Friday, 21 July 2017

The Continuing Evolution of Workplace Relations Policy

Workplace relations have come a long way in the last 100 years. The Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce is a combination of the old Christchurch Chamber of Commerce and the Canterbury Employers’ Association. The Canterbury Employers’ Association has a long legacy of being involved in collective wage bargaining and setting terms and conditions with the unions to optimise workplace relations.

Before the existence of the Employers’ Association there were various other entities involved in setting awards and reaching agreement on workplace policy. Recently when digging through the Chamber’s archives I came across the New Zealand Awards, Recommendations and Agreements made under the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act for the year 1916 and published in 1917 (exactly 100 years ago). These treatises were produced annually and this 1916 document is 1,415 pages of detailed recommendations, agreements, awards and interpretations as applied to the workplace.

In those days employment conditions were highly prescriptive, wages were determined down to the last penny and every detail of conditions of employment was prescribed industry by industry on a regular basis.

An example is the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Award covering workers in private hotels, oyster-saloons, restaurants, tea and luncheon rooms and refreshment rooms. The wages were prescribed at around £2 per week and interestingly for females in this sector, the prescription was that they would be paid in proportion of not less than three-fourths of the rates prescribed for males in similar capacities.

Under the Northern District Flax Mills Employees Award there were some interesting provisions as to smoking. It states that workers shall not smoke cigars or cigarettes in the swamp and shall not smoke at all when handling or in the proximity of dry fibre. The employer shall have the right to fix the places for smoking and when fixed a worker shall not smoke in any other place and they shall use pipe caps if supplied by the employer.

Under the District Bakers and Pastry Cooks Award there was a consideration of the introduction of machinery relating to automatic bakeries. The Court of Arbitration stated that it had always been opposed to night baking and if the concessions asked for by the representatives of automated bakeries were to be conceded they would have to be considered for all master bakers in order to place all competitors in the industry on an equal footing, the impact of which would be to reintroduce night baking with all its evil consequences to the workers. The consideration goes on to say that the Court would if practical prohibit all night baking to be effective which would be to compel consumers to accept bread which, if not quite so palatable as newly baked bread would probably be more wholesome.

These are examples of highly prescriptive policy where workers and employees were in largely adversary employment relationships requiring extraordinary restrictive and detailed documentation around workplaces. Things have changed in the last 100 years. The relationship between employers and employees is now one of inclusivity, collaboration, transparency and working towards common interests. We need to continue to evolve workplace relationship policies in modern working environments and the open domestic and international economic conditions of the 21st century.

It is important that we all stay attuned to the need to accommodate people in good working conditions and rewarding all people appropriately, regardless of gender or the nature of their work. This is best achieved by all working towards agreed objectives, not by imposing restrictive “one size fits all” divisive workplace relations in a modern economy.

In an election year we all need to keep our eye on that goal. 

Friday, 7 July 2017

Hidden Gems

We are extremely fortunate in Christchurch and Canterbury in that we have a balanced economy. Our economy is really a microcosm of the total New Zealand economy, we are not dependent on one particular sector but we have economic inputs right across the spectrum. That makes this economy stable and strong and able to weather downturns if one component of the economy should falter. We have seen that in the past and will see it in the future.

In amongst our economic mix there are some hidden gems - small operators that just get on with their business but who in total make an extraordinary valuable contribution to our social and economic matrix.

Christchurch has always been a center of pioneering and aviation. The city can trace its aviation heritage right back to Wigram which of course now proudly supports the Royal Airforce Museum of New Zealand and a unique display of airforce memorabilia of the highest standard. An organisation that ironically has flown under the horizon for many years is the Canterbury Aero Club.

The Canterbury Aero Club started at the Wigram Airfield 89 years ago and is currently located at Christchurch International Airport. Those of us that do a lot of travelling have probably noticed on take-off and landing the cluster of buildings on the southern side of the airport amongst which sits the Aero Club. The Canterbury Aero Club main facility is at West Melton where some of its fleet of 28 aircraft operate seven days a week, providing all levels of pilot training from a first flight experience through to full commercial pilot licensing. As one of the oldest clubs in New Zealand the Aero Club has made its mark in aviation globally with its international academy bringing students in from all corners of the world to be trained as commercial pilots. All of these students live amongst us in Christchurch and bring a vitality to this city and to the airport with their cultural diversity. Christchurch and Canterbury are blessed with empty skies, a variable terrain, extremely safe airports and generally good flying weather. All of these factors support an increasing capacity for flight training for locals and international customers.

At Christchurch International Airport the Harewood Aviation Park site is focused on commercial training and is unique in the world. Being able to offer training on an active international airport with all that offers from a busy controlled airspace and precision approaches, right through to flying in a way that accommodates the Airbus A380 when it is arriving or departing. It is my understanding that Christchurch International Airport is the only airport in the world with under a million people that has a daily Airbus A380 service that along with all the other aircraft movements provides a unique opportunity for training pilots.

The Canterbury Aero Club has great facilities which it uses not only for aircraft training, pilot education but also has an extremely well positioned lounge overlooking the runway and the aircraft movements of an international airport. Operators like the Canterbury Aero Club need to be recognized and cherished as an integral part of our multi-faceted economy. They are just another unique example of what we have on offer in our part of the world.  

Friday, 23 June 2017

The Immigration Debate, a Hit or a Myth?

It is obvious that immigration is a political hot potato. It is also clear that it is going to continue to be blatantly used as an election tool for the forthcoming general election. Regrettably that means that sound immigration policy is likely to be compromised by short term political agendas and self-interest.

Because of our extraordinary circumstances in Christchurch over the past 6 years, we have relied very heavily on short term and permanent immigration, domestically and internationally. It has bolstered our workforce and materially assisted us to recreate our city. In just the last three years, we have had record migration which has significantly changed the cultural mix of Christchurch. It is important to note that at present, 70% of all inbound immigration in our region is not rebuild related. Most migrants are being utilized in the underlying fast-growing and diverse economies of Christchurch and Canterbury.

The just released Canterbury Development Corporation Economic Update demonstrates that our region needs five times the long-run average of historic inbound migration to meet employment and economic growth projections. Given that, putting a brake on international migration would seriously compromise our economies in the future.  Our dependency on continuing strong levels of immigration across all sectors of our economy should not be underestimated.

Export education brings welcome overseas students into Christchurch and is an important part of our diverse economy. Not only do these students provide a significant economic contribution, but they also pave the way for high skilled permanent migrants to either stay in New Zealand, or come back after their education has concluded. The Colombo Plan of the 70’s, which attracted high caliber students from Malaysia, particularly to Lincoln University, is a very good example of that. That legacy lives on.

The unemployment rate in the City of Christchurch at present is 4.9%. Excluding Christchurch, the unemployment rate in wider Canterbury is 2.7%. An unemployment rate of 2.7% is too low to be sustainable in a growing economy. The key solution to this problem is robust domestic and international migration.

Migrants do not come to New Zealand, and to our region, at the expense of local employment opportunities. They come to New Zealand to earn, to spend, to contribute and to create opportunities, not stifle them. It is hard to believe that locals looking for jobs in our region cannot find them with an unemployment rate of 2.7%. It is also hard to accept that we can continue to grow our regional economy without the ongoing support of new migrants.

It is exciting to see Christchurch becoming an increasingly diverse, multi-cultural city with people of different nationalities coming to Christchurch, many because of the rebuild, and wanting to stay here to enjoy some of the finest lifestyle offerings available anywhere in the world.

A major driver of the political posturing around immigration, is driven by the obvious capacity constraints in Auckland. Christchurch and Canterbury should not get caught up in that problem. As a city, and as a region, we welcome international migrants and domestic migrants, including our friends from Auckland who are living in a stretched community with stretched resources. Here, we have all the fundamentals for good living, and plenty of capacity for others to join us. We have realistic house prices, an abundance new office accommodation, hospitality offerings second to none, and good infrastructure. We enjoy a city that is future focused and positioned in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. 

Let’s take the politics out of the migration debate. We need stable, positive migration policies and strategies that will stimulate our economy, enrich our communities and satisfy our employment requirements. It will be a travesty if immigration as a political football, ends up resulting in an own goal. 

Friday, 9 June 2017

Where There Is Smoke

New Zealand society has come a long way in the last 40 years with respect to the behavior of smokers in our community. When I was a child, both of my parents smoked in the house and in the car and it was regarded as highly fashionable to be seen with a cigarette in your hand. My Father started smoking during WWII when all soldiers were given a ration of cigarettes.  I still have an old cigarette packet which has on it “no sore throat, no cough”. In the late 1970’s I can recall travelling on planes, where smoking on board was just a normal part of societal practice.  

Over the years there has been a marked cultural shift and it is now generally accepted that if you want to smoke, you smoke in a way that does not impact on others and you respect other people’s desires not to have their lungs, their car or house contaminated by cigarette smoke.

Smoking in bars and in restaurants is now unacceptable. It is therefore exciting to see the preliminary results of New Zealand’s first ever voluntarily smokefree outdoor dining pilot showing that an overwhelming majority of Cantabrians support smokefree outdoor dining. The project which was in partnership between the Cancer Society Canterbury West Coast Division and the Canterbury District Health Board finished its pilot at the end of April. The pilot involved 20 restaurants, 18 of whom saw the project through. 95% of the 1,861 customers who gave feedback on the pilot project supported smokefree outdoor dining.

Martin Witt from the Cancer Society was surprised at how great the appetite was for a smokefree outdoor dining experience. The other surprise was how positively the change had been embraced by the businesses involved. After the six month pilot project, not one of the venues who completed the pilot project reported a decrease in customers and many venues commented that being completely smokefree has been good for business. The adoption of smokefree outdoor dining on a voluntary basis is an exciting development in our community. The results of the pilot show a continuing shift going on in our community and a willingness to adopt a new level of smokefree venues and thinking. The voluntary pilot project surely has created a mandate to ramp up the adoption of smokefree outdoors in facilities across the city. It would be a wonderful thing for Christchurch if such a change of behavior could be voluntarily adopted right across the city without the need for imposing a regulating bureaucracy and legislation to effect change.

As we continue to regenerate our city and the number of hospitality offerings continues to expand. It would demonstrate good leadership if existing and new hospitality offerings throughout the city could voluntarily opt to have smokefree outdoor dining. That would mean that we could all enjoy hospitality, drinking and eating indoors and outdoors in the knowledge that we would not be contaminated by other people’s smoke. It would also demonstrate that Christchurch has hospitality business owners who are prepared to run ahead of an inevitable trend towards a decreasing acceptance of smoking in places frequented by the public, for all of the right reasons.

I will be watching with great interest the next stage of this project. I applaud the Cancer Society Canterbury West Coast Division and the Canterbury District Health Board for taking the initiative to promote smokefree outdoor dining areas. I suspect the vast majority of our residents and visitors will embrace such change positively. I also suspect that those people who wish to continue to smoke will continue their habit in a way that has less and less impact on those of us who are desirous of enjoying a smokefree environment. 

Friday, 26 May 2017

Spreading It Around

Budgets are not what they use to be and the Budget 2017 is no exception. Much of what Finance Minister, Hon Stephen Joyce, announced in the budget yesterday had been clearly signaled in pre-budget announcements. The increase in social investment, more money for the film industry, more spending on housing, millions to be spent on infrastructure (including Kaikoura), irrigation, schools, money dedicated to conservation and more funds for vulnerable children had all been announced prior to the budget and were simply reinforced in the context of the budget messaging. The new announcements also came as no surprise.

Increases in Working for Families and generally looking after families with lower incomes were clearly signaled before the election. The changes in tax thresholds which also impact on lower income earners were strongly hinted at prior to the budget announcements. The combination of the Working for Families increases and the changes in tax thresholds will cost the Government around $2 billion per year. That is additional money that will be circulating in our communities and that should be good for everyone.

This budget was all about spreading available funds around and pleasing as many people as possible in an election year budget. Minister Joyce is fortunate as he had the ability to do that with the economy in good shape, the Government projecting significant surpluses and the prognosis for our economy being quite bright. That is also the case here in Canterbury as a microcosm of New Zealand’s economy. We can expect things to stay, from a domestic perspective, strong and stable and there is every indication that we can enjoy continuing relatively strong economic growth.

We are a lucky province in what, in the international environment today, can be described as a lucky country.

However, you make your luck. The New Zealand economy is in good shape because of consistent economic policies, but also because of the determination of the business community to diversify, to add value, to innovate and to concentrate on export and tourism growth. With GDP growth expected to be over 3% for the next five years the Governments’ of the future have the ability to flex spending. We can all recall prior budgets where it was all about conserving cash and reducing expenditure. It appears that the Government’s target of reducing debt to 20% of GDP by 2020 is achievable. It also appears that the country is well positioned for unexpected economic downturns. So, all in all a positive unsurprising budget, taking into account current economic conditions and prospects.

However, New Zealand is not without its challenges. There is no doubt that our interest rate levels will have to trend up at some stage in the future and many of us are carrying high levels of debt, particularly with respect to our investment in housing stock. That poses a high risk to certain sectors of our economy. We constantly hear of short fallings in infrastructure, roading, rail, tourism amenities and rural broadband. In a rapidly growing environment those infrastructural shortcomings will be exacerbated. There will need to be a quantum shift in investment in diverse infrastructure in the future. We also face the risk of international volatility and uncertainty. We know that the world economies are doing OK, but we also know that there is a real risk of unexpected economic upheaval, and we live constantly with international uncertainty. This is exacerbated by the increasing tendency for other countries to adopt isolationist policies which will disadvantage New Zealand in an international forum.

So Budget 2017 has delivered some benefits to most of us. It has partially addressed the need to look after those with lower incomes across our economy and it has every indication of a relatively well performing economy across most sectors. We can be comfortable with that, but certainly not complacent. 

Monday, 15 May 2017

Making Democracy Work

Every year the Christchurch City Council (CCC) invites submissions on its Draft Annual Plan or Long Term Planning processes. The Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce (the Chamber) comprising almost 3,000 companies, the majority of whom are domiciled in the CCC catchment, has always submitted to the Council in an endeavor to fairly represent the interests of the business community.

While the consultation process is appropriate, it often goes under the horizon and participation from most sectors of the community is very limited. We think it is important that our voice is heard and listened to. We work very closely with the CCC on different fronts on a myriad of issues. Fundamentally we have the same objectives which is to ensure that our city and its surrounds have an offering which is conducive to people living and working here. From the Chamber perspective, we also fully understand the interdependence between sustainable, profitable business and community wellbeing. You simply cannot have one without the other. Accordingly, we submit constructively and are appreciative of the open and transparent platform upon which the Council generally operates and its demonstrable accountability to the community.

There are always areas we will disagree on, usually with respect to different ways of achieving the ultimate objective. For example in this year’s submission we have emphasised our desire for the Council to minimise rate increases and borrowings and continue to assess the merits of realising capital through sales of assets that are not core to its operations. We respect the right of the Council to borrow more and increase rates rather than accrue cash from other sources, but we question the merits of that in the context of a sound financial policy.

We have also commented this year on the need for the CCC to be more aggressive in realising the reality of Christchurch for its citizens. We have noted that the Council has proposed a $152 million reduction in spending on its capital works programme which may ease the burden short term but has a critical impact on existing and future capability and capacity. We question the merits of that.

We also noted that in the exceptional circumstances of the recreation of our city it is important that the Crown and the Council are seen to be working constructively and jointly together and we are pleased to see positive progress in this area. It is still however, a work in progress and there is still much to be done.

Of fundamental importance is the need for more clarity on the strategic direction of our city. In other words, what does all the work that is going on in various sectors of the city (whether it be sub-terrain infrastructure, roading, developing the public realm, or Council owned land and buildings) look like?  What is the end game, what does the “big picture” look like and how will all the work going on result in positive and optimal outcomes for all of us? We believe that there would be much more tolerance in the community of the disruption that is occurring across the city as the new city takes shape, if people had a clearer picture of how things will look and function when the job is done.

Finally, we also think it is legitimate for the Council to address shortcomings in current plans through pausing and reflecting on progress to date and different ways of doing things in the future. We do not believe that this city should be bound by existing plans and strategies just because they are there. We are all in this together, it is important that we all have our say, and it is important that as a result of democratic input we get the right result.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Keep an Eye on the Prize

At a recent Business Leaders Forum hosted by the Chamber, there was discussion concentrating on where our city is at, where we are going and what are our challenges? 

Depending on where you are and what stage you are at, those challenges manifest themselves in different ways. We do know however, there are still a sizable proportion of our population that are not in a good space from a housing and social perspective which all of us have a responsibility to address. We know there are a small number of people still struggling with their insurance companies and people who are “repairing the repairs” which is causing frustration. There are areas in our central city that are causing angst, particularly derelict sites, issues around how accessible our city is currently, and how accessible it will be in the future. Of course, there is the gnarly issue of the Cathedral, which particularly from an external perspective, tends to drag the city down. 

These frustrations need to be addressed and addressed quickly. There is always going to be pain as you build a new city after the most expensive natural disaster in our lifetime - there is inevitably a cost associated with that. As we progress the construction of our new city it is important that we recognise why we are going through some pain. It is also important that we move on from Christchurch being dominated and defined by being an “earthquake city” into the new Christchurch with its existing and new offerings presenting a compelling opportunity for anyone who wishes to participate. 

It is clear that 2017 is a tipping point when what the centre of Christchurch is going to look like is more clearly understood and when we move through to 75% of the construction phase of the rebuild being completed by the end of this calendar year. It is therefore timely to consider what are the unique points of difference that our city has and will have which will make it a city of choice, the most liveable city in New Zealand. From this perspective, it is important that we do not lose sight of what was in place prior to 2010: 

This city has a good health system, which is internationally recognised; 
Its education system and the quality of the offerings are unique in New Zealand; 

  • We have good infrastructure, which is being replaced as is necessary and it underpinned by an airport operating 24/7 and a port that is expanding; 
  • We are geographically well positioned and proximate to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world; 
  • We have a balanced economy which has seen us through difficult times and will continue to see us thrive and prosper into the future; and 
  • We are a city that is small enough to be easily accessible and big enough to have all of the offerings afforded by larger cities. 

The Business Leaders Forum determined that we should move from being “stuck in earthquake related issues” and we should celebrate the progress we are making. We need to put positive messages out to our employees and we need to move away from our city being defined by the earthquakes. We need to reinforce what makes us different and attractive from any other city in New Zealand or beyond. Those differences are generally positive and underpin opportunity. 

Our city of the future will be defined by the experiences of its residences and its visitors. Members of the Business Leaders Forum all affirmed that they were in Christchurch because it is the best place to live and bring up their families. It is important to share this message with and beyond our city.