Sunday, 30 November 2008

Weekend in the Wairarapa

It takes about an hour to get to the Wairarapa from Wellington and there are some high hills to drive over on the way. Once there it's a green and lush valley - though it will become yellow and brown as summer progresses. It is very very lovely - truly Scotland with sunshine! Michael and Gaye have a beautiful home and farm the 27 acres that surround it. They have olive trees - and had their first harvest of oil this year. They also have cattle - including two bulls - chickens, lots of goats and an eel called Frank which lives in the stream under the bridge. Precious the cat seems to have left home since I arrived. It has been very hot since I arrived and I have really enkoyed sitting on the verandah in the shade listening to the wide variety of birds that populate the oak, eucalyptus and poplar trees that they have planted since they have been here. Michael gave me a tour of the farm and guess who couldn't keep her bum off the electric fence!

It's now Sunday and we have been busy. Michael took me to two wineries for tastings and we had lunch at the Gladstone Winery - owned by two Glaswegians. I was and am sober! After that he took me to Greytown which has lots of attractive shops and is a very popular weekend haunt for Wellingtonians. Crossing those hills is considered a major expedition - bit like Glaswegians braving the M8 for Edinburgh!

Michael's nearest neighbours are Penny & Jeremy and we stopped to see them on the way home. They are English and Jeremy makes very beautiful furniture from a wide range of native woods. Sadly, I already have far too much to carry so had to leave the chair I really liked behind! Penny was kind enough to give me a signed copy of the book she wrote about their early days in New Zealand.

Michael works for the New Zealand Federation of Voluntary Welfare Organisations and is part of the team behind my trip. He's also a fabulous photographer. He was also a candidate for the Green Party in the recent General Election. He didn't win but the Greens did well overall and he is very pleased with how it went. Though he's still coming down from the high that goes with intensive campaigning. Michael is also a doting grandad and is the process of building a tree house for his grandaughter who - he freely admits - has him wrapped round her little finger!

More soon........

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Its Saturday, it must be Wellington

After my success with the car on Friday I suppose it was inevitable that I got lost on the way to the airport. Many thanks owed to the people I accosted who put me back on track and enabled me to get to the airport with 10 minutes to spare. The adrenaline rush took rather longer to subside.....

It was a small prop plane that flew low enough to see some spectacular scenery below - including Mount Doom. Having problems sending photo's but there are some wonderful sights.

I was met at Wellington airport by John Ryall the National Secretary of the Service & Food Workers Union which organises within the community & voluntary sector. John has been a very active supporter of the workplace wellbeing project and had been at the conference. Over lunch at a great Italian restaurant and deli we talked about the differences and similarities between UNISON and SFWU and I learnt a lot more about the trade union and political environment in New Zealand.

Michael, my host for the rest of the weekend arrived and John took us to see a local health centre that had been established with trade union involvement. It's a wonderful facility, a bright new building that provides very local access to primary care for a poor community who previously had to pay both to see a doctor and to get there. All primary care provision is private.

My luggage then got moved from Johns car to Michaels and we set off on the hour long drive to his home in the Wairarapa. Lots to say about the journey and the place and the people so more later.................

Friday!!!!!!! A day off but not a day of rest.........

Wow! What a day!!! Friday was a day off and I knew that I was going to Rotorua. I collected a hire car at about 8 and drove the 110 or so kilometers to my destination. I had a list of things to see and do and - with some minor alterations achieved them all.

So, I found Lake Rotorua and walked taking in the supherous smells, the different colours in the water and the vast numbers of gannets, teal and other birds. I then found the office of volcanic tours and saw the only mercedes that has ever appealed to me - a large, choclolate brown dog that looks more like a teddy bear. Did I say large? She's enormous! Anyway I was there to book a helicopter flight and was devastated to find they were all full. I booked a seat on the 2 pm float plane instead and it wasn't 2nd best! I then headed to Te Puia for Maori history, geysers and mud pools. It was spectacular - hope the photo's do it justice. I can understand why the area has such a spiritual significance.

The plane trip was incredible, it took off from the lake and 'cruised' at about 3500' over the lakes which are volcanic craters. Each one full of different coloured water - from mop bucket murk through to brilliant turquiose. As promised it was bumpy over the volcano's but it was too spectacular for me to have time to be either terrified or sick. The plane then headed out to sea and to White Island which is an active volcano. I'm beginning to run out of superlatives but it was a truly brilliant experience as the pilot brought the plane as low as possible in first clockwise and then anti clockwise circles so that we could see and take photo's.

The return trip was via Mount Tarawera an extinct volcano that last erupted in 1886 with a devastating effect on a huge area. It is a holy mountain of great significance to Maori. The pilot took us along the route of the eruption which is about 15km long.

After such a experiences there was only one way to end my visit to Rotorua ...... so I spent the next couple of hours floating about the hot pools of the Polynesian Spa before driving back and saying farewell to Jane. I hope I'll see her again before I leave New Zealand. Caught up with Conor who had been enjoying her birthday and finalising my itinerary for the weekend....... more to follow

Before I tell you about Friday......

Supermarket trolleys are trundlers here and you don't have to pay for them. So the UNISON key rings/tokens are popular as a useless novelty.........

Hamilton and the Seminar

There was a lot of anticipation in the run up to the Hamilton Seminar. It was to be the first of three following the ANZTSR conference and aimed to pull together a number of the strands that were demonstrated there; the resource pack was to be launched and it was to be the first test of brand new video conferencing equipment. The latter worked well - far better than the UNISON set up - despite lots of noise and movement the images and sound stayed solid.

In fact all of it went really really well. There are some photo's showing me with Conor (the brunette) and Jane (the blonde). The numbers were higher than expected and the feedback was great. There are also photo's that include Buddy who is a very special person to the project. He is a Maori Methodist Minister but more importantly he is a Maori elder held in enormous respect and affection. It's a postition to be earnt not granted making it all the more special. Buddy is unwell and there was some doubt about whether he would get there. There was great pleasure that he did but also sadness about the state of his health. I was privileged to meet him and to hear him speak.

After the seminar we went to the CTU (Council of Trade Unions - equivalent of STUC) for drinks. Amongst those I met was the Labour Party shadow spokesperson for women who was keen to hear about equal pay in Scotland - and what not to do!

Conor and Anne left us for the weekend. Anne for a wedding and Conor to see her sons and husband and to celebrate her birthday with them.

Jane got the short straw - she fed me again and did my washing and helped me plan for Friday.........

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The last day of the conference

And also the day that Conor and I were to make our joint presentation. We resisted the temptation to get dressed up again - that royal blue feather boa was something else - though for some of the time I wore it I was literally spitting feathers as it moulted a bit! So to a small but very interested audience we talked about the project that Conor works for and the genesis of my visit. I described UNISON and my role in Scotland. The challenges faced for us in organising and supporting members within the Community & Voluntary Sector, the similarities and the differences in these for New Zealand (just about the same) and UNISON's strategies for tackling these.

It was a really good session with some thoughtful questions after - one from a real Scot, one of several that I have met since I've been here.

After a brief break to get our luggage (tons of it) into Jane's truck (more on this later) I was interviewed by a journalist from Reuters working on behalf of "Employer Today" magazine. There should be an article featuring my visit and looking at differences in TU organisation in the January edition.

The conference closed at lunch time with another formal Maori ceremony but I missed that as I was whisked off to a meeting of PSA National Organisers in the centre of Auckland. Over a working lunch I made a briefer and more TU focussed presentation to about a dozen of their staff from across New Zealand - they had also invited 2 organisers from the SFWU. Again there were some great questions and it was fascinating to see that not only are the problems similar but the strategies for tackling organisational issues are similar too.

Some knew as much about Agenda for Change as I do because Mike Jackson was there not so long ago. Well done Mike! One had been to Glasgow and remembered a UNISON official who had something to do with health but had taken him to a football match.......................

After this Jane arrived in her truck to collect Conor, Anne and myself and drove us to Hamilton. Jane works for Community Waikato, one of the projects that is part of Workplace Wellbeing and is Conor's boss. She is part Scots and part Maori and a truly beautiful woman in many ways.

Anne is a professor at the University of New South Wales and leads a team that has been developing an assessment tool to enable workers within the sector to identify their skills and skill levels. A stage before job evaluation. I hear several ears pricking and eyes widening! I'll be bringing copies back. Anne was also one of the 'famous 5' in the student accommodation.

Jane lives in a small town close to Hamilton and she took us the scenic route to the motel we were staying at. Photo's and commentary to follow - need to make sure I get the spellings right.

The motel is great, straight out of the 70's - surrounded by trees and flowers and so many birds - they make a fabulous racket!

We had dinner in the garden at Jane's with her family (sorry I know the weather is c*** in Scotland right now) which was fabulous. Cooking is another of her many talents.

After dinner we adjourned to her work shop and spent the next hours compiling 50 copies of Mana Mahi - an employment resource for the sector. This comprises 6 booklets, 17 sets of guidance notes, an introduction and a CD all in a cardboard wallet. To save costs we were to fold and glue the wallets and then fill them. The pack is a very beautiful purple which fortunately matches perfectly with a jacket I have and am wearing today as it also matches my finger tips! There are another 950 to put together.

Today has been the first of the travelling seminars that link all of the strands together and the first official launch of the pack. I'll say more about it later but it's coming to a close and I need to be part of the final session.

NZ, Thursday afternoon.

Where have the days gone?

It's Thursday afternoon and I can't believe that I haven't updated this since very early on Monday.

Ít's been a really busy time with all sorts happening. The conference opened on Monday with a Powhiri at the university Marae. This is a formal welcoming ceremony that includes speeches in the Maori language on behalf of the hosts and the visitors, singing and being fed. It was a very special event and it was also when I first met Conors. Fortunately both of us were pleased with what we saw and continue with the mutual admiration!

I hope that my photo's of the carvings and the Marae are ok, it is an incredibly beautiful building and I'd like you to admire it as much as I did.

The first formal sessions of the conference was interesting mainly because it reminded me how long it has been since I've had anything to do with academic research and events of this kind. I enjoyed it all but much of what I heard on Monday left me thinking 'tell me something I didn't know' and 'so what?'

Quite prepared to acknowledge that I had been feeling doubtful that I was up to the task - that there would be a realisation that bringing me 13,000 miles as a "keynote, international speaker" had been a waste of lots of money as well as lots of time and effort. Crisis of confidence? You bet! Anyway, that first afternoon helped me put things back into perspective............... in that, I'm here and it's far far too late to change my mind.

Getting back to the apartment and discovering that the shower had been fixed was yet another boost to my spirits - we now had 4 showers between 5 of us!

Conor had organised dinner for those involved in the work linked to Workplace Wellbeing and we went to the Mexican Cafe. Having had Chinese on Saturday and Malaysian on Sunday I was wondering whether there is a New Zealand cuisine - other than pies. Reassured that there is and that I will experience it.

Dinner was great, there were about 12 of us and I met even more new people. From the Community & Voluntary sector and also from the PSA - Public Services Association - UNISON's sister organisation in New Zealand and the SFWU - Service and Food Workers Union - which represents a lot of members in the sector and works closely with the PSA.

We finished the evening with coffee in the casino next to the tower that features in a couple of my photo's. The coffee was rotten but the casino was impressive. Though I'm not sure they were overly keen on a bunch of people staying long enough for 1 drink while they planned a round table discussion! Not a dollar was spent in the casino proper.

I was asked to join the round table discussion which was set up to begin to paint a picture of what successful employment in the sector would look like. The panelists were a mixture of managers, trade unionists, researchers and it was a very positive session with plenty of engagement with the audience. A great start to the day.

Tuesday afternoon was largely spent preparing with Conor for the great debate on Tuesday evening and for the presentation on Wednesday morning.

The Tiara and the Feather Boa
A couple of weeks before I was due to travel Conor had asked me if I take part in a debate at the conference on Tuesday evening. She told me that it would be light hearted and most of all brief. There would be an Aussie team and a Kiwi team and that I would be joining the Kiwi team as a Londoner living in Scotland with Pat (Canadian) and herself (Kiwi but lived mainly in Oz). At 2 weeks and 13,000 miles it sounded fine and I agreed. On Tuesday afternoon knowing that our side were defending the argument that ''the third sector is the handmaiden to the empire" seemed to be the craziest thing I'd ever agreed to. Conor - as ever- was well prepared with a draft script, a medieval gown, doc martins, pith hemit, khaki shirt, feather boa, bone china cup and saucer, anzac biscuits, a phone book and two tiara's. The doc martins date from her biker days but most of the rest was courtesy of a hire shop. Anyway it all took place during the conference dinner was great fun and the Kiwi team clearly won. The MC announced a draw but he was only being polite to the visiting Aussies! There should be photo's coming in from vartious parts of the world.

Having got that over with I knew I could do anything and I'm back to being my usual cool, calm an collected self. Except I lie.......... I have a rotten cold and am feeling pathetically sorry for myself.

Time for a brief break........

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Work starts today

It's Monday morning here and the ANZTSRC (Australia/New Zealand Third Sector Research Conference) starts today - the event that sparked my visit. It's raining and has been since yesterday afternoon. It might be because the accommodation is on the 14th floor but the rain was horizontal half an hour ago.

All five occupants of the flat are now in residence. Brenda from Toronto, Stina from Sweden, Barbara the 'local' from Hamilton, and Anne from Australia. All are professors or Phd students and I was feeling overwhelmed by so many intellectuals. Then I remembered that it was me that got the new kettle, the extra pillow, the iron, access to working showers - and hunted down the 'liquor store' for the bottle of wine. The comforts of life are now complete as Anne (who has a waterproof) has just returned from an expedition with more toilet rolls and umbrellas for us both! And Brenda has just looked in to say she's off to find the liquor store.

Brains are all very well but organisers have their place!

I went for a walk to 'midtown' yesterday. Odd mixture of shops from designer labels to tourist tat and sex shops. Found a good book shop and fnally got a copy of the Lonely Planet Guide to NZ - shocked at the price - almost £30. I thought it was a mistake but looked at lots of others and all books are really expensive. Will have to find out why.

More later............

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Auckland, Sunday morning

I'm beginning to feel human again - lots to be said for a night spent in a king size single bed! My blackberry seems to have gone the way of others back in the UK and I can't send or receive UNISON emails - though it's ok for photo's, texts and phone calls. So the decision to bring the lap top was the right one even though the connection is really slow - some things don't change.

Next task is to send photo's from my camera to Tracey for the album. None of them are very good as it was hazy in LA and here too, but they should give some sense of the places I've been so far. Assuming I can do what I've been told!

Yesterday's trip to the volcano was a great introduction to the city but it also made me smile - the first day I came to Edinburgh to start work for NUPE, Bob Thompson took me to the top of another volcano (Arthurs Seat) for a similar look around. How many other cities have extinct volcano's as viewing points?

It's time to go in search of breakfast - a cafe I think - I need the frying pan for coffee making and the vending machines here don't seem to stock bacon rolls!

Sunday, 23 November, 9 am

Boiling water in a frying pan

I never thought that I would end my first day in New Zealand boiling water in a frying pan to make a cup of coffee. You might be forgiven for thinking that I'm in front of a camp fire - I'm actually in down town Auckland at the halls of residence of the University of Technology. I didn't know that there is such a thing as a king size single bed - but I have one for the next 4 nights.

Anyway, having made up my own bed, bought soap & coffee, accepted that the kettle is broken, borrowed an iron from a student, got stuck in the lift (forgot that you need a fob to make it work - even to open the doors) and got soaked by a sellotaped shower hose that leaks more water than the shower head, I settled down to get to know Professor Brenda Gainer from York University in Toronto who is the first of my room mates in this student flat and also a speaker at the conference that I am here for. As 50 something survivors of the womens movement - and a range of student accommodation - we have much in common and enjoyed a great evening together.

Arriving this morning was every bit as wonderful as I had hoped. The first sights from the plane were spectaular - photo's to follow. Coming through immigration and customs took longer than in LA but only because two full flights arrived at the same time. I was met at the airport by Andrew Beyer from the New Zealand Council of Social Services who took me to the top of a volcano for a panoramic view of Auckland and its surroundings. Andrew is one of those who were active in the recent General Election campaign that saw Labour lose to the National party, two weeks on the exhaustion has worn off and now they are waiting to see exactly what will change. Thanks Andrew, it was great to see a friendly face as soon as I arrived and I enjoyed hearing all you told me.

I had a short walk this afternoon - round the university area. Sunshine, market stalls and internet cafes. Keep needing to sleep - creeping up on me now, so more soon.

11.45 pm Saturday 22 November 2008

PS - just seen message from Conor saying she has bought me a tiara and a feather boa - just what have I come to???

Friday, 21 November 2008

A day in LA

I'm at LAX - far too early for a plane that will be leaving at least 30 minutes late. It's time for the early evening news though my body thinks I am too old to be awake at 2 am!

As I said on earlier post, lots of new experiences today..........

  • Biscuits and gravy - salty bread roll and something that looked like mayonnaise and I still don't know what it's made of! I passed on the pancakes and syrup!
  • A country where anyone can carry a gun but there's a big notice at the restaurant desk telling you that alcohol can harm you - and they didn't just mean that it cost 9 dollars for a glass of wine!
  • American news - cars, sport, sex and murder, in that order and very insular. Nothing beyond the USA.
  • Being a tourist in LA - took a bus tour of the city - beaches, Hollywood, homes of the stars and Rodeo Drive. Glad I have seen it but it's a long way from home and not just in miles. Not one sheep to be seen!
  • There were two English people on the bus happy to meet a Scottish union official - dad and brother have long been T&G activists and branch sec of London Underground branch.
  • But best of the lot was my conversation with the hotel concierge. On hearing where I was heading for and what for, he told me that there have been attempts over several years to get recognition with the hotel. There was a ballot of staff in 1998 which failed. For the last 3 years the union has been trying to build membership to achieve recognition by way of individual sign up but it's been hard as staff turn over is high - as it always is in hotels. There is usually a TU demonstration outside the hotel each Thursday but they called it off today to prepare for Thanksgiving! The hotel is actually privately owned - Hilton is a kind of franchise - so tu recognition is for local determination and this management is hostile. It was a great conversation for being unexpected.

And I've realised that I do 'lose' a day on my way to New Zealand. I'm leaving LA at about 10pm on Thursday on a flight that takes 13 hours. I arrive in Auckland at about 8.30 am on Saturday. which will be 7.30 pm Friday UK time. Confused? I am!!

More soon..................

Thursday, 20 November 2008

It's foggy here

But hot, allsorts of first experiences - notably American air conditioning. About to go on a bus tour of LA - more later................... Credit about to expire on hotel pc!

Glasgow at 30,000 feet

I'm half way there... landed in LA at 4am UK time and luckily the US Immigration service decided I wasn't a miscreant and let me through.

I took this from the window of the plane.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

New Zealand Trade Unionists Organise Welcome Committee

Thanks to John Gallacher for this!!!

By this time tomorrow........

I will be on the first of several planes that will get me to New Zealand by Saturday morning. I'm feeling really excited now and trying not to panic about what I may have forgotten to do or to pack.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Think and Drink?!?

You may have noticed in a previous comment that a certain smart alec was intrigued about the Think and Drink session.

Just in case there's any doubt about how much thinking and how much drinking will be taking place here's what I'll be up to -

Tuesday December 2: CTU Think ‘n’ Drink
Where: CTU Meeting Room, 7th floor, Education House

(Back Building), 178-182 Willis Street
Time: 4:30pm – 6:00pm

A teacher and community development worker by trade, Glyn has been an Organiser with UNISON Scotland since 1994 and a union organiser since 1992 when she first came to work for NUPE, one of UNISON’s three founding unions. Glyn is now a member of the Scottish Management Team which has responsibility for implementing UK policy and practice as well as for overseeing the development and implementation of policies that are unique to Scotland because of the Scottish Government. Glyn will discuss her current work with UNISON and some of the challenges currently facing public sector unions in Britain.

By coincidence this takes place on 2 December, so while I'm thinking and not drinking that same smart alec is likely to be drinking and not thinking as it's her 40th birthday!

On Tour!!

Part of my engagements will be as a key note speaker in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin where I will meet with union colleagues and address a number of seminars on community sector employment. It's a fabulous chance to see the country and meet board members, trustees and managers of community-based organisations as well as grass roots trade unionists from all over New Zealand.

Here's the section from the 'advert'!

Key Note: Reflections on Sector Employment in Scotland and New Zealand

Building a more sustainable employment environment is a critical challenge for sector organisations both here and in Scotland. In both countries, a range of competing pressures on voluntary organisations have serious implications for workforce sustainability. Yet there are ways forward for both countries that could allow us to retain our skilled, experienced workforce. Glyn Hawker, UNISON Scotland’s Organiser of Bargaining and Equal Pay, and a community development worker by trade, and Conor Twyford, from the New Zealand Workplace Wellbeing Project, will discuss research and work being done in each country on sector workforce issues – such as the impact of contracting on sector workforces in the UK; collaborative work being done in the Scottish community and voluntary sector to progress employment issues – and some new findings from New Zealand on staff wellbeing and motivation in our sector.


The Conference I'll be attending is just days away. The agenda has been published and it's going to be a packed few days with discussion and debate around scores of subjects.

Things like
  • It’s more than talk:A status report from the Building Better Government Engagement
  • Reference Group: Options for building knowledge, skills and values in the public service to support effective community engagement
  • Changing Relationships: how government funding models impact relationships between organisations
  • Love Doesn’t Pay the Bills! - Critical Knowledge in Negotiating Remuneration Contracts
  • Shall we dance? - High performance work systems and employment relationships in Social Services NGOs in New Zealand

There are too many to list on the blog so here's the link to the web site

During and after the conference I'll report on some of the activities I've taken part in. It'll be great.