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Not the “end to zero hour contracts” you were looking for

Written By: - Date published: 3:00 pm, July 12th, 2015 - 30 comments
Categories: employment, national, workers' rights - Tags: , , ,

We have two options before us, New Zealand. Either Michael Woodhouse still hasn’t had anyone explain the difference between zero hour contracts – which are exploitative trash – and casual employment – which is casual – to him.

Or, Michael Woodhouse knows damn well that there’s a significant difference between fairly negotiating an on-call position with your employer, and being at your employer’s beck and call and whim with no ability to say no; and the only reason he’s making any kind

I’m favouring the latter, in light of this report on the proposed changes to employment contracts, which relies heavily on the words “reasonable” and “unreasonable” (and when you’re the one who can afford lawyers, that means whatever you want it to mean) and apparently does nothing to address the actual problem: workers being effectively bonded to their employers and expected to show up at any hour of the day or night with no guarantee of a minimum weekly pay and no ability to get secondary employment to make up the difference.

But speaking on TV One’s Q and A programme Woodhouse said there was no real definition of zero hours contracts.

If an employer wanted someone to be on call, then there would need to be “reasonable compensation” for that, but the law would not put a figure on it.

But he agreed it would still be possible for an agreement to have no stipulated hours.

I don’t know, that sounds pretty much like a zero hours contract to me.

This is the problem for the government. Zero hour contracts are patently unfair. Everyone can see that. And thanks to a dedicated campaign by unions like UNITE and FIRST, with a publicity boost from the much-mourned Campbell Live, it became an issue which couldn’t be ignored or swept aside.

They had to at least appear to do something or the whole “fairness and flexibility” facade would have come crashing down.

But this is not a government which gives one single damn about workers being exploited by big business. This is a government which took away guaranteed minimum rest breaks and knighted Peter Talley.

They’ll talk the tough talk when they need to salvage some credibility, and they’ll promise change when they’re under the gun. But once you look at the real detail, it’s empty. If anything, it makes things worse, by creating even more loopholes for bad employers to exploit – and the irony is that this doesn’t just hurt workers. It hurts the good employers who do want to treat their staff with respect and decency, but get undercut and driven out of business by the exploiters.

In most of the industries which employ people on zero-hour contracts, there is literally no need to. They can predict demand. They know what times are busy and what aren’t. It’s the height of penny-pinching for a 24-hour fast food joint to demand that its workers come and go at no notice in order to save a buck, and it only works because those workers don’t have a lot of choice.

Even an anti-worker, union-hating National government like ours should be able to ban this kind of coercive arrangement without doing any damage to their base. The fact that Michael Woodhouse is still dancing around the issue and trying to weasel his way out of clear, decisive action just shows how morally bankrupt they are.

30 comments on “Not the “end to zero hour contracts” you were looking for ”

  1. adam 1

    Thanks for the post Stephanie Rogers.

    The Tory Scum will always default to Tory hatred of working people every time. It’s like they lie, and lie and believe their own lies.

    Michael Woodhouse – Tory scum of the week!

    Sheesh that takes some serious hard work mate, with so many Tory Scum bags this week to pick from.

  2. Charles 2

    Looks like the proverbial is about to hit the mechanical:

    “…Unite Union has been negotiating over the last months with the major fast food companies. During this time public pressure has mounted and we have now successfully negotiated for all workers at McDonalds, Burger King and Restaurant Brands (KFC, Pizza Hutt, Starbucks and Carls Jr.) to have guaranteed hours from July this year.

    Thanks to everyone who has been part of the campaign so far- we are winning..!”

    oh hang on…

    A victory lasting from July till… July? Nobody in Restaurants Brands etc knew of course, while they were all negotiating in “good faith”. Things just happen. Just like that. Woodhouse gets up in morning with great idea, everything in place by noon.

    • If Unite have managed to get guaranteed hours in the collective at Restaurant Brands etc. it doesn’t get superseded by this law change. On the other hand, when the collective comes up for renewal the companies may try to claw back the hours guarantee. The struggle never ends!

      • Charles 2.1.1

        Mike Treen of Unite says March next year the 3 monthly measuring of hours (agreement mentioned above) is up for review at McD’s. It’s all just too co-incidental. A co-incidence that happens every time. What is an agreement worth if the agreement parameters have been out-flanked/made obsolete by new law due later this year? The data is potentially able to be legally ignored. The struggle, indeed. If the Nats were a football team, they’d play on the side of a hill and visiting teams would always play uphill.

        • Mike the Savage One 2.1.1.1

          Unite have an endless battle to fight, as the employers will always try to undermine any agreement they make with the union, they have done it in the past, before the ink has dried under a contract between Unite and certain employer representatives, they are already scheming to find ways to exploit loopholes or circumvent whatever they just agreed on. That is the employer side, it is the race between the hare and the hedgehog, I fear:
          http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm187.html

          Or if you prefer, the hare and the tortoise:
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hare_and_Tortoise

        • NZJester 2.1.1.2

          You forgot to put on that list that if the Nats were a football team the ref would be chosen from a list of their supporters only.

      • Lucy 2.1.2

        But now McDonalds, Restaurant Brands et al do not have to negotiate with the collective any more they can work away and demand the employees negotiate individually. Didn’t that law just go through? So this collective agreement is likely to be the last with employers who want to break the unions in their workplace.

  3. TheBlackKitten 3

    What I would like someone to do is to ask Woodhouse what is the difference between zero hour contracts and only allowing a business to have customer. A customer that does not guarantee enough work to keep the business viable and a customer that expects the business to be available 24/7 despite that they may only use them for an hour each week.
    Zero hour contracts takes away the right for an employee to make a decent living and for them to be in the position to pay their own way. What they do do is force an employee to rely on the taxpayer dollar via welfare. Perhaps someone should also ask Woodhouse why the taxpayers should be expected to prop up businesses that are making millions in profit because they are too stingy to pay their workers a living wage. Taxpayers are already subsiding their low wages via WFF. This whole concept of zero contracts just stinks and I really fail to see how anyone (unless you are a shareholder of these corporates) can support it.
    The other issue is that the big white elephant in the room is being ignored. That being that there are not enough jobs for people. Due to desperation for a job, employees are being squashed to the ground. If there were more jobs, then employers would be forced to pay fairly. Jobs, jobs, jobs is what is needed and I don’t see one single party talking about another white elephant in the room, being that countries like China have stolen a lot of our jobs due to their slave labour laws. Until this is addressed, things will just get grimmer, less jobs, less pay, desperate people accepting crap conditions just so they can have a job.

  4. Draco T Bastard 4

    But this is not a government which gives one single damn about workers being exploited by big business.

    Of course they give a damn – they know damn well that employers need to be able to exploit employees so as to maximise profits.

  5. Iain Lees-Galloway 5

    What I find most astounding is that when given a choice between supporting good employers who take health and safety seriously and don’t use zero-hour contracts and exploitative employers who cut corners and abuse the power they have over their workers National has routeinly stood alongside the exploiters. Good employers should not have to compete with those who get and advantage from exploitation as well as a Govt that incentivises poor practice.

    • Skinny 5.1

      If only they buckled to opposition pressure like they did with that ‘vote losing policy of yours’ lowering the drink driving limit, which was the final straw for some voters who jumped ship.

    • Cheers, Iain. It’s bloody sad the Nats won’t even listen to business leaders who publicly say that zero hours contracts aren’t needed. Michael Barnett from the Auckland Chamber of Commerce for example. According to the Stuff website he said the proposal ignored work-life balance, the needs of the family and protection for those that were weak and zero hours contracts should simply have been outlawed as the Nats promised.

      It’s almost like Woodhouse was nobbled. But who by?

      • Skinny 5.2.1

        I agree that he was nobbled, probably a bit rattled after Amy Adams decided to flag party lines and insisted on supporting corporate manslaughter. You can bet Judith Collins was giving her the hard stare.

        Mind you Key is no pro worker kind of guy below that Teflon veneer of his.

    • Thanks for commenting, Iain! 😀

  6. Keith 6

    Routine, deeply cynical and entirely predictable National at their duplicitous best.

    There is a storm over an issue, they sit back and see which way the cards fall and especially if its against their wishes (and that of their donors and wealthy mates) but the public are unhappy then they come out in a blaze of publicity telling the public they are going to fix whatever the problem is. This;

    a) takes the heat out of the subject
    b) gives them time to come up with a “solution’ that does nothing to change anything but looks like it does something.
    c) Leads to a convoluted, confusing, loop holed do nothing policy that leaves everything nicely as it is. Job done.

    Just look at the Clayton’s solutions on Auckland’s property market and as of late the rental insulation “solutions”.

    But they miss the point that it is their kids too along with a hell of a lot of other people they don’t give a shit about who are being screwed by this Victorian throw back!

  7. Mike the Savage One 7

    Judith Collins and some like minded MPs sitting in amongst the Nats on the benches, they still wield a lot of power. I am not at all surprised about Woodhouse being so ambiguous, would we expect anything else from National?

    Casual work, yes, casual, that is going to stay, and they want the “freedom” to “negotiate”, of course, for employers, and their supposedly “equal” employees, to come to terms they agree on, and then put into a contract. Most contracts are individual ones, and guess who has the stronger negotiating arms?!

    I do not believe for one moment, that we will really do away with “zero hour contracts”, they will simply get another name and description, and still be there, for employers to take advantage of their staff.

    “Flexibility” is something National will NEVER do away with, as their funders and supporters will pull back the money for their election financing, should they honour their words and actually do something for the ordinary worker, or even the low skilled, underpaid, defenseless worker.

    Watering down policy and all else, that is the expert area of Key and Nats, they do it all the time, and sadly they get away with it, as the general public are too slow to pick up on it. “Let us be reasonable” , is one of their comments.

    I observed Helen Kelly and her reservations on Q+A, and I agree, this is not what it seems, coming from the Minister, and sadly the mainstream media already reported, without scrutinising details, Minister Woodhouse, or the government, wants to do away with “zero hour contracts”. So again, the spin has worked, and nobody bothers reading the details. It is driving me to despair, how this crap media we have do not bother reporting facts and the truth, but then again, they have over time managed to put many of their favourable operators in key media positions, the Nats, have they not?!

  8. keyman 8

    new zealanders are sheep there should be a riot
    in the UK zero hour contracts are forcing people in to hands of the pay day lenders
    dam the million none voters see what not voting causes the results of loss income drive more into poverty its such a false economy

    • Mike the Savage One 8.1

      Have you ever heard of any “riot” in NZ, let alone by “sheep”? It will never happen, and if something similar happens, it will be alcohol induced, something like the New Years “celebrations” in known resorts. Only
      if a pub runs out of beer, will there ever be a riot of sorts.

    • I’m not a fan of dismissing people as “sheep” just because they aren’t as interested in politics as I am.

      Given rising inequality and increasing numbers of people having to work two or three jobs just to get by, I’m especially worried about the tendency of some people on the left to sneer at those people’s lack of “proper” political action.

      Those of us who have the privilege of time, ability and inclination to do political activism should be finding ways to reach out and support those who feel disaffected or powerless – not crap on them for being “lesser” than us.

  9. Peter 9

    If we had a decent Labour party they would have already said when we become the government we will get rid of zero hour contracts and if the workers want a collective agreement then so be it. I wouldn’t hold my breath

  10. Peter 10

    If we had a decent Labour party they would have already announced that when we become the government it will be the end of zero hours contracts and if the workers want a collective contract so be it. Don’t hold your breath.

  11. repateet 11

    Woodhouse is a bloody idiot and is so stupid he thinks we’re as stupid as him.

    Now that I’ve got the nasty bit off my chest, on to a reasonable view given his attitude.

    Woodhouse is either a cretin or a sly, conniving, weasely scumbag.

  12. fisiani 12

    Woodhouse knows that real life is not just a simplistic slogan. He lives in the real world. A world where work conditions and wages are improving. Zero hours will soon be gone. Employment is growing and people know that we are heading in the right direction. Welcome to the brighter future.

    • Skinny 12.1

      If his party stuck to their word you wouldn’t be needing to make an ass of yourself.
      A very amusing post cobbah! Thanks.

    • Skinny 12.2

      If his party stuck to their word you wouldn’t be needing to make an ass of yourself.
      A very amusing post cobbah! Thanks.

    • Wensleydale 12.3

      As has been documented previously, employment statistics in this country are a complete lie, and the only place working conditions and wages are improving is on Planet Key.

      In other news, you’re still a muppet.

  13. Akldnut 13

    “Woodhouse knows that real life is not just a simplistic slogan. He lives in the real world. A world where work conditions and wages are improving. Zero hours will soon be gone. Employment is growing and people know that we are heading in the right direction. Welcome to the brighter future.”

    Fisi are you fucking kidding me, everything you just wrote is a combination of simplistic slogans. Your world is not real.

    • Jones 13.1

      It’s real for him… domiciled to Planet Key where the official languages are soundbites and slogans.

  14. Sable 14

    A good article. Indeed, this Nat mob represent the worst attitudes on the part of business and employers at the expense of simple human decency. Its the same in the UK too where we are seeing much the same winding back of employee rights and exploitative legislation.

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