When the EPMU released its investigation notes on Shawn Tan it was obvious that some right-wing bloggers would seize on the fact that Tan had been employed on a probationary agreement and stupidly claim that, therefore, the union was hypocritical for opposing National’s fire at will policy (which creates a 90 day no-rights period for new employees when they will have no right to take personal grievance actions if they are sacked unfairly). What was surprising was that National’s Kate Wilkinson picked up the line. The union responded by pointing out that the existing law on probationary periods is very different from the fire at will law National wants to introduce. Indeed, one of the arguments the union movement used when it first defeated the 90 day bill was that the current probationary period laws are sufficient to allow the flexibility employer groups claimed they needed.
Incredibly, Wilkinson has continued making ever more vitriolic attacks on the EPMU even after the difference between the current probationary laws, which the union movement supports, and the fire at will law, which the unions oppose, has been clearly explained to her. There are only two options: either Kate Wilkinson is dangerously incompetent on employment law considering she wants to be Minister of Labour and radically reform those laws, or she knows the current law perfectly well but she thinks she can make a dishonest attack and get away with it.
I think it’s the latter. The law is pretty simple; any fool can understand it, especially after both the EPMU and the Council of Trade Unions explained it clearly to her in three different press releases. So, Wilkinson knows her attack is dishonest but she thinks there will be no consequences for trying to deceive the New Zealand public.
That conforms with a pattern of National behaviour. Key ran a variety of contradictory and out-right false excuses for his “we would love to see wages drop” quote. He repeatedly accused Labour of being behind the secret agenda tapes, even claiming he had a name for the taper (which he refused to divulge), and then publicly admitted he was just making it up. No-one believes his rubbish was really raided but National ran that lie confident that they would not suffer the consequences. Lockwood Smith believes that every time he lies about migration numbers and offers no solution to this ‘crisis’ he will not be held to account. Wilkinson is just conforming to National’s standard procedure, making dishonest attacks and smears, safe in the knowledge that they won’t be called out (Labour, on the other hand, has to be worried about blow-back from pranks by former youth activists).
So expect more of this from Wilkinson and the rest of National because it works. But remember that every time National gets away with making a fundamentally dishonest attack that it relies on the ignorance or the apathy of the public to succeed. And think about what it says when National can behave with such chutzpah knowing they’ll get away with it every time.