Wellbeing at Work - Centenary Plenary Session of ILO

  • Hon Iain Lees-Galloway
Workplace Relations and Safety

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa

Mr President, fellow delegates. I bring you special greetings from New Zealand’s Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, on the centenary of the ILO.

The ILO has been at the international forefront of promoting the wellbeing of the world’s working people. In 1919 it was a transformational concept, supported by New Zealand as a founding member, an organisation aspiring to bring universal and lasting peace through social justice.

Just a few weeks ago, the New Zealand Government had the pleasure of announcing our nation’s first Wellbeing Budget. It is the first step in a transformation to the way we assess our progress and support our people. Rather than a focus on GDP and export growth our Budget is essentially intertwined with the wellbeing of the people of New Zealand.

At the centre of our first Wellbeing Budget is a commitment to mental health. This was our most significant investment of all. We all need support through life, our colleagues our families and our friends. We need to show our humanity in everything we do. For our economy, for our workplaces and for society to be productive, it needs to be inclusive and supportive, we need to support each other.

Our workplaces are no different. Workplace wellbeing needs to be a focus of our work. Like the ILO, we too are confronting the issues of maintaining meaningful employment and decent work in the face of technological, demographic and economic change.

The future of work holds major changes over the coming decades. In the future the pace and scale of change in the workplace is likely to be greater than before, and existing inequalities may be exacerbated.

My Government’s vision is to support people through the transitions that many people will be living through. We aim to improve the wellbeing and living standards of New Zealanders through productive, sustainable and inclusive growth. We want a highly skilled and innovative economy that delivers good jobs, decent work conditions and fair wages, while boosting growth and productivity.

We are ensuring that workplace changes we make will help those most vulnerable first, we are lifting minimum standards, supporting mental health at work, ensuring vulnerable workers have a voice in the workplace and are protected from exploitation.

I met with a group of security guards just last week who shared with me their stories. How when on minimum wages they didn’t have time to spend with their children because they had to work such long hours to survive, how health and safety was compromised at work, and how they cut essentials to pay for rent.

In a modern society you’d think that wasn’t an issue. But in New Zealand we’ve seen inequality rise over the last decade; when incomes rose, they didn’t rise for those on the bottom. We also had increasingly worsening health and wellbeing. We’re determined to tackle this.

We clearly have a lot of work to do.

As Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety, I am leading the implementation of a package of measures to help us achieve our vision.

We are lifting minimum wages, including mental health in our health and safety plans, we are focused on preventing harassment and bullying, expanding Paid Parental Leave, supporting victims of domestic violence, boosting pay equity, and restoring collective bargaining to workers who lost it during the previous government.

To ensure this is sustainable, we need to ensure good employers are not disadvantaged by paying reasonable wages, and providing decent conditions. To achieve this, we are working on Fair Pay Agreements, a legislative system of bargaining to establish minimum conditions of employment across industries or occupations, preventing a race to the bottom.

As Minister of Immigration, I am also concerned that the migrants who come to our shores to work should not be subject to exploitation. We already provide harsh penalties for exploitative employers of migrant workers, including cutting off their access to migrant labour, significant fines and jail terms.

We are currently undertaking an extensive review of migrant exploitation in New Zealand, to better understand key drivers and identify effective proposals for change. We are committed to stamping out this blight on our labour market.

In a similar vane, I’m very pleased to announce New Zealand’s intention to ratify the Forced Labour Protocol of 2014 later this year.

In doing so, we are proud to stand with the ILO and the global community in seeking to combat and eradicate the scourge of forced labour and modern slavery, and promote a future for decent work.

Kia ora. E noho rā (Thank you. Goodbye.)