Send a message against zero-hour contracts

Great news for some workers in the fast-food industry this week:

Unite has now successfully negotiated for all workers at Restaurant Brands (KFC, Pizza Hutt, Starbucks and Carls Jr.) to have guaranteed hours from July this year.

But there’s always more to do, and now we can send a message to the other big players – McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s – that they need to show their workers some basic respect and give them guaranteed hours of work.

Unite have set up an online form so you can send your own (polite but firm) email to senior management at those companies. They have to listen to their customers – so make your voices heard!

We need to remember too that zero-hour contracts aren’t limited to fast food. There are workers in many other industries who are obliged to be ready to work every day – with no guarantee of actually getting paid.

The right to guaranteed hours of work – or the genuine freedom of a real casual employment arrangement – needs to be enshrined in law. It’s a simple matter of fairness. Your boss shouldn’t be able to demand you be available at all hours but get nothing in return.

We shouldn’t have to generate massive public outcry on a case-by-case basis to get progress, especially when the workers who are forced onto zero-hour contracts (or 90-day fire-at-will trials, or youth rates) are the ones with the least power to challenge the boss.

But it does work. So sign the letter, show your support for companies who don’t use zero-hour contracts, and sign Labour’s petition to pressure the government into making fair employment laws.

Collective action gets things done.

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.

Labour takes a stand against zero-hour contracts

Iain Lees-Galloway, Labour’s spokesperson on Labour Issues, has lodged a member’s bill which would ban the use of zero-hour contracts:

“Unlike casual agreements that provide flexibility for both employer and employee, zero-hour contracts require employees to be available for work at all times but place no expectations at all on employers to provide work.

“The Certainty at Work Bill requires employment agreements to include an indication of the hours an employee will have to work to complete the tasks expected of them. It maintains flexibility for employers while giving employees certainty about the amount of work they can expect to be offered.”

It’s an issue of basic fairness. When you don’t know how many hours you’re working from week to week, how are you supposed to budget? Plan ahead? Start saving the massive deposit you need before you can even imagine owning your own home?

Zero-hour contracts are most used in the food industry, as Unite national director Mike Treen notes:

“McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Burger King, Wendy’s – all of the contracts have no minimum hours, and so people can be – and are – rostered anywhere from three to 40 hours a week, or sometimes 60 hours a week, and it depends a lot on how you get on with your manager.”

At ANZ – whose CEO got an 11% pay rise last year – workers went on strike in late 2014 over the company not only refusing to give its workers a decent raise, but also demanding they allow for zero-hour-style “flexibility” in their rosters.

Even John Roughan suggested in December that Andrew Little should “make it Labour’s mission to propose [a legislative solution to the zero-hour problem] without delay.”

So a ban on zero-hour contracts seems to be an idea whose time has most definitely come. But is the Government which took away a basic guaranteed level of rest breaks going to step up and do what’s right?

The state of the nation

I probably don’t have a lot to add to what’s already been said about Andrew Little’s state of the nation speech this morning.

It was sensible and forward-looking – an excellent rejoinder to the “Angry Andy” meme which Cameron Slater has been desperately trying to build.

It was focused on jobs – something which seems like it should be natural to the Labour Party but which (for any of a vast number of reasons which are regularly argued on leftwing blogs) hasn’t got a lot of cut-through in recent years.

There was the acknowledgement of the importance of working with business, and especially small business, to create jobs – but concrete points about job security and particularly the scrapping of zero-hour contracts to make it clear that we’re not working within the rightwing “deregulate them and they will come” model. (Which won’t really come as a surprise to the Farrars or Hootons of the world who were quick to demand that Labour scrap its policy on unfair, never-created-any-actual-jobs 90-day trials.)

The Labour Party – and you could argue the wider NZ left – is at the start of a three-year project to rebuild our movement and win in the 2017 general election. I reckon we’re off to a pretty good start.