People’s History 2016: ‘Precarious Work – past, present and future’

Sunday 6 November 9.30 – 4.30pm, Wellington Museum

A full day symposium
This year the collaborative programme People’s History again takes the form of a full day symposium, this time on the topic of precarious work. People’s History is an annual partnership between Labour History Project, Alexander Turnbull Library and Wellington Museum.

This Symposium traces the rise of precarious work – non-standard employment that is poorly paid, insecure, unprotected and unsustaining – since 1991.  Come and join a conversation with academics, trade unionists and community organisers about the changes to the workforce since New Zealand’s industrial relations system was dismantled and welfare cuts were instituted.  How have workers negotiated these changes and what can we do to address precarious work in the future?

The day will be arranged into blocks of four with groups of speakers talking at each session and time for audience/speaker conversation.  There will be music and time to raise your issues.


Photograph by Dylan Owen.  Alexander Turnbull Library (Reference: PADL-000587 (33))

Registration: To register please email: so we can cater for lunch.

Cost at the door on the day: koha  (includes refreshments and a light lunch)


Precarious Work Symposium Programme


Peter Cranney: ‘Recent Counter-Tendencies: Beginning the Fightback Against Precarious Work’

Peter discusses the legal foundation of stable work (1890-1991); legal foundations for its destruction (1991-); the need for reform, the new “zero hours” provisions and current cases.

Linda Hill: ‘Impacts of the 1991 Employment Contracts Act’

The ECA overturned New Zealand’s 100 year old system of wage negotiations, with particular effect on union representation for women.  This brief overview covers how and why the old system worked, union strategies as at 1990, and the impact the change to employer-only bargaining had on the union movement, including its shape and strategies today.

10.30-10.45 am morning tea


Grace Millar: ‘Memories of Resistance and Insecure Work’

Unionised workplaces can be a way that memories of resistance are passed on from one generation to another.  This is sort of transmission of a collective past was one of the many aspects of working-class culture that was damaged by the Employment Contracts Act.  Now work is more likely to be a point of difference between generations, anyone under 45 has only ever worked under the Employment Contracts Act. This paper looks at memory and resistance and how we can overcome the ways that precarious work disrupts the transmission of memory.


Deborah Jones: ‘Film work as precarious work’

Unlike many other kinds of precarious workers in fields such as fast food or retail, film workers tend to see precarity as an inevitable aspect of a chosen identity in a ‘dream’ occupation. This identity is intertwined with concepts of creativity as a personal characteristic, and work as pleasurable but also inevitably painful. I will talk about the Glamour & Grind project on ‘below the line’ New Zealand film workers in the context of global issues of creative labour.

Ross Webb: ‘‘Jobs that Count’: Precarious Work in the Meat Industry: Past and Present’

This paper considers seasonal work, seniority and unionism in the meat industry, past and present, before focusing on the current struggle playing out in meat plants owned by Talley’s/AFFCO and the ‘Jobs that Count’ campaign organised by the Meat Workers’ Union.

12.15-12.45  Lunch

12.45 Music: ‘Precarious work songs with Don Franks’

1.05pm Precarious work: sharing issues session


Victoria Hopgood: ‘Fast food workers’ current struggles and fights for their rights’

Victoria will discuss experiences fast food workers are currently facing, not only in New Zealand but globally, and the industrial action plan that Unite Union took to abolish zero hour contracts.

Sam Huggard: ‘Stories from the labour movement’

Sam will discuss contemporary ways unions are building and exercising power outside of the traditional collective bargaining mode, including broad based organising, strategic litigation and external (non-union) pressure.  He will also discuss new models of association for workers outside unions, and how these are best designed.

Steve Blumenfeld: ‘The Changing Nature of Work and Employment in New Zealand’

This paper examines trends in precarious work since the 1980s, with a focus on the last 8-9 years, since the Global Financial Crisis and recession.

3.00  Afternoon tea


Prue Hyman: ‘Universal Basic Income: One part of raising lower incomes and reducing inequalities?’

UBI was much discussed in the 1990s, died down, and is now reviving as a proposal in NZ, as well as being experimented with worldwide. There are many good arguments for it, which I will briefly traverse. But at a good enough level, it is expensive – and of course scares politicians to death. We have a prototype in New Zealand Superannuation – universality IS possible – and we had a child UBI for many years. So what are the main pros and cons and how would we pay for it? What is its relationship to the labour market, and the campaigns to raise the minimum wage and encourage the living wage?

Lyndy McIntyre and Ibrahim Omer: ‘Building Community Power to Win the Living Wage’

Many thousands of low paid workers in Aotearoa are stuck on poverty rates of pay despite being unionised, organised and prepared to take action. For many workers union power alone has not been enough to influence decision-makers and shift them out of poverty.

The Living Wage Movement is an alliance of unions, faith groups and community organisations, actively building grassroots power around the call for the Living Wage.  Four years since the Living Wage movement launched some large pay rises are being won and very low paid workers’ lives have been transformed.  Most importantly, unions, faith groups and community organisations are building deep and enduring alliances to work together for the common good.

4.15-30  Concluding Remarks: Cybèle Locke