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What has Michael Woodhouse actually got right about employment relations?

Written By: - Date published: 9:30 am, March 5th, 2015 - 17 comments
Categories: business, employment, workers' rights - Tags: , , , ,

With a caucus of 59, the National Party must have at least one person on the roster who understands basic employment law. The received wisdom is that National is the party of business, the party of employers, the party of job creation; there should be any number of MPs in their ranks who are qualified to talk about the state of work rights and wages.

Unfortunately, the person they’ve chosen to be the Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety, Michael Woodhouse, is not one of them.

In his latest outing, questioned by Campbell Live on the outright exploitation of workers on zero-hour contracts – in which workers are obliged to show up at a moment’s notice but have no minimum guaranteed hours for the week – literally everything he said is incorrect, misleading, or utterly – deliberately – ineffectual.

“I have worked on casual as a student and on my return from an OE – they’re an important part of the workplace”

Zero-hour contracts are not casual contracts. Under a casual contract, workers aren’t at risk of being fired if they turn down the hours offers. A worker who is expected to show up for regular hours – even if those hours are granted at the manager’s whim – isn’t a casual worker.

Either Woodhouse knows this, and his comment is a smokescreen, or he doesn’t, and shouldn’t have the job he has.

“It might be possible that Mohammad has Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) opportunities available to him, but obviously everybody’s situation is different,” says Mr Woodhouse. “But it may be possible that he get support that way.”

Because Work and Income are just desperate to hand out cash to people who have jobs. They find it difficult enough to provide adequate assistance to people who literally can’t work, Minister.

But don’t you love the party of business and job creation demanding that the state effectively subsidise businesses to treat their workers poorly?

“We have a growing job market, and I’m sure people like Mohammad will be able to take advantage of that,”

The “growing job market” is a pivotal square on the National Party’s bingo board. We’re consistently promised more jobs, yet on the rare occasions they do appear they’re less skilled, less well-paid, and, well … probably on zero-hour contracts.

It’s also incredibly patronising, the employment law equivalent of:


As Iain Lees-Galloway put it, “Unemployment is rising and if these workers had other options, they would take them.” But we have to remember that this is a government of modern capitalism, where people are just resources. Or, as Rob Salmond put it,

In fact, is is another principle the right fervently believes in – that a company’s only job is to deliver value to shareholders – that justifies abuse of zero hours provisions. If you’re operating in a part of the labour market where nobody stays long anyway, and there’s a constant new supply of workers, it makes perfect (narrow) economic sense NOT to treat your workers as assets, but treat them as consumables instead.

So that’s the incorrect and misleading bits. Then there’s the ineffectual bits.

He says he encourages employers to rethink their rostering practices.

Mr Woodhouse says that there will be changes to employment law this year and is “quite happy to introduce legislation into the House in the middle of the year that would prohibit the worst excesses of the [zero-hours] practices that we find”

Oh gosh, prohibiting the worst excesses of a blatant exploitation of workers which leaves many families unable to cover their basic costs of living? How magnanimous.

And if the NZCU Baywide case teaches us anything, it’s that ~encouraging~ employers to ~may be a little less horrible~ is going to have little effect on those dedicated to grinding a worker’s face into the dirt or squeezing a few extra dollars out of the process.

But I’ve saved the best for last.

“Of course we can legislate for all the rules, but can’t legislate for good employer practice.”

I cede the floor to the most excellent Helen Kelly:

PS. 24,000 people have already signed Labour’s petition against zero-hour contracts. You should sign it too, if you want to tell Michael Woodhouse his waffley half-assed measures aren’t good enough.

17 comments on “What has Michael Woodhouse actually got right about employment relations? ”

  1. Skinny 1

    Yesterday I read a document from a large employer which appears to be the start of dismantling a MECA agreement. Typically the fuckers can not wait. I note the tone of their propaganda consultation document has changed to being overly bullish.

    This happens every single time National meddle with employment law, changing the balance further in favour of the bosses. At some stage their will be a call to war, a call that workers need to sign up too. Never mind the Middle Eastern war when we are about to be dealt to by American corporations on our own soil. Key is softening us up for the TPPA.

  2. saveNZ 2

    There is a lack of morality turning up in the business world. It used to be part of business to be a ‘responsible’ employer. That mean’t fairness in the workforce. Nowadays unscrupulous companies seem to want to screw everybody to get more and more profit. They screw their own employees, their customers and anyone else to get a extra dollar. The people who benefit in the short term are the executives and the shareholders but long term it often means serious problems start occurring in the business. It can also make businesses less agile as the executives and shareholders don’t invest and live in a world they try to control and then they can’t react or are too late when something else comes along. It is actually in a business benefit to value (and pay) their workers to the best they can and get loyalty and ideas on improvement.

    Companies like Apple who don’t run their business around shareholders and hold the same intellectual team for years that are loyal to them, innovate and benefit. They can overnight outstrip the status quo practically overnight. (i.e. the iPhone which has taken over the market even though Apple never had made a phone before).

    I feel that company executives should never be allowed more than 20 times more than their lowest paid worker (including bonuses). That means there is a relationship between large companies executives and their workers so they both have to work to get an increase in pay. This would mean in NZ their would be no payments made to executives over approx $600k including bonuses if their workers were on minimum wages. Surely that in plenty for most people?

    In addition maybe executives should be on zero hour contracts and have a 90 day trial. I certainly can’t see any of that happening!!! Why, because it is unfair, it it is not fair for executives it should not be fair for other workers.

    Corporate welfare and abuses must stop!

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      They can overnight outstrip the status quo practically overnight. (i.e. the iPhone which has taken over the market even though Apple never had made a phone before).

      Although I agree with your point your example sux because Apple didn’t develop the iPhone. They put it together from developments done by others. Siri was developed by a separate company using government funds which Apple then bought. Touchscreens and many other parts were developed in universities and other research institutions often with government funding which Apple then utilised (The Entrepreneurial State by Mariana Mazzucato).

      About the only thing that Apple has developed recently has been tax dodges.

  3. Bill 3

    Thank fuck I’m not a part of the work-force any more. That aside…

    I wonder if, rather than promising to pass more protective/robust Employment Laws when in office, whether it would be an idea for the parliamentary left (for the next two years anyway) to use the current situation as a basis for arguing in favour of a UBI?

    • Lanthanide 3.1

      “whether it would be an idea for the parliamentary left (for the next two years anyway) to use the current situation as a basis for arguing in favour of a UBI?”

      Little has backed away from changing the pension age and capital gains tax because they’re too polarising to try and win a first term government.

      UBI is much the same, IMO. In one of his first interviews after becoming leader, Little himself brought up the suggestion of a UBI in an interview with Kim Hill.

      I think he it is something he is interested in, but biding his time on.

  4. Tracey 4


  5. TheBlackKitten 5

    Here is a question I wish someone would put to Woodhouse & National.
    What is the difference between zero hour contracts and me holding the expectation that a doctor or a lawyer take on no other customers but me, are available instantly at my request and I only pay them for the time I actually use them despite if it is one hour or 40 hours.
    Then Woodhouse should be asked how he expects people to meet their economic responsibilities under these stipulations. When he gives the stupid answer about his student days it needs to be pointed out that the people these contracts will have an effect on may have kids to support and mortgages to pay along with other responsibilities that he did not have in his student days.
    If he gives the WINZ answer to that then he needs to be asked why the taxpayer should be subsidising employers zero contracts? If employers want their employee’s to be available at minimum notice then they need to pay for that rather than expecting the taxpayer to pay for it. We are all ready subsiding employer low wages via WFF.
    I have just signed the anti zero contracts petition, its imperative to all working NZers that this gets stopped in its tracks.
    Come on Labour and Media, ask my question as a comparative as I want to hear their answer to it.
    And my question to Labour, if they are returned to power will they repeal this act or will they ignore it as they did with the ECA Act during their last 9 years of government?

    • One Anonymous Bloke 5.1

      If you want answers from Labour you’re in the wrong place.

      The only way “it” will get stopped in its tracks is by strengthening the unions, so that working New Zealanders can affect their own workplaces, up to and including general strike action.

      Make no mistake: the National Party has taken bribes on the basis that they will pass laws to enable this attack on New Zealand. There’s a word for it.

      PS: there’s also a reason the ECA was replaced by the ERA. Can you guess what it is?

      • TheBlackKitten 5.1.1

        Replacing the ECA with another act has not fixed the issue that the ECA Act created in the first place. Can you guess what that issue is? I will give you a hint, it has something to do with how much people get paid for their work. Perhaps you may like to enlighten us as to why you are not as annoyed about that as I am. Wages have been low since the introduction of ECA in 91 and yes that does include the 9 years of Labour’s reign.
        And how can you strengthen unions when unemployment is so high? Employers don’t like unions, people are desperate for jobs and will not want to make waves so don’t join or don’t engage with unions on issues. How exactly do you combat that?

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          The median wage increased faster than inflation under Lab5. Ditto the minimum wage.

          Deny it all you like.

          • TheBlackKitten

            Talk about being thank full the crumbs thrown down to you. Wages are vastly out of line with the cost of living and the key driver to driving wages down was the ECA Act back in 91 which Labour replaced with another Act when in power that failed to address that issue. Another words, it was a claytons fix to the issue. People were still being paid well below cost of living expenses under Labour otherwise why the need for WFF?
            “Deny it all you like” but it is the truth.

            • One Anonymous Bloke

              I also recall Lab5 being forced to ditch the ‘closing the gaps’ program after threats of capital flight.

              I note that you have proposed not one single solution to the problem, and have rubbished any that I propose, despite mine having real-world precedents.

              A feeble attempt to distract from the fact that today, collective bargaining is gone, perhaps.

      • Andrea 5.1.2

        Do you suppose our ever so superior Kiwi workers, anti-union to the core, could bend their stupid stiff necks and join a guild? With the affiliation lasting whether they’re employed or not? And be actively engaged with the running of the guilds? We’ve become a very lazy and disconnected lot: some other mug will run schools, churches, sports clubs, unions. We’re sooo busy. (Yeah, right.)

        Of course it would mean another layer of venality to the pungent mix we already have – but it’s a mix we know and revere.

        Does Woodhouse realise that every worker is also a customer-consumer? And that profits are at least partly built from sales – and there will be no dividends for naughty companies that cannot make a profit?

        Will the effluent ACT Party – taxpayers and consumers as they are – ever rear up and shriek at the increasing levels of corporate welfare at the expense of taxed Kiwis? Or aren’t they bright enough to see the connection?

    • Murray Rawshark 5.2

      Organised labour will stop zero hour contracts, and not by relying on Labour.

  6. Clemgeopin 6

    It is astounding how Key has managed to include so many incompetent people as ‘cabinet ministers’ in his government!

    Woodhouse is just one of them. Key should put many of his ministers on zero hour contracts.

    • saveNZ 6.1

      He he, Bill English on performance pay. Umm another deficit Bill, it is minimum wage for politicians again this year, until you pull your socks up.

    • Paul Campbell 6.2

      yes Woodhouse is such a muppet, living in Dunedin he’s nominall ‘my’ National MP, at least that’s the way he represents himself, so I write to him occasionally on important issues, I’ve yet to receive a replay that didn’t show immense ignorance of the things he’s voting for in parliament – you’d think that if he didn’t understand what he was voting for at the very least he’d abstain

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