Category Archives: Labour Studies

Nationbuilding and the Textured Society

The Bruce Jesson Memorial Lecture 2001.

This is a revised version of the paper presented on Tuesday 23 October.

Keywords: History of Ideas, Methodology & Philosophy; Labour Studies; Political Economy & History

I did not know Bruce Jesson as well as many of you in the audience, although I may have known him longer, for we went to the same high school. Bruce was in my younger brother’s class, so I only just knew him then. While I have a memory of him gawky in the dreary school gray, it may be this is re-created because we all looked awkward in the uniform, so it is easy to imagine with hindsight. We did not overlap at university, but I recall being stunned by the occasion in 1966 when Bruce and some friends burnt a Union Jack in front of the governor-general, asking why we were upset about damaging a foreign flag, We were already refusing to stand up in the cinema for ‘God Save the Queen’, but that protest lifted the level of analysis, challenging us to think more deeply about what being a New Zealander really meant. However, it was not really until the 1970s I began to link with Bruce, first by reading his wonderful journal, The Republican , and later visiting him in Auckland.

Sonja Davies: 1923–2005

Chapter 12, The Nationbuilders. (This was published in 2000, and does not record that Sonja died in June 2005.)

Keywords: Labour Studies; Political Economy & History;

The choice of people to be included in this book is based on a list of over forty names. For reasons similar to those of The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, only dead nationbuilders were considered. There were a number of women in the list, but despite my trying – with a grim political correctness – none fitted into the story the book was telling. (For instance, Te Puea was building the Tainui nation.) It is, after all, but one story from all of those of the New Zealand nation. Those who saw early drafts often drew attention to the omission, but could not suggest a suitable candidate.

Some Macroeconomics Of the Employment Contracts Act

Paper to the Labour, Employment, and Work Conference 7, at Victoria University of Wellington, November 28-29 1996, published in Labour, Employment and Work in New Zealand 1996, pp.148-156.

Keywords: Growth & Innovation; Labour Studies;


Earlier this year Wolfgang Kasper produced a book “Free to Work: The Liberalisation of New Zealand’s Labour Markets” (Centre for Independent Studies). By reviewing this book, this paper is able to shed some understanding of the effectiveness or otherwise of the Employment Contracts Act. On the basis of the emperical evidence it is very difficult to reach, in a systematic way, Kasper’s conclusions about the beneficial effects of the ECA. In particular, the poor productivity growth rules out the likelihood that the ECA was a major contributor to the macroeconomic expansion of the mid 1990s. The Act would, however, seem to have contributed to the poor real wage growth, and the failure of many workers to obrtain a share in the increase in propserity of the 1990s.

The Deindustrialization Of New Zealand

Labour Employment and Work in New Zealand: 1998 Proceedings of a conference, 26-27 November, 1998, pp.38-46.

Keywords: Growth & Innovation; Labour Studies;


Deindustrialisation is the phenomenon of the secondary sector growing more slowly than the rest of the economy, whether measured by share of GDP or of employment. Almost all rich OECD countries have been expereincing it. However New Zealand has been deindustrialising faster than the OECD average (even if the energy based industrie developed in the 1980s are included). The paper describes rthe phenomenon and discusses why it happened.1

Productivity Puzzles

Why is Output Per Worker Growing So Slowly?

Listener:12 September, 1998.

Keywords: Growth & Innovation; Labour Studies;

A scientist puzzles most when a prediction fails. The generally poor performance of the New Zealand economy since 1985 (inflation excepted), was expected given the overvalued exchange rate as a part of the disinflation strategy. However the poor productivity performance was a surprise. By a careful selection of period or industry, or relying on anecdotes, it is possible to claim the growth of output per worker has been high. But a comprehensive review shows that productivity growth appears to have slowed down since the reforms, despite the pro-reformers promises that it would accelerate. Even those who might have expected the reforms to fail must be perplexed.

The Impact Cost Of Increasing Statutory Holiday Entitlements

Report for the New Zealand Engineering Union, August 1998

Productivity and Employment contains an estimate of average annual hours worked by OECD economies.


There is a proposal to introduce four week’s statutory leave. The current situation is that the Holidays Act makes provision for an annual leave entitlement of three weeks (15 days) paid leave per annum. In addition there is also statutory provision for 11 days, although because Anzac and Waitangi days do not “mondayize” the number of such days are 10.4 in an average year. This paper estimates the impact cost of increasing the statutory minimum to four weeks a year.

Chapter 18: Defining Meaningful Employment

This might be thought of as the introductory part of a very early draft of a chapter for Globalisation and Welfare State. It was written (about the same time as the book) for another purpose, and repeats some of the material in earlier chapters.

Keywords: Labour Studies;

Unemployment as a Human Problem

It is very easy to focus on unemployment as a statistic, of say 6 percent of the labour force being unemployed, and ignore that for the unemployed the relevant statistic is that each is 100 percent unemployed. The statistics enables us to distance ourselves form the human condition. Saying that full employment is should be X percent, irrespective of what that rate is, ignores the human problem for those who are unemployed.

Chapter 8: Labour Market Segmentation

A chapter of Globalisation and Welfare State

Keywords: Labour Studies;

While it is easy to think of the workers in a labour market as largely homogeneous, in practice they are not. Rather than treat them as all totally different they can be usefully collected into common groups, in a theory of segmented labour markets.(1) Here we use the theory in its simplest form of segmentation – the dual labour market.

Chapter 6: Gender in the Welfare State

A chapter of Globalisation and Welfare State

Keywords: Distributional Economics; Labour Studies; Social Policy;

The issue of gender excites a passion which makes dispassionate observation and analysis nigh on impossible. We all have views about how gender relations should be organized, so that any changes are welcomed or a challenged according to those views. The debate is so dominated by judgements of proper relations, it has no understanding of what is happening.

Chapter 4: The Social Significance Of Unemployment

A chapter of Globalisation and Welfare State

Keywords: Labour Studies;

Dr Richard Smith, deputy editor of the British Medical Journal, described unemployment as a `medical problem’. (1) While unemployment has been treated as an economic problem with political overtones, Smith’s description reflects a growing recognition of unemployment’s impact on the health and welfare of individuals and their social groups.

Chapter 1: the Economic Miracle: 1946-1966

A chapter of Globalisation and Welfare State

Keywords: Growth & Innovation; Labour Studies;

For the first two decades after the Second World War the performance of the New Zealand economy seemed miraculous. Growth of real GDP exceeded 4 percent a year, consumer inflation was less that the average for other rich countries, there were strains in the balance of payments but no major crisis, (1) and unemployment was hardly reported at all (2)

Globalization and a Welfare State

Keywords: Distributional Economics; Globalisation & Trade; Labour Studies; Regulation & Taxation; Social Policy;

In 1997 I commenced writing a book Globalization and a Welfare State. I finished about three fifths of the first draft and stopped. This was partly because other matters were using my energies, but also because I felt that the book was too technical and would not find a commercial market in New Zealand. I am putting the book on the website for those people who might be interested in some aspects of its contents.

The Economic Impact Of the Employment Contracts Act

Symposium on New Zealand’s Employment Contracts Act 1991, Californian Western International Journal Volume 28, No 1, Fall 1997, p.209-220.

Keywords: Labour Studies;


There have been various claims about the economic impact of the New Zealand Employment Contracts Act, 1991 (ECA). For instance in Free to Work: The Liberalisation of New Zealand’s Labour Market, Australian economist Wolfgang Kasper claims that the resulting industrial relations had economic benefits. He concludes “the Employment Contracts Act has substantially enhanced the productivity of labour and capital, output, and employment growth because it has been an essential ingredient in the transformation of New Zealand’s institutional order to greater flexibility and competitiveness”.1

The Growing Up Of the Unions

Appendix to Chapter 7 of The Commercialisation of New Zealand

Keywords: Labour Studies;

The union movement will think of itself as largely marginalized by and marginally involved in the commercialization shift. This appendix explores another story: one which advocates of the reforms should be keen to point out. All institutions find it very difficult to reform themselves. Genuine institutional reform involves some external pressure. This is the case study of the union experience, but there are numerous others including the corporatization of state owned enterprises (Chapter 1).

Productivity Puzzle

Everyone Assumed That Productivity Growth Would Increase with the Employments Contracts Act. But Check the Data: No Significant Change.

Listener: 27 July, 1996.

Keywords: Growth & Innovation; Labour Studies;

The non-ideological economist would have made three confident predictions about the effects of the Employment Contracts Act (ECA) introduced in May 1991. First, it would weaken the unions. True. Second, it would depress wages of low pay workers (because of the mass of unemployed with similar skills). True. Third, it would generate productivity increases (at least in the short term). False.

The External Impact on the Family Firm

This was a Draft Chapter for Report on the Family and Societal Change Programme project which was never published. (March 1996)

Keywords: Globalisation & International Trade; Labour Studies; Social Policy;


The internal activities of and relationships within a firm (or other economic agency such as a government department), are heavily influenced by the external pressures on the firm. As the case studies in the next four chapters will show the three firms and one government department have experienced major changes inside them, especially in terms of the industrial relations and its impact on the family life of workers. To understand the pressures for these internal changes we need to provide a context of the changes in the firm’s external environment.

The Maori in the Labour Force

Labour Employment Work in New Zealand, 1994, p.206-213.

Keywords: Labour Studies; Maori;

Executive Summary

* The Maori is in an inferior position in the labour force compared to the non-Maori.

* The Maori are more likely to be Not-in-the-Labour Force and more likely to be unemployed.

* When these two effects are combined together the Maori unemployment rate is not the 2.7 times the non-Maori rate that the official definitions showed in 1991, but 3.9 for males and 4.5 times for females.

* The analysis confirms that when the Maori is employed, they are more likely to be in the secondary part of the labour market, that is with low quality jobs in terms of renumeration, working conditions, career opportunities, and job security.

* Crucial for understanding the labour market is the flux between the unemployed, those not-in-the-labour market, and those in secondary employment. This churning means there is a dynamic process going on.

* Because of the higher incidence of not-in-the-labour force, and in secondary employment it is unwise to focus on Maori unemployment. At issue is the high proportion of the Maori in the secondary labour market in comparison with the non-Maori. Some policies merely shift people between the different parts of the secondary labour market.

* Econometric work suggests that only one third of the difference between Maori and non-Maori employment participation can be explained by the personal characteristics measured in the population census.

* The report acknowledges there may be other personal characteristics not measured, which also have an influence.

* However it seems likely that the most important determinants of the differences are social variables, summarized in the concept of “maoriness”. A possible practical example is that it is known that the most important source of job recruitment involves family and friends. The Maori is handicapped in doing this because of their lower employment rates, but also possibly because the Maori network is not as geared as the non-Maori family to carry out this task.

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy?

Listener 25 February, 1991

Keywords: Growth & Innovation; Labour Studies; Macroeconomics & Money; Social Policy;

A popular folk song on US campuses in the late 1960s was Pete Seeger’s “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy”. It described how one night an army platoon attempted to ford a swamp-river. The commander said he knew where he was going. It was just a matter of pushing on. Some of his troops were less certain, but were exhorted with such phrases as “don’t be a nervous nellie” and just show a little determination”.