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First moves on Holidays Act reform

Written By: - Date published: 1:14 pm, June 7th, 2009 - 23 comments
Categories: workers' rights - Tags:

Call me old-fashioned but the Worth scandal doesn’t really interest me much. In fact I’m of the opinion that Goff and others should just STFU about it now and let process take its course or risk having some of the unpleasantness of it rub off on the Labour brand by association.

I’m much more interested in last Wednesday’s announcement of the Holiday’s act review group.

You see for the vast majority of New Zealanders changes to the Holidays Act will have far more significant and material consequences that anything Richard Worth is alleged to have done. That’s because the Holidays Act determines things such as how much wage earners get paid on sick days and what your rights are if you have to work a public holiday. In short, small changes in the Act could involve millions of dollars ending up in the hands of working New Zealanders or fattening the profits of their employers.

And, although I don’t want to prejudge the outcome, the make up of the five-person group does not bode well. There are two senior unionists on it, Helen Kelly and James Ritchie, and both of them are intelligent sensible and moderate people who understand business. As the head of the Dairy Workers Union Ritchie in particular has a lot of experience in working with Fonterra.

But the balance of power in this group is distinctly tilted toward the other side of the fence. The chair, for example, is Peter Kiely who is an ex-National Party president, is the chairman of the party’s rules committee (a very powerful lay-position in the party) and who led the failed legal action to stop the EPMU registering as a third party during the last election. One of the things Kiely’s law firm, Kiely, Thompson, Caisley specialises in is representing employers’ interests. Air New Zealand is one of their largest clients.

And Air New Zealand has another, more direct connection to the group in the form of their Senior Counsel, Philip Doak, who one can reasonably assume has played a strong role in the airline’s aggressive anti-worker tactics over the last few years including threats of outsourcing to drive down wages and the use of subsidiary companies such as Zeal 320 to cut wage costs.

Then there’s Paul Mackay. He’s been Business New Zealand’s employment policy man since 2006 and presumably helped guide the lobby group’s recommendations to the National-led government earlier this year which included advice such as making strike-breaking easier and restricting union members’ rights to representation.

As I said earlier, it would be wrong to prejudge the outcomes of this group based on who is sitting on it but given how important the Holidays Act is and how much impact it has on the lives of workers in this country, it is a group that should bear more scrutiny than it’s getting. Unfortunately Labour and the fourth estate don’t seem to want to talk about much other than Richard Worth at the moment.

Go figure.

23 comments on “First moves on Holidays Act reform ”

  1. Anita 1

    I don’t know the names well enough: is there anyone there who can bring non-Pākeha cultural attitudes about holidays to the table? Or a strong faith-based perspective?

  2. IrishBill 2

    Anita, not directly, no. And speaking of not knowing the names well enough there is a real issue with National’s use of these groups in terms of scrutiny and transparency. Not many people would know, for example, that the 20 year plan for our infrastructure and assets is in the hands of a group consisting mainly of people with strong ties to interests that would benefit from privatisation:

    http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/infrastructure-board-map-20-years-development-102852

    • Anita 2.1

      But the board is full of “industry luminaries”, what more could we need to know? 😉

      • The Baron 2.1.1

        OK, before I call “batshit”, would you please enlighten me as to what non-pakeha attitudes and faith based perspectives would bring to a Holiday’s Act review, Anita?

        Genuinely interested, though my bollocks radar is screaming already.

        • RedLogix 2.1.1.1

          There are a number of minority faiths in NZ, Sikh, hindu, Buddist, Islamic, Bahai for instance, who have community religious calendars that are quite different to,and who have a number of religious festivals that are not at all supported the standard official one.

          For many adherents of the faiths difficulties arises when their community expects them to take a day off to attend an important festival or event, but their employer has no obligation whatsoever to accede to the request. Generally most employers will grant the request, but not always.

          By contrast the major Christian festivals such as Christmas and Easter are statutory days leave, yet for a non-Christian there no comparable option available to them. Any time off they take for faith events (which can amount to 5-10 days a year) comes out of their annual leave, which places them at a considerable disadvantage.

          • The Baron 2.1.1.1.1

            Thanks Red – that all sounds totally worthy of discussion and inclusion.

            I agree that some flexibility here could be useful. Why on earth we mandate christmas in an increasingly secular society is beyond me. In a similar way, it peeves me a little that I have to take off two weeks at Christmas – the weather is better in Feb anyway!

            How you actually incorporate that in an equitable manner is beyond me though – trading Christmas/Easter for the holy days on your calendar sounds good in theory… but what if your religion requires 40 faith days a year? Or what if they all fall within your business’ trading month?

            Worth thinking about – bullshit radar off.

          • Anita 2.1.1.1.2

            It gets even more messy when you try to look at how it would be implemented in different industries.

            My workplace (a small consultancy firm) could tell everyone they can nominate any 4 days of religious holiday they like (to swap for Christmas and Easter if we wanted different ones), and that we would never be forced to work on them. However if anyone picked other days, what work would they do on the 25th and 26th of December? None of our clients would be open so it’d take some logistics to find the work.

            A Nelson holiday park, to take a different example, would have great difficulties is 95% of their staff picked Christmas. The exact reverse issue.

          • mike 2.1.1.1.3

            RL – I like to go duck shooting each May – As a Southlander it is a type of religion to me.
            Don’t think my boss would buy it though – for the minority it’s what annual leave is for isn’t it?

        • Anita 2.1.1.2

          Holidays mean lots of different things to different people, families and communities, and if we’re going to discuss how holidays should be provided it would be worthwhile making sure as many of those different voices are heard as possible.

          When I look at the make up of the committee I see people from a variety of business and workers’ perspectives, and those perspectives are not the only relevant ones.

          Taking faith first, I suspect if you had someone from a faith perspective talking about holidays they’d bring a very different lens to it. They’d talk about swapping holidays differently from business (all should be swappable  to take the extreme) and unions (none should be swappable ditto). They’d talk about some holidays having different significance from others, and how swapping for other religious holidays should be permitted and treated differently from swapping for personal preference (e.g. a Jew should be able to swap Christian holidays for Jewish ones). I’m not saying those opinions are more valid than the business/union ones represented at present, just that they equally represent NZ perspectives on holidays, and that they deserve a voice at the table.

          As a Pākeha I feel a bit less certain about cultural considerations, but I’ll try  hopefully someone will step in and help/correct me. My impression is that Pākeha tend to use holidays for a medium number of nuclear family and a tiny number of extended family events. Some other ethnic communities have a greater focus on whole-of-community events, which necessarily require a different shape of holidays. Again it’s a different perspective, if a single business has 60% of workers from a single ethnic community it may be preferable for them to have a small number of compulsory holidays rather than staying open every day and rostering and paying overtime or trying to solve it with voluntary swaps  that way community events have space to occur.

          Again, holidays are about communities and families as much as they are about individuals and businesses, and it would be useful to have representatives from as many different perspectives as possible.

          How’s that bollocks radar? 🙂

          • The Baron 2.1.1.2.1

            See above…

            Ultimately, one solution could be to scrap universal public holidays, and go all out for 6 weeks annual leave….

          • Anita 2.1.1.2.2

            Then the issue becomes who gets to decide when they can be taken.

            A faith based voice would argue that people of faith should get to take their religious holidays as of right. As discussed above this could cause all manner of business issues.

            An ethnic community voice might argue that businesses should be prepared to close down for a day if a large ethnic community had a festival so lots of people needed to use of their days and the business would be unsustainably understaffed.

            All mucky 🙂

          • The Baron 2.1.1.2.3

            Though the alternative is to mandate which religious festivals are worthy of “no excuse needed” time off, and which aren’t. I see a couple of heads at DoL to maintain that list…!

            No, I would far rather prefer that everyone, including the Christians, didn’t have their religious festivals guaranteed, and instead had 6 weeks a year of leave that allows them to negotiate their time off when they want it. Far simpler, but also prone to employers saying no…

            God, maybe I’ll turn the radar back on. All this religion stuff is all horse shit anyway! I want a day off, each and every week, to celebrate the birth, death and return of the flying spaghetti monster.

          • SPC 2.1.1.2.4

            Perhaps the thing is, this is not focused on the issue of any change to the days which are our “public holidays”, but about how workers are compensated when they work on them.

            The purpose of the review is to appease employer concerns about the past legislation (primarily reduce cost to business) – the presence of the 2 union reps is indicative of government concern that this change may not be popular with workers – thus the resort to union resistance to moderate any change and reduce political damage to itself.

          • felix 2.1.1.2.5

            Faith and reason are uncomfortable bedfellows at best. I think you’re all pushing shit up hill trying to rationalise belief-based paid holidays – there’s just no rational basis to work from.

            Just give up your silly religious rituals and it will all be a lot easier to sort out. And in your hearts you know it.

  3. Zimbo 3

    Good post IrishBill. Being a Nat supporter I would hope that the party wouldn’t be silly enough to mess around with this issue too much. Helen Kelly is also, I feel, extremely good at ensuring employees get a fair deal, so I personally cannot see this group making any drastic changes to the Act.

    • Anita 3.1

      I expect National to move forward with both transfer and cashing in of leave, plus a “simplification” of the calculation of “relevant daily pay” which will lead to a reduced amount to some, the same for many, and an increase for nearly none.

      The first two are big changes IMO, the final one is just mean.

  4. Irascible 4

    The process of dismantling the rights of and social obligations to workers is beginning along with the destruction of the fabric of our communities through the Hide plan to destroy the communities that make up greater Auckland and the suspension of the Cullen Fund investments.
    The problem for the public is that the media always favour small human issues like sleazy and abusive behaviour by those who pretend to be honorable men as these are easier to write about and illustrate.The nett result is that politics becomes dominated by these fascinations.
    How do you make attacks on the Holidays Act as easy to digest as the sleaze that is Richard Worth, the ignorance of Melisa Lee and the incompetence of John Boy Key?

  5. doc whose asking 5

    Outside my interests and brief I’m sad to say, but you might consider how massive layoffs in the States have already led to a burgeoning rise in reduced pay. Lower-skilled the worst offended.. ie $20 ph to $10 ph..

    The levers to lower wages are many hence this note and encouragement you push back in such matters..

  6. Bill 6

    I suspect one line that will be spun will run somewhere close to ” those poor defenceless workers were veritably horse whipped into having to take four weeks holiday. They didn’t ask for it or fight in any way to get it! So we, the good guys, are going to alleviate that oppressive imposition, and give them the freedom to chose to trade their holidays.”

    And then there will be the line about the poor oppressed employer who simply cannot afford to maintain slave privileges.

    And you know what?

    A bucket of shite will be signed off on, sealed in wet paper bags and delivered in real trickle down fashion without so much as a whimper of protest. (Oh, somebody somewhere will say it stinks, but that will be about the extent of it)

  7. bill brown 7

    Add up all of the current holidays, divide them up into manageable chunks, mostly 1 day and a couple of 2 day holidays.

    Disperse them throughout the year, on Mondays and or Fridays, with a small bias towards the summer months.

    If you’ve got some kind of weird bias towards having a day off on a particular day then you’ve got 20 days extra to do with as you like.

  8. RedLogix 8

    Just give up your silly religious rituals and it will all be a lot easier to sort out. And in your hearts you know it.

    Mature believers in almost every faith understand that rituals and celebrations are in themselves rather peripheral to the questions of conviction and consecration. But at the same time they are recognised as essential markers in the life of the community, which in itself consists of many, many folk from the very young, through to the most elderly. They bring together, bond and give heart in a simple, manner that speaks directly to the hearts of all, regardless of their experience or stage of life.

    As for religion itself. I defend it on the grounds that it is an innate manisfestation of the unique human capacity to perceive and rationalise with abstracts. This means that we all have the opportunity (even if many decline to exercise it) to address our rational spirit to the certainty that reality encompasses many mysteries that our limited minds and imaginations cannot yet grasp. Of course the human ego, paired with our vanity, is very prone to filling the mystery up with fanciful ideas and vain, pointless imaginings. Fundamentalist fall into this trap all the time.

    Personally I prefer to be rather more respectful, and accept that I simply have no idea of, or means to directly experience the fullness of creation, much less the notion of divinity. At the same time, I realise that my lack of capacity (or desire even) to understand, is not an excuse for metaphorically sticking my fingers in my ears, going ‘lalalala’, and hoping that God will just go away.

    Well it’s a Sunday and occasionally I use that as an excuse to indulge in a wee sermon. Nite all.

    • Noko 8.1

      not an excuse for metaphorically sticking my fingers in my ears, going ‘lalalala’, and hoping that God will just go away.

      Had me up until there.

      The concept of a “God” or gods has no basis in reality, and just sticking my fingers in my ears, going ‘lalalala’ isn’t going to change that fact. Just because it makes life seem pointless and without beauty, well, it’s all in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it?

      • Noko 8.1.1

        And I’d like to say in addendum: many people use Christianity or other religions as a crutch, in fact I heard someone I know describing his belief in Buddhism this way a few days ago. Especially that they find it hard to reconcile that when you’re dead, you’re dead, so it’s nice to think there is an afterworld of any sorts, or that you’re reborn again.

        It’s my personal belief that it’s a lot more poetic that you become apart of the Earth again (though I’m no believer in Gaia) you rot in the ground, and the nutrients in your body are again supporting life.

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    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago