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Nats getting squeamish on zero hour contracts

Written By: - Date published: 10:14 am, March 4th, 2015 - 61 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, national, Unions, workers' rights - Tags: , , ,

I’ve seen family members on zero hour contracts and its no way to live. Campbell live (best journalism on TV) had a welcome focus on the issue yesterday:

Zero-hour contracts leave Kiwi families struggling

But there’s an entire industry in New Zealand paying minimum wage and less, because the workers they employ don’t even work a full week.

It’s called a zero-hour contract, and as an employee, you are called upon to work whenever required. That means if you’re not required, you don’t get paid that week – so how do these people survive?

Zero hour contracts are the logical end point of National’s agenda for employment legislation. Nats weaken employees’ rights at every turn in the name of workplace “flexibility”. From an employer’s point of view, zero hours is as flexible as it gets.

But of course the workers get screwed. There is a union campaign against zero hours, you can join the campaign here. With this and other media attention being focused on the issue, the Nats seem to be getting a bit squeamish. Workplace Relations & Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse was on Campbell Live last night:

Minister to zero-hour employers: Rethink your rosters

Mr Woodhouse’s solution is to take some help from the Government [WINZ], if you can get it.

He says he encourages employers to rethink their rostering practices.

Mr Woodhouse says that there will be changes to employment law this year and is “quite happy to introduce legislation into the House in the middle of the year that would prohibit the worst excesses of the [zero-hours] practices that we find”.

So National aren’t going to follow their employment policies to their logical conclusion? “Excesses” is a very interesting admission for the Minister to make. Let’s make sure we hold Mr Woodhouse to that promise.

Final word on last night’s interview to Helen Kelly:

61 comments on “Nats getting squeamish on zero hour contracts”

  1. Enough is Enough 1

    How did National get this through? What specifically did they remove from the ERA to allow employers to take advantage of zero hour contracts?

    • As I understand it, the ERA is silent on the matter, unlike the removal of tea breaks, which required a change of legislation. What has changed is the weakening of good faith provisions and the hardening of employer attitudes. A switch from ‘we can do it, but should we do it?’ to ‘yay, lets do it!’.

  2. dv 2

    >> Mr Woodhouse’s solution is to take some help from the Government [WINZ], if you can get it.

    In other words more corporate welfare.

  3. mickysavage 3

    Of course all employers can be trusted to exercise this power properly. Employers like Credit Union Baywide who tried to get an ex employee sacked from her new job because she thought her old employers were a bunch of dicks:

    “Hi Rob:
    Thank you for your reply. While we appreciate you seeking legal advice, we are still of the view that you can terminate Karen’s employment within the 90 day trial period. Note the following extract from the Department of Labour’s website regarding the 90 day period:
    “While an employer is not required to provide written reasons for an employee’s dismissal, there is an expectation that an employer, acting in good faith, would inform the employee as to why he or she has been dismissed. Any provisions about giving notice in the employment agreement will need to be adhered to.”
    We also have sought advice from an employment and dispute resolution expert, this being Dave Robb from Grow HR, based in Hastings. His view is that you are entirely within your rights without risk of any repercussions to dismiss Karen under the clauses included within the 90 day trial period. To this end, we invite you to give Dave a ring on 878 5454 who is happy to talk to you at no cost.
    Without challenge to this situation Rob, Baywide has no option but to discontinue processing loans for Finance Point while Karen remains a contact or is involved in the submissions of applications to Baywide. The option of forwarding loans via a landing page or some other alternative to Baywide, remains open, without financial disadvantage to you.
    We urge you to contact Dave.
    Kind regards”

    Get that? CUB threatened to discontinue receiving loan applications from the complainant’s new employer if he did not sack her under the 90 day provision.

    http://www.justice.govt.nz/tribunals/human-rights-review-tribunal/decisions-of-the-human-rights-review-tribunal/html-decisions-and-headnotes/2015/hammond-v-credit-union-baywide-2015-nzhrrt-6

    • Tracey 3.1

      What about extortion?

      “the practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats.
      “he used bribery and extortion to build himself a huge, art-stuffed mansion”
      synonyms: demanding money with menaces, exaction, extraction, blackmail;
      shakedown”

  4. Tracey 4

    Michael Woodhouse needs to resign., Immediately. He simply lacks the intelligence for the role, as Minister and Mp if he doesn’t think Government can legislate for good employer practice.

    hear that Mr Armstrong, Mr Small???? An MP who doesnt undertsand he can legislate for good employer practice.

    • aerobubble 4.1

      The right is an alliance between libertarians, religious conservatives, and neoliberals. An alliance between those for no govt, little govt and downright opposed to govt.
      So of course good government is never seen, never hear, never spoken.
      This is the weakness of right leaning National or Labour govts, breakdown in social, economic and legal regimes, more exposed when the economy is weaker than usual.
      As along with good government goes freedom, legal recourse, social security from a civic society, etc. Its essentially down to the strange bed fellows of modern politics, herded together by the manufacturing plant that is the media drowning out of the nuance and stuffing nonsense it its place. Take the example of the lead sentence, he was found guilt twice, like that was the story when in fact the opposite, quite the opposite occured, astonishingly he had had two quashed convicts for the same crime.
      That the absolute sense would apply to a conviction yet not to the equally before the law quashing of said unsatisifactory decisions. Its the arrogance and cheaping of justice that is re-inforced by media choice of commentary, all to contain the irrationality of libertarians, free market and religious conservatives. The greatest threat to religion is dictatorships, yes even of the unfettered market, similarly to libert. And neo-liberalism isn’t a economic theory since it has a religiou zeel for excesses that cannot be challenged since they are anti god of the free market.

      The modern US republician party is a construct of greed, corruption and power led by media to bring down the Republic.

  5. adam 5

    This is just crap – more games from National, it’s so can pretend they are good guys – and not the filthy Tory Scum they really are.

    It’s all smoke and mirrors.

    Employers are acting like 2 year old’s and working people are suppose to suck that up.

    Scraps – It’s just scarps from the masters table.

    I will not have a master, nor will I be a slave.

    • Tracey 5.1

      The Law sends a signal. Many employers, understandably, have picked up the signal from this Government:

      If it’s legal it’s ok
      If you don’t get caught, it’s ok
      if it’s a loophole test it

      When Michael Woodhouse proclaims that Government cannot legislate for good employer practice they understand they have a get out of jail free card.

      Unions need to be strong int heir message, if you have a Union membership you can fight back cos they pay for your lawyer, if you are not, you are at the mercy of a government and employer who thinks they can treat you like their property and worse than the family dog.

  6. Tracey 6

    Have all the Managers implicated been publicly named? They shouldn’t be able to just walk into job with the shield of anonymity while Karen is stuffed.

  7. b waghorn 7

    Zero hours contracts are only a step or two away from people standing on corners in the morning hoping some “employer” might pick them for a few hours work .
    Third world country here we come.

    • millsy 7.1

      You have that in the US. You go to their equivalent of Bunnings or Mitre 10 you are mobbed by tradies looking for work. To the point where the stores are installing shelters for them.

      • b waghorn 7.1.1

        I was thinking mexico and India I didn’t know the leader of the free world had descended so low.

      • millsy 7.1.2

        Its been happening for a while. Mostly Hispanic immigrants, but more and more locals.

    • Barfly 7.2

      isn’t that common practice in the USA?

    • Murray Rawshark 7.3

      I think they’re actually worse, because the person on the corner can decide to take a day off. The next day when they return, the corner is still there. The zero hour worker doesn’t have that right. The whole idea makes me sick.

  8. Skinny 8

    When put on the spot for his opinion by the Campbell live reporter Key in an unconvinced way mutters they ‘could’ legislate against the worst offenders. You could almost see Key thinking out loud, Kim Campbell head of the EMA and my friends from SkyCity will be howling about this.

    The ironic thing is the same scumbag employers like restaurant brands that Key was being forced to look at over alleged unfair zero hours contracts, are the same ones using the National Governments facilitated ‘removal of tea break’ law.

    By being given an inch, oh looky a mile away. What a crock as if National don’t know the effects of their ERA changes.

  9. shorts 9

    my pick is the national govt will talk a lot around this issue whilst not upsetting those crappy employers who often tend to be their best mates…. for the simple reason of their polling, Nats live and die by their polls and will move heaven and earth while doing neither to appease those whom headline readings is enough (their voting base)

    • b waghorn 9.1

      “Nats live and die by their polls and will move heaven and earth while doing neither to appease those whom headline readings is enough (their voting base)”
      That’s were the power of social media is being under used buy the left .
      Look at what just happened with mp pay raises ,ever story on the subject I saw on Facebook had comment after comment about how key can change laws when it suits him why not for this.

      • shorts 9.1.1

        the power of social media is you get what you follow/like – a very skewed world, my social media is littered with the leftish view, ie social media reinforces the users views more often than not

        • b waghorn 9.1.1.1

          I wouldn’t call 3news leftish ,and I meant if people from the left leave comments that will sway people s way of thinking it will make a difference.

          • shorts 9.1.1.1.1

            oh sorry mistook your meaning – agree comments are important interactions and help form opinions or reinforce them.

            It seems sometimes there are co-ordinated comments coming from the right – same words, sentences and stats… never seen anything similar from the left

            personally I think the best comments are those that lead to people forming their own opinion (with some subtle leading) rather than the more blatant form

            • One Anonymous Bloke 9.1.1.1.1.1

              They aren’t so much co-ordinated (although there’s a little bit of that) as rote-learned and never questioned.

            • b waghorn 9.1.1.1.1.2

              I’m not suggesting people get fed lines to spread but if all the good people who read the standard were to make the effort to plant a simple but thoughtful comment once or twice a day into the mainstream media sites it would start to work. I don’t like calling people sheep but they will follow if lead.

  10. helen kelly 10

    Woodhouse is not going to deal with the worst excesses. He is thinking of making it unlawful to restrict secondary employment if you have zero hours – in other words, zero hours will be lawful but slavery won’t. Good luck keeping a zero hour job if you are unavailable to work because you have 6 other jobs to make ends meet.

    He is thinking of some form of penalty for late cancellation of offered work, but that will still allow zero contracts and will not address the problem of last minute call ups, no guaranteed income, contracts with one hour guaranteed any time any place, 1 hour shifts etc.

    These contracts occur in the very businesses that can offer the most security – 24/7 operations. The sit alongside thousands of other variations of insecure work. They are by design. The destruction of collective bargaining has provided for them. Many are probably illegal but the cost of enforcement is huge and beyond the means of organised labour in many cases.

    Zero hours will be further facilitated by this Government as is the casualization of labour – much of it for workers employed by the Government itself. Lets not be Joyced on this one – this is what you get in a country with totally ineffective labour law – it is designed that way and any concern expressed is fake and insincere.

    • Skinny 10.1

      With respect Helen how about the CTU run a campaign picketing and calling on Union members to boycott Restaurant Brand stores?

      * best wishes.

      • ghostwhowalksnz 10.1.1

        That destroys the jobs of those who are getting some hours..

        Much better for similar situation over the deductions from wages, most of these are franchises are can be leant on by head office that its unacceptable.
        Their public image is VERY important as they spend huge amounts on advertising ( probably as much as they spend on wages)

        • Skinny 10.1.1.1

          Oh right the usual PC approach, I shake my head.

          Thank goodness Unite union front up while others worry about imagine damage control. A collection bucket, chosen rotated sites for the picket/boycott. Just muscle up and fight back and spare us the crap. You won’t get any change unless you put your foot on the scumbags throat.

  11. esoteric pineapples 11

    Helen Kelly is awesome – worth following on Facebook

  12. This zero hours caper is just another Americanization of our country.

    I read in the Sydney Morning Herald about an American who is calling Australian workers over payed and to many holidays, saying it is not that way in the USA.

    And J Key just loves them, well stick them where the sun don’t shine Key.

  13. millsy 13

    All it is is just making workers expendable. I see no other outcome.

  14. aerobubble 14

    http://www.theguardian.com/society/patrick-butler-cuts-blog/2015/mar/02/food-banks-benefit-sanctions-leave-clients-hungry-for-months

    Know your place, serfdom means no safety net, no mistakens or you are for it.

    Weak welfare and weak work poctections create classes of serf and master.

  15. Philip Ferguson 15

    Woodhouse would have had a certain amount of time to prepare for the interview on Campbell so it’s interesting that he seemed not to know what zero-hours contracts are and kept confusing them with casual work of the kind he did as a student and after he came back from his OE.

    I loved the bit about curbing “the worst excesses” too. Which “excesses” would be acceptable and not require curbing?

    I can’t find it now but yesterday I came across an interview with Key which included stuff about zero-hours contracts and Key seemed to suggest he favoured legislation to stop the worst abuses and “exploitation” , oblivious to the fact that bosses’ profits come from exploitation anyway (https://rdln.wordpress.com/2011/12/29/what-is-exploitation/).

    We seem to have almost come full circle. Zero-hours contracts used to exist in the earlier decades of capitalism in this country and continued into the first part of the 1900s. On the waterfront, workers would turn up each morning and some would be picked to work and some not and no-one was guaranteed particular hours. A strong union organised the workers and largely put an end to that.

    After WW2, the long postwar economic boom meant that capitalism was so flush and so needy for more and more workers that there were substantial improvements in pay and conditions. By the early 1970s, however, that was over and capitalism had returned to its more ‘normal’ boom and bust cycle.

    These days virtually no-one’s job is secure and the best that capitalism in NZ has on offer in the 21st century is an increasingly long and grinding work week for many, precarious employment for some, zero-hours contracts for some, insecure employment for all, and a continuous struggle by much of the working class to simply make ends meet: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/low-pay-longer-hours-and-less-social-mobility/
    (I’ve updated this article with some stuff on zero-hours contracts)

    Clearly, we need a new political movement – one of, for and by workers.

    Phil

  16. Saarbo 16

    Great work from Campbell Live for bringing this into voters living rooms…it seems bloody difficult to get the big issues through to voters. But the other area that is really being abused currently is the “90 Day Trial Period”, Im currently employing farm workers and discovering many have horrifying stories about farmers abusing the 90 day trial period…there is a disgusting lack of protection for farm workers currently…heart breaking to hear their stories. Clearly these policies are designed to reduce wage rates and conditions, and unfortunately they are working well.

    • gsays 16.1

      hi sarbo, i have been in two (in a row) situations where the 90 day right to fire legislation was used to its utmost.
      the first was a petrol pump manufacturuer in the manawatu where the bosses went from pleading to the workers to do overtime, (i asked that it be referred to as extra time as over time had a financial recompence), as they were so busy. to when it came time for my three month review being told that they were not busy enough to keep me on. i might add that this jobsite was not organized, and as a couple of folk indicated they were grateful for a job in marton.

      the sevcond was building for a self employed builder who had a wee plethora of jobs needed to be done before christmas. jobs got done and then voila! not enough work to keep you on.

      i am a robust 40 something and while disappointing for a while i bounced back ( and felt sorry for the greedy young builder i worked for) but what the dickens does this tell our youngsters? that it is ok to screw someone over?

  17. Am watching a young woman begging for payment for the hours she has worked….hard physical work, long hours. The employer keeps promising he will pay her. Owes more than $1,000 now. Keeps setting up appointments that she has to walk miles to attend and then he doesnt show up. This is theft. He is nothing but a thief. No employment contract so he thinks he can get away with it.

    • helen kelly 17.1

      Get her to email me. She does have an employment contract – it is just not written down which is illegal. Many workers think if the law has been broken and they have no written agreement then they have no agreement – not true! helenk@nzctu.org.nz

  18. Ergo Robertina 18

    Campbell Live has run some outstanding stories on zero hours, and last night contextualised the issue by linking it to their stories on children’s lunches.
    The unions must call for a boycott.
    In a Mike Treen piece at the Daily Blog last week he reprinted three letters from fast food workers which illustrate the gross unfairness of zero hours contracts.
    One letter, about a worker’s struggle to breastfeed, I found especially poignant. There’s something deeply dysfunctional about a world in which a mother finds it difficult (she’s determined to keep up the breastfeeding) to feed her child an essential food because she must be on call at all times to serve unhealthy food.

    ”A manager actually made a comment along the lines of. “Well you can’t get any more supervisor shifts until you stop breastfeeding”’

    http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2015/02/27/the-minimum-wage-and-zero-hour-contracts/

  19. Economix 19

    Agree with this post. Zero-hour contracts need to be abolished.

    Yes, 99% of employers who have this type of agreement with their employees might be fair/reasonable re number of hours, however that is simply not good enough. It is the Government’s responsibility to ensure fairness in the workplace, and zero-hour contracts are so obviously unfair.

    My thoughts…zero-hour contracts will be gone by year-end.

    • gsays 19.1

      hey economix, we have a greater power and responsibility to this mum.
      tell me who the employer is and i promise i will not spend money with them.
      a few more make this pledge and they encourage others and soon the power is taken back.

  20. TheBlackKitten 20

    I really can’t believe Woohouse’s solution is to go to WINZ if these people on zero contracts don’t get any work for the week. Poor solution and he should be sacked for providing such a shallow pathetic solution.
    Zero contacts are wrong in that they leave the person no ability to seek other work if none is forthcoming from their employer. Correct me if I am wrong but if this is the case then I view it as no different to me expecting a photographer, lawyer or doctor to be on hand to see me instantly if I may need them and for me to only have to pay them for the time I spend with them. This robs people of their ability to earn a living. Labour should ask National if my scenario would also be acceptable & if not then please explain the difference?
    Are the taxpayers not already subsidising employers low wages via WFF? Woodhouse – the taxpayer does not need another subsidy for cheap labour to pay for.
    NZ employers need to be made to be responsible in ensuring that the wage they pay ensures a decent standard of living. A fair days pay for a fair days work remember. But the issue is not just wages, it is also the cost of living.
    Food – Power – Housing – Rates – Leases – Insurance – Transport costs – All basic necessities for people to live and run businesses (in particular small). Why are they all so expensive?!
    Who own the businesses that provide these services? Are they monopolies or duopolies? Why are they charging what they do for their product/services? What is the break down to get a bottle of milk into the customers trolly in the supermarket? Is it fair, is it balanced or are we being rorted to support those lovely shareholders that demand high dividends at the expense of policies like WFF and zero contracts?
    These are all key issues that have been sadly neglected by left wing parties around the world for the past 30 or so years and really seriously need addressing.
    Get to it Labour!

    • sabine 20.1

      working for family
      emergency grants
      food grants
      accomodation benefits
      are all subsidies of low income jobs

      but its all cool, cause only bludgers and lazy ones need these services. the other just trott on. and that is the dilemma. how many working families in NZ are on a winz benefit or another? and has the number gone up or down under nats?

      • TheBlackKitten 20.1.1

        I did not know that working people were entitled to emergency grants, food grants and a accommodation benefit from WINZ. Is this true?
        I thought that the only entitlement working people could get was WFF and you only get that if you have children.
        However if people working fulltime need & can get these things then yes, they are subsidies for low wages. Its interesting to note which government introduced WFF thou isn’t it.
        And if they are working then they are not bludgers, they are the victims of our low wage issue which no political party has dealt with. Bludgers are those that can but don’t work and choose to breed on the system. Plenty of those about which the Labour & Green party continue to pander too.

  21. Janice 21

    The more people with zero hour contracts mean less people in the unemployment stats so it makes it easy for government to be able to say that they are reducing unemployment. Every zero hour contract is one new job established even if the person doesn’t get any work.

    • rod 21.1

      Spot on Janice you are dead right,
      +100

    • D'Esterre 21.2

      @ Janice: “The more people with zero hour contracts mean less people in the unemployment stats so it makes it easy for government to be able to say that they are reducing unemployment.”

      You’ve hit the nail on the head, Janice! And that’s the reason why the government will do exactly nothing to change the situation. Unless we the citizens rise up and shame them into it.

  22. Brian Biggins 22

    Yes there needs to be a serious investigation into pricing in this country. Spent a month in the US last year and realised very quickly that this country is one giant rip-off- even when you factor in the difference in market size. Peter Bills Herald article (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10659094) around the time of the rugby world cup, was spot on! I remember the outcry against him! The monopolies, duopolies, and price fixing in this country needs to be exposed. Of course, the National Party propaganda machine (aka the MSM) won’t go near it!! And yes, WFF is a taxpayer subsidy to employers and designed to suppress wages but keep middle class families happy with their ‘lot’- who says Labour didn’t introduce (and facilitate) neoliberal policies during the Clark reign! Zero contracts is the final step towards modern-day serfdom.

    • D'Esterre 22.1

      @Brian Biggins: We’ve just returned from Europe. Over there, NZ is known as the Switzerland of the Pacific, because it’s so expensive. In London, I bought 1 litre of milk for 89p. When I returned, I checked prices at the local supermarket. Good luck with getting 1L milk so cheaply here: $2.60 and up. We’re being fleeced….

    • TheBlackKitten 22.2

      Yes Helen Clarks reign was not that of a traditional Labour Party. If the likes of Kirk and Savage could see how see ignored the employment contracts act & introduced policies to subsidise employers low wages like WFF that pinged the financial burden back onto the middle class taxpayer they would roll in their graves.
      This women quite happily sat in the Lange/Douglas government and unlike Anderton, did not mermer one whisper of a complaint whilst Douglas set about setting his policies in place. And wasn’t she minister of health between 87 – 90? Wasn’t that the period that this Ministry set about making the changes to our public health that have had absolute disastrous results for the NZ public?
      Helen unlike Anderton, could quite easily turn a blind eye to Douglas & other neoliberal policies. Why because her agenda was not to help people with their economic concerns. Like all of the other arrogant academic elites of her generation, she had not one iota of an idea of what it was like to make ends meet on a 40 hour a week wage, in how difficult it is to stretch those wages to put food on the table, pay the mortgage, pay the insurances, pay the rates and any extras for school for the kids. Their idea of hardship was people lighting up a cigarette in front of them or someone eating too many pies and becoming too fat. Or someone using the word ‘black’ to describe the colour of a particular horse.
      I rate Clark as the worst and most disgraceful PM the Labour Party has ever had due to her neglect of those key economic concerns of people, because of that, Labour now returns 25% on election nights.

  23. mac1 23

    A good answer to Mr Woodhouse is simply to say that murderers are very rarely found in New Zealand society but we still legislate against them. Similarly with bad employers.

  24. dan1 24

    I agree with a couple of bloggers above: boycott firms with zero hour contracts. It will be short term pain for the workers in the firms involved but in the medium term and longer, fairness and reasonableness will be restored.
    Can we access a list of firms with zero hour contracts.

  25. Lloyd 25

    I have just realised that the clouds over New Zealand are presently on zero-hour contracts and that is why we have a drought.

  26. fisiani 26

    Name and shame and boycott firms who offer zero hour contracts.

    • tricledrown 26.1

      1600 Known companies then the 25% Who practice wage theft.
      All of who no doubt support Nactionals Dickensian employment laws.
      Another forestry worker dies.

    • mac1 26.2

      Agreed, Fisiani.

      Now who do we blame for zero hour contracts so we don’t ever vote for them again?

  27. Descendant Of Sssmith 27

    Yeah but who here cares what National is going to do. They are tory pricks.

    Still waiting for Labour to bring back as a policy the 8 hour working day, 40 hour working week they once were proud of and now see as an insult to the modern way of the world.

    Start there and we might be making some progress.

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  • 2020 IPANZ Annual Address
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