Meet the Ministers
Minister Iain Lees-Galloway
Workplace Relations and Safety
How’s your first month as Minister going? Are you enjoying the role so far?
I’m enjoying it – it’s much better than being in Opposition, I can assure you! It’s week five and very busy so far. Lots of things have come up in my portfolios – some planned, some unexpected. It’s been really enjoyable being able to change things for the better, and we’ve started with a hiss and a roar.
What did you learn as an Opposition MP that will benefit you as a Minister in government?
As frustrating as Opposition is, that time away from Government to really refresh your thinking is helpful. We now have a very clear idea of what it is we want to achieve and how we can achieve it.
Where does your interest in employment relations come from?
I can pinpoint the moment I began taking an interest in employment relations, actually. I was twenty, and had the classic summer job while studying at university. The pay rate and hours weren’t what I was told they’d be, and the employer even said when I was signing my contract that he would ‘make his best endeavours’ to make good on what he’d promised me, but really all of the power laid with him. That’s where it all started for me. It was a perfect example of the inherent imbalance in power between employer and employee.
What do you feel are the key issues affecting working people as you take office?
Over the last nine years you’ve seen a steady erosion of working peoples’ rights – whether it’s the right to have a tea break, or your rights within the first ninety days at work, or being discriminated against because of union membership – so our immediate priority is to restore what’s been taken away. Over the following year, we’ll look to take the Employment Relations Act forward from where we left it in 2008, and the top priority there is our Fair Pay Agreement policy, which is looking to establish a framework that allows industry-level bargaining to set minimum standards that will apply across industries.
You’ve halted the prior administration’s legislation on pay equity, saying that it diminished the opportunity for people to pursue equal pay claims. As Minister, do you have a preference for amending the Equal Pay Act 1972 or drafting new legislation?
We haven’t yet made a firm decision about which approach we’re going to take. The first priority is to reconvene the Joint Working Group. We want to go back to those principles and touch base to see what we’ve learned since the JWG did its original work. I want to end up with a piece of legislation that delivers a genuine opportunity to pursue pay equity claims. That was the problem with National’s legislation – it put barriers in the way of people. I’m reasonably agnostic about which approach we take, as long as we can achieve that.
What role can the PSA play in working with the new Government to improve the working lives of our members?
I really want to promote the idea of tripartism. I think it’s been successful on the few occasions the previous Government used it. We have a number of matters we could apply that process to – the Holidays Act, Fair Pay Agreements, and restoring the right to collective bargaining in the film industry, for example.
Which of your political colleagues most inspire you, and what have you learned from them?
How can you possibly fail to be inspired by someone who became the leader of their party eight weeks out from an election and led them to Government? I think Jacinda Arden is a Prime Minister that all of New Zealand is going to be very proud of over the next few years.
Minister Chris Hipkins
Congratulations on your new position. How are you feeling about the task ahead of you?
Really positive! One of the reassuring things about politics in New Zealand is that once the result is known, New Zealanders want the Government to do well, and we’ve had a lot of really positive feedback, including from people who didn’t necessarily vote for us, basically saying – you’re there now, get stuck in!
You’ve been in Parliament for three terms in Opposition and were tasked with holding the Government to account. Do you feel like governing will demand a different skillset from you?
Absolutely. In Opposition, you can identify problems and make noise about them. In Government, you get to fix them. I’m aiming to be a consensus-builder. That’s not always going to be possible, but where I can, that will be my approach.
What are your first priorities in your role as Minister for State Services?
There’s a lot involved with the transition. A change of Government brings a change in approach, and that’s a challenge for the public sector, who have to adapt their thinking. Over the next year or two’s worth of work, our attention will turn to employment relations. We’ve got a couple of large, symbolic collective agreements coming up, and we’ll be thinking about how we adapt the public service to reflect the changing nature of the way we live and work. The new public management model of the late 1980s created compartments within the public service, and our challenge is now to get much more horizontal integration.
The PSA represents state sector workers; many of whom are interested in the future of the state sector and what, if any, changes might be made to legislation. Do you think the State Sector Act is still fit for purpose as the underpinning legislation behind broader reform across the public and state sectors?
The short answer is no. The world has moved on dramatically since the 1980s, and the legislation is in need of a significant refresh. We’ve got to move away from these vertically integrated hierarchies towards something that is genuinely whole-of-public service. There’s a corporate element to the way the sector’s structured at the moment, and I’m not convinced that it leads to better outcomes for citizens.
In terms of employment policies, do you think the state has a moral obligation to act as an exemplary employer?
Absolutely. We’ve made a commitment to being a Living Wage employer, so we’ll start with that and work our way out through the sector. The core public service is not too difficult to achieve, but as we move out to the wider public sector as a whole, it becomes more challenging. But that’s certainly our goal – to ensure that the state leads by example.
Do you agree that public services have been underfunded under the last Government, and that public servants are overdue for better wages and conditions?
The public sector has been under both a cap – the number of people who can employed by the public sector – and it has been a financially constrained environment. That’s had some pretty perverse consequences – the overuse of consultants and contractors rather than the engagement of employees – and I don’t think that’s a good outcome for the taxpayer or for employees. If we want a public service that’s genuinely about public service, we have to provide better security and employment conditions for those in it.
What are your plans for the break? Will you be taking time off before the new political year begins?
I imagine there’ll be a lot of reading! I try not to let stuff hang around on my desk so that any reading I do over Christmas will genuinely be bigger-picture stuff rather than the day-to-day. But I’m hoping to spend some time at the beach and have a couple of weeks of not having to put on a collar and tie.