Campbell Live on zero-hour contracts

Continuing my commemoration of Campbell Live’s commitment to serious investigative reporting of New Zealand current affairs, instead of watching goddamned Road Cops. Tonight: remembering how John Campbell and the team put a spotlight zero-hour contracts and helped push the government to promise change.

Zero-hour contracts leave Kiwi families struggling

The minimum wage in New Zealand is $14.25 per hour, which really isn’t a lot.

Campbell Live has always advocated for higher worker wages – we support the living wage and the employers who offer it.

Today, a new living wage was announced – it’s now $19.25. It’s the amount per hour an employee needs to earn to keep their head above water.

But there’s an entire industry in New Zealand paying minimum wage and less, because the workers they employ don’t even work a full week.

It’s called a zero-hour contract, and as an employee, you are called upon to work whenever required. That means if you’re not required, you don’t get paid that week – so how do these people survive?

Check out Campbell Live’s coverage of the GCSB and Kim Dotcom stories on the TV3 website, while we still can.

Michael Woodhouse: a fool or a liar?

Over a month ago I asked what Michael Woodhouse has actually got right on employment relations in New Zealand.

I don’t think it’s too much to expect the Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety to understand basic concepts related to his portfolio. Like the fact that he can, in fact, legislate for good employer practice (that’s the whole point of laws.) Or the fact that zero hour contracts are not the same as casual employer contracts.

But he’s still trotting out that very line – accusing the Labour Party of trying to do away with all forms of casual employment agreement – and it’s very heartening to see (or rather hear) Labour leader Andrew Little name that for what it is: lying.

“Lying” is such a taboo word in politics. You can’t use it in Parliament at all – every member is an honorable member even when they’re full of crap.

Yet sometimes, there is simply no other logical conclusion. Either Michael Woodhouse is deliberately confusing the two types of employment agreement to obfuscate the issue – i.e. is lying; or Michael Woodhouse is utterly ignorant of the basics of employment and has literally no one around him who understands the difference and has thought to advise him of it.

I don’t think anyone believes Michael Woodhouse is that stupid. Nope, he’s just following the National Party playbook, and it goes all the way back to their exploitative 90-day trial legislation, first passed in 2009.

90-day trials are not the same as the probationary periods which our laws already allowed for – probationary periods which still protected workers’ basic rights. Under a 90-day trial your boss can fire you for getting injured on the job. Or calling in sick. Or joining the union. Or rebuffing sexual harassment. All things which it would be illegal for someone to fire you for in any other circumstances.

But as soon as anyone points this out, the rightwing spinners get all indignant: “but trial periods are useful! Why don’t you want young workers to get a chance to prove themselves?”

They know the difference. They’re lying about it. And they’re depending on our decent Kiwi nature – our dislike of confrontation and our assumption that everyone is acting in good faith – to get away with it.

~

If you’re in Auckland tomorrow, Unite Union are holding an action against zero-hours contracts as part of a global day of action for fast food workers. Check out the event Facebook page for details.

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.

QOTD: Gordon Campbell on the Hobbit Law

The Green Party has unhelpfully pointed out that National’s dirty deal with Warner Bros to strip Kiwi film workers of their rights as employees didn’t deliver all those jobs we were promised.

As Gordon Campbell puts it:

If ‘Save the jobs!” was the catchcry in 2010 then the government’s moves have failed. Jobs in the film industry have since declined, not increased – and that’s the case even though we have thrown money at the Hollywood studios, increased the boodle available to them under the Large Budget Screen Production Fund and handed them the effectively de-unionised 19th century working conditions they demanded, for their allegedly 21st century industry. Away in their Dark Tower, the Warners chieftains must still be laughing about their raid on Hobbiton.

We got played, as a country, so men like Peter Jackson and James Cameron with net worths of hundreds of millions of dollars could avoid giving their workers sick leave or letting them bargain collectively.

And just to rub salt in the wound, the Hobbit movies are bloody terrible anyway.

QOTD: Supreme hubris from POAL CEO Tony Gibson

On Q&A yesterday, Ports of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson said regarding their planned – and thoroughly rebuffed by the community – wharf extensions:

“I don’t think we’re arrogant as a company. That’s not part of our values. I think we’ve really engaged with the public”

The first two sentences are outright falsehoods, and the third only makes sense in a world where “engaged with” means “leaked confidential information to” and “the public” means “Cameron Slater.”

And yes, Tony Gibson was the CEO of Ports of Auckland during the 2012 lockout of its workers, in a hamfisted attempt to force its workers to become contractors, degrade their pay and conditions, run out the clock on their collective agreement, and possibly even open the Port up for privatisation.

And if you want to talk about arrogance – how about the arrogance of a company which spent $33 million to lock out its workers and attempt to break the union, an unnecessary waste of money which put POAL’s books in the red?

If none of that meets Tony Gibson’s personal definition of “arrogance”, I’d hate to see what did.