What has Michael Woodhouse actually got right about employment relations?

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.

4 Replies to “What has Michael Woodhouse actually got right about employment relations?”

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