­ger.

Cur­rently, Bol­ger told RNZ, both ma­jor par­ties are work­ing con­struc­tively to­gether on the my­coplasma bo­vis cri­sis. A sim­i­lar bi­par­ti­san ef­fort was also needed, he sug­gested, to meet the work­place chal­lenges fac­ing New Zealand.

The sta­tus quo, Bol­ger in­di­cated, would no longer suf­fice. Our pro­duc­tiv­ity rates and wage lev­els are fall­ing fur­ther be­hind other de­vel­oped coun­tries – in­clud­ing Aus­tralia – and ma­jor chal­lenges are loom­ing from ro­bot­ics and Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence.

‘‘It’s not about the 70s, is what I’d be say­ing to the Scott Simp­sons of the world,’’ Bol­ger said.

‘‘This is ac­tu­ally about the 21st cen­tury where the world of work is go­ing to change dra­mat­i­cally – and a fair-minded gov­ern­ment and a fair-minded op­po­si­tion will not want the work­ers of New Zealand to be miss­ing out, and be pushed aside.’’

By year’s end, the 10-per­son team will have as­sessed the po­ten­tial role of col­lec­tive agree­ments, and prac­ti­cal ways to set min­i­mum wages and con­di­tions across in­dus­tries.

In par­tic­u­lar, the work­ing group will con­sider how to im­ple­ment so-called Fair Pay Agree­ments, be­tween unions and em­ploy­ers. As the PSA has pointed out, last year’s $2 bil­lion care and sup­port set­tle­ment was, in ef­fect, a Fair Pay Agree­ment, and it has en­joyed huge pub­lic sup­port. Con­cep­tu­ally, the FPA con­cept seems lit­tle dif­fer­ent to the min­i­mum wage, which also es­tab­lishes a re­mu­ner­a­tion floor, for the ben­e­fit of em­ploy­ers and work­ers alike.

There seems lit­tle to fear. Across the Eu­ro­pean Union, two-thirds of work­ers are covered by some form of col­lec­tive agree­ment.

Pre­vi­ously, Bol­ger summed up our ex­pe­ri­ence with the ne­olib­eral model, and the pri­vati­sa­tion, labour dereg­u­la­tion, wel­fare cuts and tax re­duc­tions that ac­com­pa­nied it: ‘‘They [neo-lib­eral poli­cies] failed to pro­duce eco­nomic growth, and what growth there has been has gone to the few at the top …That model needs to change.’’

Hope­fully, some of this coun­try’s brighter, more dy­namic busi­ness lead­ers may be able to em­brace the need for change, too.

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