Join us at the CARE Lab BSC 1.06 or tune in LIVE for the release of the report HE KAUPAPA WAKA
Presented by Te Awhimate Nancy Tait, Bella Bartley & Chris Stewart with Prof. Mohan Dutta & CARE: Center for Culture Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation
HE KAUPAPA WAKA
Executive Summary: As a Māori Expert Advisory Group (MEAG), the advice in this report for the Ministry of Health – Manatū Hauora (the Ministry) has been undertaken with a clear view of accountabilities and Te Tiriti o Waitangi obligations.The MEAG was asked to provide leadership and advice on scoping a training programme for the routine enquiry of family violence, sexual violence, child abuse and neglect (FVSV), for primary health care and community providers, to benefit our whānau. Part of the brief was to examine what elements from the Violence Intervention Programme (VIP), a training programme implemented across all district health boards (DHBs), could be used in the Primary Health Care Sector. This report outlines the work undertaken over eighteen months and includes a final set of recommendations for the Ministry to consider.
In writing this report MEAG have been conscious of the multiple audiences, from ministerial and Ministry of Health observers through to whānau and health providers, as contributors.
This audience-based focus is part of the promise of reciprocity to our Māori and Pasefika providers and other organisations who provided their insights, knowledge and experience – this report is to honour their voices.
From those commitments and the desire for an open readership, the content is created to be accessible to all readers. Context explanations in several sections may seem repetitive to some experienced ministry level analytical audiences, but this stance is deliberately taken by MEAG to provide for the whole audience.
The MEAG developed a three-part approach and framework for our work, that is based on the idea of understanding and interpreting the signs from our environment and responding appropriately. The report is laid out using theseheadings – but emphasises that processes are rarely linear and cycle from, responding to our environment, regularly switching from information gathering to analysis to imagining the future back to information gathering again. The intersectionality and the contextual impact of violence inform each hui we held, and the knowledge that was shared.
For the far-right, free speech is the discursive trope organised to silence speech. This communicative inversion, the turning of materiality on its head through discursive tropes, is a communicative tool deployed by the right to hold up and perpetuate a broader culture of hate that targets Indigenous, people of colour, gender diverse, women, and diversely abled academics.
When the Newsroom story, Academics divided on their own freedoms, made its way into my mailbox, I was looking forward to reading it. The story was behind a paywall, and I had to wait until noon to read it, when thankfully a colleague kindly forwarded the text of the story to me. The story reported from a survey commissioned by the Free Speech Union and carried out by Curia Market Research. Curia boasts many clients including Pfizer, Microsoft, and the National party. In its opening page, the company pitches itself as having run polling services for New Zealand Prime Ministers and opposition politicians.
The Free Speech Union was formed initially as the Free Speech Coalition in response to the cancelling of an event at an Auckland Council-owned venue to be held by the far-right white supremacists Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux. Although it claims support from both sides of the political and ideological spectrum, the positions expressed by the Free Speech Union since its formation in 2018 seem to be concerned with the safeguarding of a particular form of free speech- the freedom to speech of those occupying positions of privilege. This form of speech is organised to target and silence the speech, health and safety of those at the margins of societies.
In multiple instances where the Free Speech Union has run an organised campaign, the campaign seems to be driven to safeguard the expressions of white, patriarchal, colonial structures.
The podcasts on the website of the Free Speech Union seem to be predominantly concerned with what it terms “American style culture war” and “woke culture”.
It seems the “chilling effect” the Union is concerned about is the speech of those in hegemonic positions of power. The Union’s narrative constructing the fear of being cancelled is driven to safeguard those identity positions in power that have historically and in contemporary contexts perpetuated the silencing of the raced, gendered, colonial margins.
In December 2021, the Union created an academic freedom fund in support of two academics who were being investigated by the Royal Society for a letter they wrote to the New Zealand Listener disputing the scientific legitimacy of Mātauranga Māori. When I received the survey from the Free Speech Union, I ignored it because of the seeming parochial ideological investments of the Union. Speaking with and witnessing the social media accounts of other ethnic minority, Indigenous, and gender diverse colleagues, I observed similar responses.
It was the same reason I had earlier ignored the invitation from the Union to an interview on the film The Kashmir Files. The Union platformed Roy Kaunds, a Hindutva ideologue who has been called out by Indian diaspora activists for his Islamophobic speech. Mr Kaunds previously appeared on the far-right hate infrastructure, Counterspin Media. The Kashmir Files has been critiqued for its role as a propaganda device in spreading Islamophobia, and Hindutva ideologues have deployed the film to produce and circulate Islamophobic hate speech, reflected in calls to carry out genocide of Muslims and organised rape of Muslim women.
It seemed that I was on the radar of the Union as an academic with a different viewpoint (in the words of the person who called me), and yet I hadn’t registered a word of solidarity from the Union over the six or seven months my academic freedom was being threatened by the supporters of Hindutva, a far-right nationalist political ideology, here in Aotearoa. Mr Kaunds, the Union’s proponent of Free Speech in the context of The Kashmir Files was part of the communicative infrastructure targeting my academic freedom in the context of Hindutva.
The Newsroom article did not tell us much about the sample of the reported survey, the sampling strategy, and the demographic and ideological characteristics of the sample. Moreover, my concerns about source credibility related to the survey are validated by the survey items that were reported in the article. For instance, the article suggests 21 per cent of respondents score 0-2.5 on a 10-point scale in indicating the freedom to “question and test received wisdom.” Without further elucidation of what the item means by received wisdom, the reader is left to guess what the item is pointing toward. In other words, the perception of academic freedom reflected by the item seems to depend on what the operationalisation of “received wisdom” is.
The far right’s attack on justice-based scholarship is often legitimised through the language of freedom to test “received wisdom,” held up by the communicative construction of “woke culture” as a strategy to further marginalise voices at the margins. Indeed, the item may be interpreted to support the preconfigured agenda of the Union, that there is an “American culture war” problem in Aotearoa New Zealand. The items that follow, freedom to debate or discuss “gender and sex issues” and “treaty issues,” give away the ideological agenda of the Union. We learn that 50 per cent of the academics feel silenced about debating treaty issues (20 per cent scoring 0-2.5 and 20 per cent scoring 2.6-5.0 on a 10-point scale). We also learn that 47 per cent of the academics feel silenced debating about gender and sex issues (27 per cent scoring 0-2.5 and 20 per cent scoring 2.6-5.0 on a 10-point scale).
These items once again don’t really elucidate much. They remain vague about the aspects of these issues where academics seem to be experiencing chilling effects.
The focus on these two areas seems random, unless read from the ideological agenda of the far-right here in Aotearoa. For the far-right discursive infrastructures, “gender and sex issues” and “treaty issues” are key sites for perpetuating hate that is targeted at the margins. The freedom of speech here is deployed specifically to legitimise and circulate hate. The language of “cancel culture” is discursively deployed to erase and silence articulations from the raced, classed, gendered margins of the settler-colonial state, silencing the voices and academic freedom of those at the margins.
Who are the academics experiencing chilling effects in discussing “sex and gender” and “treaty issues?” Unless the academics responding to these items on the survey are experts in these areas, the concept of academic freedom in these areas doesn’t extend to them. A physicist’s academic freedom to make statements about “treaty issues” or “sex and gender” is as legitimate as my claim about academic freedom to make pronouncements about the muon G-2 experiment. We cannot tell from the news story whether the academics experiencing chilling effects in discussing these issues are area experts.
In the absence of details about the sample (including subject areas) and analysis of the findings disaggregated by area of scholarship, one might speculate given the context that the academics who responded to the survey are not experts in the areas of “sex and gender” and “treaty issues.” Lacking such detail, the survey could be read as a politically motivated campaign to deploy the tropes of “cancel culture” and “wokeism” to target the academic freedom of scholars at the intersectional “margins of the margins.”
In a political climate where the far-right has weaponised diverse forms of attacks on academic freedoms to uphold the hegemonic structures of whiteness, patriarchy, colonialism, and capitalism, the Free Speech Union’s survey of academic freedom is an exemplar of communicative inversion, directed at perpetuating a chilling climate in the name of promoting academic freedom.
Professor Mohan Dutta isDean’s Chair Professor of Communication. He is the Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), developing culturally-centered, community-based projects of social change, advocacy, and activism that articulate health as a human right.
While for much of the past two years there was a sense of collective risk mitigation by the “team of five million”, the government has since shifted that burden more towards individuals and personal responsibility.
But this avoids the fact that not all individuals have to negotiate the same amount of risk. And research shows gig work is one of the riskiest types of employment during a pandemic.
Furthermore, gig workers lack a public voice with which to communicate these risks to the general public and decision makers. But as our recent report – Experiences with COVID-19 Among Gig Workers – shows, these workers have been at a high risk of both contracting and transmitting the COVID-19 virus.
No way to speak out
We interviewed 25 rideshare and delivery drivers about their experiences during the pandemic. We found the structural features of their employment not only exposed them to increased risk from the virus, but also offered minimal protection should they be too ill to work.
While conventional businesses have established infrastructures for voicing dissatisfaction with COVID policy – through organisations such as Hospitality NZ, for example – gig workers lack equivalent communication channels.
This inequality also extends to gig workers’ access to culturally appropriate preventive health information. Not unlike the inequities faced by Māori and migrant communities, this leaves gig workers (many of whom are also migrants who don’t speak English as their first language) more vulnerable to the negative health effects of COVID-19.
Such risk is compounded by the structural features of gig work. Our report is grounded in the voices of workers themselves and argues that seven structural features influence their experiences: the work is piecemeal, precarious, individualised, gamified, dehumanised, automated and hyper-competitive.
Algorithm as manager
By its nature, the work is driven by immediate supply and demand – drivers are paid for each micro-transaction, rather than a wage, meaning time spent waiting for jobs goes unpaid:
Sometimes it’s really quiet. It’s not even worth … turning your car on for. Yeah, it’s basically just waiting until … you know there’s going to be demand.
This in turn means no job security. If demand decreases, so does income – exactly what happened to rideshare drivers in the pandemic, with some reporting their incomes had halved or worse.
Rideshare workers’ only communication with their “employer” (their status as contractors is being disputed globally) is through a phone app, meaning interactions take the form of a game, with both parties trying to extract the most money.
There is a built-in power asymmetry, however. For example, Uber withholds information about a passenger’s destination and the length of the proposed trip, which could help a driver gauge whether to accept a job.
With no human manager and effectively managed by an algorithm, many interviewees commented on the dehumanised nature of their interactions with Uber and their isolation from other drivers. Classified as independent contractors, they function as individual micro-businesses with no colleagues and no voice or influence in their organisation:
If you’re part of it, then you’re part of it. You know this is how things are going to be. So there’s no point questioning it because there is no human component to it, so there’s no one to question.
On the COVID front line
Because of their status as independent contractors, however, risk mitigation such as masks, sanitiser or plastic screens has been their own responsibility.
While Uber offered a $20 rebate for sanitiser in 2020, drivers reported a difficult application process, with many giving up. Drivers also felt they lacked preventive health education.
On top of increased precariousness and health risks, drivers also faced the consequences of COVID’s polarising effects. They reported picking up anti-mask, unvaccinated passengers, under pressure to accept the rides due to financial anxiety and the threat of poor ratings.
Especially at the beginning of the first COVID happening, a lot of customers didn’t really want to wear a mask … and I was wearing a mask obviously. But there’s some of them tried to reach for my mask and trying to make me take it off and being abusive and all this kind of thing.
If drivers become infected with COVID-19, they often lack the financial resources to cover their household expenses. Their need to keep working then puts the wider community at risk, too. The ‘Experiences with COVID-19 Among Gig Workers’ report was launched on March 24.
Risk but few rewards
There have been trade union efforts to organise rideshare and delivery drivers, including an ongoing Employment Court claim seeking employment rights. As contractors, however, drivers are legally barred from full union membership – again denying drivers the means to communicate their grievances.
All of these structural features mean rideshare and delivery workers have been isolated, voiceless and highly vulnerable during the pandemic. Without protections such as sick pay or annual leave, gig workers also cannot choose to work from home.
But, as some have argued, they are providing what can be regarded as an essential service, putting themselves at risk while delivering food and other goods to customers in isolation.
One of the many lessons of the pandemic is the urgent need for workers in the gig economy to have their voices heard. We all need to be more aware of the precarious and risky working conditions of the person who delivers our takeaways or takes us to a party. And we need to support worker-led collectivisation efforts.
Our celebration of Holi takes inspiration from the Basant Utsav festival at Santiniketan, a school founded by the poet Rabindranath Tagore in 1901 in rural West Bengal. The festival is an engrossing celebration of syncretism and pluralism, with music and dance performances, poetry and literature across different religions, cultures, and schools of thought.
Join us live on CARE’s Facebook page or YouTube channel for an evening of artist talks, poetry readings, and music performances in celebration of Holi this Thursday 31 March 2022, 7pm NZDT
Ibrahim Omer became an MP to represent communities who often struggle to have their voices heard. His experience spans fleeing his home country, being in a refugee camp, working as a minimum wage cleaner, graduating from university, and representing low paid workers as a union organiser.
Rebecca Macfie is an award winning New Zealand journalist, with a background in workplace, health and safety, business and climate writing. She is the author of Tragedy at Pike River Mine:How and why 29 men died (2013), and Helen Kelly: Her Life (2021).
Anita Rosentreter is the Strategic Project Coordinator for Transport, Logistics and Manufacturing at FIRST Union. She leads the campaign Real Work Real Jobs, which aims to turn insecure work into secure work. Target groups include gig workers, those in labour hire, and dependent contractors.
presented by Prof. Mohan Dutta and Dr. Leon Salter with panelists Ibrahim Omer, Anita Rosentreter and Rebecca Macfie
CARE EVENT UPDATE: Unfortunately, tonight’s CARE White Paper Launch: Experiences with COVID-19 Among Gig Workers is rescheduled to Monday 14th March 2022.We will be in touch with you soon with an updated time. Apologies for any inconvenience. Thank you.
CARE White Paper Launch: Experiences with COVID-19 Among Gig Workers- presented by Prof. Mohan Dutta and Dr. Leon Salter with panelists Ibrahim Omer, Anita Rosentreter and Rebecca Macfie.Abstract: Experiences with COVID-19 Among Gig Workers : Findings from interviews with 25 rideshare and delivery drivers about their navigation of precarious working conditions in a pandemic environment.Monday, 14th March 2022 @ 12 pm NZDT-TBC Location Facebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/CAREMassey/videos/984089835577558 and on CARE YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCF760E7rBst3U5GmJ5FhDDw
CARE: Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation stands in solidarity with its research team members Richa Sharma, Balamohan Shingade, and others (Indigenous women and women of colour) not mentioned in this report for their courage in documenting extremist #Hindutva nationalism and in building culture-centered preventive interventions rooted in dialogue, peace, and voice.
Richa Sharma was doing research on religious extremism in Aotearoa when she got a call from her mother. Her aunties and uncles, close family friends who have known her since she was born, were convinced she was a terrorist.
For a few months last year, Richa Sharma did not go out after dark, always making sure she had safe ways to get around for work and meetings.
The 18-year-old was interning at Care, a Massey University research centre that was copping online abuse for publishing a white paper about the far-right nationalist ideology known as Hindutva and its creeping presence in Aotearoa.
There were calls for centre director Professor Mohan Dutta to be sacked, even burned alive. Police said the trolls were overseas, but an Auckland-based Indian news site published a piece calling Dutta a “left-leaning bigot under the garb of an academician”, and part of “a gang of some smelly rats”.
The Hindu Council and Hindu Youth New Zealand chimed in with nearly identical statements, condemning the paper for “accusatory and unsubstantiated assertions” that made the Hindu community look bad. Hindu Youth said it was “outright Hindu hatred”.
Most of the vitriol was directed at Dutta but his team, some of them South Asian and female, were not spared. Their profiles were public on the Care website and social media pages.
“We had to watch our steps carefully,” said Sharma, now 19. “I really didn’t feel safe. We had a police file open.”
Shortly after, an auntie and uncle reached out to Sharma’s mother back home in Palmerston North. They were not related by blood but it was custom in the community to address close family friends as auntie and uncle.
Over tea, Sharma’s mother was told her daughter worked for an anti-Hindu outfit and was urged to intervene. Auntie and uncle were convinced Sharma was a “left-wing, radical terrorist”.
Another auntie sent text messages condemning the white paper, including a petition against Massey University to take it down.