Labour Day commemorates the struggle for an eight-hour working day. Kiwi workers were among the first in the world to claim this right — in 1840, carpenter Samuel Parnell won an eight-hour day for workers in Wellington. This collection brings together 20 titles that involve Kiwi working life: from economic revolutions and an industrial dispute negotiated live on air (Post Office Go Slow), to public service comedy Gliding On and a portrait of union leader Ken Douglas.
In this famous edition of current affairs show Gallery interviewer Brian Edwards turns conciliator in a long-running industrial dispute. Post Office workers had imposed a go-slow after wage negotiations broke down. Producer Des Monaghan managed to get the Postmaster General Mr McCready and Mr Reddish of the Post Office union into the studio together. In the interview’s final minutes Edwards forced an agreement between the two men to stop union action and go back into mediation. This programme won Edwards a Feltex Award for ‘Best Performance as Frontman’.
Four-part series Revolution mapped sweeping social and economic change in New Zealand society in the 1980s and early 1990s. Described as a “journalist's assembly” by its makers, it collected together interviews with the major players and archive footage. Producer Marcia Russell: “We wanted to make Revolution because we believed that unless we re-run and re-examine our recent history we are in constant danger of forgetting, and forgetting can render us passive about the present and slaves of the future.” It won Best Factual Series at the 1997 Film and TV Awards.
In 1951, New Zealand temporarily became a police state. Civil liberties were curtailed, freedom of speech denied, and people could be imprisoned for providing food to those involved. This documentary tells the story of the infamous lockout of waterside workers, and the extended nationwide strike which followed. There are interviews with many who were involved, from workers to journalists. 1951 won Best Documentary at the 2002 New Zealand Television Awards, and John Bates (50 Years of Television) was named Best Documentary Director.
This 2006 documentary is a portrait of one of New Zealand politics' most contradictory figures: unionist Ken Douglas. At the time of filming Douglas occupied numerous board positions (eg Air New Zealand, the NZ Rugby Football Union), but early on he was a truckie and Marxist. Rob Muldoon branded him 'Red Ken'. For 15 years until 1999 he led the Council of Trade Unions. Directed by Monique Oomen for Top Shelf Productions, the film is framed around interviews with Douglas and his colleagues, and asks whether he is a turncoat or a strategic realist moving with the times.
Four-part series Standing in the Sunshine charted the journey of Kiwi women over a century from September 1893, when New Zealand became the first country to grant women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. This third episode, directed by Melanie Rodriga, looks at women over a century of work — plus education, equal pay, family, art, and Māori life. Interviews are mixed with archive material – including a mid-80s 'girls can do anything' promotion – and reenactments of quotes by Kiwi feminist pioneers. Writer Sandra Coney also authored a tie-in book for the series.
Someone Else’s Country looks critically at the radical economic changes implemented by the 1984 Labour Government - where privatisation of state assets was part of a wider agenda that sought to remake New Zealand as a model free market state. The trickle-down ‘Rogernomics’ rhetoric warned of no gain without pain, and here the theory is counterpointed by the social effects (redundant workers, Post Office closures). Made by Alister Barry in 1996 when the effects were raw, the film draws extensively on archive footage and interviews with key “witnesses to history”.
In an age before Rogernomics, well before The Office, there was the afternoon tea fund, Golden Kiwi, and four o'clock closing: welcome to the early 80s world of the New Zealand Public Service. Gliding On (1981 - 1985) was the first locally-made sitcom to become a bona-fide classic. Inspired by Roger Hall's hit play Glide Time, the award-winning series satirised a paper-pushing working life familiar to many Kiwis. This episode features Beryl's non-smoking campaign, Jim's efforts to kick the habit, office sexual innuendo and a much-debated fire drill. "Morning Jim!"
In this 2002 documentary director Brita McVeigh heads down the aisle to explore the world of air hostesses in air travel’s glamorous 60s and 70s heyday. Seven ex-“trolley dollies” recall exacting beauty regimes, controversial uniform changes, and the job’s unspoken insinuation of sexual availability. The cheese and cracker trolley becomes a vehicle that charts the changing status of women as McVeigh argues that — despite layovers in Honolulu, and a then-rare working opportunity for ‘girls’ — the high life concealed harassment, and struggles for equal rights and pay.
In 2000 the Employment Relations Act was passed into law in New Zealand, replacing the Employment Contracts Act. The bill proved controversial: some suggested it placed unfair obligations on employers, while others claimed it restored much-needed rights to workers that had been undermined. This Assignment episode explores both angles. Among them, business owner John Holm argues that he shouldn’t be told how to treat his employees, while union leaders and Alliance Party MP Laila Harré all argue that without the bill, workers will continue to be exploited.
The coaster Breeze and her crew are immortalised in this much praised National Film Unit documentary. Poet Denis Glover and narrator Selwyn Toogood provide a rhythmic and lyrical commentary as the Breeze runs from Wellington to Lyttelton, then to Wanganui. Three weeks after the film's November 1948 release, director Cecil Holmes had his satchel snatched. He lost his NFU job after the resulting smear campaign accused him of communist leanings. Although reinstated after a court case, Holmes left for a successful screen career in Australia in 1949.
This episode of current affairs show Close Up offers a fascinating portrait of the early days of New Zealand's foreign exchange market. Reporter Ted Sheehan heads into "the pit" (trading room), and chronicles the working life of a senior forex dealer, 25-year-old accountancy graduate John Key. The "smiling assassin" (and future Prime Minister) is a calm and earnest presence amongst the young cowboys playing for fortunes and Porsches, months before the 1987 sharemarket crash. As Sheehan says, "they're like addicts who eat, breathe and sleep foreign exchange dealing".
The tagline runs: "The story of unemployment in New Zealand" and In A Land of Plenty is an exploration of just that; it takes as its starting point the consensus from The Depression onwards that Godzone economic policy should focus on achieving full employment, and explores how this was radically shifted by the 1984 Labour government. Director Alister Barry's perspective is clear, as he trains a humanist lens on ‘Rogernomics' to argue for the policy's negative effects on society, "as a new poverty-stricken underclass developed".
Taking in depression and prosperity, this edition of the Kiwi social history series explores the boom and bust cycles of the economy. Stories include TJ Edmonds, of baking powder fame, who made his fortune by hawking his wares around Christchurch before opening his iconic factory. Factory workforces expanded, and with them unions. Worker dissatisfaction with pay and conditions led to the Queen Street riot of 1932, a defining moment in NZ history retold here by protest leader Jim Edwards' son. Edwards’ real estate agent granddaughter is also interviewed.
This 1948 documentary follows 24 hours of work on the railways. It was directed for the National Film Unit by New Zealand’s first female film director, Margaret Thomson. It shows the engines and commuter trains preparing to leave Wellington, and the overnight train arriving from Auckland. Workers toil on the railway lines above the remote Waimakariri Gorge, and the town of Otira gets ready for a dance. The final shots are of an engine coming through the dawn and back to the city.
Made for television in the late 60s, this documentary pursues four young Māori — Ripeka, Moana, Grace and Phillip — as they transition from school, whānau and rural life to live in the city. The film follows them as they arrive in Wellington and attend a pre-employment course run by The Department of Māori Affairs, which offers accommodation and advice on employment options. Director Arthur Everard later became NZ's Chief Film Censor. A 1991 sequel To Live in the City 24 Years On, travelled across three countries to pick up on the lives of the four, now middle aged.
In this edition of her 2005 TV series, broadcaster Kim Hill interviews then union leader Andrew Little. Little is advocating for a five percent pay increase for members of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (now E tū). Little bemoans lack of investment in training and argues for "growing the real value of wages" in a booming economy, while Hill grills the campaign’s potential effect on businesses and Little’s political ambitions. Little went on to become President of the Labour Party. In 2011 he was elected as a list MP, and led the party from 2014 to 2017.
Created by Fiona Samuel, The Marching Girls follows a Taita social marching team who decide to have a crack at the North Island champs. In the first episode of this feminist-Flashdance-in-formation 80s classic, young whippersnapper Leonie tries to modernise the girls' routine by getting them to march to the heavy metal tunes of Ironlung ("they're really big in Australia!"). This proves too much for Mahara (Patupatu Ripley), who's got enough on her plate with her new role as hesitant union spokesperson for her fellow workers down at the factory.
This NFU documentary looks at working lives of a crew of Wellington rubbish collectors aka 'the dusties'. With an insightful dustie narrating, the film follows the team on their rounds, beginning early morning with the seagulls at the depot. Then it's into the trucks and off to face occupational hazards: irate householders, sodden winter sacks, and notoriously steep hills. Our dustie muses on everything from health benefits and job perks (discarded beer, money and toasters!) to cleanliness. This classic observational film ends with a tribute folk song.
This classic wartime newsreel profiles the coal mining towns of Westland. It compares the town of Rūnanga, where mining has brought prosperity and a strong community life, with Denniston, which is set in rocky, inhospitable land high up a West Coast mountainside. Its tone is patriotic: “Here then are the men who feed New Zealand with the raw material of industrial prosperity ... They work in the darkness of the mines, buried away from the fresh splendours of the air above them.” The Weekly Reviews were screened in cinemas 1942 - 1950.
A Friendly Career (or The Story of the Training and Life of the New Zealand School Dental Nurse) was a promotional film made by the National Film Unit for the Department of Health. The plot waltzes through the idyll of one doe-eyed careerist's sugar-coated journey to a respectable job in the 'murder house', caring for the teeth of the Dominion's children. Focusing on the hard work and 50s fun times of hostel life, with its friendships, matrons, tooth-pulling and en masse doing-of-the-hokey pokey, the end of this careerist road is pitched as one of great satisfaction.