Call centre union FinSec alleges Trade New Zealand is promoting New Zealand as a low-wage society with enough unemployment to create an employer's market.
In its Web site www.tradenz.govt.nz/callcentres/labour, Trade NZ describes New Zealand as a lower cost choice than Australia, the US or Europe. It also describes it as a country with a flexible workforce, low average staff turnover (15%), a positive work ethic and a genuine service focus.
The Employment Contracts Act, says the site, means "complete flexibility on hours worked, with wage movements directly linked to productivity. This is of particular benefit to call centres, as it facilitates dealing with fluctuating demand and rewarding individual performance."
Part-time and shift work are both common, it says, "and there is a ready supply of suitable labour". Unemployment, states the site, "is around 7.2%".
FinSec senior industrial officer Don Farr says this promotion is "the very opposite of what we need. No comparable country relies on low wages as the source of their competitiveness. That ideology went out 10 years ago."
New Zealand's selling point, he says, should be a stable work force with good working conditions, highly qualified, skilled staff and government development support.
New Zealand already has its share of "appalling" call centres, he says, where the pressure and conditions are unbearable. "With penny pinching management, call centres can be hazardous hellholes with low productivity and high turnover of low skilled staff."
However, Trade NZ market services general manager Don Jenner says labour costs are only part of the overall cost structure which makes New Zealand competitive. "What we're doing is promoting New Zealand as a location for investment, and labour costs are only one aspect. We also stress the quality, stability and skills New Zealand staff [have]."
Reference to the Employment Contracts Act is essential he says, "because prospective employers need to be aware of it". The Web site, he says, is an attempt to create investment and employment in New Zealand.