Arguing against your own public position

September 22nd, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Simon Collins at NZ Herald reports:

Disgraced former employers’ boss Alasdair Thompson has switched sides and is speaking up for raising the minimum wage to $18.40 an hour.

Mr Thompson, 66, has revealed he privately lobbied Prime Minister John Key in 2009 in support of a union campaign to raise the minimum from $12.50, where it was then, to $15 – even though publicly he opposed it as chief executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association.

If I was a member of EMA Northern I’d be incredibly angry that my membership fees were spent to fund a chief executive who went around privately trying to sabotage the position that was the policy of the organisation that employed him and paid his salary.

Thompson sacked

July 6th, 2011 at 1:57 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald reports:

The board of the Employers and Manufacturers Association has fired the organisation’s embattled chief executive Alasdair Thompson.

It is interesting that they have actually sacked him, rather than manage to negotiate an exit.

Board chair Graham Mountfort said the decision came because of Mr Thompson’s conduct in interviews on June 23, when he suggested women’s periods affected their workplace productivity and started a fiery confrontation with a TV3 reporter.

I think that is an important thing to note. It would have been harsh to sack Thompson for his initial comments on radio. Many people have stuffed up in a live radio interview. It was the subsequent TV interviews which showed a fatal lack of judgement.


Coffin meet nail

June 26th, 2011 at 9:23 am by David Farrar

The Herald on Sunday reports:

At a dinner at McCormick & Schmick’s restaurant in Washington, Thompson approached Kelly, Street and the business leader.

Thompson is alleged to have made lewd comments at the social event about the relationship Kelly had with Prime Minister John Key, who has been married to wife Bronagh since both were teenagers.

Late last night, the Prime Minister’s office dismissed Thompson’s allegations as “totally ridiculous”.

The source said the comments were made without any basis other than Helen Kelly and John Key’s “good working relationship”.

“He asked her what the relationship was between her and John Key. There was sexual innuendo. Then he said he asked John Key, the last time he saw him. He said he asked if he [Key] fancied Helen.”

The source said Kelly was visibly upset by the comments. She said to Thompson: “That’s disgusting.”

I think I’m speechless. I can’t decide what is stupider for the head of the Auckland Employers Association.

  1. Asking John Key if he fancied the President of the CTU
  2. Telling the CTU President that he had asked the PM if he fancied her
  3. Doing (2) in front of a Labour MP

EMA president Graham Mountfort said Thompson would be asked to explain himself to the board and was no longer allowed to speak with the media.

“He won’t be an advocate for us in the future.”

I note the Wellington EMA went to the trouble of specifically e-mailing all their members disassociating themselves from the comments of their Auckland counterpart.

A horrendous own goal

June 24th, 2011 at 11:14 am by David Farrar

The original comments by Alasdair Thompson were unwise and stupid (and I will detail why further down) but his dual performances on TV3 are the stuff legends, or nightmares, are made of.

Watch his interview with Rachel Morton and then with Mihi Forbes.  I don’t think I have ever seen such sheer awfulness before. Lew at Kiwipolitico has done an initial list of 10 things the EMA did wrong.

This has gone from just being an issue about Alasdair to an issue about the EMA Northern. I can imagine employers all over Auckland quietly removing from their office walls their certificate of membership before anyone notices it. They’d be embarrassed to be associated with the last 24 hours.

This may have been the most effective brand destruction we have seen since Wellington Airport tried to rename Wellington into Wellywood, or the CTU declared war on hobbits.

Before we come back to the interviews let’s focus on the substance of the issue, as a couple of people think this is just about political correctness – far from it.The issue is why do women on average get paid less than men.

Now I do not think the gap between the average hourly rate for men and women is due to discrimination. Sure there may be the odd employer who is an old bigot (and they generally are old) and actually thinks women are inferior. But they are dying out.

Part of the gap is because men and women tend towards different jobs. More men are police officers and more women are teachers for example and police officers get paid more on average. But that doesn’t explain all the difference as there is a gap within professions also. On average male lawyers get paid more than female lawyers and male teachers more than female teachers.

There are a couple of factors at play here. One is historic – until 20 years ago men far outnumbered women at university in the high paying professions such as law, medicine etc. So most of the senior ranks are still men. Fortunately at entry level the numbers are now more balanced, so over time the gender mix may get more balanced at the senior or higher paying levels.

The other factor (which Alasdair correctly pointed out) is that more woman than men take a break from the workforce to be the primary caregiver, and when they return are more likely to be part-time so prospects for advancement are not so good as the person who has stayed working full-time throughout.

Even this doesn’t fully explain the gender gap, as there has been a recent study that even early on in a profession, men are being paid more than women. Now one has to be careful about a study over a profession, rather than just one employer, as differences between employers may account for the gap. However if one accepts the study at face value, a possible answer is that generally younger men are more assertive than younger women in pushing for pay rises and generally in salary negotiations.

So I tend to reject the thesis that women get paid less because evil employers discriminate against women and think they are inferior.

The possible factors I have laid out above are all about individual choice. You may choose to enter a less well remunerated profession, because it isn’t just about the money. You may choose to take a break from the work-force. You may choose not to be aggressive in your pay negotiations and take whatever is initially offered. These are all individual choices. Sure there are issues around societal expectations, but that is a debate for another day.

But here is why what Alasdair Thompson said is so stupid and counter-productive. he listed something women have no choice over (having a menstrual cycle) and cited it as a reason why women get paid less. He basically said that women are less productive because they are women. It undermined all his other (generally sound) arguments.

This reinforced every prejudice unions and others have about employers – and worse this comes from the head of EMA Northern.

And I can only imagine how women feel, to have to put up with having a menstrual cycle is I suspect bad enough by itself, so to have some employer bigwig come out and say oh yeah and your monthly cycle is also why you get paid less would be beyond infuriating.

It is possible of course that some women do have a high use of sick leave due to their menstrual cycle. But I do not believe, and have not seen a shred of evidence in support, the notion that the prevalence of this is significant enough to actually affect average pay rates.

Now the original comments by Alasdair were survivable. All he had to do was to say something along the lines of “A couple of employers had anecdotally mentioned to me this was an issue for them, but I was quite wrong to link it to average pay rates between genders as it is not a factor, and I apologise for mentioning it in the interview”.

But instead we got the Tv3 interviews where he could not have made a worse impression of himself. If Helen Kelly could invent a wicked caricature of an employers boss, she couldn’t have done better than what we saw. Rambling justifications, instructions to the cameraman as if he was the producer, demanding no interruptions, walking out, patronising the female reporters, constantly referring to his own staff members in a way which I found demeaning, standing over Mihi Forbes and angrily remonstrating with her, calling her a liar, demanding previous footage be declared off the record retrospectively and the list just goes on.

I don’t know how professional media trainers like Brian Edwards, Judy Callaghan, Bill Ralston and Janet Wilson even managed to watch a few minutes of the video without their heads exploding in despair that someone could come across so badly in what is meant to be a damage control setting.

EMA Northern need to consider what they have to do to repair the damage. My only advice is that it does not involve Alasdair doing another round of TV interviews.

EPMU appeal fails

August 28th, 2008 at 2:43 pm by David Farrar

National has failed in its application to judicially review the Electoral Commission’s decision to allow the EPMU to register as a third party. The decision is here – kirk-v-electoral-commission-anor-jmt-260808-jud_jtk_717.

The key clause is below:

The assessment of the effects of the membership and other rights which the Union has under the Labour Party Rules, and the making of a judgment as to whether these rights are such as to constitute involvement in the administration of the affairs of the party, are matters for the Commission. The Commission has clearly taken into account that the Union has the voting and nomination rights of a member.

The decision does not contain a detailed analysis of the rights. That is not required. There is no basis in the decision for a submission that the Commission has proceeded on a mistaken view as to the nature and extent of the rights under the Rules. This is not a case where the Commission has failed to take this relevant matter into account. It is not for the Court to substitute its view, based on its own assessment of the Rules. The question on this application for judicial review is not whether the Court would have reached the same conclusion. Rather, it is whether the Commission has reached a conclusion which is so clearly untenable as to amount to an error of law. The plaintiff has failed to meet that high hurdle, on this aspect of the case.

As Justice MacKenzie says the hurdle is high, and this does not mean the Court agrees with the Commission, just that the Commission appeared to consider all relevant issues. It is interesting that because the Electoral Commission did not give many details of the rationale for its decision, that makes it harder to argue they should be reviewed.

While I initiated the letter to the Electoral Commission, I am not the decision maker on the court cases, so don’t know if this is the end of the issue, or if National will appeal to the Court of Appeal.

Personally I am more interested now in the possible prosecution of the EMA Northern. You see reliable sources have told me that the total cost of their advertising campaign against the KiwiSaver law changes was in excess of $120,000. If this is so, then they would face prosecution for not an illegal practice, but a corrupt practice. The EMA Chief Executive could be jailed for up to three two years if found guilty. Yes, seriously.

EMA Advertisement referred to Police

August 26th, 2008 at 9:10 pm by David Farrar

The EMA earlier this year ran some newspaper ads trying to stop the changes to KiwiSaver legislation, which would have made it illegal to take account of KiwiSaver contributions in a total remuneration package.

The EMA ran the ads a few days before the parliamentary debate on the law change, and they did not mention voting – they encouraged people to lobby the Government and MPs. The ad (copied from The Standard) is below:

Now the Electoral Commission has just ruled that in their opinion the advertisement is an election advertisement, that the EMA Northern have broken the law in running the advertisement, and have referred them to the Police for prosecution.

Now for all those who claimed that the Electoral Finance Act would not restrain issue advocacy, you may wish to rethink your positions.

The key aspect here is the EFA is based on the effect of an advertisement, not the intent of the advertisement. Because of the “Stop Mallard” sign it was thought it could end up influencing some people against Labour.

What this really means is you can only run an issue based advertisement in election year if it is not too hard hitting. That is hugely advantagous to the Government who can push through bad laws, and opponents have to hold back in their criticism of the law changes, in case they break the law.

Because they stood up for their members on a bill before Parliament, the EMA faces a police investigation and probable prosecution. Just another reason the Electoral Finance Act should be repealed.

McCarten on KiwiSaver law

July 27th, 2008 at 4:34 pm by David Farrar

Matt McCarten looks at the fight over the proposed law change to ban total remuneration packages from including the employer contribution to KiwiSaver:

My union, Unite, represents thousands of minimal-waged workers and few have joined despite a $1000 start-up from the Government and up to $20 a week tax credit.

That’s because someone on the minimum wage would have to contribute 48 cents an hour which they can’t afford when food and petrol prices are soaring.

And this law change will make it illegal to pay them more money if they do not go into KiwiSaver.

I think Thompson is genuinely outraged that KiwiSaver discriminates on age. Workers under 18 and over 65 don’t get the scheme’s subsidies. Mallard claims that as youth rates have been abolished and as older workers are entitled to Government superannuation that somehow makes it acceptable. Well it’s not. It’s clearly discriminatory and unfair.

So this is the head of the Unite union agreeing the the EMA Northern that the scheme dsicriminates agaianst the poor, young and old!

It is an outrage that young workers and older workers who pay their taxes are not allowed to join a scheme their colleagues can. Thompson’s view, which has some merit, is that the workers who aren’t entitled or can’t afford to join KiwiSaver don’t get the subsidy and therefore, effectively, an employer is paying some workers a higher benefit than others.

Exactly. The overall costs to the employer should be the same.

The only way the scheme would be fair was if it was compulsory for all employees so any contribution by employers would be paid to everybody.

It is becoming close to de facto compulsory and I suspect it will become compulsory at some stage.

If KiwiSaver became widespread it would inevitably lead to the weakening and abolition of universal superannuation.

KiwiSaver is privatisation of superannuation by stealth. The poor and those unable to take up employment will miss out and will end up with some state-funded pauper’s pension.

I support KiwiSaver partly because it is an effective privatisation. And McCarten is right that it will inevitably lead to a move away from the current universal publicly funded superannuation scheme. A 25 year old today will earn more money in retirement from KiwiSaver and NZ Super than they will during their working life. That is nuts, and inevitably public superannuation will be made less generous as more and more people have KiwiSaver.

I accept that the Government and trade unions don’t trust employers not to use their compulsory contribution as leverage in contract negotiations. But it seems better-off workers can receive a taxpayer subsidy as well as their employer’s subsidy while their poorer colleagues get nothing.

Indeed. Employers should be able to offer a total remuneraton package where if an employees chooses not to go into KiwiSaver, the employer can pay them extra cash.

The chilling effect of the EFA

July 24th, 2008 at 1:32 pm by David Farrar

Steve Pierson at The Standard blogs on the ads run by the Northern Employers and Manufacturers Association against a proposed law which stops employers from operating a total remuneration package that includes the cost of KiwiSaver.

What’s more, this whole embarrassing exercise may be in breach of the Electoral Finance Act. I’ve just had a tip-off from a reader who has laid a complaint with the Electoral Commission this afternoon.

It turns out the EMA has failed to register as a third party, which means it has an election spending limit of $12,000. Today’s ad was a half page full colour in the Herald, putting it at around $15,000 according to a recent rate card and pushing the EMA well over their legal spending limit. The ad also entangles the New Zealand Herald, which is in breach for publishing it.

Now think about this. The Government is passing a law which wll affect every business in New Zealand. The Northern EMA represents thousands of those businesses.

The Electoral Finance Act means it may be unable to run even a couple of ads against this law change, without breaching the Electoral Finance Act or being forced to register as a third party.

The Electoral Finance Act is not just about elections. It is about silencing dissent in election year. If the Government announces law changes in election year, then people should be able to lobby and advertise against them. Why should the EMA Northern be reduced to spending less than $1 per business it represents?

It is debatable of course of the advertisements would be ruled election ads. But the EMA Northern is now running the risk of being prosecuted if they do turn out to be.

Calls to sack Peters grow

April 10th, 2008 at 6:37 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports that calls for Peters to be sacked as Foreign Minister (he could be moved to another portfolio) are growing. Business representatives who are still in China are said to be furious and Phil Goff has been trying to calm them down, agreeing it was a “bullshit” situation. Those effectively calling for him to go include:

  • Northern Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Alasdair Thompson
  • Bob Fenwick, a past president of the NZ Export Institute
  • Revenue Minister Peter Dunne

The fact Peters is not just quietly voting against (or abstaining) but has launched a high profile campaign  in NZ against it with newspaper ads is what has them fuming, plus his insistence he will state his views against it when overseas as Foreign Minister.

Martin Kay in the Dom Post covers in more detail the Revenue Minister’s views on Peters:

Mr Dunne, UnitedFuture’s leader and revenue minister, said Mr Peters would fly in the face of “all conventions about good government” if he spoke out against the FTA as a minister. “I can’t see how you stay on that basis.”

… Mr Dunne told Newstalk ZB the FTA was central to the Government’s foreign policy and Mr Peters had to represent that.

Kay also covers the issue of Labour’s about-face on this:

Dr Cullen’s insistence that it is all right for Mr Peters to speak against the deal contradicts comments he made soon after Mr Peters was appointed, when he said the FTA was one of the “highest foreign policy goals”.

His insistence that Mr Peters is free to criticise the deal overseas also appears at odds with a Cabinet circular that says he must speak for the Government “on all issues” when out of the country.

Colin Espiner in The Press also quotes Dr Cullen yesterday:

“I think that people understand very clearly that the confidence and supply agreement provides that Mr Peters is bound on matters purely of foreign policy …”

Now recall that in 2005, Dr Cullen stated in Parliament that the China FTA was one of the Government’s “highest foreign policy goals”.

NZ First condemned by everyone

April 3rd, 2008 at 12:19 pm by David Farrar

People have been expecting NZ First to start bashing Asian immigrants for months, to try and lift their poll ratings like it did in 1996. Peter Brown’s outburst yesterday was not him just thinking aloud, but part of a planned strategy. It had to fall to him, as Winston being Foreign Minister can’t do it directly.  He is now refusing to comment on his own Deputy Leader’s comments.

The EMA Northern have condemned (hat tip: The Hive) NZ First and Brown:

Comments by New Zealand First MP Peter Brown are racial stereotyping of the worst sort, says Alasdair Thompson, chief executive of the Employers & Manufacturers Association (Northern).

“It was post war migrants like Mr Brown who brought here the bigotry of the British class system and a rabid form of unionism,” Mr Thompson said.

“Mr Brown should stop being hypocritical.

And the Auckland Chamber of Commerce weighs in:

“Asian New Zealanders, and those overseas, should see this for what it is: a pathetic piece of political posturing by a minority party.

Hon Chris Carter:

 “I think he’s absolutely being racist,” Carter said. “He shouldn’t be condemning people because of their race or culture.”

Hon Clayton Cosgrove:

 Immigration Minister Clayton Cosgrove told NZPA Mr Brown’s comments were ironic, given that he was a “native born British chap”.

He hoped Mr Brown did not “take his own advice” and return to the UK.

We wait to hear what the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Leader of New Zealand First has to say on the issue.

On a slightly related note, it reminds me of a further Cactus Kate story from Tuesday night. As we were heading along Blair Street, we ran into Keith Ng. Cactus looks at Keith somewhat warily when I mention he blogs for Public Address. I then mention he won a Press Council complaint against Deborah Coddington over her Asian crime story, and Cactus literally leaps forward and embraces Keith in full bear hug, finally releasing him after thanking him for his work.  It was very very funny.