The changing excuses for Fire at Will

Written By: - Date published: 9:33 am, July 21st, 2010 - 6 comments
Categories: class war, workers' rights - Tags:

We all remember the excuses National used when it first rammed through the fire at will legislation for workplaces with 20 or fewer staff.

It would benefit marginal workers included the likes of the immigrants and former convicts. A risk free period of employment would allow employers to take a chance on employing these types of people. Small businesses often did not have the in-house employment expertise to handle problematic workers. The small business owner therefore needed some sort of exemption which simplified employment law. So, with this probation period ‘under resourced small businesses’ would have some encouragement to employ ‘risky marginal workers’.

Fast forward 20 months and those justifications seem to have been forgotten. Now, any businesses can avail itself of the 90 day fire at will period and all workers are caught within its thrall. Seemingly, large employers such as Fonterra or Progressive Enterprises equally lack the resources and in-house expertise to deal with problematic workers, as small employers do. A worker with skills or a long and stable employment history is as risky and marginal as a newly released convict or newly arrived immigrant. Applying the rhetoric used to sell the original policy, both sets of employers are equally needy of the law change in order to hire extra labour. Both sets of workers are equally needful of a probation period for employers to take the gamble of hiring them.

Of course, such claims from National are simplistic rubbish. Either the original justifications still hold true, hence undermining any argument to extend the scheme, or the original justifications were rubbish from the very start. At the point when the scheme was first mooted we had low unemployment. What was more necessary than a probation period for the residual unemployed were training schemes and investment in ‘human capital’.

Now, at the point of the revised policy, the economic situation has turned around and we have high unemployment. There are tens of thousands of unemployed with skills and stable work histories looking for work. A probationary period is not going to make them more employable. If an employer has a vacancy, they have a deep pool of quality people to choose from. We are very far from the bottom of the barrel. What will actually make an employer take on extra labour is demand economic growth.

Economic growth, something ironically this government has paid little attention to, short of implementing policies of the previous government, some home insulation and an almost non-existent national cycle-way. Maybe the justification for the policy extension is not about businesses lacking employment expertise or marginal workers after all. Maybe the policy extension is in lieu of the John Key government having precious few ideas to combat the great recession.


6 comments on “The changing excuses for Fire at Will”

  1. Lanthanide 2

    The expansion of this policy is disgusting. The only merit I see in it is indeed helping those who would otherwise never get job offers (eg WINZ clients) into the workforce. Otherwise it’s a wholescale attack on everyone else in the workforce.

    So here’s an idea – legislate that this 90 day period only applies to WINZ clients, those coming off benefits and people being released from jail and any other ‘exceptional’ circumstance that obviously affects employment opportunities. But you don’t need to tar every single person in the workforce with the same brush.

  2. Ron 3

    I think that’s still a bit harsh, Lanthanide. Heaps of W&I clients are perfectly skilled, willing workers who deserve to employed for their skills and work records without this probabtion bullshit.

    What would work better would to require employers who want to have “trial periods” and who say that they are “giving opportunities to workers who wouldn’t otherwise get them” to engage meaningfully with the organisations who assist people with employment – Youth Transition Services, Work Bridge, work trusts etc.. (It is from these organisations that we will hear about abuse of the process because it is most often they who ongoing relationships with the the inexperienced, underskilled or return-to-work workers.

    The 90 day probabation should be reframed to be about “Empoloyment opportunities” with a training and work experience component provided by the employer.

    Then if the workers work out – all good. If the employer feels they haven’t worked out then the person has on-going support. If the employer abuses the process then the agencies involved could have a reporting process and an on-going relationship with the employer.

    W&I is simply not set up to provide this sort of support for workersmor to monitor the behaviour of employers. Quite frankly they too often simply tick boxes and say “next”. They’re also massively institutionalised and work to rule instead of creating opportunities.

  3. bbfloyd 4

    you guys really shouldn’t be saying those nasty things about ron(key). after all, what can you expect from a man that is still reliving his halcyon days as the clown prince of wall st.

  4. roger nome 5

    Lanthanide – When unemployment was 3.6% – 20% of unemployed had been jobless for over 6 months, meaning less than 1% of the workforce has big trouble getting a job. Perhapse, a probationary period could apply to only them.

    The vast majority of unemployed people are willing and able to work.

    Certainly, it’s callous and unjustified to treat all workers in this way.

  5. Carol 6

    I’m pretty sure some Nat MP (probably Wilkinson) said something like the following in the House today: that the 90 Day Trial was particularly important for small businesses because they didn’t have the Human Resources facilities of bigger businesses. Following from this she seemd to imply that this was a good reason to extend the 90 Day Trial to bigger businesses. Seemed pretty illogical to me.

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