Does she have confidence in her department; if so, why?
Yes, I do; and as an example of why, the department has achieved significant productivity gains in a number of areas, as was recently explained at the select committee hearing. For example, the department is providing higher-quality and timely information and guidance for employers and employees, before an employment problem escalates. The Mediation Service has increased the proportion of recorded settlements, and the department’s call centre is now able to deal with a wider range of issues at first-contact time. These gains have been achieved with no extra funding. These gains aside, there is always room for improvement.
Does the Minister stand by her statement made in a letter complaining about me to the Speaker, dated 28 March 2007, that allegations that her department had broken Cabinet’s mandatory rules for procurement are “a serious charge”?
Why has her department breached Cabinet’s mandatory rules for procurement over the past year and given out seven contracts at a cost of more than $100,000 each, at a combined cost of nearly $1 million, without going through a tendering process?
I have been advised that of the seven, two actually had exemptions under the mandatory rules, but five did not. That is not acceptable, and I have reminded the chief executive of the Department of Labour and the senior management responsible for this area of the literal meaning of the word “mandatory”.
What are the key pieces of work that the department has engaged in that will make an important contribution to the prosperity of the country and improve the lives of many New Zealanders?
A huge amount of excellent work is under way—too much to list here. But it includes the workplace productivity agenda, which is recognised internationally as a leader; continuing expansion of the paid parental leave scheme, which National opposes; implementing the pay and employment equity action plan, which National opposes; facilitating good employer-employee relationship, through the partnership resource centre, which National opposes; reviewing annual increases to the minimum wage, the latest being the largest increase ever, which National opposes; and last, but not least, overseeing implementation of the Government’s policy of 4 weeks’ annual leave for all workers, which National also opposes.
Why has the department been so slow to implement a simple set of rules, 12 months after the directive was issued, and the only explanations it could offer the select committee last week was that it was “improving this” and that it has “taken some time”?
I share the member’s concern with regard to this particular point. They have been reminded of the actual meaning of the word “mandatory”.
Will the Minister confirm that the Department of Labour is overseeing an independent inquiry into casualisation at the behest of New Zealand First; and will she confirm that clearly the department has become much more capable and competent in recent years, because in 1997 and 1998 when New Zealand First was in coalition with the National Party, the National Party told us that that was impossible?
I can confirm every single point the member made in his question, but to elaborate on the issue of casualisation—which is of major concern to the majority of New Zealanders who believe in a fair deal for all New Zealand workers and that those in circumstances where their employment should be permanent should have the rights and entitlements attached—actually during the 1990s the process of casualisation was encouraged by the National Government.
Is the Minister holding someone in the department to account for the breach in Cabinet’s mandatory rules for procurement, or has she done that already via Dr Buwalda’s early departure?
Why should the public have confidence in this Minister when her department has hired 288 new staff, increased the number of employees earning $80,000 by more than 15 percent, hired 118 temporary staff, and—on top of all this—the department still spends $8 million on consultants, all in the same year?
I am not quite sure which of those points the member opposes. Does the member oppose people having jobs? Does the member oppose senior managers getting paid at a higher rate than they were in the 1990s? Or does the member oppose temporary staff being employed to fill temporary vacancies? Frankly, I do not see an issue with any of those points.