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Fire at Will coming to your workplace

Written By: - Date published: 10:30 am, November 24th, 2010 - 33 comments
Categories: workers' rights - Tags:

As of April 1 next year, I’m going to be a whole lot less confident moving to a new job. If I do, I’ll probably find the new contract gives the boss the right to fire me without giving me the right to justice if the firing is unfair. Reducing workers’ confidence to change jobs is just one of the stupid consequences of universal Fire at Will.

Fire at Will is a bad boss’s charter. It’s only bad bosses that need to be able to fire someone without going through due process (which isn’t a lengthy process and can be instant dismissal in the case of severe mis-conduct). It’s only bad bosses that would be unwilling to right down the reasons for firing someone. It’s only bosses that fail to give their employees natural justice who have anything to fear from the employment courts.

As we’re already seeing, removing the right of employees to natural justice and their right to access the courts if they believe their dismissal is unjustified results in bad bosses treating their workers appallingly. The CTU has released numerous stories of workers losing their livelihoods because of Fire at Will and I know personally of half a dozen other cases where the worker has refused to go public. It’s just the beginning.

They say that Fire at Will will only be by agreement between the boss and the worker but the reality is that bosses will be allowed to make Fire at Will a condition of employment and with quarter of a million jobless Kiwis which worker is going to be able to walk away from a job offer because it includes the Fire at Will provision?

And when you start a job with Fire at Will, will you be willing to speak up about poor health and safety conditions? Will you stand up to your boss if a co-worker is being mistreated? Will you demand your entitlements if the boss underpays you? Will you confront a boss about sexual harassment or discrimination? Will you be brave enough to join a union?

All these things will become very hard to do now because the boss can just turn around and fire you for ‘performance issues’ and you will have no right to contest that dismissal in court.

A whole lot of workers will simply not take the risk of changing jobs. Hardly the recipe for a dynamic workforce.

Let’s not pretend that Fire at Will and the other anti-worker changes (blocking your union rep’s access to your workplace, requiring doctor’s notes for one day’s sick leave) are anything more than ways of weakening the power of labour to bargain with capital. It’s all about ensuring that wages and conditions get worse and National’s base gets to pocket more cash.

It’s short-termist and ultimately self-defeating, of course, because you end up with low-income consumers and an unmotivated, inflexible workforce but when has capitalism ever been about the long-term?

33 comments on “Fire at Will coming to your workplace ”

  1. Tiger Mountain 1

    Two positive angles of this ‘fire at will’ law are that it will assist union recruitment and it also applies to national voters–enjoy your medicine tory swine!

  2. M 2

    Wow Eddie, what a fabulous piece and I’m in total agreement with the fire at will being nothing more than a convenient cloak with which bad employers can hide their incompetence in not using due process.

    Worker entitlements is any area that is very much open for abuse and I’m glad I’m up with the play because many times an employer I’ve worked for have tried to play fast and loose with worker entitlements re payment of sick leave etc and I’ve got on the phone to the DOL or printed stuff off from the website to show I’m correct in what I’m saying. I’ve always followed up any such evidence by asking them, “Are you asking me to break the law?” to which the silence is deafening and the worker gets their due. I hate to think of all the abuse that is going on out there at the moment without this proposed assault on workers’ rights.

    Most employers encounter problems because they let certain behaviours go on too long before addressing them and then explode one day whereas had they followed the correct procedure they’d have a leg to stand on – I have no sympathy for them.

    • burt 2.1

      I’m in total agreement with the fire at will being nothing more than a convenient cloak with which bad employers can hide their incompetence in not using due process.

      Funny, I thought the govt of the day decided what due process was not the unions. Oh well…

      • Bright Red 2.1.1

        due process is laid out in the Employment Relations Act.

        This new law prevents workers with Fire at Will clauses from accessing it.

  3. Jim Nald 3

    Has key given up closing the gap with australia and is now ambitiously closing the gap with china??

  4. millsy 4

    All workers are now expendable.

    Frankly if an employer feels that they can only hire somone if they can get rid of them if things ‘dont work out’ (whatever that means), then we really need to take a long hard look at ourselves.

    • pollywog 4.1

      i saw a freeview 7 doco this week on tea workers in sri lanka and kenya where they are only employed for 3 months at a time to avoid employers paying full time worker benefits if employed for longer.

      consequently they get fired after 2-3months then hired again with some being employed in this manner for the last 10 yrs or so.

      is that where this is going or is that already going on here with the likes of ‘the hobbit’ fiasco and the contractors vs employees thing ?

    • prism 4.2

      millsy – I hear that the current phrase (euphemism) for employers sacking someone is “You’re not the right fit for us”. Frankly I think that the pollies and employers have plugged into the generation-think that finds competitive reality shows to be good entertainment, with everyone voting at each session as to who should be dropped from the group. I always thought that was an ugly model and now it has become reality reality.

      • Vicky32 4.2.1

        I wish I knew what ‘not the right fit’ actually means! (It’s the phrase used when I am turned down for jobs, and it’s so vague it drives me round the bend…) If it’s used when firing people, it’s even less use!

  5. Bill 5

    “Will you be brave enough to join a union?”

    This is where unions have to get off their arses. Currently, most unions are structured in such a fashion that it’s not really feasible to unionise small workplaces. The ERA doesn’t bloody well help either with it’s emphasis on time consuming mediations etc chewing up time that organisers could otherwise spend organising.

    My point. If no union signs off on a collective agreement containing a ‘fire at will’ clause, then there would be a massive incentive for a new employee to join the union straight off the bat. But like I say. Unions have to find ways to be effective in workplaces they have previously by-passed as being too difficult and too small.

    ‘Fire at Will’ could be the best thing that happened to unionism and by extension workers in general, in this country for a long time.

    • burt 5.1

      So you are saying the unions should decide which laws they follow and include in their collective agreement. Will end in tears…..

      • Bright Red 5.1.1

        Um. burt. Fire at Will wasn’t complusory. Unions are free to make no Fire at Will a condition of their collective bargaining if they choose.

        Of course, individual workers rarely bargain over their individual contracts, and the boss can impose Fire at Will on them

        • felix

          burt, like a good little ACToid, is looking ahead to the final solution.

          Not yet, burt. Soon, but not yet.

          • Shamy

            Hows that whole Union protesting against the employment law changes thing going Felix?

            Not exactly getting much public support or momentum are we!

            Conclusion – real NZ’ers support changes or at worse (best) are indifferent

            • felix

              Why are you asking me? I don’t speak for any union – I’m not even currently a member of one.

              I’m yet to speak to a worker who agrees with you though. I guess I just don’t meet any real NZers out here in fantasy land.

      • Bill 5.1.2

        No burt. I’m suggesting that unions use their bargaining power to block any adoption of ‘Fire at Will’ clauses in the Agreements they negotiate.

        And I’m suggesting they re-organise themselves in ways that would better facilitate the unionising of smaller workplaces so that by April 1 workers coming into those workplaces have a life line.

        I’d suggest they employ organisers whose sole purpose is to unionise green sites and initiate bargaining. I’d suggest they draw up broad ranging, MECA templates now and get them in place where possible, so that new workplaces fall within the parameters of those proposed MECA’s thereby saving much time and energy that would otherwise be sent on drawing up unique Agreements for each and every workplace. Any differing conditions or terms of a newly unionised workplace could then be written is as additional schedules attached to fairly encompassing generic terms and conditions of basic MECAs.

        In business terms you might say that it’s time for the unions to speculate in order to accumulate, no?

        Oh. And I’d suggest that they work more as a single body than as a set of distinct union bodies.

        • The Voice of Reason

          Er, Bill, all that stuffs going on as we speak.

          The CTU is looking at setting up a low cost organising centre where isolated workers/small workplaces can have access to basic union support. Most of the larger unions employ fulltime recruiters now, but for practical reasons, that’s mostly at worksites with larger work forces. And as for template MECA’s, the EPMU’s Metals MECA covers dozens of small and medium sites, so if there is a workplace wanting that sort of thing, they’ve only got ring them. It’s free to call, too. 0800186466 or epmu.org.nz for the webbed up.

          • Bill

            With due respect VoR, the metals and plastics MECA only covers that or those industries only and even then, if my memory serves me correct, there can be problems getting new ‘third party’ employers covered by it…even where a majority of employees wish that to be the case.

            I envisage more of a Retail and Service MECA (say) with open third party involvement (either another union or workplace) that could cover a geographical area (say Hamilton). A couple of years ago I and some others looked at such an initiative but were stymied by an Employment Court decision at the time. I can’t remember the details and have no idea if it was challenged or if if any challenge was successful.

            As for union support for workers in small workplaces that have no CEA, the practical support is necessarily limited with regards application of Fire at Will…or any other issue for that matter.

      • Jenny 5.1.3

        Strike at will.

        Does that sound fair to you burt?

  6. Tiger Mountain 6

    Indulge me Standard readers, a brief real world scenario, I have a niece, 3 years of uni, event management grad that had to give up a long standing paid retail gig to do months of unpaid ‘internship’ (aka slaving) and not only has no job but when she does get one in that precarious industry will now be subject to ‘fire at will’. Some kiwis may have eaten enough shit sandwiches to like the taste, but thankfully a lot of us have not.

    • pollywog 6.1

      …sounds like shes in for a long hard slog as a freelancer building up a flash as work history before becoming a ‘made man’ as an employee TM

      • Tiger Mountain 6.1.1

        You’re not wrong P, my son is working for a pretty cool food catering co. in film industry over hols prior to his final uni year and has made some good contacts, not that he necessarily wants to go there. The thing with this new law is that it puts more obstacles in front of our young people just starting out.

        • The Voice of Reason

          Last friday night in the pub, I talked with a guy who’d changed islands, uprooted his family, moved to a city where he knew noone, all at the request of his new employer. Fired on the 90th day. Not happy, not happy at all.

          • Tiger Mountain

            Voice; will Burt and others recover from our daring theory meets reality exposé’s?

            • bbfloyd

              TM.. they have to be able to admit to having a problem before the rehab can start.

            • The Voice of Reason

              … does not compute, does not compute … self destruct mode enabled ….pfffft

              • Rob

                Tiger Mountain, I am not suprised your neice is having difficulty getting a role in the event management industry. Not many corporates or businesses are running major events / product releases etc. We are mainly crippled by this recession.

                • Tiger Mountain

                  Not a point I really sought to make Rob, but you have nonetheless touched on the matter of “where are the jobs…”. My substantive view is about the ugly employment environment for those that do score an opportunity. Heard a lovely job name from the USA recently-‘perma-temp’. Kinda like the the All Black footballers rotational management by stress policy.

        • pollywog

          yeah it’s a tough one eh ?…my eldest is giving up a good job with prospects in retail to make her place in the world studying down in Dunnerz for who knows how long starting next year

          she says she doesnt want to miss out on the uni thing while shes young and can always go back to retail.

          but shes damn good at selling, customer relations and has been earmarked for future management.

  7. Hi Eddy,

    It’s write not right in this case.

    Other than that I agree with your post completely. Together with the proposed changes in welfare such as limited time dole, and forced to work for the dole and you will have a tired, uncooperative hostile workforce.
    But perhaps that is needed to wake the sheeple up to the fact that our rich overlords will never ever give us anything we are not prepared to revolt over.

    With two million people loosing their benefits on the 1th of December in the US and some 10 million in the process of losing their homes in the middle of winter we can see first hand what happens if you don’t fight back.

    • Tiger Mountain 7.1

      Hey Trav,
      have you seen the movie “The Road” with actor Viggo Mortensen etc? it is not stretching it too much for that scenario to be the USA in a few years.

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