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Don Brash Writes No. 78, 11 May 2006

Don Brash Writes No. 78, 11 May 2006

Wayne Mapp's Bill

On 15 March this year, Parliament voted by 63 votes to 58 to send Wayne Mapp's Employment Relations (Probationary Employment) Amendment Bill to a Select Committee for further consideration.

The bill's name sounds pretty unexciting - in fact downright boring. But if Parliament passes this bill into law, I believe that it will be one of the most important single things we do this year.

The main benefit of passing this bill into law is that it would give people who now find it hellish hard to get a job a better chance of doing so - those straight out of school with no qualifications, immigrants who don't speak English very well, those returning to the workforce after some years raising a family, those made redundant after they turn 50, those who've had a criminal conviction, those who have some kind of disability. These people often find it very hard to get a job. Despite generally low unemployment, measured unemployment among these groups is currently quite high, while many more have simply dropped out of the workforce after repeated knock-backs and are no longer counted in the unemployment numbers.

Wayne Mapp's bill would enable employers, within the first 90 days of the employment relationship, to end that employment relationship if the new employee doesn't work out. This would encourage employers to take a risk on those less-readily employed, and thereby hugely improve their chances of getting onto the bottom rung of the employment ladder.

Clearly this bill would also help employers greatly. That is amply confirmed by the Government's own Small Business Advisory Group which has, twice now, urged the Government to introduce such a probationary period into employment agreements. It would help them by reducing the costs associated with dismissing unsatisfactory workers, at the same time making it easier and less risky to find some other more satisfactory employee.

What do other countries do? Would we be wildly out of step by having a 90 day probationary period? Hardly. Almost every other country in the OECD has provision for such probationary periods, and the United Kingdom, with a Labour Government, has a 12 month probationary period.

Wayne's bill is currently before the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee, and the committee has called for submissions on the bill by the end of next week - 19 May 2006. There will, we expect, be lots of supportive submissions from the business community for the bill. But I would love to see submissions also from those who speak for those who find it hard to find a job - social services organisations, church groups, organisations who work for the rehabilitation of former prisoners, groups who work with migrants, and so on. If those groups really want to help the people who now find it hard to get a job, they should be vigorously lobbying Parliament in support of Wayne's bill.

At first reading, the bill got the support of the National Party, ACT, United Future, and New Zealand First, and three of the four members of the Maori Party. Lobby every member of Parliament in support of this legislation if you care for those trying to get onto the bottom of the ladder.

Don Brash


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