Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell On National’s ‘Failure To Communicate’

December 13th, 2008

Gordon Campbell on the 90 day employment Bill of Wrongs

Any honeymoon the new government might have hoped to enjoy has been blown away by its pre-Christmas blitz on taxation, industrial relations, bail, and education issues. Bills have been put into urgency before they even had proper names, or before the drafting process on them had been finished. Debates were begun before MPs even had time to read the Bills they were discussing, let alone analyse them adequately, None of which has unduly bothered the NZ Herald, that fierce champion of due process when it came to the Electoral Finance Act.

The print media operating in the provincial heartland of the National Party have done a far better job. Out there, the new government’s trashing of proper parliamentary processes of scrutiny has not gone unnoticed. The Timaru Herald for instance, has plainly been upset by the way the 90 day “fire at will” bill was rammed though into law :

The one piece of legislation that does struggle to stand scrutiny relates to the proposed 90-day probation period for small businesses, meaning those with fewer than 20 employees could sack new staff without fear of a personal grievance during the 90-day period.

This is hardly a big issue, with no administrative reason for taking it under urgency, but rushing it through risks turning it into a big issue…. It does leave a taste of National looking after its business mates, even if they’re small business mates in this instance.
The only possible justification is that in a time of growing unemployment, it will enhance the chances of some who might otherwise have struggled getting a job and the opportunity to prove themselves, but one is left with the feeling National didn’t have to do this

.The Manawatu Standard was more forthright. Under a headline “Rushing labour bill an act of arrogance” the editorial began with a rush of pique, and then got progressively more annoyed as it tabulated the reasons for public outrage :

The National Party rose to power on the back of, among other things, scathing accusations that a supremely arrogant Labour party had “lost touch” with the people.

The criticisms were well-founded, or at least voters thought they were, and John Key rode a wave of disaffection to power.

How startlingly it is, then, for this new humble, inclusive government to decide to pass into law a 90-day probation period for new workers before Christmas, avoiding public hearings that would allow public discussion and debate.

The legislation, which would give small businesses the right to sack new staff without fear of a personal grievance, was not on the list of legislation National said during the election campaign it would pass in its first 100 days.

Mr Key also neglected to mention the proposed law when questioned on Monday about what would be included in the Government’s urgency motion before Christmas.

The Manawatu Standard then concluded with this :

That National would sell the policy as being driven by anything other than business interests further tarnishes the halo Mr Key has had hovering above his head since moving into the Beehive.

It is the kind of insult to the public’s intelligence that Helen Clark regularly made in her last years as prime minister.

If that sort of response is already being expressed among the provincial newspapers that were the cheerleaders for change during the election, then National should be concerned. For now though, there is little to stop it from having its way. The 90 day ‘fire at will’ bill is now the law of the land, despite a bit of conscience salving opposition from the Maori Party – who incidentally, had a terrible introduction this week to the lapdog role they have chosen for themselves, in return for a few parliamentary treats. Hone Harawira in particular, looks as though this role is going to take quite a psychological toll on him over the next three years.

True, in its time, the Clark government did take urgency and rush through legislation as well – yet not to this extent. Even the Electoral Finance Bill and the legislative framework for the Emissions Trading Scheme were sent to select committee for scrutiny, and public submissions. The current measures are not getting any democratic inputs at all – and as a result, even the parliamentarians seem unsure of the full meaning and potential impact of what they have done.

Take that 90 day industrial relations bill for instance. Have bosses in small businesses now been given greater license by the new legislation to sexually harass their young staff ? Nominally, the position is this : under 67B(2) of the new amendment Act an employee can be fired at will if the employer doesn’t feel things are working out. The person fired will still have the rights listed at 103 (1) of the Employement Relations Act to take action for sexual or racial harassment etc.

But what if the boss chooses to disguise the refusal to sexually comply as ‘things are just not working out? ‘ and fires the employee for holding out? At the very least, the person being harassed will now have a harder task, and be in a weaker position, from which to press a personal grievance case. Once utter license is given in one context, it is very hard to stop it from being used for other purposes.

Another point of concern is one raised by Green MP Sue Bradford in her speech on the Bill.

Namely, will the young person who takes a job in good faith, and yet is still fired at will because the employer decides for whatever reason that things didn’t work out – the range of employer whim is now extensive– then face a compulsory stand down period before they qualify for the dole ? The situation is unclear. In addition, Bradford also raises the stigmatising impact on job seekers of the ‘fire at will’ situation, in small towns or provincial cities with limited employment prospects :

Because of the lack of legal protection there will be no way for workers to clear their name if they have been dismissed for reasons they see as unfair or prejudicial.
And to add an even worse dimension to all this, workers who are dismissed during the first 90 days on the job will be subject to the 13 week stand down from Work and Income if Work and Income chooses to impose it.
In responding to media the other day the Minister Kate Wilkinson indicated that this new Bill differed from Wayne Mapp’s in a number of ways, including that it would remove the benefit stand down period for those who are let go during the 90 day period.
However, in the short time I’ve had to study this Bill I can see no sign of the amending clauses necessary to make this happen.

National has rammed through this legislation without proper scrutiny of its ripple effects. In doing so, the Key government is displaying in its first week in office, the arrogance that it took the Clark government two terms in office to germinate. Not a happy beginning.


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    1. 14 Responses to “Gordon Campbell On National’s ‘Failure To Communicate’”

    2. By Finally some sense on Dec 13, 2008 | Reply

      Gordon – Nobody is begging your Labour mates sitting on dole and sucking my tax money to take up a job with a 90 day clause in it. This is not compulsory. All your ramblings about sexual harassment is so weak. The workers still have the right for legal action against any form of discrimination. The problem with Labour supporters like you is you guys want to keep people down so that you can get their votes easily. If people take a risk and get ahead in life they wouldn’t even look at the side of Labour. Take a risk and prove you are good. Don’t think all employers are looking for this bill so that they can keep sacking employees after 90 days. The PC days of your dear leader are over. Get over it Gordon.

    3. By nm on Dec 13, 2008 | Reply

      “Debates were begun before MPs even had time to read the Bills they were discussing, let alone analyse them adequately”

      Standard fare. Labour put forward hundreds of pages of amendments to the emissions trading scheme just hours before the final vote. I don’t recall shrieks of outrage from you at the time Gordon. As the Herald reported, the Government is acually barred from publishing bills before they are entered in to the House.

      “the Key government is displaying in its first week in office, the arrogance that it took the Clark government two terms in office to germinate.”

      You are such a LOLcolumnist Gordon. Not once did you acknowledge the arrogance or the anti-democratic tendencies of the Clark regime while it was in office. Instead you attacked and sneered at its opponents. Attacking them now they’ve lost doesn’t make you balanced.

      And on the point of the Herald, do you consider yourself more or less biased than the Herald? 10 bucks says that unlike the Herald, you won’t respond to criticism or feedback.

    4. By Jane on Dec 14, 2008 | Reply

      Finally Some Sense should think of another pseudonym.
      For your information there are many of us who took a risk, got ahead in life (quite far ahead) and still vote Labour! It’s about the kind of society you want to live in. Some of us don’t mind sharing (paying taxes) in the interests of having a amore equitable society.
      Gordon’s piece is quite fair and balanced, pointing out the so-called “arrogance” of the Labour Party. It’s people like you, “Finally Some Sense”, who would be quite prepared to forgo human and civil rights for the rest of us.
      As for PC types, sorry to have to break it to you but it was those you disdain who pressed for women’s right to vote, our health care system, and other social equalities. Better enjoy YOUR dear leader’s already crumbling wedding cake because the honeymoon soon will be over once Kiwis see through the hypocrisy and lies to the real agenda.

    5. By nm on Dec 14, 2008 | Reply

      Oh wow, criticism of Gordon didn’t make it through moderation. How surprising!

    6. By Margaret Swift on Dec 14, 2008 | Reply

      The “Authoritarian Daddy State”, speaking there.

      Wonder how long it will be before more of us begin to think: the “Benenolent Nanny State” was much better for our vision of a fair and inclusive society.

    7. By stuart munro on Dec 15, 2008 | Reply

      The issue it seems to me is not about a 90 day trial period – that might in some instances be justified – but whether it inadvertantly introduces greater unfairness into the workplace.

      The convenience and pragmatic merit of a trial period is just as important to new employees, who sometimes find themselves working in inappropriate or dead-end positions.

      A government that is anything other than an employer’s lackey tries to strike a balance between the interests of employer and employee, since they are all citizens – Aristotle’s golden mean if they happen to be educated.

      This legalisation looks to be long on meaness and short on golden.

    8. By Mr Man on Dec 15, 2008 | Reply

      These Bills without debate are all against low income people. They all seem to all involve some kind of punishment. That’s why they have been rushed through. Debate would give the public a clear view of what they really mean. The Fire at Will Bill is obviously stripping rights from workers and no Spin can disguise that fact.

    9. By Travellerev on Dec 15, 2008 | Reply

      What never ceases to amaze me is the fact that even intelligent people like Gordon Campbell all seem to be under the impression that the likes of John Key and Bill English actually feel the need to communicate with us the plebs.

      In the run up to the elections never once did they convey that need so why now that they are in power would they communicate with us. These are not people who have our interest at heart.

      They doing exactly what they want to do and f*&k the rest.

      This is the change you voted for now take it lying down is what their actions are telling us and once again their actions speak louder than words

    10. By Finally some sense on Dec 15, 2008 | Reply

      Jane – You are most welcome to donate your tax cuts from National back to IRD. I paid through my nose for 9 hard years and it is my turn to take what I get. I paid extra tax so that the Labour Government can waste it on PC crap projects. Still the waiting lists are the same, education quality has not improved. What did your Government do with the extra tax? Social justice, fair society, my left foot.

    11. By Jason on Dec 15, 2008 | Reply

      FSS. “The workers still have the right for legal action against any form of discrimination” Like all people, thankfully, most employers are not scum; however, legislation that plays to those that are cannot be a good idea. The previous bar was already tilted towards bad employers, with many aggrieved individuals moving on rather than risking bad reps for a typical 3-month salary award. Given the lot affected by this new legislation will be less than 90-days into their new, largely modest-wage, jobs, how many will have resource, inclination, or ability to follow through with legal action.

      From your tone, I’d guess you’d rather people were in employment: “Nobody is begging your Labour mates sitting on dole and sucking my tax money to take up a job with a 90 day clause in it.” Well, over on stuff where “Ms Wilkinson said the law was designed to make it easier for small businesses to hire people who normally found it difficult to get work, but there were signs yesterday it could backfire as three employment lawyers said they would now advise workers not to take jobs in small businesses.” So then that’s just genius! A handy disincentive for finding employment, particularly while the barrel of a compulsory stand-down remains to be sorted out. Not exactly what’s needed in a tightening economy.

      nm. WTF? Trolling much?
      Achmed Zaoui and the Immigration bill, or doesn’t that count, coz you backed the government-line then?

      travellerev. Very clever, but who’s this “you” you’re referring to, white man? I didn’t vote these clowns, and given that the MP are sitting this one out, neither did 50.55% of the voting public.

    12. By J Matheson on Dec 16, 2008 | Reply

      We need a reliable person/s who can take an ongoing count of the new workers sacked by this new legislation. Someone who can record who the employer was, what the employee’s perceived reason for being sacked was and an attempt made to gain the employer’s reason for sacking the employee.

      If the employer is not willing to give the reason, then it was obviously a non-reason and the employer should be publicly outed, because every time a worker chooses a job over other jobs they risk losing that job and the future chance at the others that they have rejected.

      The unions would be helpful but only for union members. It is the employees without any union support who will be targeted. An upside is that it will encourage more badly treated employees to join unions.

      More importantly, Labour needs a written mainstream voice. No matter how good the blog is a huge portion of New Zealanders won’t see it.

      The existing written media and talkback are all on National and Act’s side. If we had had a proper written voice in the preceding 3,6,9 years, Labour’s point of view would have been heard by the voters.

      Instead they voted on the brainwashing National-biased versions of the Herald and the hate-Helen Clark talk back shows. In fairness they may still have voted for a National-led government but at least they would have made their own decision, not the Herald’s.

    13. By Jack on Dec 16, 2008 | Reply

      “250,000 people start a new job in NZ and that 96 % of NZ companies employ 20 or fewer employees.”

      I watched the 90 day Fire bill debates on the net and Sue Moroney pointed out that every three months 250,000 people start a new job in NZ and that 96 % of NZ companies employ 20 or fewer employees. This is a biggie and will effect most of us, especially if there are big job losses and our bargaining power is thus reduced. I didn’t see Sue’s entertaining informative speech on the telly which was a great pitty but I have the clip along with quite a bit more and might post it to my Blog on thursday once they (my IP) stop throttling my Broadband.

    14. By Truth Seeker on Dec 18, 2008 | Reply

      Auckland needs a daily newspaper.

      The NZ Herald no longer fills that role since it became the “Fox News” of NZ print journalism.

      Anyone seen any news stories in the Herald on the latest climate science? Me neither.

    15. By Paul on Feb 23, 2009 | Reply

      Ask the small business owners, they may be able to hire people now, get rid of the no-hoppers and give meaningful employment to our youngest and brightest.

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