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Work rights? Gone by Xmas

Written By: - Date published: 9:22 am, December 9th, 2008 - 40 comments
Categories: national/act government, workers' rights - Tags: , , ,

Tracy Watkins reports that the National/Act government will be taking all work rights from anyone in a new job in a firm with 20 staff or less and they’re going to do it under urgency.

I’ve heard that the question of whether to proceed with the bill under urgency was still being hotly debated within National’s caucus last night as some senior MPs are worried that the protests it would spark will end their honeymoon and help set a narrative of the National/Act government as hardline right. Something that would mean each step of National’s plan to slowly shift the country right would be viewed through a less than sympathetic lens.

But business needs its payback and if Watkins is right then hundreds of thousands of Kiwis will find themselves with no protections or bargaining power very soon.

As with any erosion of work rights it will be the most vulnerable workers that are hit hardest. Workers in the retail and service sector are already poorly paid and more likely to circulated from job to job. Watch as their wages and conditions fall even further as employers in the sector take full advantage of the fact their new workers have no protections to drive wages down and then watch as the wages of those in more secure employment stagnate as employers take advantage of the leverage they gain from having high unemployment and workers with no rights on tap.

I have no doubt that if National have decided to run the no-rights bill through under urgency that they’ll do so as part of a “recovery package” in the expectation that the media will focus on the big infrastructure spend and whatever else they come up with rather than the removal of rights for a big chunk of Kiwi workers. We’ll see.

40 comments on “Work rights? Gone by Xmas ”

  1. Julie 1

    Oh dear. I really really really hope this is wrong. There is no legitimate need for urgency with this, no reason why it should not go through the normal process.

  2. It will be interesting to see the backlash – when Australia got it it was even bashed on Kath and Kim (sp?)!

    As the article says National tried to have this piece of shoddy legislation passed in 2006 as a private members bill but was defeated after evidence during the select committee stage. This time they’re going to ram it through without the usual public hearings. Way to support democracy National!

  3. Kevin Welsh 3

    And once again National’s long held “unofficial” policy of keeping unemployment at levels to benefit the business sector raises its ugly head.

    Looking forward to the “mother-of-all mini budgets” in December.

  4. Zorr 4

    Well, it was to be expected. Personally, as I am currently unemployed and searching very hard for a job it means I will get personally stiffed by this law change. I normally expect when I sign a new contract with any employer that there will be a probation period underlined in the contract for if things don’t work out for either of us.

    After reading through the comments section on Stuff there are a couple of disturbing comments from their regular contributors. Thing is, employing a new member of staff is costly and adding this piece of legislation changes nothing with regards that situation where a genuine employer is looking for a good employee. However, all it does is open a nice door for all those employers out there who like to be able to cycle through employees as they wear them out in their business. I have been there and I have been treated like that. It used to be that they just made it bad enough so that you left. Now they can just kick you out. Makes it much easier… I guess. x_x

    However there are a few other things there in that Stuff article that are also very debatable. “Introducing national standards in reading, writing and numeracy for school children” is one that once again rings in a new era of bad stuff happening. This law change includes in it a lowering of the standards required to be met so that it is more possible to meet them. So instead of having reasonable/high standards of our children and having them fail to meet them as society changes and our schooling system fails to keep up… we will instead lower the bar to their level so that everyone can clear it.

    I am pretty much going to put my fingers in my ears and close my eyes tight for the next 3 years until I get the chance to vote again because otherwise I might lose my lunch in what is going to be a very bumpy ride.

  5. DeeDub 5

    Unfortunately a lot of Kiwis who ‘voted for change’ without knowing what they were actually voting for will not notice this happening until someone they know is affected by it.

    This financial crisis is a bit of a slow-buring Reichstag fire allowing the Nats to get some pretty dubious stuff up under the smokescreen of a ‘rescue package’…..

  6. vto 6

    I just love the way it is ok for an employee to up and take off leaving the employer in the lurch with no repurcussions, but when the employer wants to do the same the employee cannot take their own medicine and cries… wah wah wah wah

  7. Mike 7

    I wonder if some less scrupulous large employers will restructure workplaces so they have 20 or less staff at that particular workplace. I’m sure Spotless will give it a go.

    This is just the thin end of the wedge, soon the 90 days will get extended to 6 months and all employers will be eligible.
    It doesn’t help that the little debate and reportage that has gone on is based around National’s framing of the policy as removing employers’ “fear of being exposed to a personal grievance case.”

  8. Chris G 8

    Is it bad that I secretly hope it does go through under urgency so I can get out there and strike? Go the NDU!

  9. Andrew 9

    Storm in a tea cup .. The only people that need to worry about this are those that choose to lie and misrepresent themselves in thier CV’s. I work in IT and there are plenty of people that come to work with me that can talk the talk and have all the skills in the world on thier CV, but when it comes down to it they couldn’t even iterate themselves out of a for loop!

    The new law is welcome as far as i am concerned, i have absolutely no concerns about it. Employers still cannot get rid of you for no reaon, they have to be certain that you cannot fill the role for that which you applied.

    [Tane: Perhaps employers should review their hiring processes – and management practices – instead of lobbying government to take away my rights to cover for their failure to manage their business properly.]

  10. vto, yes I forget sometimes that we should be subservient to our employers and work around their needs if we need to separate from a partner, have a crisis, or be stricken with grief.

  11. Felix 11

    Andrew don’t be a fool.

    Those who lie in their job interviews can already be fired.

    You did know this before you voted, didn’t you?

  12. Bill 12

    if an employee leaves without giving notice the employer can claim the full notice period from the employee in cash equivalent.

    It’s the second time you’ve used that bogus line, so thought I should pick you up on it lest you try for a third time somewhere down the track.

  13. vto 13

    Bill you have taken a tangent to what I said and pretended it was mine, which it wasn’t.

  14. ieuan 14

    I take issue with two of your statements:

    ‘National/Act government will be taking all work rights from anyone in a new job in a firm with 20 staff or less’
    All work rights? I guess if you are sacked during the 90 days probation you lose your ‘work rights’ but those starting a job are still entitled to annual leave, sick leave, kiwi saver etc which are all still in place so you hardly lose all your worker rights.

    ‘then hundreds of thousands of Kiwis will find themselves with no protections or bargaining power very soon.’
    Absolute rubbish – only those starting a new job will be affected that is hardly hundreds of thousands of kiwis and only those for companies that employ less than 20 people.

    If you are going to argue your case at least stick to facts and not use hyperbole to try and get your message across.

  15. Janet 15

    This will really affect the school leavers going to their first jobs – they will be even more vulnerable to exploitation.

  16. DeeDub 16

    vto, you seem to misunderstand the employer/employee relationship considerably…. or are you suggesting the answer is some kind of bonded servitude to keep ‘shiftless and fickle’ employees at their master’s beck and call?

  17. Janet 17

    Bit off topic but great article by Steve Maharey on NZ’s state in the economic world on Pundit this morning http://www.pundit.co.nz. Great to see people like him becoming independent commentators

  18. Andrew 18

    Felix, don’t be a prick. Im not a fool and neither are you. I know that some employers should review their hiring processes, and im certainly not trying to stand up for all of them. But i’m still certain that 99.9% of employees out there have nothing to worry about.

    This law is not about hire and fire at will, but about giving employers more rights than they currently have. Currently the employees have more rights than the employers and that’s not right as far as i am concerned. I personally think that this bill will allow employers to employ more people, but that is where you and i differ. I’m not asking you to agree with me at all and i am certainly not telling you that you are wrong, but just to accept my opinion. yes i am a national voter and i have been all my life. I agree with some of labours policies, just as i disagree with some of nationals, but overall i prefer National to Labour.

  19. vto 19

    deedub, no I am not suggesting that silly. What I am suggesting is that there is a degree of unfairness in the rules governing termination of the employment relationship. It is easy for the employee, to the employer’s detriment, and difficult for the employer, to the employee’s benefit.

    This law changes seems to be seeking to address that inherent unfairness. Demand for a change like this will not go away until the unfairness is addressed. And that is evidenced by the issue continually arising.

    Come on politicians – find some middle ground and get it sorted.

  20. Andrew. Just because not everyone will abuse the new law is not an argument for having it. it will be abused by some and the most vulnerable workers will get screwed.

    how can you argue that employees have more rights that employers? For starters, employers own the production the employees produce

  21. SMSD 21

    Andrew, this law is about employers being able to fire workers for no reason in their first 90 days of employment.

    The law already allows employers to dismiss workers for poor performance, or for dishonesty.

    This law is simply about the ability to dismiss people for no reason, with no process.

    Sure, it is unlikely to be used against skilled workers, like people in IT, but it will be used against unskilled workers, as a tool to keep workers powerless, and to keep wages low.

  22. higherstandard 22


    Steve Maharey could hardly be accused of being an independent commentator – his article is though, as you say, very good and pretty much spot on.

  23. ieuan 23

    ‘For starters, employers own the production the employees produce’

    Actually the customer does.

    With a change of government you guys seem to have dusted off your old socialist party manifesto and forgot that we are in the 21st century now.

    I generally support the role of unions especially for lower paid vulnerable workers mostly in part time work (super markets, hospitality etc) but some of the language of the last few weeks on the this site frankly scares me, are we heading back to the bad old days of ‘workers good/employers bad’, hey it’s Christmas time must be time for a ferry strike?

  24. Tane 24

    This law is not about hire and fire at will

    But that’s exactly what it is – it allows employers to fire their staff at will.

  25. Andrew 25

    “But that’s exactly what it is – it allows employers to fire their staff at will”

    I seriously don’t want to get into a tit for tat argument, but no it doesn’t. it allows the employer to fire an employee that does not meet the standards for which they were employed. There is a rather large difference.

    I believe this law will actually help unskilled employees get jobs that they would not have even been considered for in the past.

    Now i know that you and i, or most of the contributors on this site are never going to agree, but that’s the way i see it.

  26. DeeDub 26

    Andrew: The existing legislation allows an employer “to fire an employee that does not meet the standards for which they were employed”.

    The new legislation allows the employer to fire for no reason whatsoever. It’s pretty simple.

    Whether or not you believe it will be utilised for this the fact remains it will be possible. You cannot deny that and be serious???

  27. Chris G 27


    “it allows the employer to fire an employee that does not meet the standards for which they were employed”

    They already can. However I will admit that the process is too bias to the employee, if that is the 4 headed monsters concern why dont they loosen the procedure for getting rid of slack workers? That procedure will be one that is fair rather than simply getting rid of people with no explanation.

    Instead, they have opted for a bill that will allow shit managers to be even shitter at what they do and give them a mandate to fire at will and hire with a mentality of ‘give em a go for 90 days’

    The sensible option seems to be to make the process easier for getting rid of workers based on poor performance, or as previously discussed here a number of amendments and checks be placed on the bill before it is rushed out in to law: http://www.thestandard.org.nz/a-journal-for-the-ruling-class/ (Sorry LP I dont know the etiquette on linking things)

    But, cynical I am about this 4 headed monster and I suspect they will rush through this bill without any of those things included in the bill.

  28. Felix 28

    Sorry Andrew, but as I pointed out to you, and DeeDub reiterated, the reason you gave for supporting the bill is already covered by the current legislation.

    That does make you seem a little foolish to me, but what would I know about employment law or anything else?

  29. Andrew, how would you feel about being accused of a crime you didn’t commit and then not even being entitled to a judicial process to prove your innocence?

  30. ieuan 30

    ‘Andrew, how would you feel about being accused of a crime you didn’t commit and then not even being entitled to a judicial process to prove your innocence?’

    I think the ‘crime’ is some of the attitudes on this site, we are talking about a contractual arrangement between two parties.

    Like any arrangement it relies more on trust and goodwill between the parties than contractual law.

    It is a 90 day no fault termination period in an employment contract so that employers can decide if the person they have employed is suitable for the position.

    No one is being taken outside and shot if they don’t measure up.

  31. DeeDub 31

    ieuan “It is a 90 day no fault termination period in an employment contract so that employers can decide if the person they have employed is suitable for the position.

    No one is being taken outside and shot if they don’t measure up.”

    No, they are just potentially losing their (usually) sole means of support for no reason.

    Does anyone know what the required notice period, if any, will be for this dismissal ‘procedure’?

  32. PK 32

    As someone who has worked in smaller (<20 staff) companies involved in employing I can tell you that the law and what actually occurs are two different beasties. In theory, you can dismiss for incompetence; in practise it is a complex, risky and often expensive task. An unscrupulous employee (they exist just like unscrupulous employers) can crank the handle of a system such that it’s easier to pay people off rather than try and fire them with legitimate cause.

    You can already have a probation period in terms of employing people – 3 months is currently ‘seen’ as reasonable and 6 months as abuse of a probationary process. It is also a bit risky as there is case to say that this is removing the employee’s rights even though they may have signed a contract and under law it is arguable one cannot contract out of particular legal rights e.g. employee’s rights.

    What I have observed is that smaller firms are often very cautious about employing extra staff as they perceive that it’s a permanent decision that can be very difficult to rectify when a mistake is made. I’ve employed people unsuitable for a job and the whole dialogue here around “fixing hiring policies’, “you can sack people for lack of performance’ etc is rather naïve. Once you’ve employed the person the rules are strict and even if it’s obvious that employee has “over represented’ themselves in their CV and interview process proving this is in practical terms impossible and you have to move to removal for incompetence. The whole area is too subjective. You can’t have a conversation along the lines of “this was an obvious recruitment mistake” with the employee as that’s pretty much constructive dismissal. This then hits the whole issue of you have to then try and fix the person’s problems, give them an opportunity to rectify any issues provide support mechanisms to assist this etc. A month of two wages later and you can still end up in arguments with someone who basically misrepresented themselves (lied), and in several cases I’ve been exposed to very deliberately.

    On the other side of the coin I’ve no doubt, particularly in low skilled jobs, some toe-rag employees will abuse this process to hire and fire in the American manner though they already have mechanisms to get around the law. Making employees subcontractors, relying on the employees fear not to rock the boat, using lots of small companies and winding them up to avoid liabilities etc That type of employer is quite likely to ignore rules anyway.

    The question comes back to whether one believes the majority of small companies are owned by even-handed people who want to treat their staff reasonably or by rapacious, out for the money sods who will treat their staff poorly for an extra dollar. Based on my experience the vast majority are the former who aren’t Cullen’s “rich pricks’ and who just want to be master of their own destiny and have an opportunity to, maybe, be better off financially.

  33. DeeDub 33

    I would be interested to see the stats for the amount of ‘abuse’ of the current legislation by ‘unscrupulous employees’ ? Is it enough to justify removing the rights of ALL for 90 days? I doubt it. But let’s not talk about it, or fact find, or take it to a pesky select committee . . . no let’s just ram it through the house because some self-interested people say it’s so.

    I can’t believe I am living to see this in a country that once prided itself on being first in the world at caring for it’s more vulnerable citizens.

  34. Rex Widerstrom 34

    DeeDub makes a very good point. A law very similar to this has been in place in Australia for around a year IIRC (Labor have only just repealed it). There must be some stats on its effects… if I wasn’t under the pump I’d try and find them myself.

    Anecdotally (i.e. what I’ve read in the paper and seen on TV) things didn’t change for the majority – because most employers are decent people – but for some workers, the law was used against them in a most heartless manner.

    Australians asked themselves why this was necessary, couldn’t find a legitimate answer, and got rid of the architect of the law – out of government and out of his own seat.

    It’s an example I would have thought National might want to consider before heading down this road.

  35. pk 35

    DeeDub says “I would be interested to see the stats for the amount of ‘abuse’ of the current legislation by ‘unscrupulous employees’ ? Is it enough to justify removing the rights of ALL for 90 days?”

    It’s not ALL employees, it’s for small companies only – cue hysterical reaction!!! But frankly there are a lot of t**ts out there – employers and employees – I’ve seen s***te corporate employers who can play the rules but I’ve not seen a lot of evil small employers – most of these guys are too close to their workforce and actuall human.

    I can only state my own anecdotal evidence but I’ve been fussy and lucky in who I work for. Buts let’s use some common sense – there are a***holes around – employers and employers – I can state based on personal thus anecdotal evidence that good, small, employers avoid employing people until they are forced to – they avoid the risk as it’s often their house on the line.

    No-one should pretend that this isn’t a transfer of risk from employer to employee – the question is would more people overall get jobs because of this – in a low unemployment environment this is a crap option – so over the last few years the average employee could tell the boss to go take a jump if he offered this option or he/she would not move from his current role – considering where we are going over the next couple of years in the economy this might not be a bad option

    Of course, the devil is in the detail as if it’s too easy to be a serial probationary employer then it will get abused by a***ole employers but if it’s too hard to apply a true probationary process then it will be a waste of space

  36. gingercrush 36

    pk you make some good points but sheesh do you need to swear. Any argument you make automatically loses respect because of it.

  37. Chris G 37

    PK: “In theory, you can dismiss for incompetence; in practise it is a complex, risky and often expensive task”

    I agree. But dont you think the solution proposed (90 Day bill) is a little extreme? Why not streamline the dismissal system a bit more? Surely a few tweaks here and there could make a huge difference.

    Like I’ve already said… what would the ‘Stephen Franks type’ employer do with this bill? hmmmmmmm…. Reckon the factory would be filled to the brim right Ponsonby.

  38. RD 38

    I think this bill for 90 days probation is good for putting some power back into employers hands. What really needs to be remembered is that a person or company giving a job to someone is a generous thing to do in the first place, They are agreeing to give THEIR money to someone for performing a service, they are the ones paying, they should have some real control over the quality of the service they are paying for (work being performed). Employers should have a high degree of control over where their money is going. Having a job is a privilege, not a right, and, especially during the first months of a job, you SHOULD be tested whether your work is up to standard and you are worthy of working (and receiving a wage) with this company. If you are a good employee a smart employer will keep you.

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