Workplace Bullying in Christchurch


Further to my blog this morning on how people are, or are not coping with stress from the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, we are now hearing stories of increased workplace bullying in Christchurch. I don’t know how much it would take place normally, but this is another example of ordinary people being stretched to extraordinary limits.

According to a story published in many media this week, the stress levels are as high as would be found in a war zone. An AAP story says that scripts for sleeping pills and anti anxiety drugs are up and many people are self medicating with alcohol often resulting in violent incident, domestic and otherwise. Women’s Refuge reports a 30% increase in demand since the February earthquake.

A poll in The Press established that only 38% of people in Christchurch don’t want to leave. Of course as I mentioned in my blog yesterday on  Post Traumatic Stress in Christchurch, because of mortgage commitments, and the logical lack of buyers, many people can’t afford to leave if they wanted to.

Meanwhile Prime Minister John Key is still unable to say whether a decision will be announced this week on which streets or  suburbs will not be rebuilt.

Here’s another every day view from NZ Herald TV, brushing your teeth with lemonade because there is no water.

Coping with stress in Christchurch


Never before have we experienced a situation such as exists in Christchurch today. As was seen on Campbell Live last night people are at breaking point. Even the ambulance officers who were interviews, some of whom  had lost their own homes appeared to be close to losing it, fighting on because they are trained to, because “my uniform says I am there to help”. Men saying they “Cried last week for the first time in 20 years”.

The situation is looking incredibly serious. We have our 2nd largest city full of people suffering from Earthquake Syndrome. Interestingly it is very difficult to find information about the psychological impact from a New Zealand perspective, which I blogged about yesterday it seems as if the authorities are keeping it as quiet as possible, worried that it will get worse if people start talking about it.

In the absence of anything else, I think that is exactly what they should be doing, but more on that in my next blog. Maybe its naive of me, but today as a citizen of NZ with no mandate or authority I emailed Dr Martin Seligman of the Positive Psychology Centre at Penn University. In the US they experience repeated incidents of natural disasters in certain areas and of course with their military forces they also have extensive experience in PTSD. In NZ we really have no skills to understand or deal with repeat natural disasters and their human psychological consequences at a level like this, which in my opinion is why we are doing very little about it. We aren’t coping with the demands of repairing buildings, deciding which suburbs stay or go. We still aren’t dealing with the damage to buildings and the EQC is not paying trades people who are close to losing their businesses for trying to help people keep their homes habitable.

If you haven’t seen the Campbell Live tent recordings where they left people in a tent without any interviewers prompting them, to say how they feel, watch the following video and tell me you are not moved.

Olmesartan and Recovery from Autoimmune Disease


The following presentation is fascinating. So many people suffer from autoimmune problems. Could it be that many of them can be cured using a subset of Vitamin D?

It makes sense that many bacterial genomes damage the immune system over time and incrementally shut it down. In effect microbiota block the Vitamin D Receptors from producing antimicrobials.

Professor Trevor Marshall has worked with over 500 human subjects and demonstrated reversibility of   many autoimmune conditions including Lupus, MS, Type 2 diabetes and many more conditions, typically chronic inflammation conditions.

What is even more impressive is that as the inflammation receded, a host of other conditions that the subjects suffered from also disappeared. These included  memory loss, obsessive compulsive disorder, osteoporosis, bipolar and even cardiovascular disease.

In their research they discovered a couple of very interesting points. One is that only 1,25 dihydroxyviatmin-D can activate VDR transcription, whereas Vitamin D that we can take as pills actually inhibit it.

Could this be one of the discoveries that will help increase our life expectancy and potentially cure people from many terrible diseases?

Seems Unilever are not trying to con us


A few days ago I wrote a blog about the new Uniliver products such as Surf and Persil, complaining that they have just launched new super concentrated products and that at a local Pak N Save store where they used to special the product at prices ranging from $1.69 to $1.89 a pack and were promoting the new pack which has the same washing power as the old one, but their new special was 2 packs for $5, a premium of over 25%.

At the time I wrote the blog, I also contacted Unilever via their website and asked for clarification of this and an explanation. Initially I got a very nice email from their Consumer Relationship Consultant, ellaborating on the wonderful properties of the product but bypassing the question on price. I replied to say that I agree, their products are great products and that being more biodegradeable was an excellent feature. The quality was never in question and I have to say that their website is excellent, full of great information about how to use their products in a variety or circumstances.

I then got another response saying that they haven’t changed the product pricing from the old one to the new concentrate and inviting me to call them with any further questions. I did call the Consumer Relationship Consultant who was open and diplomatic, explaining that they have no control over any pricing other than setting the Recommended Retail Price (RRP). That is in fact true and I should have realised that to start with. It was in fact Pak N Save who were manipulating the pricing.

I’m relieved to hear that, its just a shame that the promo person in the supermarket didn’t understand the question to start with. So what was happening? Basically the Supermarket were hoodwinking their customers by in effect saying you could buy 1 of the old product for $1.89 or 2 of the new products, which are the exact equivalent of the old product from a use per pack perspective for more then 25% more.

This is not an unusual trick in a supermarket. They have lots of ways to make you think you are getting a bargain. A common one is to haphazardly throw tins or other containers into an end aisle dump bin to make it look like the products are on sale, but still charge normal full retail. This is all part of the tricks of the trade. On the other hand they also have their loss leaders, where they sell product at very low prices, often below their cost to the supermarket, to get people to come in and combine those with other more profitable products for the grocery spend.

In this case, they were just a bit silly and patronising of their customers who are often quite astute. Their timing was very poor and it has reflected poorly on them. On the other hand Pak N save are often cited as the best value for money grocery chain in the country. So the lesson is, be alert and watch for good deals and be aware of items that look good but aren’t. In today’s tough times, they would have done better to keep the price as it was and keep customers trust.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

Is Unilever trying to hoodwink us?


This afternoon my daughter came home and said she had an argument at Pak N Save, (the premium brand of NZ owner operated supermarkets in New Zealand under the Foodstuffs banner) with a promo person who was telling people about the new concentrated laundry detergents of Surf, Drive, Persil, Cold Power, Fab and Dynamo, all from Unilever, who according to their UK website are one of the most trusted brands in the UK and state that Always Working with Integrity is one of their key philosophies.

So you would think that their new ‘ small and mighty’ 2x concentrate products on all of their laundry detergents would offer great value. The pamphlet that arrived in our letterbox says that the product has been changed to a super concentrate that offers the same washing power in half the volume. The promo person at Pak N Save, said that the new product offered far better value because you could do the same amount of washing with half the amount of powder. My daughter didn’t have a problem with that, the problem she had was that if it was essentially the same washing power, doing the same amount of washing, why did the new product cost more?

Herein lies the problem and it was perhaps slick marketing at first, because your first reaction with new improved and concentrated would be better than the product it replaced and therefore worth a premium, which was pretty much what the promo person in the store was trying to get across, but that wasn’t what the printed material says. It says that it does exactly the same as the old product did, but with half the volume of powder. So from a benefit or performance perspective it is exactly the same result in a smaller box.

The smaller box has many benefits for the grocers and Unilever because it uses at least a third less packing and distribution costs are halved because it takes up half the space in the warehouses, trucks and supermarkets.

That’s all great, but the problem is that they are charging more! My daughter said that on special she used to pay $1.89 or sometimes $1.69 and the new promotion special was 2 for $5 yesterday. Which equates to $2.50 per box. That represents more than a 25% increase in cost to the consumer for a product that costs less to bring to market and does the same job as the old product.

Perhaps someone from Unilever would like to explain this. It appears to me to be a cynical attempt to hoodwink consumers out of their hard earned money, which in today’s economy would appear to be out of step with their stated values. It sounds to me like a rip off!

They don’t have a New Zealand web site, but this is their Australasian contact page if you would like to ask the question. I will be making contact with them and if I don’t get a good answer, I’ll be following my daughter away from the Unilever brands.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

New Zealand Banks told not to reduce fixed mortgage break fees, I say think again


On Page 5 of this morning’s New Zealand Herald I read a story with the headline Stick to guns on fee, banks told. Now I’m the first to stand up and say I don’t understand the banking economy as well as the bankers and the politicians, the educators and maybe even Liam Dann, who says we are all behaving like whingers. No I have bumped into Liam many times over the years and the experiences have all been good, but in my mind something isn’t gelling for me. Maybe he or some others can explain where my thinking is going wrong.

First, we are in a global economic crisis and times are tough all over. I totally agree with Liam’s assertion that when I signed for a fixed rate, I signed a contract which is a legal document saying that I would pay the rate for the period on the contract and it would cost me to break it. The banks are saying that they can’t afford to subsidise the cost, but they quickly gobbled up the guarantees provided by the government to help move the economy.

Now I said at the start, that I don’t understand exactly how the banks work. I know that when I borrowed my $165,000 the National Bank didn’t rush out and borrow that sum, they would have signed contracts for millions at really good rates and my loan would have been part of a bundle which allowed them to hedge for a profit. Now I understand that the Official Cash Rate is a major influencer in mortgage and deposit rates, but a large part of the borrowing by the banks is in other countries where the rates are much lower than ours.

As to becoming whingers, I’d like to ask Liam if he thought (irrespective of the contract that was signed) we were also whingers when we saw the gap increasing between lowering oil prices and the retail price of petrol. It was public pressure that almost overnight reduced the retail price of petrol, people whinging that they thought the profits weren’t fair.

When I took out a new fixed loan of $165,000 I based my decision on the advice of bank staff, even though they were careful to say that I shouldn’t take their information as an official position by the bank, the decision had to be totally mine. But the thing is they did give me advice, and I do accept that no one saw the crash coming. On the other hand the banks also said after the problems in 1987 that they would tighten up their lending criteria, which they have obviously loosened as time went on.

So here’s the thing. While we were all struggling with how to afford our petrol, New York Times International Tribune told us that Shell Oil increase their profit by 33%! They said their profit rose to US$11.56 BILLION! Around the same time The Guardian reported that BP Oil increased their profit to 6.7 billion POUNDS. Liam did you whinge about the oil price?

Businesses have clout. In my world of business, contracts get broken when companies have the power to break them. They sign legal contracts all the time, but if they decide that their supplier is making too much profit, the implied threats come out, saying that they have a choice and even though they have a contract, often it is only as good as the money that a business wants to throw at it to defend it. This is something I do know about it. When you try to defend your contract, you use meet and discuss the situation explaining both parties points of view and try to find a common ground because you need that business relationship. This is called negotiation in my book, although some people might call it whinging.

Now I’m all for businesses making profit, it is essential for their survival and I want my bank to survive, but I want them to be fair too. The NZ Herald themselves reported that while ANZ – NATIONAL took a huge drop in profit, they still made almost $1 billion after tax. That means after all expenses were paid. The NZ Herald also reported TODAY that BNZ’s profit is up 15% on last year, so forgive me if I don’t stop and give them a minute’s silence in respect of their tough times.

So I’m trying to figure out why Liam has this perspective. Here are some things I have heard about or personally experienced about contracts in the last several years: before they

  • A company agrees to buy products manufactured in New Zealand at an agreed fee for a contracted period of time and a contracted price and volume. The buyer then discovers they can buy equivalent product from a Chinese manufacturer and despite the contract and the money the Kiwi manufacturer has invested in staff and plant, breaks the contract and says I can’t continue this deal because the prices were too dear. Never mind that they were already making an extremely healthy retail profit prior to breaking the contrct.
  • An overseas company buys a NZ company complete with its staff and operations and agrees to maintain all the contracts. They then go through the payroll on a spreadsheet and decree that all staff earning more than $X will be made redundant, but can reapply for new positions where the specification might be modified by 5% at a 3rd of what they used to do, irresepctive of their contribution. The good news for me is that they kept the people who weren’t contributing and areas where they made staff redundant and replaced them with people who were prepared to work for way less, reduced profit and revenue by in one case almost 80%. I think that strategy was illegal, but who wants to burn bridges or be seen as a trouble maker or a whinger.
  • I’m sure if you are reading this you know of similar situations where businesses break contracts with other businesses all the time. They get away with it because one business has more power than the other and the losing party either can’t afford the cost or the consequences of fighting for what is right. If you know of cases like this, or indeed if you think I am wrong, please comment on this blog. As long as it isn’t spam or blatant advertising, I will publish your comment.

So here’s the thing. Banks used to be community organisations. You used to be able to walk into the bank and talk to the Bank Manager. They would know you buy name. They would give you advice and show an interest in you. They introduced technology that people said would turn them into machines, and in many cases it did, but the machines were of benefit to the consumer and business, such as EFTPOS (which I helped in a tiny way to introduce), ATM’s, Internet Banking and more. These investments saved them and their customers in time and money, but particularly made the banks more profitable by reducing overheads and staff.

When I first wanted to borrow my current fixed loan from my bank, with whom I had banked for almost 25 years, I actually got a better deal through Mike Pero Mortgages than I could from the bank directly. How’s that for 25 years of loyalty? I had to get a broker to get me a reasonable deal from my own bank!

So I’ve had my whinge Liam. It seems it ‘s ok for businesses to break contracts with each other and to fight for them, but it’s whinging if a consumer, a customer for many years of a bank that is making big fat profits out of their dealings with them, and gets a helping hand from the government which in many cases is as a consequence of imprudent lending, which after 1987 they said they wouldn’t do to expect a little help as well, well I’ll accept the title of whinger.

Just as a footnote, my local grocer is going back to India to look after his elderly parents after running his store here for 24 years. For all of that time, he has shown a real personal interest in every customer, he knows most of them by name. He has helped many of them out if they needed something and didn’t have the cash on them. I won’t go through all the little things he did for local people, but here’s the thing. The supermarket is much cheaper and for many people closer, but they still buy from him and he is selling a highly profitable business. Profitable not because it is a Four Square, or because of his location, but because he cares, because he is a person doing business with people and we as his customers want to do business with him.

If the National Bank doesn’t look after me, perhaps go halves on the contract difference or something that shows that they care about my business, my family and my future business (because I intend not only to be around for a long while, if the creek don’t rise, I won’t be whinging, I will be moving with my feet.

Now I am not wealthy, I live in a very average neighbourhood, far from affluent. Having been made redundant twice and suffered badly as a consequence and having little faith in the government to give me any sort of lifestyle when I retire I am being prudent. I have a small savings account (which has helped my kids from time to time with studies, with medical costs, holidays and other interests), I have a modest term deposit, suffient to cover 2-3 months of income should I be so unfortunate as to be made redundant again as is happening to many people right now. I have a mortgage on my home and a mortgage on my rental property which breaks even without paying a cent off the capital (and of course in recent times means that it is worth less than the loan (but this is for the long haul and it will come right.

Sorry, if I’m rambling, but this post is personal. If the National Bank doesn’t come to the party, I will go back to Mike Pero Mortgages who have looked after me so well in past. I will ask them to find me a new bank that will take over my term deposit, my checking accounts, my 2 mortgages, my Internet Banking, my EFTPOS account, my credit cards and will tell everyone who will listen. Liam, mate, I’m not being a whinger in my book, I believe that people do business with people. We have a choice and I will be looking very closely to see if one of the banks realises that a short term sacrifice will amply pay great dividends in the long run. I suspect that the bank that does this and continues to recognise that their profit comes from their customers will grow and thrive while the others wonder what happened.

Liam, this is starting to sound like I am having a go at you. Frankly I was annoyed to read your column in the Herald today. Factually you are on solid ground, a contract is a legal and binding document. But consumers do have power and if they don’t use it, the corporates or anyone that can will walk right over them. Over recent years Kiwis became so PC (politically correct) that they let everyone walk over them. They thought  people like Americans and Australians were rude if they complained about a dirty coffee cup in a cafe. The contract was for coffee, there was never discussion over the cleanliness of the cup.That made them whingers. Now more and more people are realising that it not just about the contract, it is about standing up for what is fair, ethical, moral and just. The laws of economics are changing and people have a choice.

If anyone is still reading this soap box and agree or don’t with me, please leave a comment and tell me what you think. I would also appreciate you telling other people about this blog if you think it is worthy. Let’s remind the banks and everyone else that those who recognise and respect their customers will in future grow and thrive, those that don’t might be sitting at home reading reading the situations vacant and wondering what happened and thinking how unfair life is.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)