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Some questions for Kate

Written By: - Date published: 8:46 pm, December 9th, 2008 - 22 comments
Categories: national/act government, workers' rights - Tags: , ,

Kate Wikinson, John Key’s hapless Minister of Labour, has told NZPA the public shouldn’t get to have their say on the fire at will bill because, apparently, we already had our chance with Wayne Mapp’s private member’s bill back in 2006.

This argument is complete bollocks, and she knows it. Perhaps that’s why she refused to front up to Mary Wilson on Radio NZ Checkpoint tonight.

Because while the new bill shares the same underlying premise as Mapp’s bill – that is, to give employers the power to fire staff at will – there have been some pretty significant changes signalled, including a number that have so far had little or no public discussion.

For example:

  • National has said it will limit the law to firms with fewer than 20 employees. Will this include workers at owner-operated franchises of major companies like Subway, McDonalds and BP?
  • Will teachers be covered by the bill? Anne Tolley and Kate Wilkinson each gave different answers when asked during the election campaign, neither have since cleared it up.
  • In the 92 words National made available on this policy before the election we are told “good faith provisions will still apply”. What exactly does that mean? And how will that help someone who has been dismissed unfairly but has no right to lodge a personal grievance?
  • The policy also says “rules of natural justice will apply”. How?
  • Wilkinson says employers will not be able to hire and fire the same employee every 89 days. What wording will this provision take, and is there provision to stop employers from hiring and firing different employees every 89 days?
  • Wilkinson says the bill will protect against human rights breaches. But so long as an employer gives “performance” as a cause for dismissal, no matter the real reason, workers won’t be able to argue the dismissal was unjust. Is Wilkinson aware of this? And can she tell us exactly how many human rights claims succeed each year in relation to employment?
  • Wilkinson says workers will be able to lodge a personal grievance on the basis of sexual harrassment or discrimination. But what use is this provision if an employer can claim “performance” is the reason without having to prove it?
  • Wilkinson says mediation will be available for employers and staff who experience problems. But what use is mediation when one party has been so utterly disempowered that the employer can just terminate them whatever the outcome?

And I’m sure there are others I haven’t thought of.

So, plenty of legitimate questions that deserve the proper democratic scrutiny of the select committee process and a wider public debate. There is absolutely no excuse for National to push this bill through under urgency and deny New Zealanders the right to have their say. This is politics, pure and simple.

22 comments on “Some questions for Kate”

  1. sweeetdisorder 1

    “The policy also says “rules of natural justice will apply’. How?”

    Ha ha, it was just a few months ago we were discussing Annette King and her law of common sense. Yet, on that occasion it was okay, now it isn’t. Funny that.

    [You misunsderstand what natural justice is, it is not the law of common sense, it is the right to have your argument heard and fairly adjudicated. SP]

    [the EFA has been interpreted according to the law of common sense, none of the stupid compliants taken by National and the likes of Whaleoil succeeded, ether the EFA or the Police used their common sense. SP]

  2. Lew 2

    sweetd: I look forward to seeing you and the anti-EFA cohort take up arms against that provision, in the name of consistency.


  3. Janet 3

    Just a related observation. When the Labour Alliance govt was elected in 1999 the opening of parliament that followed was a joyous occasion with crowds of wellwishers coming along to parliament grounds. Yesterday and today there was hardly anybody who wasn’t paid to be there watching the proceedings. People are wary of this government for a variety of reasons and its popularity is going to be soon lost if this approach to their first piece of legislation is any indication.

  4. Rex Widerstrom 4


    I was anti-EFA, I’m anti this. Partly on substance, partly on style (I agree there’s no need for urgency on this, it’s an abuse of Parliamentary procedure which annoys me almost as much as what I see as the negative effects of the law itself).

    Can’t speak for other anti-EFAers of course, but the similarities in the way both far-reaching measures are being rammed through with an arrogant “don’t fret the details, we know what we’re doing” attitude ought, I feel, to alarm at least that cohort of those opposed to the EFA who had problems with the process as well as the policy (and that seemed to be nearly all of them).


    The rules of natural justice are fairly well codified, so much so that a statute I was reading the other day actually said they “shall not apply” (I was flabbergasted). Annette’s rules of common sense, however, were neither common nor sensible 😀

  5. ak 5

    Good spotting Janet: and as evidenced by the plethora of Groundhog Day tory comments here, it appears post-coital reality is proving a little flat to our plaintively-crowing “winners” too. Perhaps for the latter it’s the slowly dawning realisation that their “victory” was almost entirely Pyrrhic – that all their smock-tearing outrage and self-stimulation has delivered nothing more fulfilling than Labour policy in a light-blue coat? Or perhaps it was the bizarre and troubling sight of Money Messiah morphing into grinning Poncho Boy? More likely, just the predictable manifestation of a sad groping emptiness now that the screen for their insecurities has gone.

    For the more salubrious public, it’s the stupid economy: and the trepidation that any hope they invested in Mr Millions was misplaced. By his own admission, Golden Prince Key has become King Canute in the face of the coming tsunami – and now there’s murmurings from below. Scrooge McCullen and Captain Hels led a tight ship, but fair: “fire at will” is an unnerving early signal from such a nice, inclusive soother.

    It’s the “what have we done” Christmas: 1999 delivered hope as we left the dark age of the nineties. In 2009 it’s hope for deliverance: and the Grinch’s kid brother’s in charge. No wonder Whoville’s not singing.

    (and Rex: false equivalence. I fear the results of “fire at will” will be ever so slightly more tangible than those from the EFA. (Which were what, exactly?) Gird your loins all ye foodbank workers and beneficiary advocates: it could be a long three years.)

  6. Quoth the Raven 6

    Commonsense like Rodney Hide getting Actoids to complain about his own jacket. The ones who perniciously and cynically didn’t wish to apple commsense were those on the right.

  7. Rex Widerstrom 7


    If you read my comment carefully you’ll find the only equivalence I see is in the attitude to both measures from arrogant politicians.

    Even if we accept that the EFA stifled free speech and that this measure will cause people to be unfairly made unemployed with no recourse to the courts, it’s clear which has the more deleterious and potentially long-term effect on the individual, and their family if they have one.

    This isn’t a thread on the EFA – Lew raised it as a sidebar – but I believe it has indeed had a “chilling effect”, particularly on NGOs who might have had the money to run a campaign but couldn’t or didn’t because they were too uncertain of the law. It’s measured not so much in whether dumbarse complaints about yellow jackets succeeded or not, but more in what didn’t happen, which is much harder to quantify.

  8. Chris G 8

    Just had a thought:

    Why are they ramming this legislation through so quickly?

    – Did they make some promises to small businesses owners when courting their vote? If so, they knew it would be unpopular, therefore never included it as part of the 100 day plan.
    – (The Conspiracy option) Did they make some promises to secret donors?

    Guyon Spinner ‘reported’ on it tonight… he was reading a national party press statement tonight I swear… I was reminded why I only watch TV3. He even coughed up the CT line of ‘fresh start’ whilst he defended the bill like he wrote the fucking thing!

    Bring on the strikes/protests.

  9. Tane 9

    Chris, from what I’m hearing it sounds like it’s their way of mollifying their business supporters who were losing the faith with all the policy inoculations during the campaign. This is the way of winning that support back.

    The urgency is because they know it’s unpopular and they want to ram it through with as little discussion and protest as possible, then hope Christmas makes everyone forget.

    Don’t expect big strikes and protests from the unions straight away. Strikes are illegal and decent protests need time to plan – time the unions don’t have, and National knows it. I think this’ll be more of a steady campaign that lasts three years and just quietly chips away at confidence in the government. Then when Labour gets back in they’ll repeal it.

  10. Murray 10

    Fuck me, now that National is the boss man everything has to be up for public discussion and nothing should be rammed through under urgency. Nothing can now be retrospectively validated and the EFA now needs some changes. We should not have a partisan Speaker of the House and Goff is going to criticise everything the new Govt propose. You lefties were always a pack of losers, now you are POOR FUCKING LOSERS.

  11. gingercrush 11

    Actually Murray I think you will find there are a number of centrist and right-wing leaning people that feel such legislation should not be done under urgency. I happen to be very pro-National and I don’t believe this legislation is a matter of urgency.

  12. Camryn 12

    gingercrush – For that reason, and because Tane et al have actually mentioned how many business groups have made clear this isn’t a priority, I think the real reason National is rushing this through is simply to kick the ‘labour movement’ (in general) in the pants. After 9 years, I wouldn’t put it past National to simply want to get some kicks in. I’m surprised that the bloggers here haven’t yet entertained that thought in their 20 or so combined posts on it in the last few days… which indicate that my theory, if true, is also working as National intended. Less cynical than I thought?

  13. Ari 13

    Fuck me, now that National is the boss man everything has to be up for public discussion and nothing should be rammed through under urgency. Nothing can now be retrospectively validated and the EFA now needs some changes. We should not have a partisan Speaker of the House and Goff is going to criticise everything the new Govt propose. You lefties were always a pack of losers, now you are POOR FUCKING LOSERS.

    I can say that while I supported the EFA, I also disliked that it was rammed through so quickly (I believe the funamdental ideas behind it were fine, just that it was rushed in some areas and that politicians haven’t had the time to learn to deal with it yet) and have no qualms about raising the same objections here. Controversial legislation deserves more time for discussion, not less.

    I do hope Lockwood won’t be partisan, and I didn’t particularly enjoy that quality in our former speaker. I think that if Lockwood repeats it, it makes a good case for an independent speaker of the house.

    I don’t think Goff has started off just as empty criticism, and in fact the criticism we have seen of National from Labour has been quite nuanced and is leveraging them to the left on account of their very centrist campaign. It looks like National may have lost themselves the war in order to win the battle, if Labour and the Greens can play their cards right. 😉

    gingercrush – For that reason, and because Tane et al have actually mentioned how many business groups have made clear this isn’t a priority, I think the real reason National is rushing this through is simply to kick the ‘labour movement’ (in general) in the pants. After 9 years, I wouldn’t put it past National to simply want to get some kicks in. I’m surprised that the bloggers here haven’t yet entertained that thought in their 20 or so combined posts on it in the last few days which indicate that my theory, if true, is also working as National intended. Less cynical than I thought?

    Well, I think we generally like to assume that our opponents are smart. Vindicative “kicks” to your opposition after having run on a platform of multipartisanship, centrism, and renewed trust in government is plain dumb to start with, and adding in that the broad Labour movement in New Zealand tends to mobilise when it’s kicked instead of just crying uncle, such an explanation would be like assuming the government is brainless. And they’ve shown on the campaign trail that they do have some tricks up their sleeves, so that’s a poor assumption to make.

  14. Camryn 14

    Well, less dumb to start with it than to do it later.

    I do agree that it’s being done quickly now to minimize the attention i.e. pre-Christmas, marketed as part of downturn response package, 3 years from election. I’m just saying that it is possibly as much (or more) to annoy opponents as to benefit business. Of course it will provide impetus to mobilize, but National will be banking on: (1) the more that labour activists focus on this labour issue, the less they’re pressing hot-buttons with wider popular appeal, and (2) 3 years is a long time to stay mad about anything… why not get a kick in now and *then* get down to actual business?

    Heck, I might be wrong or in an excessively factitious mood.

  15. IrishBill 15

    You might be right Camryn, but I suspect this is more about paying off business lobby groups in a way that minimises the window for political damage.

  16. Kerry 16

    That women, like the rest of the nats are obviously in way too deep!

    “we discussed that 30 years ago”. Consultation my arse!

    This is obviously an example of the new “caring conservative”give me a break!

    Yes lets give confidence to small employers but what about confidence in new employees with this hanging over their head. Isnt is the responsibility of a prospective employer to make sure they are making the correct choice when hiring??

    Thank goodness Michael Cullen was in the house yesterday to help the nats….they bloody need it!

  17. DeeDub 17

    Has anyone else noticed how much our new Minister Of Labour looks like Ruth Richardson in a curly new wig? Seriously? The same tight-lipped leer of judgement….. scary.

  18. Gustavo Trellis 18

    Funny, I seem to remember the odd Labour bill being modified after and against the recommendations made at Select Committee stages. The public’s input wasn’t so important then.

  19. Westminster 19

    I disagree with National’s policy, but they won the election fairly convincingly. You could argue they (National) did not make a big deal about this particular policy but it did get some pre-election publicity. In short, it may be ugly but they’ve got a mandate to push through just this kind of change. Having said that, why the urgency? Why rush this through with such unseemly haste? Theoretically, there is no relationship between the concept of probationary periods and they current financial crisis. National was promising to introduce just this kind of measure BEFORE the crisis. This was nothing about stimulating a moribund economy. This was about ideology and supposed labour market flexibility. Given it’s not related to the current crisis, why ram this through under urgency? Why deny NZers the opportunity to have input into this legislation? Why not let employers have input into this legislation? Why not let advocates and professionals involved in this field have input into this legislation? There is no reason to put this in urgently. It’s a travesty to introduce such a significant piece of legislation with such haste and without public participation. And Murray, the argument that “Labour did it with the Electoral Finance Act so this is justifiable” is risible. As my old mum would say, “two wrongs do not make a right”.

  20. Ari 20

    Well, less dumb to start with it than to do it later.

    I would agree with you, had they not made their whole campaign narrative about avoiding this sort of dumb politics. If this gets a loud enough reaction it could roll all the way up to the election, doing a much faster job of painting National out of touch than they managed with Labour.

    Of course, that would require the media to cover it… 😉

  21. Daveski 21

    It’s disappointing to me to see National repeat the same mistakes Labour made. Frankly, I don’t see what risks they are trying to mitigate given the downsides.

    I’m at least trying to be consistent.

    One of the problems many here face is their tacit if not active support for Labour doing similar things, including retrospective legislation to cover their asses.

    In terms of the employment law changes, the hyperbole ignores the fact that NZ is (as I understand it) one of only 2 OECD countries not to have this. In other words, it’s not as draconian as it has been made out to be. Moreover, as it impacts firms with less than 20 staff only, again it’s not going to change the fabric of employment relations in NZ.

    However, this is a process I can’t agree with and it pains me particularly with some of the smart inclusive politics National played straight after the election.

  22. Tane 22

    the hyperbole ignores the fact that NZ is (as I understand it) one of only 2 OECD countries not to have this

    Daveski, you’re not comparing apples with apples. The safeguards in each country are different, as are the wider labour market regulations.

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