That one time Government almost did something decent for workers

Written By: - Date published: 9:50 am, July 4th, 2015 - 41 comments
Categories: human rights, workers' rights - Tags:

There was this one time when the Government understood that workers coming into NZ to help rebuild Christchurch were very vulnerable to exploitation.  Because a work visa is tied to a particular employer, migrant workers found that raising any issue such as getting the minimum wage, health and safety, being ripped off on accommodation and the like, meant they would be dismissed and have to leave the country despite often having incurred huge debt to get here.

The Government thought a solution would be to allow them the freedom to move easily to another employer involved in the rebuild and changed the rules to allow this.  We all praised them.   But the Government is worried about “employee poaching”.  That is when workers move to other employers because they can earn more.  Yes they have made collective bargaining inaccessible by design of the law, but there will also be active measures to ensure market pressure to lift wages are also removed by Government supported anti competitive measures.

Warned/lobbied (by those bastions of worker rights, Labour Hire agencies would you believe!) that this move to support migrants might mean ” employee poaching” – it has now backed down and reversed this decision.  Actually prior to that is has even facilitated construction employers to sign a “Construction Sector Workforce Plan” with a specific acknowledgement that “poaching” will increase wages and a provision that says

Anti-poaching agreement: construction employers will investigate the scope for an anti-poaching agreement, in which signatories will refrain from directly approaching other employers’ staff with a view to poaching them, and rely instead on fair and equitable ways of attracting and retaining staff

Actually there was this other time too.  After two Government run inquiries into health and safety, the overwhelming finding was that the biggest fault in our shonky system was the lack of worker participation in workplace safety.  Basically workers are the only “eyes, ears and mouth” at the worksite every day and in safe jurisdictions they have rights and roles in keeping the work safe.

The Government almost introduced new law which would secure this role and these rights for workers.  We all praised them.  Not only would workplaces have elected safety reps but they would have real rights – like ceasing dangerous work, issuing prohibition notices, accompanying inspectors and being part of investigations.  After lobbying from our most dangerous sector (agriculture), the Government will try to pass the law excluding these rights for all business with less than 20 staff – which happen to be our most dangerous – farming, forestry, construction, fishing.  If workers do not have reps with approved training, it doesn’t matter what “employee participation” system the workplace has – these rights are removed.

Oh and actually… do you remember the Minister (Woodhouse) said he would legislate to remove the worst elements of zero hour contracts and deductions from workers wages for events such as drive offs in petrol stations (maybe he just meant he would get rid of John Campbell?).  We all praised him.

Of course the worst element for zero hours is that in most cases they are unnecessary.  They occur most often in 24/7 businesses that could easily offer permanent hours.  The fix would be to make them unlawful unless there were genuine reasons on reasonable grounds to use them.  We think instead he will probably legislate to make zero hours lawful but put in unstipulated penalties in such as “an allowance” for late cancelled shifts, or such like. There will be nothing for late call ins which will increase (to avoid the allowance), or insufficient security of hours and irregular shifts – which is the real issue here.   On deductions – we think they are already unlawful, but these too are likely to be made legal in some circumstances allowing more of them rather than reducing them (if they do anything at all).

41 comments on “That one time Government almost did something decent for workers ”

  1. red-blooded 1

    The cuts to workers’ rights have been insidious; usually presented as a solution to some problem employers claim to have, apparently little steps, but little steps that all lead in one direction.

  2. Nigel 2

    “Of course the worst element for zero hours is that in most cases they are unnecessary. They occur most often in 24/7 businesses that could easily offer permanent hours.”

    Good article. Great work you do getting the message on H&S/working conditions out there.

    We are literally not allowed to discuss any of this stuff as an employee of a business that may fit the quote above. Top secret workplaces and all that.

  3. ropata 3

    Michael Hudson nails the problem. The 1% are waging financial war on the rest of us. The objective of military warfare is to acquire land, key resources, and political power over a nation. The only difference is that financial warfare is carried out with fountain pens not guns. The outcome is the same.

    The aim of financial warfare is not merely to acquire land, natural resources and key infrastructure rents as in military warfare; it is to centralize creditor control over society. In contrast to the promise of democratic reform nurturing a middle class a century ago, we are witnessing a regression to a world of special privilege in which one must inherit wealth in order to avoid debt and job dependency.

    The emerging financial oligarchy seeks to shift taxes off banks and their major customers (real estate, natural resources and monopolies) onto labor. Given the need to win voter acquiescence, this aim is best achieved by rolling back everyone’s taxes. The easiest way to do this is to shrink government spending, headed by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The fact that these are the programs that enjoy the strongest voter support has inspired the Big Lie of our epoch: the pretense that governments can create money only to pay the financial sector, leaving the beneficiaries of social programs entirely responsible for paying for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, not the wealthy. This Big Lie is used to reverse the concept of progressive taxation, turning the tax system into a ploy of the financial sector to levy tribute on the economy at large.

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/12/31/the-financial-war-against-the-economy-at-large/

    • Draco T Bastard 3.1

      The emerging financial oligarchy seeks to shift taxes off banks and their major customers (real estate, natural resources and monopolies) onto labor.

      This is what GST is and why we’ve always seen an increase in GST at the same time that taxes on high incomes has come down.

    • Reddelusion 3.2

      Can you tell me when the next meeting of the 1pc is, I would like to go, they seem very organised

      • Crashcart 3.2.1

        Just look for the next meeting of the Cabinet Club. That should have a pretty good representation of the 1% paying a whole lot of money into the National Party charity and having nice little innocent discussions with the leader of the National party. Not the PM of course that could be considered slightly corrupt.

      • ropata 3.2.2

        Up FJK’s arse usually, I’m pretty sure you are familiar with it

  4. dukeofurl 4

    So the Labour hire companies stamp their feet and its done overnight.

  5. Charles 5

    It’s nice the government tried to become an Immigrant Labour Union (ILU – you may not have heard of them..) to solve the problems of their ideology, and then realised that as a Union they were contradicting the idea of unfettered profit and private control of the labour force. Must have been quite something to see that reverse eureka moment go off in the collective heads of National MPs.

  6. Chrys Berryman 7

    ……and when the immigrant worker gets home …the exploitation continues,crammed into a bedroom with 4 other guys and paying $175 for the privilege…..this is not the N.Z I grew up in,where an owner of clapped out villa in ChCh can gross $500,000 a year…….and then theres the highly trained Phillipino nurses who work in aged care for the minimum wage and get the shove after 2 years because they fail the English exam[a test most Kiwis would fail!!]………enabling the rest home to get another set of wage slaves…….the list goes on and on…….thankyou National for creating the conditions for this evil to thrive.

  7. Draco T Bastard 8

    But the Government is worried about “employee poaching”. That is when workers move to other employers because they can earn more.

    Wouldn’t that be like the free labour market that employers keep insisting that they need?

    Of course, what the employers really mean is that they want to be able to do anything they like without having to consider the employees while the employees have to do what they’re told whether they like it or not. Exactly the same way as it was under the old feudal lords.

    Actually prior to that is has even facilitated construction employers to sign a “Construction Sector Workforce Plan” with a specific acknowledgement that “poaching” will increase wages and a provision that says

    I’ve looked at a few contracts for labour hire firms and the one thing that they seem to have in common is a clause that if the person who is employed by them then gets a job for one of the labour hire firms clients that person owes the labour hire firm. The least I’ve seen claimed is two and a half weeks pay and the most is $5000.

    The employers don’t want a free labour market, they want a slave market and this government is giving it to them.

    • ropata 8.1

      That is not a legal contract, it contravenes the basic right of someone to earn a living. Wouldn’t stand up in court, but a minimum wage labourer doesn’t have the means to go there..

    • Reddelusion 8.2

      Are you sure Draco, my experience is the employer pays if worker goes temp to perm. You may be referring to if employee finishes with labour hire company, thus the labour hire company is simply seeking to recover his investment in bringing some one out

      • Draco T Bastard 8.2.1

        Last time I looked, labour hire companies don’t do any investment in the people that the contract out and so they’re not recouping anything.

        • Reddelusion 8.2.1.1

          Draco if they where providing no value they would not survive. they are simply acting as middlemen connecting employees and employers which obviously comes at a cost but also adds value , if not you would assume with modern technolgy they would be easily disinter-mediated.

          • ropata 8.2.1.1.1

            Surprisingly, unskilled labourers don’t use high technology in the manner you dream of

          • Draco T Bastard 8.2.1.1.2

            I’m not disputing that. I’m pointing out that they’re effectively claiming ownership of the employees by demanding payment from those employees and the new employers if the employees leave.

    • BM 8.3

      Yeah, that finders fees a bit rough.

      I remember doing a bit of work for one particular business and they had this young fella
      helping out doing general labouring and stuff.

      The boss of the business was going to offer him a full time job but the labour hire company said the business in question would have to pay something like 3-5k to them as a finders fee.

      We’re talking just a bog standard labourer with no special skills, unfortunately the young guy didn’t get the job.

      I don’t think a lot of people quite realize the traps some of these labour hire companies can be.

      • Draco T Bastard 8.3.1

        It’s not a finders fee as the labour hire firm hadn’t been hired to find anybody. It’s a don’t take our slave off us fee.

      • Reddelusion 8.3.2

        This is normal terms in the industry bm. If not how would these firms survive. They offer to types of services, temp labour where the make a margin on hours worked by temp ( paid by employer) , hence if employer can just take his people the business model would be unsustainablle, ie let the hire company do all the recruiting and work and at no cost employer takes the ones he likes. Normally if a temp has been at a place long term the temp to perm fee is waived or reduced. The other service these companies provide is recruiting for full time employees, this is where a one off finders fee is paid by employer. All this talk of slave labour is nonsense, these companies prove a valueable service in bringing employees and employers together, which either party would find much more difficult on their own

        • BM 8.3.2.1

          I completely understand.

          I just thought it was a bit high for a labourer.

          It’s hard enough for the unskilled to find work, having this sort of road block put in your way when you’re trying your best is a bit disheartening .

        • Tracey 8.3.2.2

          why do they have a right to survive? They get a cut by charging the work at $25 per hour but only paying $15 per hour…

  8. Mike the Savage One 9

    Perhaps instead of being concerned about “employee poaching”, especially in view of a looming recession coming our way (dairy bust, China growth slowing, Australia losing steam), we may also have reason to be concerned about immigrant workers competing for jobs offered by other employers, thus putting pressure on wages of local workers?

    But besides of that, whatever is going on in the area of labour laws and workers rights, this government can hardly be trusted to honestly look after the interests of workers.

  9. Gordon Reynolds 10

    What are you all complaining about.
    The majority of voters support the national party so they are getting what they want.
    After all the employers are a minority the rest of us are workers so we get what the working voter voted for.
    I don’t understand them!!!!!!

  10. G C 11

    Free market capitalism is normally National’s mantra, right? “We should let the markets decide” I’m sure I’ve heard them say that? (I’m seriously asking)

    This sounds like slavery. If an employee can get better pay somewhere else, all power to them. Why shouldn’t a skilled/hardworking construction worker be entitled to accept such opportunities.

    It’s good for over-all wage increases and encourages businesses to be more innovative. ‘Job Placement Companies’ are probably losing money when workers exit jobs they’ve been placed in – cry me a river, people aren’t slaves, right?

    If people are impinged from moving around the labour force, unemployment will be created:

    Opportunities for continued employment will be lost. ChCh Rebuild Example: Employee is told there is 8 months worth of work. After working 5 months an opportunity to take up a years contract in another business arises. Because of anti-poaching policy – opportunity is lost and employee is unemployed 3 months later.

    • Reddelusion 11.1

      Yes it is free market GC but as in all markets contracts mean something hence the contract between hire company and their staff and employee and hire company. The government step in where the market is failing to deliver on the greater good , ie chc rebuild, I thought you would be all for that

      • G C 11.1.1

        Disagree Reddelusion

        I haven’t seen any evidence workers (ChCh Rebuild) availing themselves with higher paying opportunities means; “the market is failing to deliver on the greater good”.

        Someone maybe a valued employee of a small company. If their skill-set is being under utilised – and said skill-set could be used to complete say, an Anchor Project (convention centre, sports facility) – why stop that from happening.

        If a foreign worker is being exploited, is it for the “greater good” to stop them accepting fair remuneration for their labour.

        Let’s not forget the Christchurch Rebuild is the government’s proverbial ‘wet-dream’ in that it dramatically bolsters economic growth.

        It’s human nature NOT to want to job hop. Rather people want a secure position they can stick at. Christchurch has traditionally been a low wage town/city. With an increasingly active and dynamic local economy here (ChCh) – wages have to and will increase. Policies like the above are just backwards.

        • Reddelusion 11.1.1.1

          It simply a competitive fixed term contract GC, a contract to supply labour is no different than any other contract, if you don’t like it don’t sign it, or negioate terms accordingly. Without the law of contracts and effective enforcement commerce would break down. How would you feel if you hired a plumber for 2 weeks under contract and halfway through the job he decides to pick up sticks because it suits him Your political views on chic rebuild is immaterial to this arguement

          • G C 11.1.1.1.1

            “How would you feel if you hired a plumber for 2 weeks under contract and halfway through the job he decides to pick up sticks because it suits him”

            1. A sole-trade is unlikely to throw His business away on a whim
            2. If it is a company, another trades person could finish the job
            3. I wouldn’t pay the plumber
            4. etc, etc, etc

            People aren’t incline to just leave jobs – if ‘Recruitment Agencies’ are experiencing high turn over – perhaps they need to look at themselves.

      • Draco T Bastard 11.1.2

        There are somethings that shouldn’t be in a contract and clauses that prevent employees from moving to better employment is one of them.

        • Reddelusion 11.1.2.1

          That is the case under normal employment law, the chc rebuild is a bit different, re jobs are project related, people are coming in on specific temporary visa to meet a specific need (the chc rebuild) and are operating in a quasi contractor environment and are not directly employed by the employer, but by the hire company

          • G C 11.1.2.1.1

            When using the term “quasi contractor environment” in your argument – It’s really scrapping the bottom of the barrel. I’m still not convinced there is an actual problem that needs addressing here.

            Rather, I’m incline to think ‘Recruitment Agencies’ are using lobbyist to promote policy that would line their pockets. I’d suggest ‘Recruitment Agencies’ need to get better at placing people in jobs – NOT seeking corporate welfare through a legislative proxy.

          • Draco T Bastard 11.1.2.1.2

            Nothing about the Christchurch rebuild requires a change in employment law just to protect the labour hire firms from their own folly of not paying enough/abusing people.

  11. G C 12

    Surely the ACT Party would be against this kind of ‘policy making’ & legislation?

    • Draco T Bastard 12.1

      You would think so but I wouldn’t count on it as Act works to protect the employers more often than not.

      • G C 12.1.1

        I hope Act speak out against this policy idea – I’m liking David Seymour at the moment.

  12. Keith 13

    The move to stop a worker going to another employer to get better conditions is a text book example of laws used in the medieval period where serfs were prevented from leaving their masters. What next, legislate what colour and material of clothing they must wear?

    As for Woodhouse saying he was going to change the zero hour rort and he doesn’t, absolute classic lying National. I can just see it, “shit we are getting a caning over this abusive zero hour scam, tell them you’ll change it, but never change anything. It will keep our donors happy and maximise profits.

    Its no exaggeration that National are in government for their mates and hate ordinary people.

  13. Keith 14

    In fact what you describe in the opening paragraphs is not at all disimilar to “Debt bondage” or “Serfdom” and this banned by the UN.

    Because a person, who goes to great expense to come to NZ is then bonded to an employer named on the visa and cannot leave them legally to work for another, or certainly not without a lot of difficulty and probable expense. Their original employer quite simply owns their destiny whilst in NZ and that person is extremely exploitable to say the least.

    Its almost unbelievable that in NZ in the 21st century we are even talking about this.

  14. Peter Scott 15

    Excellent post Helen. So National are the champions of letting the market decide except when it comes to labourers wages. That is absolutely disgraceful and must be stamped on if workers wages are to rise.

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