Coast future highlighted at Mayday forum

Coast future highlighted at Blackball Mayday Forum

An assembly of close to a hundred people attended the Blackball Mayday forum to discuss the issues facing the Coast in this time of climate emergency and to strategize for a just transition.

Dignitaries assemble, National MPs Maureen Pugh, Stuart Smith and Buller Mayor, Jamie Cleine.

The forum was hosted by the NZ Council of Trade Unions, Te Kauae Kaimahi and chaired by its vice president, Rachel Mackintosh. Those in attendance came from a strongly represented union movement, but also included Angela Roberts, Labour List MP standing in for Damien O’Connor, Maureen Pugh, National list MP, Stuart Smith, National Spokesperson on Climate Change, business representative, Richard Tacon from Bathurst Resources, Federated Farmers Regional Chair, Bede O’Connor, Buller Mayor, Jamie Cleine, Regional councillors, Laura Coll McLaughlin and John Hill, and Kathleen Langi, NZEI Te Riu Roa. There was also a group of three unionists from Taranaki, led by Jen Natoli, invited to share their region’s experience of planning transition, the Cuban Ambassador, His Excellency, Mr Edgardo Valdes Lopez and people from the community sector.

The forum began with Angela Roberts outlining the government’s goals, which include cementing in meal breaks. tossing out the 90 day law, raising the minimum wage, tending to the ongoing task of achieving pay equity, extending sick leave and bringing in Fair Pay Agreements. She reported that there is a strong union caucus with 35 members. The Primary Industries have established their own Roadmap in collaboration with the government.  In the education sector there is the need for vocational education with a shortage of tradespeople which threatens to increase in the future. The major health reforms have just been announced. Generally, the cohesive response to the Covid threat needs to be carried over into meeting other challenges and there is a continuing desire to address the issues of partnership with tangatawhenua.

Conor Twyford, who has been recently appointed as the NZ Education Institute’s organiser focusing on climate change, then summarised the key recommendations of the Climate Change Commission. The Commission originated from a group of mostly young people who drafted, then campaigned for, the Zero Carbon Act which was passed almost unanimously. The Act set up the Commission which is a vehicle for pulling together the information and public buy-in the government needs to put together a national climate adaptation plan.

Their draft report was produced for consultation in February of this year and recommends the actions the government needs to take if we have any chance of meeting our national commitment to help the planet stay within 1.5 degrees of global warming. If we do nothing global warming is expected to reach 4.1 degrees to 4.8 degrees by the end of the century, which would mean a catastrophic collapse of eco systems. After public feedback and a revised document, the government will have until 31 December of this year to produce an action plan.

The Commission is recommending cuts from 2018 emissions of 2.1 percent, 17.2 percent and 35.5 per cent across each of the 5 years emissions budgets to 2035. While the overall economy will be unaffected certain communities may be disproportionately disadvantaged. In the coal mining and oil and gas sectors, between 600 and 1100 more people are predicted to lose their jobs, in addition to the 600 losses already predicted under current policy settings. A just transition is required for these workers and unions must be part of formulating this transition plan. She suggested that the task for the Coast is to come up with our own analysis of what needs to happen rather than wait for it to be foisted upon us. It needs to take account of what matters to us and what kind of working future and quality of life we want. As well, these changes offer opportunities.

Kathleen Langi, NZEI Te Riu Roa

Three local people then played the role of provocateur and in these provocations there were common themes of loss − of young people and young families having to move away to get work, of puzzlement as to what can replace mining jobs, of danger e.g. when the Bruce Bay marae was built there were a couple of acres of land between it and the sea; now that buffer has disappeared; of the concern felt by rangatahi about climate change; of the need for people to be able to live here at all stages of their life. One speaker talked of the history of abrupt closures on the Coast, from gold rush days onward, to the closure of mines in the 1960s, to the restructuring of the coal industry in the 1980s, to the problematic transition from native logging, to the demise of Solid Energy and the closure of Spring Creek – leaving feelings of sadness, anger and bitterness. The irrational denial of the Waitaha Hydro Scheme[1] has been something of a final straw. These feelings make it problematic to tackle this new task. However, Buller leaders have been demonstrating a new paradigm of positive and collaborative pragmatism which might hopefully rub off.

There was then a motion from the floor, passed with five abstentions, That the Waitaha Project should be given the go ahead.

The meeting was then offered two examples of transition process. The Cuban ambassador spoke of the way the government’s new economic strategy was discussed at meetings in every community and in every workplace across the country with recommendations made, considered and incorporated into the final strategy.

The Taranaki roopu then described the process that has taken place in the region, triggered by the PMs’ surprise announcement of an end to oil and gas exploration. (Oil and gas are the prime economic driver in the region, with agriculture second. Both are high emitters.) E tū  union had 500 members employed in oil and gas and leaders were chosen from the membership to discuss with their fellow workers what a just transition meant for them. The consensus was that it was about their families, their environment and their future. It was also important that the tangatawhenua have justice. With an imminent visit by the Prime Minister the union reached out to delegates to gather questions to ask the PM. They realised that there were seven pillars or sectors: Business, central and local government, union, iwi, education and community and the union encouraged delegates to talk to family and sector members in their community in order to fine tune the questions.

After the visit of the PM, Venture Taranaki, their economic development agency came on board and facilitated widespread engagement within all sectors. From this engagement key themes or goals emerged:

  • A strong, healthy, sustainable environment;
  • A region that looks after itself, and others;
  • Become a centre of excellence for clean energy production;
  • Education that moves & flexes with a changing world;
  • A strong, healthy, sustainable environment;
  • A region that looks after itself, and others;

During this process, union delegates found themselves talking to CEOs, greenies to iwi, climate activists to oil and gas workers and a rich dialogue took place. Finally a Just Transition Summit was held and a roadmap for the future developed. Now, training of union delegates is occurring, forums are being held in educational institutions and so on. The task is in no way finished.

Rachel Mackintosh then presented E tū union’s Just Transition Strategy Framework for the Coast for consideration. It involves four pillars. The first is Economic Diversification which means new industries, requiring:

  • Analysis and investment from Government;
  • Investment from the private sector;
  • Decent jobs, including skills, wages and conditions;

Local role:

  • Form a coherent view;
  • Identify economic strengths and potential;
  • Support Māori economic development.

The second pillar is Social Planning and Dialogue or tripartism plus:

  • Internationally, tripartism involves government, unions, business;
  • In Aotearoa, we need to involve mana whenua, the education sector, local government and civil society;

Local role:

  • Local inclusive planning: employers encouraged to release employees to participate;
  • Regional Skills Leadership Groups;
  • Transition plans with a wide focus: beyond immediately affected jobs to the whole community.

The third pillar is Social Protection for when people lose their job. It involves:

  • Pension top-up as bridge to retirement;
  • Employer fund for income support;
  • Support for collective agreements to manage the transition;
  • Workers’ access to unions;
  • Social insurance;
  • Welfare Expert Advisory Group recommendations implemented;
  • Brokering other supports, for example, rent/mortgage relief.

The fourth and final pillar is Support for Workers in Transition:

  • Job placement and careers advisory services;
  • Recognition of prior learning (RPL) schemes;
  • Comprehensive training, co-funded by employers and government, with active participation of education agencies;
  • Paid time off to retrain, short-term placement in new jobs ahead of retrenchment;
  • Risk-sharing: group schemes such as multi-employer redeployment schemes, group apprentice schemes;
  • Government support dependent on employer participation in such schemes.

With this stimulation under their belts and after a cup of tea, those present then divided into cross sectoral groups to discuss what their group’s role could be under each category and how they might work with other groups on the coast? Finally, What was their vision for the Coast in 20 years’ time?

Very animated discussion took place before the report-back: There were  common themes: to identify key stakeholders and then the need to break down the silos and focus on common ground; to ignore denialism and to make engagement easy (ask the right questions in the right way); for there to be publicity and education at the community level; to engage iwi, youth, NGOs, politicians, business people, farmers, educators, unions and environmental activists; that there be paid forums to educate and engage workers; that a pathway needs to be developed; that a shared value might be that of resilience of economic and human infrastructure, and that there be security and opportunities for fulfilment for all ages. There’s a need to shift the language. For example in Taranaki they stopped talking about dairying and instead talked about food and fibre. Instead of extraction can we talk about resources? Can we celebrate the caring industry? Why isn’t the Polytech providing the national centre for conservation excellence?

All of the above was positive and liberating, but people were, nevertheless, aware of the absences at the forum, those who had not taken up the invitation. Development West Coast were the obvious major absence and some head scratching took place (especially from those from outside the region) as to why the region’s development agency would snub such a gathering? But there were also other notable absences, the Polytech, the Mayors of Grey and Westland and the runanga. It was decided that initially, the strategy and the forum results will be offered for presentation to the runanga, DWC management group, Mayors and Chairs forum and the Polytech. The Taranaki group advised that once a region begins singing from the same song sheet, government money becomes available to fund the writing and the advancement of a shared vision.

The forum concluded by passing the motion unanimously, with one abstention (from Maureen Pugh): That this forum endorses the E tū Just Transition strategy for the Coast and strongly encourages regional economic players to begin a dialogue centred on the document. 

It was also considered useful to keep our MP and other relevant ministers informed as to further developments.

Nga mihi,

Rachel Mackintosh, Vice President, NZ Council of Trade Unions Te Kauae Kaimahi and Assistant National Secretary, E tū union;

Conor Twyford, NZ Education Institute Te Riu Roa Community Organiser;

Paul Maunder, Convenor, Unions West Coast.

Group photo of some of the participants