Japan’s Kasai nominated as Western Pacific’s next WHO regional director

Japan’s candidate, Dr Takeshi Kasai … elected in spite of strong Pacific campaign over the World Health Organisation (WHO) post for Western Pacific. Image: WHO

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Japan’s candidate, Dr Takeshi Kasai, has been elected as the next World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

Health ministers and other senior officials from 30 countries voted yesterday during the 69th session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific in Manila, Philippines.

Dr Kasai’s nomination will be submitted for appointment to the 114th session of the WHO executive board to take place in January 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland.

READ MORE: Tukuitonga goes into battle on behalf of Pacific

The new regional director will take office on 1 February for a term of five years. Regional directors may serve up to two terms.

Current regional director Dr Shin Young-soo, who has served since 2009, offered best wishes to his successor.

-Partners-

“I warmly congratulate and sincerely wish Dr Kasai the very best as the next regional director,” he said.

“When he takes the reins in February, he will inherit a strong and robust organisation, and the honour of working with a diverse group of countries joined by a formidable bond of solidarity and an unwavering commitment to delivering better health for all.”

New Zealand campaign
New Zealand campaigned in support of Dr Colin Tukuitonga for the position and he came second out of the four candidates in the running. The other chief candidates were from the Philippines and Malaysia.

If successful, Dr Tukuitonga would have been the first Regional Director from New Zealand and the first of Pacific descent.

Dr Tukuitonga was unanimously nominated by Pacific health ministers in 2017 as their candidate for the Regional Director position. New Zealand subsequently supported Dr Tukuitonga, who is a New Zealander of Niuean origin.

“Although we are disappointed with the result, we are pleased that we fought a good campaign and can hold our heads high,” said Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa, who was in Manila to support New Zealand’s candidate in the election.

“The region has made its decision and they have chosen to elect the Japanese candidate. We wish him well in his new role and look forward to working with him in the future.”

Later this week, the regional committee will adopt action plans to address a variety of health issues affecting the region’s nearly 1.9 billion people. They include:

  • Fighting neglected tropical diseases;
  • Strengthening rehabilitation services;’
  • Improving hospital planning and management;
  • Harnessing e-health for improved service delivery; and
  • Strengthening legal frameworks for health in the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Regional Committee will also discuss progress on health security, infectious and noncommunicable diseases, and environmental health.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Japanese development aid funding splits Pacific unity on key WHO post

Dr Colin Tukuitonga, a New Zealander of Niuean descent and proposed by New Zealand, was given resounding support for his nomination from Pacific countries. Image: AUT

The Western Pacific post for the World Health Organisation is a vitally important role for the region. However, reports Sri Krishnamurthi for Asia Pacific Journalism, the earlier unity over a strong Pacific candidate has slipped.

All the headlines at the recent Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru were political so the upcoming nomination for the election next month for the key role of World Health Organisation regional director for the Western Pacific went largely unnoticed.

The Pacific’s endorsement of Colin Tukuitonga, a New Zealander of Niuean descent and proposed by New Zealand, was resounding and support for his nomination from all countries had seemed to be a fait accompli.

He along with three others – Dr Narimah Awin, proposed by Malaysia; Dr Takeshi Kasai, proposed by Japan; Dr Susan Mercado, proposed by the Philippines – were then in the running for the nomination which will take place during the 69th session of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific in Manila, Philippines, on October 8-13.

READ MORE: Building healthy communities on the Pacific

APJS NEWSFILE

“Yes, all health ministers agreed and endorsed me at the WHO Regional Committee Meeting held in Brisbane in October 2017.

“They agreed to have one candidate and five ministers approached me to stand,” Tukuitonga told Asia-Pacific Report.

-Partners-

At the forum in Nauru he learned that the endorsement from the Pacific Island states was not as united as first thought.

“Since then, we are aware that Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands have expressed public support for the Japanese candidate [Dr Kasai],” he says.

Most of Pacific supportive
“We understand that this is in exchange for Japan paying for developments in country. We also understand that Vanuatu has made the same decision.”

“We understand that all other Pacific nations remain supportive, including New Zealand and Australia as well as other nations.”

The Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community says it is a positive for the role being at the PIF, it provided an opportunity to network with the leaders.

“All regional agencies – the council for regional organisations in the Pacific (CROP) decisions and priorities are influenced by forum leaders decisions. It is also a good opportunity to meet Pacific leaders and others.

“PIF presents a lot of opportunities to meet bilaterally with donors and those that are present. It also a critical forum”.

He does have a view on the 120 children in the detention camps on Nauru and their mental state but does not want to air it publicly.

But he is happy to voice his concerns about the health of Pacific people.

Diabetes, heart disease major problem
“Non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as diabetes and heart disease are the major cause of death and disease,” says the former chief executive of NZ’s Ministry for Pacific Island Affairs.

“NCDs are fuelled by poor diets, low levels of physical activity, high rates of smoking and high prevalence of obesity.

“In some Pacific nations, child health diseases remain high due to lack of clean water and sanitation. All Pacific health systems are fragile and underfunded leading to high preventable deaths and disabilities.

“Continuing high fertility rates putting pressure on government services in all Pacific countries. PNG also has high rates of HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria,” says Dr Tukuitonga.

Making matters worse for the people of the Pacific is the very realistic issue of climate change.

“A clear and present danger for all Island nations, threatening lives and livelihoods, we have five of the 15 countries most vulnerable to disasters are in Pacific,’’ he says.

“Climate change causes less dramatic impacts such as ocean acidification, causing coral bleaching and threatening the food chain and it provides 80 percent of the protein source for Pacific communities which come from fish and seafood.

Big deal
“Threats on food security is a big deal for the Pacific. Significant negative health impacts such as spread of mosquito-borne dengue fever and other diseases.

“Climate change aggravates existing problems, so preparedness is key for example, outbreaks post disaster is the result of existing organisms, not new organisms.”

He has worked for WHO before and finds it “challenging” but not a mission impossible.

Sri Krishnamurthi is a journalist and Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student at Auckland University of Technology. He is attached to the University of the South Pacific’s Journalism Programme, filing for USP’s Wansolwara News and the AUT Pacific Media Centre’s Asia Pacific Report.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

How PNG brought back polio and the key lessons learned

By Jamie Tahana, RNZ Pacific journalist

When Max Manape received the confirmation in Papua New Guinea his heart sank. A 22-month-old girl had been diagnosed with polio. She was paralysed.

A few days later, another confirmation came. A two-year-old boy had been taken to a clinic with weakness in his legs. Workers sent away for testing and he, too, was found to have polio. He’s undergoing physio treatment, but the virus is incurable.

“When the polio was identified, oh it was quite worrying,” Dr Manape sighed down the phone. “We thought we had eradicated it.”

READ MORE: A ‘lurking beast’: Polio casts shadow over PNG independence day

Dr Manape, who is the head of the Eastern Highlands Provincial Health Authority, has since received confirmation that four children in his province have polio.

In all, 12 children across Papua New Guinea have been diagnosed since it was rediscovered in July. The debilitating disease is in five provinces, including the capital, Port Moresby.

-Partners-

Polio, an incurable virus which causes paralysis in children, has been nearly eradicated from the face of the earth. Only three countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria – are still known to harbour wild polio virus, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

In 2017, only 22 cases of polio came to the attention of authorities worldwide. Papua New Guinea’s latest outbreak has already confirmed 12, and officials there say several more are likely to be found.

3 other countries
Syria, Somalia and Democratic Republic of Congo are the only other countries to have seen a return of polio in the past couple of years.

The government and health officials, in a series of statements and television appearances, have sought to allay fears, saying the outbreak can still be contained by the intensive isolation and vaccination campaign that is underway.

But as confirmed polio cases skip from province to province, many are asking how Papua New Guinea has become one of the few countries to buck the international trend of eradicating polio.

“Everyone’s asking that question,” said Luo Dapeng, the World Health Organisation’s representative in PNG. “I think there’s a multitude of reasons.”

Papua New Guinea, along with the rest of the Western Pacific, was declared free of polio in 2000. Its last confirmed case was in 1996, after decades of intensive vaccinations across the country – and the world.

“I think we got a bit more relaxed in terms of our vaccine programme,” said Dr Manape.

But that confidence was shattered in May when a 6-year-old boy from Lufa Mountain, a settlement in the northern city of Lae, became paralysed in his lower limbs.

Vaccine-derived form
Samples were sent to the United States for testing, and in June, fears were confirmed: Polio was back.

The Lae case is what is known as a vaccine-derived form of polio, where the weakened form of the virus used in vaccinations mutates and spreads. Samples of other children in Lufa Mountain confirmed they had the strain in their systems.

Often, one confirmed case of paralysis is considered a polio outbreak, as doctors assume hundreds of others would have been exposed to the virus.

Lufa Mountain, like much of Papua New Guinea, had the perfect conditions for an outbreak. Few children are immunised against polio, and the water supply and sanitation systems are largely non-existent.

Authorities suspect the outbreak started when the water supply was contaminated by faeces which contained the mutated virus.

Since then, the disease has skipped from Morobe province to neighbouring Madang. It’s spread up the rugged Highland interior to Enga and Eastern Highlands provinces. Last week, the first case was confirmed in the capital, Port Moresby.

The WHO in PNG speaking to the community in LaeSince the outbreak was confirmed in June, a massive education and vaccination drive has got underway. Here, officials from the World Health Organisation speak to a community in Lae, where the first case was found. Image: WHO/RNZ Pacific

Dr Manape said it was not yet known how the virus managed to skip up to Eastern Highlands from Lufa Mountain. He doesn’t even know if it’s from the same outbreak.

“It’s quite worrying,” he said. “We have low vaccine coverage in the province. When we detect polio, it’s quite worrying.”

Geographic spread
Dr Manape said there was a chance polio had been circulating in his province for some time. The four cases found in Eastern Highlands are geographically spread across the province, and a strain could have been there for “quite a while.” It was only once the case was confirmed in Lufa Mountain that they started testing in his region, he said.

“With poor sanitation and the poor water, we know that this could affect every community,” Dr Manape said. “We’re on our toes trying to get to communities, to mobilise health staff.”

David Mills, a doctor in Enga Province and the president of the Society of Rural and Remote Health, said now an outbreak had started, it would be difficult to contain.

“If you leave the door even just a little bit open it can kick it wide open,” he said. “Once you get one case, then one case is all it takes for it to spread like wildfire and then you’re sort of back to step one again.”

Since the outbreak was confirmed, an army of health professionals have swarmed the country, marching from village to village to vaccinate as many children as possible and contain the outbreak.

Polio has been confirmed in Enga province, prompting a large containment, monitoring and vaccination campaign. Here, a crowd gathers for vaccines.Polio has been confirmed in Enga province, prompting a large containment, monitoring and vaccination campaign. Here, a crowd gathers for vaccines. Image: WHO/RNZ Pacific

The World Health Organisation and the Department of Health have set up containment zones around affected communities, and embarked on mass vaccination campaigns across the provinces with polio.

In some of the provinces, Dr Dapeng said, coverage has already gone from as low as 30 percent to as high as 90 percent.

More than 50 deployed
More than 50 international polio workers have been deployed to the country, according to the World Health Organisation. A vaccination campaign will begin in Port Moresby at the end of the month, while a nationwide campaign will begin in October. Last week, health secretary Pascoe Kase said the immunisation programme would also be expanded to include all Papua New Guineans under the age of 15.

But while the response is being lauded, many are saying it could have been avoided entirely.

“To see this re-emerge is very disappointing,” said Dr Mills. “But perhaps not altogether surprising.”

“When you see these diseases re-emerge, it really is a sign that unfortunately the government has not really invested in these things.”

Polio’s return was years in the making.

In the late 20th century, vaccination programmes were well-funded and regular. Most villages would be visited by specialists who would traverse the country providing children with their three courses of droplets.

But since the eradication declaration in 2000, Dr Manape and Dr Mills both said, that programme has largely fallen by the wayside, replaced by a lackadaisical approach to vaccines. Not just for polio, but for other preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough, too.

Vaccine coverage down
In the past 18 years, nationwide polio vaccine coverage has fallen from about 80 percent to 30 percent. In some provinces, that rate is even lower.

While some children are vaccinated, they don’t receive their full doses, which also creates a danger. To be fully immunised, a child needs three courses of droplets. But Dr Manape said some children had only been receiving one course, which can spread the mutated virus while not fully vaccinating the child.

“The immunity of the population is very low,” said Dr Luo, of the World Health Organisation. “That’s why polio has come back.”

But the campaign is also the victim of the grand promises, failed visions, and savage cuts that have seen the country’s health system hurtle close to the edge of collapse.

In recent months, hospitals and clinics across the country have run out of basic medicines and supplies, the country almost ran out of the antiretrovirals used to treat those living with HIV/AIDS, and doctors have gone without pay for months.

Dr Luo acknowledged that the financial crisis, in part caused by a spending spree that started when the government was confident of a commodities boom that never came, may have had some role in the return of polio.

“PNG’s a commodity income country and they have been struggling to finance some of the health services,” he said.

Easy target for cuts
Dr Manape said it appeared vaccine programmes – especially ones for ailments like polio, thought to have been eradicated – were easy targets for savage cuts.

“Once we eliminated polio in 2000 we needed to maintain the immunisation coverage – that needs to be constant,” he said. “We do a lot of our planning and send the budgets. The government not funding its part of it has really pulled the cap for the polio to pop up.”

In June, health minister Sir Puka Temu told parliament 40 percent of the country’s remote aid posts, small clinics that treat isolated communities and provide vaccinations, had closed. He said many of those that remained had no electricity or running water.

Dr Mills said in some provinces – including those with polio – nearly all the aid posts had closed, which was “outrageous” in a country where 85 percent of the population lived in remote areas.

He said the government’s spending priorities had been in the wrong places for years, with millions of dollars – much of it donated or on loan from countries like Australia and China – had been pumped into hospitals in the big cities.

“What really needs to change is we need to reinvest in getting health workers living in these communities all the time and that’s really what collapsed in PNG,” said Dr Mills.

“You have to have those people there … so that any time they see a patient, or they see someone at the market they can say, ‘hey look come in for your vaccination tomorrow’.”

Lives changed forever
But after 18 years of cuts and neglect, polio is back, and the lives of 12 children have been forever changed.

Authorities are scrambling to contain the outbreak in a response that has been spearheaded by international agencies which has seen millions of dollars flood in.

Dr Mills said eradicating it again is possible, but the teams working across the country – including himself – have their work cut out for them.

“There’s no power supplies in most of the country and, of course, [that] challenge of keeping in place what we call a cold chain to make sure the vaccines stay cold the whole way to the patient, that’s an incredibly difficult task,” he said.

“You may have to travel a long distance just to vaccinate a couple of dozen children. That might involve flying out or walking a day or taking a motorboat ride up the river for a couple of days just to find small groups.”

“It takes will and effort to do it,” Dr Mills said.

Dr Luo said that will and effort was there, and he was confident the polio outbreak could be contained.

Know the strategy
“We know the strategy of how to do it. We know how to do surveillance. We know how to implement the intervention,” he said. “We will someday contain the outbreak.”

Medical workers are already looking beyond the containment effort, and are demanding assurances that the problems that led to polio returning will be fixed, and that vaccinations will be maintained.

“With the WHO resources and funding we’re having coverage of almost 100 percent,” said Dr Manape. “But for our normal routine, that funding was a big problem. What we are learning now is that we need more support from the government.”

Dr Mills said plenty of other countries with similar challenges to PNG had managed to stay on top of polio, and he hoped lessons would be learned.

“Let’s hope this provides the impetus to refocus our attention on these basic things.”

This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

NZ and Pacific countries contest Asian influence for WHO regional director

Hundreds of millions of health dollars are at stake as the Pacific region grapples with a number of crises including diabetes and even the re-emergence of polio. Image: TVNZ

By Barbara Dreaver

Battlelines are being drawn as New Zealand and Pacific countries lobby for an important appointment at the World Health Organisation.

The region’s health ministers had all agreed to support a Pasifika candidate, but offers of aid and influence from Asian countries have left that in doubt.

Hundreds of millions of health dollars are at stake as the region grapples with a number of crises including diabetes and even the re-emergence of polio.

The regional director nominee, Dr Colin Tukuitonga, says the small island communities do not get a fair deal from the World Health Organisation.

“People complain about resource limitations, there is never enough money. The voice of the islands is often drowned out by the voices of the bigger Asian countries,” he said.

It is why New Zealand has nominated Dr Tukuitonga as the WHO regional director.

-Partners-

At a recent meeting, Pacific health ministers unanimously agreed to support that nomination.

Sudden change
But things suddenly changed. Both the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea have gone back on their agreement, publicly expressing commitment to Japan.

“This is an opportunity to remain united and influence a particularly important position for the health of the people of the region. And clearly we have two members who haven’t honoured their commitment to regionalism,” Dr Tukuitonga said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters says the government hopes that the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea “will this time sign up for their own neighbourhood rather than bargain their vote off somewhere else for alternative reasons”.

Coincidentally, Japan has made aid offers to island countries, including a major international airport extension and rebuild for the Solomon Islands.

“A free airport does not improve the health of the Pacific people,” Peters said.

Dr Tukuitonga said: “Some of our island members are very vulnerable, very susceptible to these offers. And that’s the unfortunate thing I think.”

Nonetheless there’s been solid support for Dr Tukuitonga who’s pledging to fight for a region he’s already dedicated to.

Projected decline
“WHO budget is projected to decline. There’s a lot to be said about getting a fair share for our region because if you do that then you have a better chance of allocating a decent level of resource to our island members,” he said.

Peters said: “We start with a huge asset on our side. We have got the right candidate.”

It would be an historic win for the Pacific as the role has always been held by Asia.

Thirty countries will decide if the time is right for change in October.

Barbara Dreaver is the Pacific affairs correspondent of Television New Zealand. This article is republished with permission.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Diabetes ‘ongoing disaster’ tops Fiji health bill at $124 million

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Diabetes ‘ongoing disaster’ tops Fiji health bill at $124 million

The increasing number of diabetes cases has raised red flags in the health sector, a burden Fiji health authorities hope to tackle through the media. Image: Creative Commons/Wansolwara

By Adi Ana Civavonovono in Suva

The estimated financial cost and economic burden of diabetes in Fiji reached a staggering $124 million (NZ$84 million) in 2014 with health experts sounding an urgent need for people to relook at their lifestyles and eating habits.

Dr Jone Hawea, a medical doctor and codirector of the Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprise and Development, did not mince words when he told participants at the Media and Diabetes Advocacy Workshop in Suva last week about the reality of the disease he tagged as an “ongoing disaster”.

According to Dr Hawea, the total yearly financial cost of diabetes in Fiji in 2014 took into account factors such as the total productivity cost for patients and carers and excluded estimates such as private health care costs, out of pocket expenditures and other tangible indirect costs which were difficult to obtain.

“So you can imagine, the true financial cost is therefore very likely to be higher, a high estimate of about $180.3m,” he said at the Holiday Inn.

“Diabetes has the single highest impact on productivity of all non-communicable diseases in Fiji.”

He said diabetes imposed a huge financial and non-financial burden on Fiji’s economy, adding the latter amounted to more than 56,000 years of life lost because of ill-health, disability or premature death.

-Partners-

“Diabetes is largely preventable, so a large portion of these enormous and unnecessary costs can be averted,” Dr Hawea said.

Tangible solutions
While opening the workshop, Assistant Minister for Health Alex O’Connor said the gathering of media professionals and partners in health and wellness programmes was a platform to find tangible solutions to combat this major health issue.

“About 15 percent of Fiji’s adult population have diabetes and another 15 percent have impaired fasting glucose – these are people who have high blood sugar and are at risk of being diagnosed with diabetes,” O’Connor said.

Journalists from print and broadcast media as well as student journalists from the University of the South Pacific, civil society and non-governmental organisations, and the Fiji National University were part of the one-day event, which was organised by Diabetes Fiji in conjunction with the Ministry of Health.

Adi Ana Civavonovono is a final year journalism student at the University of the South Pacific reporting for Wansolwara News.

USP Journalism Programme’s final year student Adi Ana Civavonovono interviews Fiji’s Assistant Minister for Health and Medical Services Alex O’Connor at the Holiday Inn in Suva. Image: Wansolwara News

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

Bryce Edwards Analysis: Massive and positive victory for low-paid workers

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Bryce Edwards Analysis: Massive and positive victory for low-paid workers

Dr Bryce Edwards.

Analysis by Dr Bryce Edwards – Massive and positive victory for low-paid workers

Yesterday’s historic pay agreement for care and support workers is a massive victory for the low-paid, and indicates the unusual political times we live in. 

Has it become fashionable to support big pay increases for low paid workers? That’s how it appears, given the almost-blanket positive coverage of the Government’s settlement with unions to increase pay for care and support workers in the aged care and disability sectors.

The agreement involves a significant transfer of money to low-paid workers, and potentially has quite a few ramifications for the rest of the labour market. Yet it’s hard to find any criticism or negativity about this landmark win for workers.

Sainsbury says: “This is a historic day. It’s not often that more than 50,000 low-income care workers get some good news – a 43 percent pay rise. But let’s be brutally honest – the reason the pay hike is so massive is that these workers were being exploited to begin with.”

He goes on to sing the praises of trade unions (“yes, there is still a vital place for groups representing workers’ rights”), and paint the picture of a “David and Goliath battle” in which working class hero, Kristine Bartlett, managed to change history. And although the $2 billion settlement money still has to be found, “that’s no excuse for underpaying human beings. We owe so much to Kristine Bartlett and the other cases the Service and Food Workers’ Union took on; workers struggling for all those years because of the mentality it was ‘women’s work’, doing work we couldn’t or wouldn’t do, for a pittance.

Positive newspaper editorials 

This view seems to be shared by all the main newspapers, who have published strongly supportive editorials today backing the settlement.

The Otago Daily Times says “the settlement remains a giant step towards giving some low-paid New Zealand women (and men) the dignity, respect and financial reward they deserve” – see: A giant step for womankind.

The editorial also sells the settlement as positive for everyone, as it is “redistributing the wealth in a more equitable manner. More money to women means more money to families and children (and it is likely to be money spent locally). It also means women have more chance to put money towards vital retirement savings and the like. Surely everybody wins? The message the settlement sends about value (of women, their work and those they look after) reaches far beyond the pay packet.”

Today’s New Zealand Herald editorial says “Nobody will begrudge residential carers the big pay increase agreed yesterday between their union, employers and the Government. The carers, predominantly women, provide services to the elderly and disabled that are not always pleasant but need to be performed with patience, compassion, professionalism and a good deal of common sense. On all these requirements they have deserved to be paid much more the minimum wage” – see: Pay equity deal could lift all low incomes.

The editorial even positively suggests that the settlement could have flow-on effects in other sectors, increasing wage rates, and “If the decision starts to lift all low incomes, it will do a great deal of good.”

The Press editorial gives a good background explanation of the case, and has a simple message: “It is about whether New Zealanders are paid enough, full stop” – see: Aged care settlement an important pay equity milestone. And it suggests that even more needs to be done: “The settlement does not solve all issues that could be said to fall under the umbrella of pay equity and access to work. There are still barriers to working parents and more attention must be paid to making childcare affordable and easily accessible. Workplaces must become more family-friendly for both men and women.”

A victory to celebrate for the low-paid and exploited

Articles that explain the settlement focus on the difference it will make to those workers – especially women – at the bottom of the labour market. Accounts about the plight of those earning around the minimum wage are an eye-opener. In Audrey Young’s article, I haven’t had time to breathe or let it all sink in, says victorious rest home worker Kristine Bartlett, Kristine Bartlett – the aged-care worker taking the original court action against her employer – recounts why this decision “will be a life changer” for the workers.

Bartlett says: “I’ve seen them come to work sick, they haven’t been able to afford to go to doctors, I’ve seen them walk in the rain, I’ve seen them come without lunch, and that’s what breaks my heart.” And “This case is going to be a big life changer. It is going to let them live with a little bit of dignity and hopefully bring them out of poverty that a lot are in.”

A strange National Party agreement?

National Party blogger David Farrar has suggested that the settlement is “probably the biggest victory for unions in the last 30 years” – see: $2 billion and not one extra service provided. And he’s the unique voice of opposition to the deal, saying “I can’t support something that costs $2 billion and doesn’t result in a single extra person being provided care.”

But it’s Farrar’s own National Government that is implementing this huge victory for low-paid workers. So what’s going on?

Leftwing political analyst Gordon Campbell is also bemused by a National Government taking such an apparently radical decision, especially one that furthers the goal of gender pay equality: “”Strange indeed to hear a National Prime Minister not only singing the praises of raising the wages of the lowly paid, but also preaching that this will enable employers to reap future benefits from reduced staff turnover via upskilling their workers and offering them a viable career path. Wow. Can this really be the same National Party that threw the workforce to the wolves of the free market when it championed the Employment Contracts Act? Can it be the same National Party whose first act after winning the 2008 election was to scrap the pay equity unit within the Labour Department? Similarly, wasn’t it an incoming National government that began its term of office in 1990 by scrapping the Employment Equity Act that had allowed for intersectoral pay comparisons?” – see: On the aged-care settlement.

Campbell suggests that the answer may be that this sort of settlement could only actually occur under a National Government: “perhaps only a centre-right government could have pulled off the politics of this large pay rise to workers in the aged care, disability care and home support sector. (A Labour government would have been accused of colluding with its union mates, and of recklessly putting the economy at risk for ideological reasons.)”

National’s unusual move is also examined by Audrey Young, who says “It’s National, but not as we know it”, and asks: “So what motivated National, the party of the bosses, to give some of the lowest paid workers $2.048 billion over five years? And how did the least militant action by a union result in the biggest win in living memory?” – see: A stunning deal that fits the times.

She suggests that National had options to fight the claim, but “That would have been unacceptable to many in the Cabinet, not least because of the essential truth of the claim.” Young points to the likelihood of “Paula Bennett, Judith Collins or Anne Tolley” leading the charge for these low paid women in the caucus, and against the ideology of market forces that has made these workers poorly paid.

She also argues that National’s pay equity settlement can be understood within New Zealand’s political culture, which she says is about rectifying inequities: “These days, in a country where addressing grievances is part of the core of what we are, it would have been unacceptable to have either ignored the grievance going through the courts or to have overridden it with law.”

Young also praises the union movement: “The Government had the good fortune to be dealing with a realistic and smart union. The activism over decades by feminists and unionists helped to shift views about women in unions, women as workers, and pay equity.” Furthermore: “The union was not hung up on dealing with National or back pay. It was not hung up on only union members getting the benefits. The result was the best evidence of the best that unions can do.”

Hosking says: “Tripartite negotiations of the kind normally associated with the drag-down, late-night-whisky-and-sausage-roll meetings in the Prime Minister’s office back in the 1970s have been going on in those back rooms for some time. While these talks were not quite as crudely political as the days in which Sir Robert Muldoon and the Federation of Labour president of the day would emerge and blurrily insult each other for the cameras, there is certainly a sense in this settlement of the government taking a much more hands-on approach to such matters than has been the norm for a generation. And this, really, is the most significant part of the announcement by Prime Minister Bill English and Health Minister Jonathan Coleman yesterday. The government is engaging in something of a ‘back to the future’ approach to such negotiations.”

Today’s content

 

All items are contained in the attached PDF. Below are the links to the items online.

Pay equity settlement

Immigration

Justice

Employment

Housing

Economy

Health

Tax

Education

Road safety

Dairy industry

Other