Posts Tagged ‘Workers’ rights’

Nats hurry to strip workers of rights

December 10, 2008

The Nats’ attack on workers’ rights is astounding for a number of reasons.

First, let’s get one thing straight. The proposed 90-day probation period may be intended to make it easier for small employers to take on staff, or it may be a sop to the small businesses who are a core part of National’s support base — or more likely both of these. But, it is also an attack on workers’ rights. No ifs, no buts, no maybes.

Second, its introduction is an abuse of our democratic process. Having listened to the Nats and their stooges dribble on over the last few years (occasionally with some reason) about corners being cut in terms of the legislative process, I expected at least a token attempt to do right by our democratic process. More fool me. The term “hypocrite” doesn’t do justice to the contemptuous, two-faced, double standards on display.

So, no opportunity to make submissions on these proposals. What’s that? I could have last year? But last year it was a private member’s bill with little chance of passing. Next year, I would definitely have made a submission. I’ve been disenfranchised.

The proposals themselves? Where’s the evidence of the nature of the problem? Oh, some of the Nats’ small business friends complain that they get stuck with dud employees and have to pay them off to get rid of them.  Are we sure that the problem isn’t partly the small business people, who, you know, usually haven’t got much idea or any training in how to be a good (in every sense) employer? How much effort or expertise have these “unfortunate” employers been putting into their recruitment processes for example?

Further, business people don’t have to engage expensive lawyers and pay out any employee who threatens a personal grievance. It’s bad practice and merely encourages more abuse. I have advised small employers myself to break the cycle of payouts, and it works, once everybody understands that you’re prepared to go to court.

As for the idea that these proposals will do anything whatsoever to enhance NZ’s economic prosperity, that’s just laughable. They’re based on the same notions as the Employment Contracts Act — adopt a Guatemalan-style labour market regime and get the Swiss economy — and are no more likely to succeed.

Mustn’t forget National’s new bosom buddies either. Tariana and co are going to strike a little trouble further down the road, regardless of how they respond to this (and that it’s not clear how they will speaks volumes). In the last (September) quarter(pdf), Maori unemployment was 9.3%, compared to 3.2% for Pakeha. And guess which group is employed in the workplaces where the employers are most likely to abuse these provisions?

Nope, this is policy based on easy and erroneous assumptions, the promises are empty, and its manner of introduction is contemptuous of democracy and the New Zealand people. Worse than I expected from National, and I wasn’t expecting a lot.

Note: See an earlier post for a more detailed discussion of the proposal.



September 9, 2008

Matt McCarten’s Unite Union is noted for its innovative and determined approach to low-paid workers’ struggles. Now it has a new ally. Doesn’t have a name, so I’ll just call it Cheesy for now, though some are no doubt calling it Nigel.

Yep, UNITE have deployed a 20 foot high inflatable rat in their current struggle at Sky City:

“We wanted to tell the new SkyCity CEO Nigel Morrision not to be a rat and treat his staff decently,” said Unite National Director Mike Treen.

“After all he is one of New Zealand’s highest paid CEOs yet proposes to pay his workers the minimum wage and a wage offer to the rest of his staff that is less than the inflation rate.”

It’s the same old story. New Australian CEO thinks he’ll show the kiwi unions who’s boss. Where have we heard that story before?

Speaking of the low-paid workers and “dirty employers”, a former employee at a McDonald’s franchise in Kaiapoi has won $15,000 compensation for being constructively dismissed after joining Unite. (Decision here.) Treen says:

“… the union often has problems with McDonald’s franchise operators in complying with their legal obligations. They often take the decision of their employees to join the union as a personal affront.”

Fast food workers are often vulnerable as they are employed as “casuals” with no fixed hours of work. This allows the boss to punish or effectively dismiss workers simply by reducing or eliminating their hours. Unite is pushing for “security of hours” to be included in a new Collective Agreement with McDonald’s.

I heard a McDonald’s Restaurants (New Zealand) Ltd manager on the radio this morning being quoted as saying that many workers wanted the flexibility, but this is not in the on-line report and there is no press release on the McDonald’s site. Anyway, you decide where the truth lies.

Update: Anna McM at the Handmirror posts on Chantelle Coup’s victory.

Giving workers a break

September 3, 2008

Something to celebrate! Parliament has passed an amendment to the Employment Relations Act providing for facilities for breastfeeding at work and giving workers automatic entitlements to paid, if minimal, rest breaks:

  • a 10-minute paid rest break after having worked for a 2 hour period.
  • after 4 hours, but less than 6 hours, a one 10-minute paid break and a 30-minute unpaid break.
  • after more than 6 hours but less than 8 hours, two 10-minute and one 30-minute unpaid break.

The background to this was traversed in an earlier post. Despite the National Party’s employment relations spokesperson saying that “by all accounts, common sense prevails and [employees being given meal and tea breaks] does happen”, it doesn’t. (She also displayed her ignorance of her shadow portfolio area by saying that “arguably [teabreaks] are enshrined in the health and safety legislation”, when they’re not. Not even “arguably.”)

Well done to Trevor Mallard and all those involved.

Farmers stand up to greedy workers?

September 3, 2008

Well, that’s what they’d like you to believe. The Southland Times leads its story:

“Short-staffed dairy farmers were being exploited by southern farm workers demanding “ridiculous” wages, industry insiders said.”

Surely not, you say, and you’d be right. Read on…

“Director of dairy farm workers recruitment company Greener Horizons Workforce Peter Macfarlane said some southern farm workers with little experience were demanding up to $50,000 a year plus free accommodation from farmers struggling to attract staff.” (Emphasis added.)

First off, what the farmers are complaining about is called capitalism, often summed up as “what the market will bare.” Apparently the farmers think that they should benefit from the operation of capitalist market economics, but not workers. Bring back serfdom?

If the farmers are going to eschew exploiting movements in supply and demand, I look forward to paying half as much for the next block of cheddar, thanks!

Secondly, we are talking about “some”, unspecified number, of workers demanding “up to” $50,000. How about basing alarmist headlines on a some hard facts, Southland Times?

Thirdly, as anybody who has completed an introductory economics course can tell you, the demand for labour is derived from the demand for the goods and services that labour is used to produce. Hence the term “derived demand”. Nothing newsworthy here, surely?

This is hilarious. As the local union secretary points out, the farmers don’t hesitate to “exploit” the workers every chance they get. Some farmers are having trouble getting workers because of “the way they have treated workers in the past,” he says.

These workers work “50–60 hours a week on average over a year.” Federated Farmers is describing the $35,000p.a. going rate as comparable to what university graduates earn. My students in recent years would laugh their heads off at that suggestion.

The CTU has responded:

“Workforce shortage issues will continue in the rural sector unless farmers and growers start to develop long term strategies for growing their own workforces,” Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said today.”

Listen up cockies. You need to start investing some money in the people you employ, just like the CTU says: “This includes decent wages, training, prospects and conditions of work.” Until you do, don’t expect any sympathy if you have trouble hiring NZers to work on your farms. They’re not serfs.

Update: Homepaddock comes at this from a different point of view.

Not so Savant

August 25, 2008

Goodness, I’ve been attacked by another left-wing blogger for being a party “hack”:

“One of the things I hate about the political blogosphere is that most of the people in it are hacks, who can reliably be expected to put party before principle, no matter what. To them, right and wrong are defined not by any moral principles, but by who is doing what to whom. Over the past few days we’ve been treated to a particularly unseemly display of this, as left-wing bloggers who should know better have lined up to defend the right of bad employers to victimise their employees if they dare to run for election for the wrong political party.”

First off, anybody who has been a regular reader of my blog would have seen posts critical of current research funding (“Frankly, Hodgson is a disappointment”), university funding (“The Government’s response was lame”), finance sector regulation (“Liane Dalziel seems to have dropped the ball”), school funding (“…it appears that [Carter’s] the only person in the country who isn’t aware…”), political blunders (“the symbolic import of ramming more unpopular legislation through Parliament should not be underestimated”), and so on.

That’s not hackery, Idiot, that’s independent, critical comment. Care to apologise?

As for the charge (more…)

And the Nats want to screw these workers?

July 25, 2008

I didn’t think it would happen so fast! News today that the pay packets of the lower paid workers are already shrinking in current conditions. The Herald says:

“A new survey of pay rates shows a dramatic deterioration for those at the bottom of the heap, while rates for skilled workers are outpacing rampant inflation.”

The figures are alarming, and confirm some anecdotal evidence we’ve heard that things are already starting to bite in the ‘secondary labour market’.

Basically, to understand what’s been happening in NZ employment relations over the past 20 years you need to understand that there are two ‘worlds of work’. You’ve got the better paid, higher skilled workers enjoying job security and better conditions in the primary labour market, and lower paid workers with crappy work conditions, casual and irregular hours, less job security in the secondary labor market.

For the latter, think domestic industry in particular, focussed on cost competition: restaurants and cafes, small shops, rest homes, petrol stations, cleaning contractors, etc. Workers in these industries also have lower rates of unionisation.

Invariably, they’re the ones who suffer first and suffer most when the economy sours. And so it is this time. An analysis of 73,000 jobs listed on the Trade Me website shows that, “comparing the first half of this year with the last quarter of last year, … average pay rates had gone up by 3.7%.”

But that’s only good news for primary labour market workers:

“The unskilled groups at the bottom of the heap went backwards in nominal terms before even taking the annual inflation rate of 4% into account.

Kitchen staff were the worst paid at $28,831 and went down from $29,625 while waiting staff wages fell to $30,296 from $30,826, caregivers to $30,894 from $31,967, shop assistants to $31,668 from $32,565 and cleaners to $31,704 from $31,964.”

And National wants to strip these workers of their protections against arbitrary employers for the first three months of employment, leaving them to their own devices in a declining job market. It took years for these workers to recover from the full-scale assault under Ruth Richardson & Jenny Shipley, with the ECA/benefit stand-downs delivering a fearful left-right jab. Shameful.

Postscript: Obviously, the Herald haven’t been to Zimbabwe or even the US recently if they think that we have “rampant inflation”. Rampant Heraldese perhaps? What’s their game?

Update: The Standard posts in a similar vein.

National’s IR policy is bollocks, but could be worse

July 24, 2008

National have released their “full” industrial relations policy. There’s nothing much there of surprise to readers to my earlier post. Here’s my take on the not-so-bad and the ugly…


Sanity in doctors’ salary setting… please!

July 16, 2008

Recently, Health and Disability Commissioner Ron Paterson is reported to have stated, “It is an incontrovertible fact that patient safety is jeopardized during strikes by health professionals.”*

The NZ Orthopaedic Society has now called for strikes to be replaced by compulsory arbitration. (Though various news media played it up as a “ban strikes” story, putting their usual anti-union spin on it. Hat-tip: homepaddock.)


One reason why National would be a calamity

July 11, 2008

A couple of years ago I met a university student who’d been working in an airport down country. As she told her story, we uncovered numerous breaches of various pieces of employment law by her employer, who ran the airport cafes and bar. I was amazed at the arbitrary behaviour of her managers and their blatant disregard for the law.


National’s sack race

July 8, 2008

National’s policy to let small businesses sack their staff on a whim will come as no great surprise to readers of this blog.

Undoubtedly, having to justify sacking workers could be hard on small employers who hire a non-performer or someone who really doesn’t fit in. But sack them they can. If the job is a relatively simple one, then should performance problems arise, the period given for improvement is relatively short — weeks rather than months.

And it’s not difficult to sack someone fairly. The rules of “natural justice” are not complicated. There are handy little books (wrote one myself) available, and local polytechnics, employers associations, etc, run short courses explaining these matters.

Actually, anybody hiring other people really ought to do such a course and learn about the pitfalls of being an employer, and the ways to get the most for all parties out of the empoyment relationship. Note that National’s policy doesn’t do that. Quite the reverse — it seeks to make employers less accountable.

So, what’s the problem? (more…)