But part of that coverage highlighted a big problem that I don’t think the Living Wage campaign will reach.
There are a number of proposed changes in Employment Relations that I hope to see next time we have a Labour / Left government. $15 minimum wage (although by next election I hope that’ll be $16…). The Living Wage for all Government employees and Government contractors. Compulsory redundancy cover for long-service. And Labour’s modern awards system that should see industry minimums of wages and conditions negotiated – giving the Four Square worker in Kaitaia the same union advantage that their counterpart in an Auckland Countdown gets. That should beef up collective bargaining and multi-employer deals.
But even if we get all those, and the many fabulous rewards they will bring for many low and middle income Kiwis, there will still be a big section who miss out. Because a number of employers are even further ahead of the employment relations curve.
It’s seen in the Herald’s example here.
Instead of employing people, many companies are now having their employees be “independent contractors” (or sometimes “freelance”).
Contracting has its place; I have very happy contracting colleagues. But it is often being used to screw down the income and conditions of a company’s workers.
Sick pay, statutory holidays, annual leave, ACC, tax are no longer paid by the company, but those costs – combined with all the administration of them – are passed over to the past employee, now new “independent contractor”. Health & Safety and required tools are now the contractor’s responsibility – including in the Herald article the big-rig truck that drivers need.
The contractor may be paid for work achieved rather than hours – so that when the company has a delay and the contractor is left waiting, the contractor bears the brunt of the lost productivity, not the company.
Often these contractors are independent in name only – their truck may be painted with the company decals and they may have stipulated that they have to be available on short notice, meaning other work can’t be taken. And the pay on offer doesn’t compensate for the extra costs – let alone the extra risks – transferred to the past employee.
How do we protect workers who will be desperate to keep their jobs, and are presented with this ultimatum?
There needs to be greater protections.
Often these deals are legally grey as contractors legally need to be independent, so a beefing up for the Department of Labour and a tightening of the “independent” terminology in law would be a good start.
Perhaps a company could be required to guarantee that those who contract directly to it earn their industry’s minimum wages & conditions, and guarantee their health and safety. So paperboys and girls can’t be paid 1/3 minimum wage because they’re paid per paper rather than per hour.
What other ideas can you come up with? How can we protect workers from unscrupulous employers, and keep the law up to date with their practices?