100 Years On - Labour is still not a Commodity

100 Years On - Labour is still not a Commodity

The 100th anniversary of the International Labour Organisation this year is a timely reminder of its continued relevance.

Its constitution still strikes a chord for those of us fighting for workers' rights:

Whereas universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice; And whereas conditions of labour exist involving such injustice, hardship and privation to large numbers of people as to produce unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world are imperilled; and an improvement of those conditions is urgently required; … by the regulation of the hours of work, … the provision of an adequate living wage, the protection of the worker against sickness, disease and injury arising out of his employment, the protection of children, young persons and women, provision for old age and injury, … recognition of the principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value…

In 1944, the Philadelphia Declaration confirmed the vision of the ILO in a few simple words: Labour is not a commodity.


Since then the organisation has played a role at key historical junctures – the Great Depression, decolonisation, the creation of Solidarność in Poland, the victory over apartheid in South Africa. 

Each year the NZ Council of Trade Unions participates in ILO conferences, which adopt international labour standards. They are a crucial building block towards achieving fair globalisation, which delivers social justice and lasting peace. In 1999 the ILO proposed the decent work agenda, which encompasses the creation of employment, respect and fulfilment of rights at work, ensuring social security, and negotiation between unions and employers. 


Twenty years on a landmark report entitled Work for a Brighter Future, addresses today’s challenges to decent work including unprecedented transformational and technological change. This year’s annual ILO conference adopted the Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work.

It underlines the importance of taking a human-centred approach. Technology needs to benefit human beings - not the other way around. 
The declaration also promotes workers’ rights as key to achieving inclusive growth, and the importance of the public sector. The declaration recognises contractors and self-employed people must enjoy adequate protection like all other workers.


This Declaration was adopted by the New Zealand government, its employer and union representatives. It therefore guides our goals, work relationships, and negotiations in this country. The PSA is also supporting a CTU campaign for New Zealand to ratify ILO convention 87, which sets out the rights of unions to exist and organise, and Convention 151 which extends union rights to public service workers.

We would also like this country to put into practice the protections in a new ILO convention, which recognises that violence and harassment at work are human rights violations.

Although 100 years old, the ILO is not a lame duck but a grand dame able to influence the world of work, yet relying on all of us to make decent work a reality in the 21st century.

Also in this issue:

President's Message

In October I was fortunate to attend the Council of Trade Unions Conference along with other members of the PSA delegation.

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Obituary: Lynn Middleton

PSA members and staff are deeply saddened by the recent and sudden death on November 13 of former PSA national secretary Lynn Middleton.

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Working for Free

For Pasefika women the statistics are even more damning – they’ve been working for free since September 29 due to a 25.5% pay gap. The pay gap is almost as dire for wāhine Māori – a 22.1% pay gap left them working for free since October 12.

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Kindly leading the way to Equal Pay

For Pasefika women the statistics are even more damning – they’ve been working for free since September 29 due to a 25.5% pay gap.

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Stand Up for Library Workers

At the launch delegate Chantalle Smith spoke of how research for their equal pay claim had found the skills required to do their job could be broken down into 22 separate categories.

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Mana Wahine: ‘Our passion is perceived as a threat'

A survey of wāhine Māori in the PSA has drawn a fantastic response - with more than 900 members taking the time to tell us about their employment experiences.

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Stark statistics help fight for equal pay and transparency

Your salaries generally reflect the gender and ethnic pay gaps seen in the wider workforce with Pākeha men well out in front of other groups.

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Fair Pay Agreements will give workers a fairer deal

That’s why we’ve made a submission on the Government’s new discussion document on FPAs and have been encouraging members to make sure their voices are heard.

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Honours for workers on frontline

The inaugural Public Service Day – Te Rā Kāwanatanga was held last year so this is the second year the awards have been handed out.

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PSAY Hui Inspires Success

After joining the PSA earlier this year, the DOC worker decided to attend the PSAY Hui in August.

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Pasefika Voices on Climate Strike

The PSA proudly supported the School Strike for Climate in September. For some of our Pasefika members the effects of climate change are already hitting home. They tell us why they took part in the rally on Parliament.

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“It opens their eyes”: Sector Māngai elected at Hui

Their role is to organise and advocate for Māori members in their sectors. They also represent their sectors on Te Kōmiti o Te Rūnanga o Ngā Toa Awhina and on sector committees.

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Reducing Māori Health Inequities

The convenor of Te Tira Hauora Kōmiti, a committee of Māori delegates across the DHB sector, presented their submission to the inquiry in November.

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‘It’s important to have Māori and female voices at the table’

Staff from the Ministry’s policy teams have attended UN indigenous rights forums in Geneva and New York.

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Your voice, our system

The forums will focus on mental health & addiction services, Māori health inequities, and disability services.

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Fearsome fighter

That’s because when she’s not involved in a tough round of negotiations, or doing her day job as a forensic technician, Kelly is likely to be found in the Muay Thai kickboxing ring.

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A lifetime of discovery

As a curator of the hugely popular Awesome Forces exhibition at Te Papa Museum, and co-presenter of TV show, Coast New Zealand, he has also helped bring science to a wider audience.

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Unity in Diversity

In the workplace union members seek to be visible, vocal and valued but for some workers being visible is a risk - not a right they are afforded.

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