It’s great to see all the lines engineers standing up to Telecom’s attempt to strip away their employment rights and turn them into dependent contractors. I was lucky enough to catch the protest above yesterday (not my photo though), and there was a lot of passion from the guys.
There’s a good reason for that passion. Under the proposal from Telecom’s new contractor Visionstream these workers face losing their jobs with no redundancy and would have to reapply as dependent contractors. That means getting a loan of $60,000 to pay for their own vehicle and tools and signing an unfair contract that would mean taking on huge business risks, a 50-66% drop in income and no guarantee of regular work. And if they don’t like it, they can leave the industry. That’s freedom of choice in a capitalist system for you.
The workers argue that the whole issue goes back to Telecom’s contracting model, and I’m inclined to agree with them. This model and the law that enables it allows Telecom to shirk responsibility for its workforce by fobbing their employment off to contractors. It then plays these contractors off against each other in a race to the bottom on workers’ wages. The end result of all this is lower labour costs and higher profits for Telecom.
The outrage is that the law allows all this to happen in the first place. To be fair to Labour, near the end of their last term they introduced legislation that would have partly dealt with companies that attempt to contract out of the employment relationship, but it was too little too late. These workers need a beefed up version of that law, and fast.
The other issue is the lack of any minimum redundancy protections in law, which on the surface is what this strike is actually about. Thankfully Darien Fenton’s minimum redundancy bill has just been drawn from the ballot. The bill is based on a report endorsed by the CTU and Business NZ in the final days of the last Government, and it’s been sitting on the Minister of Labour’s desk for nine months waiting to be actioned.
Fenton’s bill will hopefully bring some focus to the issue of minimum redundancy. With the best part of 2000 Kiwis a week becoming unemployed without redundancy protection there’s never been a better time than now. In the meantime the lines engineers deserve our full support in their fight against Telecom and its contracting model.