Sunday, 23 November 2014


Part of Auckland university

I feel unfulfilled.

I spent 7 years at university which is only 11.3% of my life so far. I'm sure that I can do better than that.

Sure I've got diplomas, certificates from business courses and all sorts of gobbly-de-goop from a lifetime of marketing and management but university is the real deal. It's got class and soul (or should if the sector stuck to its original and idealistic principles). The problem is that over the last 30 years there's been a growth in 'university' business with multi educational institutions popping up to offer business  degrees and all wanting to be accredited as universities.

That's the Rant.

Here's the Rave.

We live in the university precinct of Auckland.

AUT and Auckland University surround us.
Fortunately Albert Park, tree-lined streets and heritage gardens are also part of the mix.

Princes Street by the university

As much as the two universities are hell-bent on becoming big businesses the things that they can't change even if they do build bigger and high-rise buildings are the protected surroundings.

Albert Park

This weekend I went up North as usual but came back a bit earlier as the weather up north was crap.

To my delight Auckland was basking in sunshine and, with no wind was gorgeous.

I went for a mid afternoon walk through Albert Park, past and through Auckland university grounds and felt refreshed.

Our building is one of those above and slightly to the right of the fountain - seen from centre of Albert Park

Leaving the car in the garage is certainly worthwhile sometimes.
After living in Toronto for a year without owning a car I've become used to walking everywhere so on good days like today  I get the full benefit of the area where I live.

In Auckland though it's almost impossible to not see the bloody awful Sky Tower with its hyperdermic
syringe poking up into the sky. It dominates the view from our apartment as well.

Friday, 21 November 2014


I'm sure that younger workers know very little about unions and their importance in society.
Many older workers most likely recall the bad days of unionism and disruptions caused by indiscriminate strikes and activity.

Unions in New Zealand started a decline with the Labour Relations Act 1987 which ended compulsory arbitration even though compulsory union membership was left intact. The CTU was in negotiation with government for clarification of the role of unions in New Zealand when, in 1990 the Labour government was trounced by National.

One of the new National governments first attacks on the people was the introduction of the Employment Contracts Act 1991. This basically deregulated labour markets and set up individual employment contracts instead of collective agreements. It also abolished compulsory unionism.

This is why we see unscrupulous employers  today paying workers peanuts and forcing them into onerous agreements like the Little Saigon restaurant case in Christchurch.

The unions collapsed in the early 1990's, even though New Zealand had one of the highest rates of union membership in the world because of the repercussions of the Employment Contracts Act 1991but also because of other govenmental initiatives like privatisation of government departments. The 'blue collar' unions that controlled railways and post and telegraph took a major body blow when these were privatised and the only strong unions which remained were largely in the  'white collar' sectors. These of course weren't the muscular unions of the past (watersiders, seamen, freezing workers, engineering etc.) and any collectivism that was allowed under new regulations was a bit wimpy.

Unionism in New Zealand began in the second half of the nineteenth century. Initially beginning as
small, local arrangements where workers had scrapes with employers and had to band together to get some form of agreement. As towns grew, businesses and work sectors also grew requiring skilled labour. The new skilled staff worked together and formed trade unions which eventually connected with 'brother' workers in other towns and even across industries.
The rise of this was eventually recognised in 1878 when Parliament gave unions a legal status.
From there unions grew organically and were reinforced by the influx of workers from Australia and the United Kingdom which were strongly advanced in unionism.

We all know of the battles that took place between unions, employers and government over the years.

(Look it up on the internet - this isn't a history lesson you know).

There were many injustices that only got resolved through bloodshed, sanctions, enforced poverty or, in some cases, arbitration.

Some have gone down into folk-lore like the 1951 Waterfront Dispute which has been musically chronicled by Chris Prowse. Chris's father and older brother Richard were actually working in related industries at this time and were strong union supporters. - Correction: Mr Prowse Senior was not a strong union supporter and son Richard was actually not born until 1952. He just looks older. Apologies from the author. The researcher, who may have been drunk at the time on Te Mata Chardonnay 2013 has been sacked.

Now , as alluded to before not all union activity was righteous. There was a groundswell of dissatisfaction from the public when union activity seemed frivolous, 'bolshi' or was deliberately set out to inconvenience as many people as possible. This to me was personified by the Maritime Union's various disputes in the 1970's. They and the associated Cooks and Stewards Union seemed to be forever niggling at their employers and would strike or go slow at key times (Christmas, Easter) etc. that would cause most disruption. I was working at the liquor wholesalers at this time and when the Cook Strait ferry workers went on strike because they felt they weren't getting a fair do with their morning teas (chocolate biscuits had been cut out and they only had the cheaper plain biscuits to eat) I and friends taped a couple of packets of chocolate biscuits to the top of the cartons of beer we delivered to their union. It caused a bit of a stink but the company didn't lose the supply contract.

On a national level things came to a head when in 1981 there were marches down main streets of New Zealand that were anti-union, anti-striking. It was organised by Tania Harris and, while not really well thought out and with some pretty naive political ideology it tapped into the general dissatisfaction of the public. The union management was really to blame in allowing the annoying activity by their members to cause this and it led over the next ten years to the passing of legislature that basically emasculated them.

So, where are we now. Through successive right-leaning Labour governments and even righter leaning National governments hell-bent on making New Zealand competitive on a global market (don't they realise how small we are and we can't really compete with the bigger countries - we should concentrate instead on looking after the New Zealand people in the way that Scandanavian countries do) unions and awareness of unions has been eroded.
Even Helen Clark's great Labour governments of 1999, 2002 and 2005 failed to halt the decline. New legislation did allow unions to build up membership again and the Employment Relations Act 2000 restored the term ‘union’ and specified that only unions registered under the act could represent employees in collective bargaining but there was no where near the power that unionism and the great unions wielded before.

In 2014 we have a New Zealand whose wealth has been captured by a minority of privileged people and by foreign investment. Shonkeys governments have stripped out assets in the tradition of Brierleys and other corporate raiding companies. State assets and corporations have been sold off and steadily measures have been put in place to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
This new and bastard National government proved what they want to do when the first bit of legislation that they've passed after the election was to eliminate tea breaks for workers.

So no wonder we have employers merrily going about paying peanuts to workers by using minimum rates and 3 month 'trial' employment contracts,. No wonder we hear of 'slave labour' in restaurants and small manufacturing businesses. No wonder that supermarkets and fast food chains use young workers because they can get away with paying less. No wonder that petrol station chains dock workers pay for drive-offs. Basically we've got what we deserve.

But, maybe the worm is turning albeit slowly.

Is it significant that Labour's new leader, Andrew Little is a strong union man elected by a strong union vote?

I sincerely hope so. Tally ho!

Thursday, 20 November 2014


Not these guys, they were anything but pedestrian.

No, I visited a couple of personnel agencies this week. I decided, as a 'safety net', to register my interest in doing contract or temporary work if my current situation doesn't work out.

I'm not looking for long-term permanent positions and believe that at a decent hourly rate that I can earn what I need doing 20 hours a week. In the past I've used contractors and temps as they are ideal to step in and maintain things when an employee is away on extended leave or when there is a temporary need for an extra person.

The main criteria is intelligence, common sense and some broad general experience in the industry in question.

It's a pity that these criteria don't apply to the people who work in the personnel industry.

The interviewing approach was pedestrian at best and downright incompetent at worst.

I could see the questions before they arose:

"What do you consider is your greatest strength?"
"What is your greatest weakness"
"How would you describe yourself"
"What do you consider is your greatest achievement?" 

Honestly, it took me back to the '70's when I applied to go to teachers training college.When I was asked what really motivated me to become a teacher I replied that the holidays were attractive.

I didn't get accepted.

At this week's interviews I also felt like making flippant comments but instead went through the motions. It really disappoints me that in this age with all the resources at hand that could assist in education and general advancement, that things are getting worse not better.

I guess that it's all downhill from here.