The government wants to keep us begging for hours

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The government’s proposals around zero hour contracts are designed to make them legal!

The Minister responsible Michael Woodhouse should become the object of protests around the country until he rewrites the bill to meet the repeated promises he has made to end zero hours contracts.

We need to label Woodhouse and his government dishonest liars and cheats.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the draft legislation this week.

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The MBIE website is upfront. It says that with the new law “The employer and the employee do not have to agree on set hours if both prefer flexibility.”

Telling a young, unemployed, unskilled worker that they can make a choice to “prefer flexibility” when accepting a job with a fast food giant is a lie and Woodhouse knows it.

This was the lie the fast food companies have been telling workers for the last few decades. Even after we got collective agreements with most companies a decade ago we found improved security around rostered hours was the hardest thing to get. Every time we demanded “secure hours and secure shifts” we were told by the companies that “their” employees preferred flexibility.

The company knew that the “flexibility” they had to roster any hours they wanted meant the could use the roster to bully and intimidate staff. They knew they could use the threat to reduce hours from week to week as a tool to control workers. Managers knew they could use rosters to punish workers if the stood up for their rights, including legal or contractual rights to breaks or sick leave.

When we decided to take on the companies in a fight this year to end this abusive regime we got huge support and engagement from our members.

When we named and shamed the fast food companies as “zero hour” employers we got huge public support. Nearly every family in New Zealand has a relative on these sorts of contracts and knew immediately what we were talking about. The lies of the company around “flexibility” and “choice” fell on deaf ears.

Under the proposed law a company can offer workers a zero hour contract with a requirement that they be available for work so long as they pay some compensation for being available. But there is no level of compensation provided for so it could be as little as a $1 a week. And the law allows for the compensation to be part of a salary if the worker is a salaried worker. Again “compensation” in these circumstances would be a fiction.

The new law also allows companies to have a minimum number of agreed hours and then contract the worker to be available for any extra hours. Very generously the law says that if there is no availability clause with compensation then the worker can refuse extra work and an employer must not treat a worker adversely for doing so.

But this is a joke. Every worker on a zero hour or minimum hour contract knows that if they refuse a shift that is offered – even if it is their right as it was in many of our collective agreements – the worker can still be punished by not being offered extra hours.

Keeping workers begging for hours and ready to jump whenever asked is the essence of the zero hour or minimum hours contract system.

The proposed law also has a requirement to pay compensation if there is a late cancellation of a shift. But this is worse that the current situation. Under our current law if a worker has agreed to work a shift and are ready to work then they have fulfilled their side of the contract and must be paid.

Fast food companies tried to get around this by getting the workers “agreement” not to come in or go home early – but the worker couldn’t be forced to. Of course if you did refuse under the zero hour regime you risked being rostered down the following week. But once we got collective agreements this was an area where the union was able to make significant improvements.

The new law allows a company to have a “compensation clause” for a cancelled shift that is less than what they would have earned and therefore less than what current law prescribes!

The new law legalising zero hours must be opposed by the whole labour movement.

I believe that the government is vulnerable on this issue. Whatever the initial intention of Woodhouse and his advisers it is clear that what has come back from Cabinet is so watered down as to be less than useless. They law is a danger to workers and will legitimise practises that they government had promised to end.

The government is making a law that will will put many workers into a weaker position than they currently are. It will be harder for workers to defend their legal or contractual rights. It will be harder to resist sexual harassment or racial abuse. It will be harder to protect our health and safety. It will lead to more not fewer injuries at work. It will make it harder to navigate the boundaries between work and welfare.

The government now needs to be named and shamed as an enabler of zero hour contracts. We need to force them to radically change the law in ways that will end zero hour contracts like they have promised top do.

The only way to end zero hour contracts is the way we have done it in the fast food industry.

All new employees must have a set number of hours guaranteed in the contracts.

In addition, the number of hours guaranteed must be able to improve over time if the company has more work available.

If additional hours of work are available then existing workers must be able to access those hours until they have reached the optimum level they need. To ensure this happens employers must be compelled to offer available hours to existing staff before new staff are hired.

2015 was the year we ended zero hour contracts in the fast food industry. We must make it the year we do so in law as well. That is what the people want. That is what the government promised. This is what they must be forced to do. Exposing their lies is only the start.

18 COMMENTS

  1. Yes …the picture says it all to be honest.

    Along with naming and shaming this immoral govt regarding zero hours , – and the subtle ploys they are using to get around it , along with watering down the Health and Safety provisions as of late….we could also start in on the Employment Relations Act….which is just a ‘soft face ‘ for the older Employment Contracts Act.

    It is this last two that has done the damage.

    But yes , chip away at the first two… the zero hours fiasco , … and the health and safety first.

    Then I would suggest campaigning strongly to overturn the very Acts that were passed that enabled all this skulduggery in the first place.

    • And to those jerks from the right wing who automatically tick downwards – ask yourselves this : if this so called neo liberal ‘ rockstar economy ‘ is so crash hot – why is there the need to persist in paying poverty wages?

      If ‘ PM ‘ key and his National govt are so ‘successful’ – if there is indeed ‘growth ‘ – why isn’t the wealth of this being properly distributed to those who actually produce ie : workers ?

      Why is there this continual desire to not pay a decent realistic wage if were all supposed to be doing so well ?

      And whereby rogue company’s such as Talleys are enabled by legislation to lead the way in perpetually finding devious and unethical ways to manipulate the law against a union presence?

      Would they treat their clients that way ?

      Hardly.

      For those who speak of the neo liberal economic miracle in glowing terms and hail it as good for the country – why is there fear of unions if there is so much wealth being made?

      That in itself tells us all that this ‘ neo liberal economic miracle ‘ is simply nothing more than a mirage put out by those greedy exploitative manipulators who influence the legal processes and the spin in this country to carry on in their surreptitious methods of plunder.

      Except now, because of these excesses – they are starting to expose themselves for the pseudo criminals they have been enabled to be – legally . The covert agenda has now become …. so obviously overt.

      There is no more excusing , justifying or pandering to the magnitude of this ongoing rorting of working people .

      The sheer tenuousness of their predicament is now self evident – despite a media that’s tried its best to hide this through diversion and outright political bias.

      As more and more obscenely disproportionate amounts of wealth are being accumulated into the possession of this devious and unethical group – while being enabled to do so with full approval by this John Key and his National party to the economic detriment of ordinary wage and salary earners – the more strident will become the resistance .

      Ultimately there will be a day when Key no longer is present as PM.

      And a day is coming….when these unethical advocates for the failed and highly deceitful venture called the neo liberal ‘reforms’ will have had their day…as even now they are fast becoming publicly discredited ,… particularly with the protests surrounding the TTPA globally and its highlighting of these and other issues…

      It will be seen as a healthy and long – time -in – coming vital pressure release to avert a literal meltdown of this society.

      If not for this generation but the one to follow.

  2. If zero work hours and the 90 day right to fire are possible under the Employment Relations Act 2000, then we need a new employment act.

    Good faith bargaining is a joke.

  3. Like I said before. National has played NZ workers for fools once again. This legislation is a neat con trick dressed up as “fixing” up a problem which should never have been allowed to happen in the first place.

  4. Zero hour contracts, just another tool from the box of hate. This is a government who see’s it’s role is to crush working people, so their mates in the Oligarchy can have their last few days on earth, in Bliss.

    We the people – are an unfortunate road block to their unbridled pleasure. We the people – are but peons to be kicked, and tossed aside so a few can have it all. We the people – need to wake up to the power we hold, collectively in our hands.

  5. Maybe a union need to gather members in the security and fast food workers area.
    The businesses would object because without union rules and support, the workers are used and abused,the businesses like to keep workers taking anything they can,zero hours , no overtime , no holiday pay,no sickleave,and minimum wage.
    We are back to the days before unions came into being ,government painted unions as trouble makers causing strikes, which government convinced people the country suffered .
    Governments got unions banned,that was only in governments and business interests ,not in the workers interest though.
    Time the workers were recognised,not shut out from owning a house,low wages and zero hours no mortgage or loans.
    We need a change of government in NZ to get fairness all round.

    • That’s an understatement.

      We need such a reversal it brings us back into civilized society and away from Dickensian or even feudal society .

      It is incredibly appalling how backwards this country has gone under 35 years of neo liberal rort.

      Absolutely appalling.

  6. For a change of Government you need people to get off their backsides and go and vote. People in NZ do not care.

    • I agree, but I think it may be worse than that.

      35 years of free market Milton Friedman ideology has shaped our social thinking into a very USA style of “individualism” and “choice”.

      The relatively comfortable middle class in NZ see those poorer than them as having chosen to be poor. They despise the poor, they call them “feral”.

      And it’s that middle class group who vote in greater numbers than the poor on zero hour contracts.

      Somehow we need to get the poor to realise there actually is a party they can vote for that would look after their best interests. It may be Greens or Mana, but it sure as hell isn’t Labour.

      Because it’s Labour who they used to vote for and who betrayed them in 1984. And the Rogernomes are still in charge of Labour’s caucus. Labour are just National Lite.

      It’s Labour that started us on this path and they retain that ideology in their core today. Oh god how I hate Labour. The damage to this country is so evident now. Labour should be the party to vote for to undo the damage, but they are completely untrustworthy.

  7. That guy running? He should’ve jumped into that carriage and knocked their silly fucking hats off.

    What’s the lesson to be learned then ?

    • I had the very same thought.

      As my father often said-

      “we are only ever a day away from barricades, son. And we always win the game of barricades- because in that game- we make the rules”.

      He should have run ahead and started building a barricade. They respect force, the high-hatters.

  8. This so called “Government is the most anti worker political party we have ever seen in this country.

    This particular National Party in Government are abusing their powers over us all, and at with cruelness and resolve to break the spirit of any worker with aspirations of making better workers/management relations and harmony at the same time it seems.

    They and they alone are cunningly engineering the way any future relationship between workers and management must proceed, and it is being made abundantly clear that the worker has to accept anything the management decides with the blessing of Government so Government are putting two knives in the backs of workers.

    What a caustic lot they are, it is time to call for a national strike on the erosion of workers rights over the last six years due to National attack on workers rights.

  9. The Poor People in NZ need to get off their backsides and vote, they tend to blame everyone and anyone for their plight but they can’t be bothered to even vote, hence we have a right wing Tory Government because their supporters can see the benefits for themselves personally, by voting Natz/Act hence we have a NACT Government.

    I am afraid in NZ we reap what we sow, and unfortunately it does not bode well for the lower socio-economic groups.

    It is our own apathy that has let the Tories and Right Wingers take over this country and stripped State Assets for themselves.

    • I don’t agree that they can’t be bothered to vote, it is more because they see no gain in voting because they have lost hope in the corrupt system which we now have. If you personally had no faith in any politicians, didn’t believe a word they said and thought there was nothing you could do to fix it – would you bother?

  10. This is a disgusting situation Mike & flies in the face of Keys statement that something had to be done about zero hour contracts.It is exactly similar to the govts commitment to work safety & their present resolve to provide legislation which does little to alter the past situation

    The opposition in parliament are making hay with the governments work safety bill in a very public way.Have we the friends in parliament who will take on a similar role against this zero hour legislation?

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