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National Museum of New Zealand, Wellington, 1 May, 1998: transcript of doorstop interview during an interval in the LMC-59 talks [waterfront]



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THE HON PETER REITH MP

MINISTER FOR WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND SMALL BUSINESS

LEADER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

 

PARLIAMENT HOUSE

CANBERRA ACT 2600

 

DOORSTOP OUTSIDE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NEW ZEALAND, WELLINGTON DURING AN INTERVAL IN THE LMC-59 TALKS, 1 MAY, 1998

 

Mr Reith: The Labour Ministers Council has met here this morning. The LMC agreed to have this meeting here in New Zealand six months ago as part of a pre-organised system of rotation of the Labour Ministers Council at which the New Zealand membe r and the minister for the time for the time being has made a very constructive contribution and we thank Mr Bradford for hosting today’s meeting   The meeting has considered a range of matters relevant to the process of labour market deregulation in Australia; the harmonisation of arrangements between the Commonwealth of Australia and state governments; the latest in wages developments and other relevant issues. We had a constructive and sensible meeting and as I say we record our thanks to Mr Bradford for his hospitality.

 

Reporter: We’re interested in what’s happening over there. What will happen to the waterfront industry, if you lose that case on Monday?

 

Mr Reith: The parties to the dispute, particularly Patricks and the Maritime Union, have been before the courts on an interlocutory or interim matter - namely the management of the businesses prior to there being a proper hearing of the case by the judge. As the judge said he’s not yet heard the evidence for and against the claims being made by the Maritime Union and the only matter currently before the Australian courts is how they’ll deal with the issues on an interim basis. The person responsible for the interim arrangements is of course the administer and quite frankly the administrator has a difficult task to manage companies which are insolvent at a time when the company has lost a lot of business due to a three month industrial campaign by the union which has of course jeopardised the jobs of its very own members.

 

Reporter: What if those workers are reinstated?

 

Mr Reith: They have not as yet been terminated. The inunction prevented that from happening and the administrator has the difficult problem of dealing with a business where it has fifty percent less work than what it had to start with.

 

Repo rter: The government has been left dangling on the wing on the court's decision. Would John Sharpe have made a better job of this?

 

Mr Reith: The courts are entitled to and are required to act in accordance with the Law. Parties to big disputes whatever they are have to observe the injunctions and directions of the courts...

 

Reporter: Was the government nobbled when John Sharpe had to bail out for his problems over his expenses?

 

Mr Reith: I don't think John Sharpe would consider the developments to have been his responsibility given the fact that he is no longer...

 

Reporter: He was transport minister in charge of the wharves..(inaudible)

 

Mr Reith: Quite frankly I am not sure what the relevance of your question is.

 

Reporter: Minister, what do you say to those New Zealand businesses who are suffering as a result of the wharf dispute? I mean they're facing incredible delays in getting their goods through Australia and imports into here.

 

Mr Reith: There certainly are delays. Those delays are caused by the fact that the union is refusing to observe the directions of the courts. The state supreme courts have issued various injunctions. The union, as usual, considers itself above the law and it's thumbing its nose up at those injunctions. In terms of the impact on the Australian economy - and obviously the cargoes moving in and out of Australia - by and large cargoes are still moving in and out of Australia. It's unlike any other dispute because of the Trade Practices Act provisions which have prevented other action being taken against P & 0, the other major operator. There’s something like ten or eleven, twelve thousand containers held up, which is two or three days supplies of containers. There are additional costs being incurred and of course for people who have got containers held up that is a very significant cost and damage for those businesses. So the situation is different to the normal dispute in Australia because of the operations of the Trade Practices Act.

 

Reporter: New Zealand businesses (inaudible)

 

Mr Reith; Well, we don’t support the industrial action taken by the union and the union has set out to destroy a company. That company in turn has been trying to fit up the Australian waterfront and this gover nment of course supports the efforts of the employers and employees who want to move to reform. The problem that Australia has is that we have a very inefficient waterfront that makes us a laughing stock compared to New Zealand. New Zealand will also be advantaged by Australia fixing up its waterfront which is why the government is fairly determined to support waterfront reform. The two major companies have both signed up to better productivity targets which would improve trading relations between Australia and New Zealand and the cost effectiveness of them. Australian productivity rates are a long way behind New Zealand. You are a mile ahead of us. You make us look the embarrassment that we are, New Zealand reformed its waterfront back in 1989. The Australian wharfies in 1998 might as well be in 1898 compared to New Zealand and that’s why we’re have got a dispute in Australia and that’s why it is in New Zealand’s interests for the Australian government to continue to press to fix it now.

 

Reporter: (inaudible) tariff reforms?

 

Mr Reith: Well, that is a matter for New Zealand. That is my thought on the speed of tariff reforms. We have obviously (inaudible) and otherwise I don’t have a comment..

 

Reporter: Why is it important to have support from the New Zealan d government for your position on the waterfront?

 

Mr Reith: I think the New Zealand government, as well as I am sure the New Zealand Opposition, can also see the benefits of reform on the waterfront. New Zealand has been enjoying a vastly improved waterfront. The figures in New Zealand demonstrate what tremendous strides that you’ve made and how backward Australia is, which I am sure your listeners will be delighted to hear.

 

Reporter: Have you been given active support in any way?

 

Mr Reith: Obviously a waterfront dispute in Australia is a matter for the Australian government, obviously. But I am sure New Zealanders will watch on with amazement as they see wharfies in Australia on average incomes between sixty thousand and a hundred and one thousand dollars a year, enjoying working weeks for many of them probably less than forty hours on average, paid for forty-five hours, but with the “nick-off" - it means you get paid when you’re not working. Being paid to sit at home watching TV at double-time-and-a-half is not a benefit that wharfies in New Zealand enjoy. In Australia wharfies are on five weeks annual leave, twenty-seven-and-a-half percent annual leave loading, twenty-seven-and-a-half percent leave loading on long service leave and they’d be lucky to put in thirty hours a week. You can be a crane drive on the Australian wharves today, earn $90,000 a year and only have to sit on the crane for 14 hours a week. If New Zealand wharfies could get these benefits they’d all be in Melbourne tomorrow.

 

Reporter: Mr Bradford says holiday legislation, that was written when we had nine-to-five weeks and Monday-to-Friday working days hasn’t translated well into the modern working environment. To what extent would you be in favour of workers here and in Australia being given the right to trade for cash some of their annual holiday leave or public holidays?

 

Mr Reith: Look circumstances in New Zealand as a matter are entirely a matter for...

 

Reporter: In Australia?

 

Mr Reith: In Australia, what we’re trying to do is give workers greater choices about how they work and how they get paid. That can be very good for workers and that can be very good for businesses and if we could have a much more flexible system than what we’ve had in the past then that means people can enjoy better working conditions. One of the big issues, you asked me more generally, one of the big issues, is that for many people they want to have greater flexibility so they can better balance work and family responsibilities. In the past people have thought of that as an issue for women more than for men, but I think in the future more men will want to have great flexibility so they can also take a greater share of family responsibilities. A more flexible system, as you have in New Zealand, does give people more opportunities than they have had in the past and it removes a bias against women in the work force which I think has been a problem which has needed to addressed.