It's time for a national conversation about work. Most political discourse concerns levels of unemployment and the numbers of new jobs created. An economy that reduces unemployment is an important focus but is not the only component of the employment debate.
What about the quality of the jobs that are being created, demanded and restructured? Do employers and Government have a responsibility to provide the space to negotiate a decent job?
A decent job is one which is healthy and safe and which allows the worker to have some say over the work and the working conditions. It is an opportunity for training, personal development and ideally for a career path.
A decent job pays enough to keep body and spirit together and provides an environment free from discrimination, harassment, bullying and the constant threat of dismissal.
The enormous growth of insecure work in our society denies individuals opportunities for development. It is almost the only work being offered to young people entering the job market. It is common for workers to be notified to come to work, or told their daily hours, by text message and many have no guaranteed hours or guaranteed time off.
Current industrial disputes have at their core the right to decent work, a core component of the work of the International labour Organisation (ILO), a UN agency which has NZ as a member and active participant. And yet we are destroying decent work in our own land.
Workers at the Ports of Auckland are fighting a battle for a decent job, not one which has been contracted out to remove any security of hours and income. A job in which you can plan for the future, get a bank loan and raise a family with working hours that have regular rostered time off.
Workers at Talleys/AFFCO are locked out because they want to negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment. These workers already have mostly seasonal jobs with the only security from season to season provided by their collective agreement. The company have locked workers out until they win the 'right to manage' without any constraints negotiated collectively by their workforce.
A secure job which pays the food, housing, health and education costs enables workers to be functioning citizens who contribute to building communities. Healthy communities build healthy nations.
Workers are vitally interested in safety, quality and productivity. These elements and the level of worker engagement are maximised if workers have a secure and decent job.
The current demands for greater casualisation (POAL ) and managerial prerogative (Talleys/AFFCO) are bad for workers, increase inequality and are a very poor economic strategy.
It is time for a strategy that builds decent jobs in the interests of healthy families and better communities. A viable place to begin would be a national conference to develop a consensus around what constitutes decent work and how we construct good jobs as the foundation of work in our society. The CTU, Business NZ and all political parties might participate. Work is central to nation building. Our nation is being destroyed by insecure work.
* James Ritchie is National Secretary of the NZ Dairy Workers Union Te Runanga Wai U