Speech to CTU biennial conference
Te whare e tu nei
Te marae e takoto ana
E nga mate maha
Haere, haere, haere
Nga tangata whenua o tēnei rohe, o Te Whanganui-a-Tara tēnei ra te mihi
Tatou nga kanohi ora e hui mai ana
Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tatou katoa
Greetings , it is great to be here.
Can I acknowledge CTU kaumātua – Kiwhare Mihaka and CTU Rūnanga Co-Convenors Laures Park and Grant Williams.
CTU President Richard Wagstaff, you do a fantastic job representing working people and I really value your input and contribution.
CTU Vice-President – Rachel Mackintosh and Vice President Māori – Syd Keepa.
Welcome to incoming Secretary – Melissa Ansell-Bridges, congratulations on your election today and I look forward to working closely with you to build a fairer New Zealand.
And to outgoing Secretary Sam Huggard, I totally understand the pull of a slightly less chaotic and stressful life and the ability to have more time with your family. You have done an excellent job, and I’ve really appreciated the energy and enthusiasm you have bought to the role.
Today is not farewell but simply a shift into new avenues of support for our movement, and I know you will continue to provide important leadership for years to come, so thank you.
I want to start by celebrating our progress to date.
It’s almost two years since the Government came to office.
When we got started, you will recall the naysayers said we would never last, or be able to work out our differences.
Well I’m proud of the fact we have proved those critics wrong.
The Coalition is strong. We’ve increased our support since we were elected and we are delivering the change New Zealanders asked for.
Importantly, both New Zealand First and the Greens have maintained strong voices, and achieved important results in different areas within the Government.
And that is the reality of our Government. Nothing can be done without the full support and votes of each party in it.
And we wouldn’t be here without each of the three parties having come together, and I’m so glad we did.
This collectivism, this is the nature of a genuine MMP Government like ours.
But it is also the nature of change that sticks.
Change that builds and reflects political consensus that brings genuine and long lasting difference to people’s lives.
It is central to the purpose of this Government and to me personally that working people and your families are getting ahead. That your lives are improving. That progress is being made.
Let’s start with workers. We’re making progress; wages are rising and unemployment is falling.
The most recent Quarterly Employment Survey shows average hourly earnings increasing by 4.4% - the biggest increase in 11 years.
Stats NZ say the reason for the big increase is the boost the Government has made to the minimum wage and the effect of some big collective agreement settlements, like the nurses, coming into force.
The Government has a goal of lifting the minimum wage to $20 an hour by 2021 and we are on track to get there.
On April 1 we made the largest ever single increase to the minimum wage – raising it by $1.20 and putting an extra $48 dollars a week into the pocket of a full time worker.
And it will increase by $1.20 again on 1 April next year and then $1.10 the year after taking it to $20.
At that point a full time worker on the minimum wage will see their pay increase by $170 a week under this Government.
Hundreds of thousands of workers and their families will benefit from these minimum wage increases and we are unashamedly proud of that.
Earning more is good for families and good for the economy.
Some people worried that increasing the incomes of low paid workers would drive unemployment up.
How wrong they were.
In fact we now have the lowest rate of unemployment in New Zealand in 11 years. And there are 92,000 new jobs in New Zealand since we took office.
With more jobs and better wages, we’re seeing real improvement in the New Zealanders’ wallets.
But we haven’t just relied on that. The moment we came in you’ll recall we brought in our Families Package. It boosted incomes for low and middle income earners and added a new payment for those with children under three.
Treasury recently told us that a typical couple, one working full time on the median wage, the other full time on the minimum wage, with two kids at school is $6,000 a year better off because of our Families Package and minimum wage changes alone.
We know there is more to do. Fair Pay agreements are part of the longer term solution for those who work in part of the low wage economy, and the Minister will be announcing progress on that very soon.
So too is pay equity, which we’re currently updating the legislation on while progressing with claims already in train.
But we’re doing more for workers than just improving wages and generating jobs. And so we should.
Workers deserve to have reasonable meal and rest breaks to eat, refresh and relax. That’s why we’ve restored that right.
Workers deserve to spend time with their new-borns. That’s why we’re extending paid parental leave to six months.
Workers deserve to return home healthy and safe. That’s why we’re modernising our health and safety regulations.
We’ve also introduced domestic violence leave to support those escaping it; and expanded ACC support for early intervention.
We’re restoring rights for screen workers to work together on pay and conditions.
We are improving the vocational education system because, and this is important, trades matter. Trades matter in New Zealand, and we would like to see more people entering them.
We also think workers should have a strong voice. That way, they can be confident they’re receiving a fair share of the value they create.
With a stronger voice, workers can gain higher wages, skills investments, safety improvements, or fairer work schedules. Employers gain from better worker engagement and increased productivity. It is a win-win.
That’s why our changes to the Employment Relations Act last year make it easier for workers to know about and join their union. It strengthens collective bargaining and union rights. It gives voice to the greatest asset we have, our workforce and our people.
And with higher wages and more jobs and better conditions for workers, it’s no wonder the New Zealand the economy continues to grow.
GDP, one of the markers of how we are doing, is up 2.4%, with higher growth than Australia, the UK, Canada, Japan and the EU.
It’s true nobody fully knows how Brexit or trade wars might affect the global economy. So it’s no wonder global growth is down a bit.
But under this government, New Zealand is outperforming our peers.
This is not just a story of economic success.
It’s a story about investing back into what matters most.
Because we have chosen to invest the fruits of economic success back into New Zealand.
We’re investing in health.
We negotiated the largest pay increases for nurses in a decade.
We’ve employed 1458 more DHB nurses, 106 more midwives, 582 more doctors and 531 more allied health workers.
We’re investing in better cancer care across New Zealand with more access to cancer drugs and better radiation machines to help New Zealanders fight cancer in more regions of the country.
We’re investing in a brand new mental health workforce to help people address mental health challenges before they get out of hand.
We’ve made it easier for a million New Zealanders to stay warm and healthy each winter with the Winter Energy Payment.
We’ve made it cheaper for 600,000 New Zealanders to visit their GP.
And we are investing billions of dollars into fixing our run down hospitals.
We’re investing in education.
We’ve negotiated the largest pay increases for teachers in a decade.
There are over two thousand extra teachers since we took office.
We’ve increased school funding so parents no longer have to pay NCEA fees and most parents don’t have to pay school donations.
And we are rolling out our plan to build new schools and learning spaces for 100,000 kids.
We’re investing in housing by stopping the sell-off of state houses and last year alone we’ve added over 2000 state houses, the highest level in decades. And we banned offshore speculators from our housing market, to make it easier for first home buyers to get a place of their own.
We’re investing in the environment and cleaning up our waterways, getting rid of single use plastic bags and starting to plant a billion trees.
We’ve come a long way in two years:
Better working conditions.
An economy in good shape.
We’re fixing healthcare.
We’re improving schools.
We’re helping with housing.
And we’re cleaning rivers.
Add just these changes together, and it’s clear we’re making a real difference for New Zealanders.
Now I know there will be a school of thought that we should be doing more, going faster and further.
And I understand that, I’m impatient for change too.
But we need change that lasts and we need change that brings people with us.
I was elected to parliament in 2008, at the end of the previous Government and the start of 9 years of National rule.
The first things John Key’s Government did was unpick hard fought changes to employment law and workers’ rights.
It was devastating to watch, knowing that basic rights were being hit back and forth in a game of political ping pong every time there is a change of Government.
Now I can’t guarantee that all the improvements we have made in just two short years will last for the next 50. But I do know their chance of sticking is increased the longer we are in Government and the more collaboratively we work to build consensus for them.
Big bold moves that we haven’t built public support for are easily dismantled.
So what is the lesson in this for us?
First we put in place policies that are supported. We all have an obligation to build support for our ideas.
Take paid parental leave, is anyone seriously suggesting we cut that entitlement? No, because the case for parents spending time with their new-borns has been convincingly made and is popular.
And secondly we need to stay in Government long enough to ensure these policies stick and prove their worth.
The challenges we face have been years in the making and require more than a quick fix.
The housing crisis we inherited didn’t happen overnight, it took years of National’s neglect - selling state houses and not building new homes.
In fact if they had built at the pace that we are aiming for – 1600 state houses per year – there would now be 14,400 homes for families in need. That’s the entire waiting list gone. It’s heart breaking to think that this problem could have been completely avoided.
This problem repeats itself across Government all the time.
But we have started to turn things around.
We are delivering, but we have so much more to deliver.
We’re tackling the long term issues, but long term problems take time to fix.
Together we can fix them.
Thank you for the support you have provided the Government over the last two years.
I’m committed to further progress in the next year and the years after that as we move forward, together.