Easter trading

Easter Sunday is one of the three-and-a-half days a year when (most) shops have to be closed. That could be changing. From Denise Roche of the Greens:

The new rules would supposedly protect people’s rights to say no to shifts on Easter Sunday or to apply for annual leave for that day. But that just shows how out of touch National is with the real situation for many working people.

Imagine you’re a young person going for your first or second job in retail, and in the job interview the boss asks you how you’d feel about working on Easter Sunday. You’re hardly going to say no, because you want the job.

Or maybe you’re a single parent, juggling childcare and work. The person who does the rostering for the shop where you work is already annoyed at you because your commitment to your kids means sometimes you need to change the roster. Are you going to risk annoying your boss even more by asking not to work on Easter Sunday?

Unfortunately, I think, it seems to be a line some in Labour will accept:

Labour leader Andrew Little has expressed favour in allowing shops to trade on the weekend, but he had a few concerns.

“I wouldn’t object to a law that allowed trading on Easter Sunday, providing the right of the worker to genuinely opt-out,” he said.

Allowing employers leeway with words like “reasonable” and “genuine opt-out” probably works fine in some situations. It’s like the Danish “flexicurity” model which is being bandied about in the Future of Work conversations that are happening at the moment. Flexicurity gives employers huge leeway – in a context of massive collective strength for workers. Chris Trotter already joined the dots on this one:

New Zealand and Denmark have many similarities, but in 2016 they also feature a number of vital differences. In relation to flexicurity, the most important of these is the respective level of union density.

As the official Danish website puts it: “The development of the labour market owes much to the Danish collective bargaining model, which has ensured extensive worker protection while taking changing production and market conditions into account. The organisation rate for workers in Denmark is approx. 75%.”

The organisation rate for New Zealand workers in 2014 was approx. 19%.

In fairness, Little did say:

“The bottom line is you’ve got to protect the right of workers to genuinely opt-out and not be subject to stigma and pressure.”

But this is a bit of a paradox. The employer/employee relationship is inherently unbalanced. One side starts off with all the power and money. The power to hire in the first place. The power to take the job away. The money to hire the best lawyers and drag out court proceedings over disputes and weather a long lockout. There will always be stigma and pressure on a worker to accept the deal they’re offered.

The power imbalance is only mitigated – not cured – when the people who do the work can stand together in solidarity, and when a basic set of good employment standards are entrenched in the law and enforced adequately.

This is labour relations 101. Look where the power lies. Look at the context. Right now, the context is that workers in New Zealand aren’t even guaranteed a minimum set of rest breaks during their shift. Operations like Talley’s AFFCO are literally threatening disciplinary action to make people work on public holidays.

In this environment, with that level of power imbalance, the idea of giving employers more and more of the power as long as they promise to be “reasonable” is so Pollyanna-ish that Pollyanna would look at it and think “damn, that’s a little optimistic”.

It would be so great to live in a world where workers and employers can have truly healthy relationships. Where people can have the flexibility to take or work on holiday weekends, where pay is fair and jobs are secure. We don’t live in that world. We live in the world where people like Peter Talley get knighthoods.

So let’s not dismantle the very last scraps of workers’ rights just yet.

~

Labour is allowing a conscience vote on the issue. It might be interesting to see where the lines are drawn.

Not the “end to zero hour contracts” you were looking for

We have two options before us, New Zealand. Either Michael Woodhouse still hasn’t had anyone explain the difference between zero hour contracts – which are exploitative trash – and casual employment – which is casual – to him.

Or, Michael Woodhouse knows damn well that there’s a significant difference between fairly negotiating an on-call position with your employer, and being at your employer’s beck and call and whim with no ability to say no; and the only reason he’s making any kind

I’m favouring the latter, in light of this report on the proposed changes to employment contracts, which relies heavily on the words “reasonable” and “unreasonable” (and when you’re the one who can afford lawyers, that means whatever you want it to mean) and apparently does nothing to address the actual problem: workers being effectively bonded to their employers and expected to show up at any hour of the day or night with no guarantee of a minimum weekly pay and no ability to get secondary employment to make up the difference.

But speaking on TV One’s Q and A programme Woodhouse said there was no real definition of zero hours contracts.

If an employer wanted someone to be on call, then there would need to be “reasonable compensation” for that, but the law would not put a figure on it.

But he agreed it would still be possible for an agreement to have no stipulated hours.

I don’t know, that sounds pretty much like a zero hours contract to me.

This is the problem for the government. Zero hour contracts are patently unfair. Everyone can see that. And thanks to a dedicated campaign by unions like UNITE and FIRST, with a publicity boost from the much-mourned Campbell Live, it became an issue which couldn’t be ignored or swept aside.

They had to at least appear to do something or the whole “fairness and flexibility” facade would have come crashing down.

But this is not a government which gives one single damn about workers being exploited by big business. This is a government which took away guaranteed minimum rest breaks and knighted Peter Talley.

They’ll talk the tough talk when they need to salvage some credibility, and they’ll promise change when they’re under the gun. But once you look at the real detail, it’s empty. If anything, it makes things worse, by creating even more loopholes for bad employers to exploit – and the irony is that this doesn’t just hurt workers. It hurts the good employers who do want to treat their staff with respect and decency, but get undercut and driven out of business by the exploiters.

In most of the industries which employ people on zero-hour contracts, there is literally no need to. They can predict demand. They know what times are busy and what aren’t. It’s the height of penny-pinching for a 24-hour fast food joint to demand that its workers come and go at no notice in order to save a buck, and it only works because those workers don’t have a lot of choice.

Even an anti-worker, union-hating National government like ours should be able to ban this kind of coercive arrangement without doing any damage to their base. The fact that Michael Woodhouse is still dancing around the issue and trying to weasel his way out of clear, decisive action just shows how morally bankrupt they are.

Peter Talley on health and safety law: unions are evil, workers’ lives cheap

Well, this is downright scary.

Whenever unionists talk about the bad employers who put profit over people’s lives, the right are quick to wave it away as fear-mongering, blowing a few small examples out of proportion.

Well, here are the words of a man with a $300 million business, employing 5,000 “full time equivalent” staff, who just got a knighthood for his “services to business”.

The Bill allows any single worker … to request a Health & Safety representative be appointed. Companies will have no right to oppose the creation of that representative irrespective of their political or Union history, their external relationships … or their ability to perform that role.

Fact: strong worker participation including worker-elected health and safety reps is the best way to improve health and safety. The fact that Peter Talley lists “competence” as the last problematic factor tells you everything about where his priorities lie.

In essence, companies can be asked to create and fund Health & Safety representatives and committees, the effective birthplace of industrial Unions, with no control over their activities…

It’s almost like workers have historically been forced to organise to make sure they don’t die on the job. God, what a sense of entitlement these peasants have!

Employers are rightly concerned that Sections 66 to 68 have been promulgated by the Union movement as a way to hand control of work groups to unions and employees … the Bill does not make it clear either that any worker group will contain a majority of employer representatives …

That’s probably because – and this may shock you – when employers have ultimate control over health and safety, and get to cherry-pick the people who are empowered to enforce health and safety, health and safety outcomes are worse.

Unscrupulous Unions could also use Sections 66 to 68 to intentionally damage or destroy a business …

cersei eyeroll

Yep, that’s what unions do. Unions are so evil that they just want to destroy all the businesses everywhere so no one has jobs. Even if you believe the right’s age-old lie that “unions are a business”, what “business” would destroy its own “customer” base that way, by destroying people’s basic ability to spend their money on its “product”?

Sorry, I forgot I was talking to a Talley.

[On the powers of H&S representatives to inspect any part of a workplace in the event of an accident or serious risk to a person’s health and safety]

It is inconceivable to even imagine that legislation would propose to ‘open’ these commercially sensitive production sites to the ‘spying eyes’ of Union appointed personnel or anyone else other than government employees.

Because even when an accident has already occurred, the divine right of Peter Talley to make money must not be infringed.

… if large fines and imprisonment are to be imposed on employed then they should be entitled to act … to protect themselves. … [T]here needs to be a statutory right to dismiss employees for breaching safety rules and procedures with no right to take a grievance arising from their dismissal.

How convenient that Peter Talley – the man who’s trying to force workers to sign contracts which mean they could be dismissed for speaking critically of his draconian master-servant complex – wants more power to summarily fire people.

The whole thing is a farce, born from the brain of a man who honestly believes simultaneously that “unions are failing because they don’t offer anything” and “unions are so powerful I must be protected from their evil demands for better health and safety.”

And it’s all rubbish. Every single point raised contradicts both the Pike River Royal Commission report and the government’s own Health and Safety Taskforce, with no greater evidence that “Peter Talley doesn’t like it.”

I’m sorry that it’s inconvenient for Peter Talley to not have workers die on the job, but the facts are the facts. Strong worker participation leads to better health and safety.

The super-ironic thing? I was just talking about this exact same attitude in my post on costly government. Over the long term, having good relationships with your workers and their unions, having strong, genuine health and safety systems, and respecting workers’ voices and opinions about their work leads to decreased turnover and increased productivity.

Peter Talley would probably make even more obscene amounts of money by pulling his head in and realising that workers are human beings who just want to be treated with a bit of respect. But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

And the real tragedy, after all that comedy? Thanks to people like Peter Talley, the health and safety legislation, born out of the deaths of 29 men at Pike River, will likely be watered down so John Key can keep his caucus happy. And more workers will be injured, or at worst, killed on the job as a result.

Heartless government

A few stories of recent weeks which show exactly what kind of government we have.

Last August, Emma-Lita Bourne died of pneumonia because the state house her family lived in was cold and damp. Soesa Tovo died after being admitted to hospital with heart and lung problems and pnuemonia. His house was so cold and damp they had to wipe down the ceiling every morning.

The response from Minister of Housing Nick Smith?

“People dying in winter of pneumonia and other illnesses is not new.”

Because people who expect state houses to not be so cold they kill people are clearly confused about the concept of mortality.

Marnia Heke and her children are living in their car because they can’t find stable accommodation. She doesn’t want to go to a motel for a night because it’ll get the kids’ hopes up.

The response from WINZ?

“We have told her that the Ministry would help her to cover the financial cost of temporary accommodation. We wouldn’t be paying for all of the accommodation as it would be reasonable to expect her to contribute.”

Because when a woman and her three kids are sleeping in their car what’s really important is making sure we spend the absolute minimum amount required to put a roof over their heads.

Peter Talley is given a knighthood for “services to business”. His business involves locking out workers, paying women less because they’re women, and trying to force workers to sign individual employment agreements which deny them the right to hold workplace meetings, criticise Peter Talley and his mates publicly, or deny their boss access to their entire medical history.

The response from the Deputy Prime Minister?

“It’s a big complicated business and I’m sure there’s been things go wrong over time, but I think the contribution he has made over the years has been beneficial.”

Because systematically, repeatedly exploiting your workers is just a boo-boo.

This is heartless government. A government that literally does not care about people. Not about providing warm safe housing (it might cost too much). Not about making sure they can come home every day after work (it might cost too much). Not about protecting workers’ right to freedom of speech and forming unions (it would definitely cost too much).

New Zealand is surely a better country than this.