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Decent work in New Zealand: Thinking globally, acting locally

The launch last week of a new campaign on decent work and a website by the government, employers and workers of New Zealand reinforces the reputation of the country as a leader in promoting more and better jobs, social protection, fundamental rights at work and social dialogue. ILO Online reports.

Article | 05 February 2007

WELLINGTON (ILO Online) - New Zealand, a founding member of the International Labour Organization (ILO), has often been a leader when it comes to social justice.

Women got the vote in 1893, before any other country, and in 1894 its citizens elected the British Empire's first female mayor. Only five years later New Zealand became the first country in the world to legislate for an eight hour working day - long before the ILO came into being and adopted its hallmark Hours of Work (Industry) Convention in 1919 limiting the daily hours of work in industrial undertakings to eight in the day.

Social dialogue and partnership also have a long tradition in the country. Trade unions were officially recognized in 1894 on the condition that they are registered which in turn bound them to arbitration before industrial action.

Now, the launch of a new campaign on decent work comes as no surprise. The decent work campaign - led jointly by the country's Department of Labour, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and Business New Zealand - and involving a new website "Decent Work: Charting our Progress" establishes New Zealand as a leader in promoting decent work for its workforce and the Asia-Pacific region.

"The ILO aims to change the lives of millions of people worldwide by improving the social and economic wellbeing of the countries they live in. This is a vital goal when you consider the statistics - 12.3 million people worldwide are victims of forced labour and half the world's population earns less than two dollars a day", New Zealand's labour minister Ruth Dyson said at the launch of the new website.

The launch is the culmination of an idea sparked by New Zealand at a meeting of the ILO members from the Asia and Pacific region. New Zealand has taken the lead in promoting the idea of having a national perspective on decent work throughout the region, particularly as a way of demonstrating that decent work is a way that enables countries to progress and develop.

Making decent work a reality

To turn the idea of decent work for all into a reality, the website identifies the factors that are important steps for achieving this goal in New Zealand and gathers information on activities that contribute to these factors. Members of the public will be able to respond to the government and the social partners via the website.

According to the Minister, New Zealand is taking the lead by adopting a national approach to meeting the ILO's goal of decent work for all, through identifying factors that are crucial to success. These include developing legislation to support workers and employers; enabling families and caregivers to combine working and caring; increasing capabilities of people in the workforce; improving the environment in which people and businesses work, and participating in international forums and developing international agreements on work.

"This website is a snapshot of where we stand on our path to decent work. It demonstrates that the principles of decent work can be seen throughout New Zealand's labour market, in activities led by a wide variety of government and non-government agencies", explains Dyson.

The snapshot will be regularly updated to chart further progress and ensure the project remains relevant to New Zealand's labour market. This website will be a useful tool for everyone interested in the goal of decent work, both in New Zealand and internationally.

"In the current environment of labour and skills shortages, it is vital that New Zealand's workplaces are attractive to workers and the decent work initiative supports this goal. New Zealand's involvement in this initiative is an opportunity, as a founding member of the ILO, to support a worldwide goal with far-reaching consequences. It also offers New Zealand significant social and economic benefits", says Dyson.

The decent work initiative positions New Zealand as part of a global strategy on decent work for all. In December 2006, the European Council of Ministers adopted a set of conclusions on the promotion of decent work in the European Union and through the world, saying it provided powerful new support to efforts aimed at making decent work a global reality.

Already in 2005, the UN World Summit gave strong support to the goal of full and productive employment and decent work for all as part of worldwide efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Another breakthrough occurred in July of this year when the High-level Segment of the UN Economic and Social Council in Geneva endorsed decent work as a global goal.

For more information on decent work in New Zealand visit