By Tariana Turia
Employment is always a highly topical issue. The rate of employment is a measure of the well being of our whanau, and of course, a measure of how well governments are performing in taking care of the people within our communities. While much of the focus lately has been on the 'recession', 'stimulating the economy' or 'creating new jobs’, the issue of supporting people into work is much wider than this alone.
I was reminded of this when I attended the launch of the Netherlands Study, a report commissioned by Every Child Counts into the successful policies that the Dutch have put in place to support positive outcomes for children and whanau, and also through the release of the Issues and Options paper presented by the Children's Commissioner's Expert Advisory Panel on solutions to child poverty.
Many of the recommendations made in these reports could transform our whanau if applied here in Aotearoa, but what I appreciated most in the approach applied in the Netherlands is their absolute commitment to creating a supportive and caring environment in which whanau can thrive.
Employment policy is not solely focused on creating jobs, but wider than that, it focuses on creating an environment where people are able to take up work. Their policies recognise the link between supporting parents and families, fostering a shared commitment to supporting each other (or in our words manaakitanga), and providing people with the resources to be able to participate fully in society and the workforce. In addition to this, their social, housing, health and other policies have been developed on the principle of caring and generosity which support their wider aspirations as a nation.
This is impressive, and the approach that they have taken would sit well alongside Whanau Ora which also recognises the primacy of our families, and looks towards holistic outcomes for our whanau. If we are to make a meaningful impact on the lives of our whanau, we too should be looking at putting in place a wider suite of measures. We need to look at whether or not we are providing the right support to parents; whether our policies around childcare and education are adequate; developing health and social services which focus on awhi, manaakitanga and harm-prevention; and we need to look at fostering a shared belief that we can and should support one another to have good lives in Aotearoa.
As part of the solution to unemployment we should also be ensuring that work is worthwhile so that those who have jobs are earning enough to sustain themselves and their whanau. I hear many stories of people who work hard to make ends meet, and yet are unable to do so because of the minimal amount of pay they receive.
So I was pleased to meet with the Service and Food Workers Union last week to hear about the Living Wage campaign that is being driven by them and others in the community. It is a movement driven by the grass roots which calls on employers to pay their workers a wage that allows people to not only survive, but thrive and participate in society. A living wage is one that provides people with a quality standard of living without having to work four or five jobs in order to survive.
Businesses who sign up as Living Wage employers can wear a mark of honour, a brand that they can be proud of much like “NZ Made” or “Lifemark”. Ethical and socially conscious employers and businesses is something we should all encourage. As a consumer that is the type of brand that I am interested in, a brand that tells me that this product or service supports whanau wellbeing. I think this is a wonderful initiative to support whanau outcomes and I will certainly be lending my support to the work that the community are doing with the Living Wage campaign.
I commend the movers behind this initiative who launched the Wellington Living Wage campaign today. The Maori Party was represented there today and proudly signed the pledge which I would like to share with you all.
“A living wage is the income necessary to provide workers and their families with the basic necessities of live. A living wage will enable workers to live with dignity and to participate as active citizens in society. We call upon the Government, employers and society as a whole to strive for a living wage for all households as a necessary and important step in the reduction of poverty in New Zealand.”
If there is anything that I have learnt this week, it is that a simple change in attitude that filters through to the wider community can make a huge difference to the lives of our families. We need to be the change, family by family, community by community.
Tariana Turia is the Co-Leader of the Maori Party