Parallels between worlds

From New Zealand to Europe.

Andrea FrommStory by Briar Edmonds

At the PSA, we are always keen to reconnect with our “alumni”! We caught up with former PSA member, Andrea Fromm, for an interview.

She’s now living and working in Ireland for an agency of the European Union called Eurofound, and says her experiences with the PSA have proven valuable in her role as a research officer looking at the experiences of workers and working conditions in Europe. She sees strong links between trends in Europe and New Zealand, and clear ways the two can work together to improve working and living conditions.

What was your involvement with the PSA?

I was working for Statistics New Zealand and became a delegate – the only young woman in the team back then. I was keen to promote youth and women’s issues in the workplace and in the union generally.

As the elected PSA youth convenor and later a Women’s Network member I was involved in campaigns, participated in conferences, spoke to local council members, made oral submissions to parliamentary committees and above all engaged with young people and women within and beyond the union to learn about their circumstances and concerns to improve their situation.

What is the overall purpose of Eurofound?

Eurofound provides information and analysis on living and working conditions in Europe. We share our findings with European and national policy-makers in government, who use it to adopt new policies or regulations, and with social partners. We also work with social partners to make sure we are delivering research that is relevant.

What are you currently working on at Eurofound?

We have three units in Eurofound that concentrate on different areas: living conditions, employment and change, and working conditions and industrial relations. I am a researcher in the working conditions and industrial relations unit.

My experience as a PSA delegate greatly helps me in my work. It’s easy for me to put on the youth or women’s lens when interpreting findings and I can come up with research ideas stemming directly from my practical experiences as a delegate and convenor.

Do you see similarities between the work that Eurofound is doing, and the work that you were involved in when you were at the PSA?

I continue to contribute to the improvement of living and working conditions of people – just in a different way.

As a trade unionist you advocate for workers’ rights and directly engage in political debate, negotiations and strategic thinking on the ground where change is happening – or not yet happening.

Essentially, it’s taking a “from the bottom-up” approach. In my current role, I inform and facilitate political debate and negotiations at the “top” – on the policy-making level.

What trends are you seeing for workers in Europe? Are they similar or different to the trends in New Zealand? How?

The digitilisation of the world of work is having a big impact. We might work outside the office, outside core hours and are constantly contactable. This has implications on work-life balance and health and safety to name just a few.

The ageing population also poses a challenge to the European labour market and social welfare states alike. We need to find ways to ensure work is sustainable over the life course so young and older workers have a more meaningful, better and longer working life.

Today, tasks also have to be done with fewer resources which demands critical decisions especially in the public sector.

Migration, mobility and unfair recruitment are also topics that are high on the policy agenda as they imply questions about how to better integrate migrants into the labour market, promote skills matching and prevent trafficking for labour exploitation.

Social partners struggle to maintain and increase their membership basis while collective bargaining is widely decentralised and more and more topics arise in the political arena. At the same time, resources are shrinking.

Does all this sound familiar to you in NZ?!

Do you think Eurofound’s research has been able to influence work and working conditions in Europe? Has it been able to have a positive influence on things?

Yes. Through critical and creative analysis I believe we have and will continue to contribute to the improvement of living and working conditions of people especially in Europe. For instance, our research on violence and harassment at work was picked up by a European-level trade union organisation who invited us to discuss the topic with them. As a result, they adopted a resolution that will encourage and guide national trade unions to actively contribute to prevent violence in workplaces.

Do you think the PSA and New Zealand can learn from the work of Eurofound?

I think we can learn from each other! In an ever-changing world of work we need to look beyond Europe and New Zealand. The world of work is a global one in which we are all interconnected via product and supply chains, stock markets, climate change, and political decisions. As a trade unionist and researcher I believe we can only improve living and working conditions together.   

Richard Wagstaff, the former national secretary of the PSA, actually visited us to learn more about our European-wide company survey, which includes interviews with both workers and management. We had a great discussion about how companies in New Zealand use employee participation to improve their economic performance and the well-being of staff. I learned a lot and I had a few new ideas on how to analyse and interpret the data!