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Woodhouse: tough on bad employers?

Written By: - Date published: 3:30 pm, March 26th, 2015 - 22 comments
Categories: employment, Unions, workers' rights - Tags: , , , ,

It should be heartening to see a National Minister of Labour (sorry, “Workplace Relations and Safety”) handing out to “bad” employers some of the no-nonsense tough-talk the right usually reserves for pregnant teenagers and people who don’t like being illegally spied on:

Employers who exploit their workers or breach employment standards are in line for a raft of harsher penalties.

New measures set to be introduced by the Government, include naming and shaming offending business owners, a massive increase in the value of fines the Employment Court can hand out, and the possibility of being banned from employing staff.

Thing is, it’s very easy to promise you’re going to crack down on employers who breach minimum standards … when you’re reducing said standards to make it easier for bad employers to get away with bad behaviour.

This is a government which has empowered employers to dismiss workers in the first 90 days for any reason whatsoever, walk away from collective bargaining, refuse to provide full information to workers who are dismissed or made redundant, hire new workers on worse terms and conditions than the collective, and even allowed employers to take their share of KiwiSaver contributions out of your pay.

They’ve re-introduced youth rates so 17- and even 19-year-olds can be paid less for doing the same work. They’ve removed protections for vulnerable workers like cleaners so their mates at CrestClean can make more money. They’ve allowed millionaires like Peter Jackson to classify permanent employees as “contractors” and deny them basic protections.

Talking tough now about “stronger sanctions” and “sending a message” can only be seen as a PR exercise. Which is a pity, because if National actually cared about cracking down on the bullies of New Zealand workplaces, I’m sure workers would be happy to provide a list of candidates.

By the time we get around to 2017 – unless Winston (a) wins in Northland and (b) doesn’t sell out for some sweet office-baubles again – the “minimum employment standards” in New Zealand could be so flimsy that Woodhouse could make breaching them punishable by public flogging and it wouldn’t mean much. The bad employers will take full advantage, and the good employers – who believe in radical notions like “my workers should be able to have a lunch break” and “my workers need to be able to afford food and rent” – will be undercut and struggle to stay in business.

Which makes Woodhouse’s stormy rhetoric all the more ironic:

“Those who breach minimum employment standards have an unfair advantage over law-abiding employers and it is unfair on employees who work hard to support their families”

You know what else is unfair, Minister? Removing basic workers’ rights, undermining workers’ collective bargaining, and redefining “law-abiding employers” so it covers the exploitative companies who – probably – support your election campaigns.

22 comments on “Woodhouse: tough on bad employers? ”

  1. Draco T Bastard 1

    Thing is, it’s very easy to promise you’re going to crack down on employers who breach minimum standards … when you’re reducing said standards to make it easier for bad employers to get away with bad behaviour.

    Yep, that was the contradiction that was bugging me when I read about this law.

    I’m all for coming down hard on bad employers but National have been putting in place policies that encourage being a bad employer and, in fact, making being a bad employer legal anyway.

  2. Murray Rawshark 2

    I see this as just another part of their anti-union drive. “Look guys, you don’t need a union because Woody Woodchuck would chuck wood. Oops, I mean look after your interests and come down hard on employers who breach our non-existent legal standards.”

  3. BassGuy 3

    A couple of days ago, someone quoted Woodhouse as saying that people don’t have to accept losing their mealbreaks as part of their contract, I think he said ‘Just say no,’ and then went on to say that it wasn’t that hard and he didn’t understand why people have made such a big thing about it.

    Years ago, and I imagine it’s still the same now, WINZ required you to accept a job if you were offered one, and if you didn’t take it you were immediately dumped onto a stand-down. You were free to negotiate, but you couldn’t turn down a job because the conditions didn’t suit you. If this is still the case, you can’t just say no.

    But, to get this back directly on topic, there needs to be some way to “encourage” businesses to be honest. Why I say this is because if someone dobs their employer in to the MBIE and then starts looking for another job this can happen:

    “I can confirm that BassGuy worked here for that period.”

    “I see, what good things can you say about him?”

    “I can only confirm that BassGuy worked here for that period.”

    This works because (I’m told) an employer is not allowed to say something negative about an employee in a reference, and since you’re not saying anything positive about them the unspoken suggestion is meant to be that an employee is a poor one.


    • The lost sheep 3.1

      “This works because (I’m told) an employer is not allowed to say something negative about an employee in a reference,”

      Don’t know who told you that Bassguy, but don’t take any more advice from them. They are talking complete and utter nonsense.

      • BassGuy 3.1.1

        Actually, it was my employer who told me that. They’re wrong on so many things, why not another?

        • The lost sheep

          Yup. God knows that most businesses only keep running because of the noble efforts of the workers to compensate for the stupidity of the owner. sarc.

          But the employer that told you that was full of shit Bassguy. Fact is, as long as you observe someones privacy, and don’t tell untruths about them, you are perfectly free to give another employer an honest opinion about a prospective employees worth.

          And of course you do, and why would it be otherwise. Fact also is that there are some bad employees out there (just like there are bad employers. FFS, you’d think we are all human!), and if you have experienced them as such, you don’t want another employer to go through the same problems they caused you.

          An employer will normally only be willing to provide a detailed personal reference if they have no hesitation at all about recommending someone to other employers.
          If they have reservations, from very minor strengths and weakness type things through to major issues, they will provide the ‘worked here for x’ statement, and give contact details so that they can discuss these matters in person.

          • BassGuy

            I did a bit of research after your initial post, and came back to say what you’ve said. I’ve not much else to add, you’ve pretty much said it all, particularly the “we’re only human” part.

            • The lost sheep

              Probably should have pointed out that in my lifetime experience of being both and employee and an employer, I would say that 17 out of 20 people in both categories are ‘good’, and work honestly in good faith to try and get the best outcome for everyone involved in the enterprise.
              2 out of 20 are o.k.
              1 out of 20 have a negative impact on anyone working with or for them.

              The other thing that might surprise some of you is that for most employers in my experience, by far and away the worst employee is the one that creates problems for other employees.

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                The question is, why do you vote for the party that represents three out of twenty?

                • The lost sheep

                  because there is such a piss poor range of options available to me as a voter.

                  Why don’t you start a political party OAB? Formed in your image It would be perfect and everyone would vote for it?

                  Post your manifesto, and i will confirm whether or not you have convinced me.

                  • One Anonymous Bloke

                    Such a terrible range of options that forces you to vote for the worst possible option. Cry me a river, crocodile boy.

  4. Sacha 4

    “there needs to be some way to ‘encourage’ businesses to be honest.”

    Good luck with that. Where are the incentives? Where is the leadership?

  5. gsays 5

    i posted the majority of this comment on open mike in response to a comment by mcflock concerning another forrestry death.
    it seems to fit here too.

    hi mcflock, i read in the paper that a 31 yr old tau henare (no relation to the mp) was massively injured in 2012 when a log rolled on him.
    the company (harvest pro, a subsidiary of kiwi forrestry international) was prosecuted by mbie and ordered to pay $40,000 reparation to mr henare in may 2014.
    the company appealed the decision and lost in oct 2014.
    now the wriggly bastards are claiming the company is in financial trouble.

    two things: when the state awards reparation, howabout the state pays the reparation then claims the money from the company.
    second, put one of these executives in jail.
    corporate manslaughter.
    5 years.
    then we may see more than just lip service being paid to worker safety.

    what are the chances of mr woodhouse influencing the jailling of an executive following a workers death?

  6. adam 6

    “Oh judge! Your damn laws! The good people don’t need them, and the bad people don’t obey them.”

    Ammon Hennacy 1933

    • Draco T Bastard 6.1

      Laws aren’t for the good people but for penalising those who would do harm. they define conditions to be met and the consequences of breaking them. Unfortunately, those who would do harm always look to the minutiae and loopholes within the law. Bill English double dipping with his parliamentary housing allowance was within the rules but it certainly wasn’t ethical.

  7. Whateva next? 7

    It’s inevitable, government set the values, the veneer of statesmen has worn off, and it’s a free for all, getting as much as they can, while they can.
    No amount of legislation and lies can stop the greedy who have power.

  8. ghostwhowalksnz 8

    Its a bit like the ‘crushing’ of boy racers cars.

    Remember that ?( remember her ??)

    Its only had one or two actual crushings.

    But the milking of the publicity-

    AS well the police are an existing enforcement agency, whats the bet the number of people able to enforce these provisions will be miniscule. You can see they are seeing a cheap way out here. naming and shaming ?

  9. Sable 9

    Its called the Employment Relations Act but what we really have here is the Employment Contracts Act all over again. National are really a bunch of brainless Luddites who live in the past.

  10. The Real Matthew 10

    It means the government will get tough on bad employers

    Can we save the Conspiracy Theories for The Daily Bog?

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