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Fire-at-will Bill will add to worker insecurity

11 December 2008 Media Statement

Fire-at-will Bill will add to worker insecurity at Christmas

Ramming through employment legislation that removes the right of employees to take personal grievance claims if they dismissed within 90 days will markedly increase worker insecurity at a time when the economic situation already makes them vulnerable, says labour spokesperson Trevor Mallard.

Trevor Mallard said that feelings of insecurity were also heightened by the fact that workers could not understand why the Bill was being rushed through without being considered by a select committee.

“There is no reason this legislation should not go to a select committee. The legislation takes away a fundamental right for workers, and no government should be able to do that without its legislation being subject to proper and detailed consideration.”

Trevor Mallard said another reason the legislation should not be rushed through under urgency was that the Employment Relations Act already allows for probationary periods, and does so without stripping away basic employment rights.

“We’ve had probationary periods for years and years, and what this Bill does is to take away from people who are on trial any rights that they have. National says they can go to mediation, but what’s the point of going to mediation without any rights, and being guaranteed to fail.

“History shows us that one of the first priorities for any National government is to attack workers’ rights. The John Key version of National is no different to its predecessor which introduced its iniquitous Employment Contracts Act under urgency within days of gaining office in 1990.”

Trevor Mallard said that the 90-day clause will make it far more difficult for small to medium businesses to attract skilled staff when they most needed them.

“We are already rated fourth in the OECD in terms of our flexibility in hiring and firing people. A skilled worker will be less likely to transfer to a small company if they know their services can be dispensed with at the employer’s whim. It will also be more difficult for small to medium businesses to attract skilled migrants. This legislation works against the creation of a flexible and dynamic economy.”

Trevor Mallard said National was claiming that its legislation would encourage small to medium businesses to take the risk of employing extra staff, “but what National is really telling employers is that you can hire people for up to three months and then get rid of them without any hassles if you don’t need or want them any more.”

The Bank of New Zealand weekly overview issued yesterday emphasised that point, he said. “The overview says: ‘If businesses think light is appearing for the economy they can hire on the off chance they are right …. But if they are wrong and things deteriorate anew they can shed the staff and sit waiting again for the upturn’.

“On the face of it, this sounds almost altruistic, but it ignores the demoralising impact on workers who are hired on an “off chance’ and then shed without any recourse.

“This is short-sighted legislation, and it reduces new employees to bit players instead of valuing the contribution they can make. If this fire-at-will legislation can be passed in such an arrogant way, workers will face the chilling likelihood that other hard-won employment rights will be eroded in the coming months as well.”


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