Monday, October 26, 2009

Guest column: Labour Day

By Stephen Day

I've always thought that there is something counterintuitive about unionists organising activity around Labour Day. Labour Day has come to mean, for most New Zealanders, a day off because, well, we deserve to have a day off. It's nice to have a place in our year dedicated to not needing to do anything, just taking a break.

Sure, during our early Labour Days we had big festivals, parades and sporting occasions. But these days Labour Day can quite happily be about little more than sleeping in, hopefully sitting about in the sun and maybe spending more time than you might usually with friends or family.

This year hasn't been the best one for workers and union members. Most employers, including the biggest employer of them all, the one we elect, have responded to the global recession by zipping up their wallet and bunkering down. It's tough times for employers as well as workers. On the whole workers, through their unions, have tried to work cooperatively with their employers within these new financial constraints. However some employers, who haven't faced tough times, who are in fact continuing to make large profits, are exploiting the situation to batter their workers and generate more profits. Many workers are still after all theses years still not getting paid enough to look after a family and live a decent life. Many face working conditions that are unnecessarily harsh, lacking in respect or dignity, or even downright dangerous.

But despite all that there are still things to celebrate. We now have paid parental leave. We have legislated meal breaks, breastfeeding breaks, four weeks annual leave and regular increases to the minimum wage. We achieved all these things in the recent past. We achieved all theses things by working together and campaigning for them.

Not everyone will get a holiday on Monday but most will, and another recent victory by working people and our unions means that those who don't still get a day in lieu.

My advice is don't spend Monday thinking about unions and working conditions. It's a holiday so enjoy it doing stuff you want to do. But the next day, Tuesday, go to say hello to the union delegate at your worksite and ask if there is anything simple you can do to help to win the next small improvement for workers and our families.