Stopping the clock

Written By: - Date published: 11:11 pm, June 22nd, 2016 - 21 comments
Categories: Unions, workers' rights - Tags:

Re-posted from Boots Theory

First up, I need to make make it clear as someone who’s spent the majority of my adult life in the movement and who still does a bit of contract work for unions, including the current push to get the Holidays Act payroll problem fixed: I’m perhaps not the most impartial commentator on union issues.

That aside, I’d want to see this business with the Holidays Act sorted even if I’d never heard the word “union”. The idea that one million dollars of debt owed to Kiwis could be written off every single day, or that $2.3bn (!) could be owed to hundreds of thousands of us is a Big Deal.

Watching One News last night I was a bit surprised to hear John Key refuse to stop the clock on this debt-bleed by claiming legislation takes too long. It’s not something I noticed last year when the validation of speeding tickets was passed from whoa to go in one sitting. Or when they passed the Hobbit law in just two days back in 2010 – a law that took work rights off hundreds of Kiwis.

Sam Huggard from the Council of Trade Unions is right. This is a matter of priorities:


What I find most surprising is Key’s antenna has failed on this issue. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that people feel a bit differently about speeding tickets than they do about surprise extra back pay. And, even further on that limb, I imagine that many New Zealanders probably have a few choice opinions about a Prime Minister who urgently addresses the former while letting the latter disappear over the horizon.

So why not just do it? It’s not like freezing the statute acknowledges any government liability, nor does it lock them into accepting the union movement’s fix for the problem. It merely stops people from losing money while the problem gets sorted out.

My guess is that, caught on the hop, Key’s natural response was to say no to “The Unions”. I think that’s a mistake based on his, and other National Party folks’, unwillingness to acknowledge that “The Unions” is in fact a group of democratic organisations comprising a huge cross-section of New Zealanders, including many National Party voters.

In my experience, the union movement mostly consists of people from “middle”* New Zealand. Which is why reflexively pushing back on unions has repeatedly put National on the wrong side of public opinion, from the Hobbit law, to health and safety reforms touting dangerous worm-farms, to trying to lock zero hour contracts into law.

That said, Key’s found himself on the wrong side a lot in the last few months from the trivial (flags), to the very very serious (homelessness). Maybe he’s tired, maybe he’s out of touch, maybe he’s just not getting good advice any more.
Whatever the case, he should do himself and all working New Zealanders a favour and stop the clock on the back pay. Even if it’s just in the name of the good politics he’s built his reputation on.

By the way, if you want to join thousands of others who are telling John Key to stop the clock the Together petition is here.


*note: I use the term only as shorthand – the notion a homogeneous “middle” New Zealand exists and can be identified and targeted is responsible for some of the silliest political decisions of the last 30 years.

Rob Egan is an ex-senior advisor to two Labour leaders and co-owner of public relations firm Piko Consulting.

21 comments on “Stopping the clock”

  1. Chris 1

    One of the problems with the current union movement is that it’s become disconnected with the unemployed and those unable to participate in the labour market. Another problem is that many in the union movement don’t see this as an issue.

    [Off topic. Please stick to the topic of the post – MS]

    • RJL 1.1


      Unions are by definition for people who have a job.

      Which isn’t to say that unions should be (or are) insensitive to the concerns of the unemployed, but the unemployed is hardly the unions’ core purpose and never has been.

      • Greg 1.1.1

        Federated farmers is a union.
        Do I need to post links where farmers exploit their workers.
        Unions are cheaper than going to the employments courts
        New Zealand management rates very poorly against international standards.
        Yet they blame workers for low productivity.

        • RJL


          What’s your point? That Farmers don’t have jobs?

          Also, I’m not certain that Federated Farmers is a union in the legal Registered Union sense. Doesn’t seem to be on the Register of Unions.

      • Chris 1.1.2

        Unions used to be about workers as a group that employers relied on to supply labour, whether employed or unemployed. Unions are now only about workers who have a job. Unless unions stop making that distinction they’re going to become more and more irrelevant as the labour market and the role and nature of work in our lives continue to change.

      • Chris 1.1.3

        “Unions are by definition for people who have a job.”

        Kind of confirms what I’m saying, really. Eh?

  2. save nz 2

    Great post. This is shocking example of power imbalance and lack of fairness. Kiwis are legally owed money but the new way of dealing with that (and pretty much all other rights) seems to be for government and poor employers to sit on hands and just passive aggressively refuse to do anything. The onus then becomes on individuals and unions to try to ‘fight’ through at their own cost and time, to actually get what they are rightfully owed. That is why the world is becoming dangerously unequal. Just like in insurance the people often give up before receiving what they are entitled too or don’t get what they are entitled too, through legal loop holes being exploited.

    The National Government love to pass through their own legislation under urgency in days, didn’t they even stop kids from getting healthy food in schools as some urgent case? Apparently giving their parents their legally owed holiday pay so they can pay for their kids lunches doesn’t seem to be high on the governments radar.

    Yet another example of false economy, employeers by having so many contracts hours and so forth are mired in a complex soup of rules, instead of just having decent 40 hour weeks and overtime after that.

    If you want to know why NZ has such low productivity, look at this holiday pay example. Seriously what sort of loyalty would you have for your employeer if they decide they just can’t be bothered to sort this out money your’re owed and need.

    And why vote for a government that likes to rip people (especially poorer people) off?

  3. jcuknz 3

    ‘Unions’ is a dirty word over at Kiwiblog …. LOL….. they do not seem to realise that most of them are in some kind of union and value their own version of association.

  4. fisiani 4

    This is just a minor quibble about a trivial technicality which is of no burning concern for most workers. That explains why the Government is not rushing to make a patch. Hardly anyone cares about a few dollars, barely enough for a cup of coffee.

    • Rob Egan 4.1

      Unite has published the details of one of their members at McDonalds who is owed 15 hours on one week’s leave miscalculation alone. I’m also aware of other people who are owed hundreds of dollars or more. Part of the problem is the huge variety of work that has variable hours. 40 hour a week salaried workers are less likely to be affected but should still check their payslips: I’m not a payroll expert but as I understand it if their leave is accrued in hours there may still be a problem.

    • John shears 4.2

      Another Fizzy Fallacious Fistula. FOF

    • save nz 4.3

      @fisiani – if it so trivial why don’t they just fix it?

      Talent 2 situation, anyone?

    • Macro 4.4

      This is just a minor quibble about a trivial technicality which is of no burning concern for most workers

      Yes of course it is dear – I take it dear leader pays you your holiday pay correctly.

    • Draco T Bastard 4.5

      A million dollars per day isn’t “barely enough for a cup of coffee”.

      To put it another way, that’s 365 million dollars per year not being spent in the NZ economy and thus not supporting businesses and not creating jobs.

  5. fisiani 5

    A million dollars a day might sound a lot but with about 2,000,000 workers is about 50c a day. About a splash of milk.
    Also If the money is not spent by the workers then it is spent by the business or shareholders. It does not just disappear. i despair for the economic knowledge of the left

    • Richardrawshark 5.1

      If you haven’t stopped supporting this governments every move yet, with the full flood of facts available right now showing pretty much everything they have done has been sole for the purpose to keep them in power as long as possible, it has never been about bettering anything, your just playing deaf and bringing up straw arguments like the above.

      Logic tells me your a National Party member or personally vested by job or profit to support them at any cost, even your fellow mans.

      Come on Fisi instead of your one line replies, give the standard a proper post with facts and details of how nationals economic strategy is working for all nz’ers.

    • McFlock 5.2


      It’s ok, because my employers or shareholders will spend $150-odd of my money every year, even if I don’t. They’ll take that burden on for me.

      Tell you what, I’m cool with that if the government takes on the burden of spending 40 to 60 cents of every dollar you earn. It’s fiscally neutral, the money doesn’t disappear.

    • save nz 5.3

      Money does disappear from the economy if you have tax havens….

  6. Until compulsory unionism is returned workers will miss out on their rights and the unemployed will remain unemployed.

  7. Little Kiwi 7

    My last employer didn’t pay holiday pay or sick pay after 1.5 years, but I need the reference on my CV so didn’t make a fuss about it. Some employers might make the wrong payments but many small businesses don’t pay holiday pay or follow employment law and they get away with it for years and never get into any trouble for it even when they are brazen about it.

    A solution would be to filter our wages through a monitored system. It would be a huge IT system but we could become a skills and labour based economy – with the right leadership of course.

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • Swiss tax agreement tightens net
    Opportunities to dodge tax are shrinking with the completion of a new tax agreement with Switzerland, Revenue Minister Stuart Nash announced today. Mr Nash and the Swiss Ambassador David Vogelsanger have today signed documents to update the double tax agreement (DTA). The previous DTA was signed in 1980. “Double tax ...
    2 weeks ago