In a pretty shameful piece of political pandering, the Department of Labour has released a study on the 90 Day Fire at Will legislation just ahead of John Key’s announcement to extend it to all working Kiwis. When Fire at Will was introduced, the Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson, said DoL wouldn’t be monitoring its effects, so it’s no surprise that this is a pretty half-arsed and politically convenient piece of work.
The report isn’t on the DoL website (great work, guys) but the media coverage shows that it is written almost entirely from the employer’s perspective. Not surprisingly, employers love being able to hire someone and fire them without justified cause or fair process. It gives them carte blanche to fire anyone who isn’t completely subservient. Of course they want Fire at Will extended to all workers.
I can’t help but notice a sinister coincidence: the percentage of workers who were fired after their 90 no rights period (Derek Cheng means during the period, surely) and the share of the workforce that is unionised are both about 22%.
But it’s not just workers who want to join a union that will be at the mercy of the boss if this comes to pass. You will face being fired for literally anything. Sure, in theory, the boss can’t breach your human rights by firing for, say, getting pregnant but what’s to stop them? Under the law as it stands, the boss can fire you during your no rights period and isn’t even required to give you the reason in writing. And any reason that they do give doesn’t have to be supported by the facts because you have no legal recourse to challenge it.
Say you get pregnant and the boss fires you when they find out saying ‘sorry, you’re just not up to the job’. You would be right to think the real reason is your pregnancy, which would make the sacking illegal but there would be no way for you to get justice: no court, no tribunal which you would have a right to access.
This isn’t the 19th century. We deserve better. It is simply not acceptable that to get a job we have to give up our rights to be treated fairly. These are our incomes, our livelihoods, how we support our families, at stake. The right to fair treatment at work shouldn’t be dependent on having a fair-minded boss. Your dignity and your livelihood are guaranteed by enforceable work rights.
And it seems Kiwis get it. The first generation of Fire at Will applied only to workplaces with fewer than 20 employees – it was mainly young and poor workers on the minimum wage who were its victims, and we know that the middle class doesn’t really give a crap about them. But now the middle class’s jobs will be on the knife edge too and they’re not happy.
This will be an issue that causes National to bleed votes, especially if Labour and the unions organise a strong campaign. Middle New Zealand might not have cared much about the first round of Fire at Will but it’s different when it’s your job at risk.