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On Cutting The Sick Leave Of Vulnerable Workers

Should sick leave be part and parcel of the working conditions from Day One on the job, just like every other health and safety provision? Or should access to sick leave be something that only gradually accumulates, depending on how long a worker has been on the payroll?

If enacted in September, the draft changes to the Holidays Act would mean that low-income, part-time workers – who are disproportionately female, Maori/Pasifika and disabled - would no longer automatically qualify for ten days sick pay on commencement. Instead, they would gradually accrue sick leave, provided their employers has kept them on the job, with reasonably regular hours.

Any gains to employers from restricting the right to sick leave look remarkably short-sighted. For starters: restricting the access to sick leave would create an incentive for sick employees to come to work and spread their illness to fellow workers (and in some cases to customers) since they won’t be able to afford to stay home. The likely uptick in infections would not only reduce the firm’s productivity, but put additional pressure on the health system.

The current 10-day entitlement was introduced in the wake of the pandemic, in order to reduce the risk of workplace transmission. That logic remains relevant. New Zealand is currently experiencing a surge in Covid cases, and increased hospitalisations for a range of respiratory illnesses, including Covid, flu, RSV, and rhinovirus.

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In addition, scientists keep on telling us that the next pandemic is not a case of if, but when. Lockdowns, however, are no longer seen to be a politically viable response. Therefore, enabling sick people to afford to stay home seems to be not only a desirable step but a necessary one. Yet this draft proposal is heading in the opposite direction. Surely, when it comes to being better prepared for the next pandemic, doing anything that reduces the ability of people to stay home when they’re sick, would be foolhardy.

Besides, the suggested change is being touted as a partial remedy for the complexity of the Holidays Act. Frankly, it is hard to see how replacing a universal entitlement with an entitlement worked out from the commencement date of each individual worker (each of whom may be working broken shifts) can possibly be a simpler accounting task for the people calculating the payroll.

Regardless, talkback radio has been rife with people relating anecdotes alleging the rampant abuse of sick leave. Not by them personally of course, but by people they knew, or heard about. However, even some of the scenarios put forward by employer groups as evidence of people with multiple jobs living the life of Riley by piling up multiple sick leave provisions were later conceded to be either exceedingly rare, or merely theoretical in nature.

False economics

Like the 90-day trial, the proposal by Workplace Relations Minister Brooke Van Velden looks more like a way for employers to shed some of their obligations to part-time staff.

This can only fuel a perverse incentive to increase the ratio of part-time to full-time staff. The casualisation process will further de-skill the New Zealand workforce and put further downward pressure on our already poor rates of productivity. Yet lifting productivity was supposed to be a top priority for PM Christopher Luxon. Funny, that.

Boomer dis-information

As this column has said before, the extent and harms of social media disinformation tend to be exaggerated. Commonly, the most misleading false perspectives and political disinformation originate in the mainstream media, with social media serving mainly as only a secondary echo chamber.

Basically, as the Techdirt site recently pointed out, the moral panic about social media has three dominant threads (a) foreign troll farms based in the likes of North Macedonia and the Philippines that are pushing disinformation (b) predatory “influencers” who are peddling disinformation for clicks, and (c) those poor kids these days, who are readily sucked in by lurid claims and false information.

Well, yes, to an extent. But this very recent research in Science magazine found another, less obvious disinformation culprit: conservative, middle-aged, white women:

Most fake news on Twitter (now X) is spread by an extremely small population called super-sharers. They flood the platform and unequally distort political debates, but a clear demographic portrait of these users was not available.

The authors found that super-sharers were disproportionately Republican, middle-aged white women residing in three conservative states, Arizona, Florida, and Texas, which are focus points of contentious abortion and immigration battles. Their neighbourhoods were poorly educated but relatively high in income. Super-sharers persistently retweeted misinformation manually. These insights are relevant for policymakers developing effective mitigation strategies to curtail misinformation.

As Techdirt also commented, this is not to say that there aren’t young, male, and centre-left people who also share disinformation. Clearly, there are. Yet overall, it seems that people on the centre-left do tend to have a firmer grip on reality, at least judging by the Science researchers' findings about their news-sharing patterns:

Democrats were much more likely to share “non-fake” news as compared to fake news or, and much less likely to be “super-sharers.”

Bringing that insight back home, could it possibly be that much of the community law and order fears about the threats posed by (a) gangs and (b) by a crime wave belied by the statistics, have been a by-product of disinformation that has been peddled by centre-right politicians in the mainstream media, and then echoed by their boomer-age conservative supporters on social media? Maybe it isn’t the kids on social media who we should be worried about.

Footnote One: This week’s fake news about Taylor Swift is that attending her concerts may cause outbreaks of amnesia among the young. (It seems that fans can remember the awesome vibe, but not the concert details. Diagnosis: generational amnesia!)

Footnote Two: You may also have missed the segment on Fox News in January that claimed Swift’s global popularity was hatched years ago by deep state operatives in the Pentagon, and that she has served ever since as a “psy-ops” tool of the Biden administration. Forbes magazine has published a background article on that particular centre-right nightmare.

Soul revival

There are periods in music so fertile that they provide an endless source of hidden treasures. The Cairo Records soul music compilations – they’re currently being re-issued through the very wonderful Mississippi Records – are a stunning compilation series dating from the era between 1955 and 1972. Some of these obscure racks are by relatively well-known artists (Jerry Butler, Sam and Dave, Gary US Bonds etc) and some are by talented unknowns like the plaintive Shreveport vocalist Reuben Bell, and the Hendrix-influenced multi-instrumentalist, Lee Moses. Here’s his “Bad Girl” single:

Here’s a great, previously unreleased demo from the late 1950s/early 1960s by the Falcons, a group that bridged doo-wop and soul. Some Falcons members had been in the classic Nolan Strong and the Diabolos doo-wop group that had a terrific hit in 1954 with “The Wind” - and yet (for a while) the Falcons also included Eddie Floyd ( later of “Knock On Wood” fame) and a young Wilson Pickett:

Here’s a recent personal discovery, from the vaults of the Motown hit machine. I first came across ” No More Tear-Stained Make-Up“ as an album track by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, although the song was also recorded by the Marvelettes. The lyrics contain several of Smokey Robinson’s typically complex internal rhymes:

Like a storm my tears have rained
Since your shirt was lipstick-stained
And the stains that it contained were not my colour.
No sponge has quite the power
to absorb the constant shower
of the tears pancake and powder could never cover...

Finally, and talking of bygone art forms, here’s Macka B’s ingenious tribute song to the 45 rpm single:

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