Passing the Buck

Over the years I have come to realise and rail that what we know matters little but who we are matters more and who we know matters most. Hardly an epiphany or cause celebre even though we love celebs.

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We’ve decided it’s much better to be deaf, dumb and blind to what spoilsports, Greenies and Labour luddites dare to call cronyism. Instead we should take the lead from the well heeled northern slopes and be grateful that John Key decided to be our Prime Minister and play golf with President Obama when he could have been making mega millions more offshore as a money man – a role we should all aspire to because rich is good and you can still remain common.

images (2)No one wants to listen to you bleating about the erosion of our democracy, ethics, morality and the loss of values of a caring society.

No one is interested, take JK’s word, in hearing anything more about out of order spying agencies, hackers, Cameron Slater, the crushing of Judith Collins, Oravida advertising, Donghua Liu’s political donations, hobnobbing and criminal charges, the Auckland Convention Centre deal, Auckland trains and motorways and Pike River.

And certainly not another word needs to be spent debating poverty, shoeless, hungry children and newlyweds unable to buy their first quarter acre pavlova paradise. (Anyway there’s an easy fix to the housing shortage if we take up curmudgeonly capitalist property developer, Bob Jones’ suggestion and ship in thousands of labourers from China, Indonesia, India or wherever and pay them peanuts. I’ll pretend he never said that! Just forget it.)

So let’s get on with how to make friends in high places and perfect the fine art of a brain fade. It works for some.

imagesYou have to have lots of friends and networks to get on the merry go round to fame, fortune and a minimalist concrete, glass and steel batch at Omaha that costs the max.

You’ll recognise the familiar faced senior executives, bureaucrats and the politically anointed that you need to buddy up to. They’re not going anywhere but just pop up again and again regardless of their previous incarnations.

They are acolytes and experts at self-aggrandisement, self-entitlement and self-validation. Life is very good for this clutch of big boys and girls who are mightily well paid and mightily well connected. They are made and there’s no point in raining on their parade of wealth, status and influence. These titans of the padded desk chair are impervious. They can’t see or hear you. In fact you should be grateful. They’d be getting zillions more if they were in the same role in other countries – and be fair, not all of them are nesting feathers but have done a great job by any measure. So there.

Hush your moaning and stop wishing for a schadenfreude moment to cut them all down to size. It won’t happen and if it does they will be recycled after an honourable period on the back benches. All you need to know is that these people are worth it.


Multinational fast food chain workers, supermarket checkout operators, cleaners, gas pump attendants, rest home workers, couriers, care-givers, casino workers, security guards, call centre operators, retirement home workers and a multitude of others are not. This includes women who 100 years after emancipation still have no pay equality or equal representation in C suites and Boardrooms.

And while it’s not yet done and dusted there’s been a light bulb moment. A landmark court case recognised the inequitable pay and working conditions of women rest home workers compared with similarly skilled men in different industries. Oops. Someone switched off the light and removed the bulb. Apparently fair pay for these women could cause rest homes to close because “Remember, the biggest cost centre of any aged-care facility is wages.”  And this is the 21st century!

A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work is – rather was – a touchstone we were proud of and naively took for granted, but New Zealand is a horribly low wage, high cost country, even for the basics like milk, with shrinking equality of opportunity.

Nothing should be taken for granted, particularly continuous power and internet supply if you live in Auckland. Nothing is sacred, including the tea break. The Employment Amendment Bill, first to pass the post in National’s third term legislative calendar, takes away the legal right to a tea break and weakens collective bargaining. It is, however, a marvel of flexibility for the employer which is not all bad. And at least there is a shake-up of worksite health and safety laws to reduce the workplace injury and death toll by 25 per cent by 2020 – and what’s more there is now provision for officer and director liability – too late for Pike River unfortunately! It’ll all be in your contract.

But you need to have the right kind of contract. The outgoing head of Kiwi rail had one of those. He was paid a generous bonus for getting the interisland ferry to the “other side” but not necessarily back again because of a plague of breakdowns, It was a crying shame really. In fact he made the nation cry with a maudlin television commercial promising we would get to the other side and then got us all choked up again with a gorgeous scenic train journey advertisement to the emotionally charged score of Bizet’s Pearl Fishers.

Don’t forget it is who you are and who you know that takes you into the winners’ circle. That’s probably why that larrikin in a suit, the touchy feely Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority boss, Roger Sutton remained at his post for eight weeks while a complaint about his humiliating sexist behaviour was investigated. Roger’s employer, the State Services Commission (SSC) rewarded the complainant for her courage by allowing her to be victim-shamed and sent home. Roger, whose contribution to team building was an idea to introduce G-string Fridays, remained at the office.

images (3)The complaint was upheld. But the SSC did not deem it serious enough for Sutton to be sacked.

And so in a truly disgraceful display of public service arrogance, the SSC head, Iain Rennie – against all public relations advice – orchestrated Roger’s tearful exit from the job he loved.

Surrounded by his wife, Iain and Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet boss Andrew Kibblewhite – the top tier of the public service no less who had travelled from Wellington to attend his farewell.

Iain praised him, Andrew hugged him. Sutton’s wife, Jo, gave more tearful interviews and the victim remained silent, bound by the terms of the confidentiality agreement all were meant to honour. Well Roger is gone. Iain is not gone. He is overseeing a review of how the investigation was handled. Bully for him! Dinosaurs are not extinct. Inequity rules.

These out of touch generals do not just strut their stuff on public service stages looking out for the somebodies and down-trodding the nobodies. They are everywhere and have their own idea of fair.

Think of the teenage Pak’nSave checkout assistant on the minimum wage whose boss wanted to dock $700 from her wages when organised thieves ran off with loaded trolleys of unpaid groceries, or the Gull service station attendant who had to pay for drive offs, or the courier from Fastway Couriers who had to pay for a package she delivered that got eaten by a dog. These stories do have a happy ending, thanks to public outrage and Campbell Live going into bat for the little people. That exposure in the nation’s lounge rooms forced double somersault, backflips from the named and shamed employers.

zero hoursThe spotlight now needs to be turned to the awful “zero-hour contracts”, a worldwide phenomenon that employers like to dub as “flexible” working hours. They are contracts that bind a person to the employer but don’t have any guaranteed hours even though the worker may be regularly employed.

These insecure work arrangements have been decried as unfair and exploitative but are common around the world.  In the US, a series of hard hitting stories in the New York Times recently shamed Starbucks into announcing they were changing their shift rostering system, another euphemism for zero-hour contracts, and as the first rustlings on the hustings emerge, a “No Jobs But Crappy Jobs: The Next Big Political Issue?” movement is growing louder – it just needs a national leader to take the message higher.

New Zealand too must grab destiny by the shirt collar.

New Labour Party boss and erstwhile employment lawyer and union leader, Andrew Little, is making a good stab at shedding the union bogeyman of the dark ages and cutting a new swathe for himself as someone in a suit who is at least thinking about what the future – and the future of work – could be as we try and transform our economy from a commodity producer, choking under a growing mountain of milk powder, to an agile, innovator – not improviser – of high value niche products and services in a digital world.

That’s where the buck stops. I am a cheerleader for sustainable growth and I want New Zealand to be a great country on every level. I am not asking for anything to be handed out on a plate, but everyone, not just the chosen few, must have equal opportunity and encouragement to make their contribution and earn a slice of the pie. That’s the fair deal our country was built on.