The problems with National and A.C.T. employment policies: PART 3


In Part 2 of my series on the problems I have with National and A.C.T.’s employment policies, I focussed on workplace accidents and support for those who are fatigued or stressed. In this third and final part, I examine issues that employers face in hiring staff and the problem of rife discrimination in the work place.

On a regular basis in the news we hear from employers who are unable to find the appropriate staff to work for them. An ongoing problem, it is one that stems from a number of surprisingly obvious decisions that economic planners have made over the years, which we are now reaping the consequences of. One, and perhaps the most obvious has been the failure of employers to do due diligence on recruitment, by not making sure that new employees have the necessary qualifications to do the job. I remember that at work on a couple of instances several years ago, temps were being used to help regular staff keep pace with the summer time workload; the vast majority were alright and lasted either until they moved on or we did need them any longer. However there was the odd temp that did not last their first shift. One or two did not have full driver licences, and were thus not legally able to drive cars; others lied to their recruitment agency…

Another has been unfortunately highlighted by a few rotten apples. Paying less than minimum wage in New Zealand is illegal, but there are companies that do. Some of them are small employers in labour intensive industries such as fruit picking, whilst others are fairly large companies.

National and A.C.T. in their ideological determination to remove all barriers – reasonable or not – to a deregulated market – would try to undermine not only the employees who work for these companies, but potentially the companies themselves. The company boards would most likely look to cut costs, and would struggle to appreciate the argument that can be made for paying staff properly and they will in turn look after the company. The current support by small businesses being shown to Labour suggest that at least some employers have rethought how they conduct their operations, post-COVID.

Discrimination in the workplace can take many forms. Sometimes it might be based on skin colour or gender, which would immediately place the offending staff/employer in front of a potential personal grievance. Sometimes it might be based on other characteristics such as how an employee gets on with their colleagues, or how old they are. Discrimination is banned in New Zealand, but in the course of ones working life, it is probable that they will met a victim of discriminatory tactics. No individual or employer is ever going to admit such tactics, since they obviously will not want whatever punishment that the court hands down.

Not all discrimination is intentional. Employees might not be aware of the effect something they said or did has had on a person. If one brings it to their attention

A.C.T. has said it will abolish the Human Rights Commission. In proposing to abolish the H.R.C. the A.C.T. Party has basically said it has no regard for the human rights of employees in the work place. It would mean one of the main organizations that one could go to for legal redress on matters of discrimination would not be able to help any longer. National have not gone quite this far, but commentary by people such as National Members of Parliament Chris Penk and Dan Bidois suggesting that breaks be repealed, suggest National M.P.’s have a mindset that employees should not have their human dignity.

Still want to vote for either of these parties?

The problem(s) with National and A.C.T. employment policies: PART 2


In Part 1 of the series on the problems I have with National and A.C.T.’s employment policies, I focussed on the lack of sick leave available in New Zealand, and why cutting the minimum wage will not work. In this part I examine work place accident policies and support for workers who are fatigued or stressed.

Work place safety is something of a hodge podge issue in New Zealand. There are employers who take their responsibilities to their workers very seriously. There are employers who do what they have to in order to stay compliant, but no more. And there are employers who are knowingly negligent. It is an matter that has attracted negative overseas attention as a result of accidents causing serious injury or death to foreign visitors, but also just as alarmingly, people from other countries working in New Zealand’s jurisdiction who have been short changed.

In some cases I am aware of, employees were not properly vetted to ensure that they were appropriately licenced to drive certain classes of vehicles. A bus requires a Class 5 heavy passenger vehicle licence as well as a P-Endorsement; a taxi driver needs a full drivers licence as well as the P-Endorsement. In a case I am aware of, the driver and owner of a bus that was stopped by Police did not have the necessary licences and that the licence shown was in another drivers name. More concerning is that since then there have been at least two fatal bus crashes involving drivers not from New Zealand, nor necessarily familiar with New Zealand road conditions. Such accidents have the potential to harm our tourism industry as these will be seized upon by the media in the country that the tourists originated from.

It is not just tourists though, who suffer. The high seas off the coast of New Zealand have an unfortunate reputation for being a sort of “wild west” where anything goes in terms of occupational safety and health. A series of accidents in the last decade involving fishing trawlers that are not seaworthy go some way towards highlighting this. In particular I am thinking of three Korean fishing trawlers from the Oyang Corporation – No. 70, 75 and 77 – that were loaned to a N.Z. fishing company Southern Storm. No. 70 sank off the coast of Dunedin. No. 75 was forfeit to the Crown in 2012 after the crew won a court case over not being paid. As was No. 77 for similar reasons in 2014.

The problem I have is that National and A.C.T. have a track record of “cutting red tape” in the name of freeing up businesses from legal requirements. Sometimes the cuts are justified, but more often than not, there is a cost to pay. They claim that the market will police itself in terms of complying with occupational safety and health. They claim that the worst offenders will go under because they will have no work. All too often the market has shown it:

  1. Does not know how to police itself
  2. WILL not police itself – if it did many of the cases that wind up in the employment court would be resolved long before that stage

The other issue I want to address is the case of work place fatigue. This is a particularly relevant matter at the moment with COVID19 having caused huge impacts on peoples lives, both at home and at work. For many families this has been their annus horribilus in that the disruption brought on by a necessary lock down has pushed not only working age people, but also their families to the limits.

Workplace fatigue is dangerous. It can lead to accidents. It can lead to negligence, whilst not immediately causing an accident could be a contributing factor to a future accident. It can lead to generally lower working standards. Fatigue has numerous symptoms, including lack of concentration, sluggishness, poor decision making, indifference in attitude among others.

Neither party have released an policy specific to this, but it is probably not necessary. A combination of having workplace working conditions reduced as they have outlined in other policies, such as A.C.T.’s plan to cut the minimum wage, National’s dislike of breaks at work, could be enough to push a person in a fragile position over the edge. A person needs enough income that they are able to afford the necessities of life, which is something Mr Seymour and his Deputy Brooke Van Velden seem determined to not understand. If they have the necessities of life, then their quality of life and the likelihood that it will improve their quality of employment, will likely improve.

The problem(s) with National and A.C.T. employment policies


National and A.C.T., clearly not having learnt a thing about low income employees and why some of the socio-economic problems we have, exist, are proposing an array of destructive employment policies.

There are numerous problems with those policies which I list below and which I will then attempt to explain in greater depth:

  • New Zealand workers have comparatively little sick leave compared to most countries in the O.E.C.D., with just 5 paid sick days per annum
  • New Zealand incomes have not risen fast enough to keep pace with increases in G.S.T., inflation and other income hostile factors
  • Work place accidents each year cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions. Some are pretty minor, such as a sprained ankle and a day or two off work, whilst the worst ones involve death and sometimes significant destruction of property
  • An employee who is fatigued or stressed is more accident prone than someone who has regular breaks
  • Employers constantly complain about not being able to find appropriately trained staff
  • Discriminatory practices despite being illegal are rife in the work place if the number and seriousness of complaints that result in court proceedings are anything to go by

In this article I examine the first two.

Whilst New Zealand is better than the United States which has no Federally mandated sick leave, the 5 days sick leave we are entitled to is comparatively little compared to other countries. Australians get 10 days sick leave per annum, which rolls over to the following year if not fully used. 145 nations provide some kind of sick leave for employees and 127 provide a week or more annually.

In a year like 2020 where COVID19 has made staying at home if one is sick essential even if the symptoms are not COVID-related, means an already relatively small amount of sick leave can be expended quickly. If a person then gets sick a second time, having already needed a week off work, they will not have any leave to fall back on. The move to introduce another 5 days of sick leave, giving us 10 is therefore welcome.

Despite this there are people in National and A.C.T. who think that the business community is going to be made to suffer unnecessarily. Actually many in the business community believe that they need to treat their employees better, particularly those in sectors that were essential for the functioning of the country in this COVID19 emergency.

David Seymour, Leader of the A.C.T. Party wants to cut the minimum wage to $17.70/hr from the current $18.96/hr and freeze it for 3 years.

Our wages are not rising fast enough to keep pace with G.S.T., inflation and other income-hostile factors. Whilst G.S.T. only goes up if a political party -usually National – win the election, it is unnecessarily harsh on those with low incomes. A person on $30,000 per annum before tax, they will $24,750 after income tax. If they go to the service station and puts $50 of petrol in their car, person will pay 0.167% of their annual income just buying that petro. A person on $90,000 per annum goes to the same service station and puts $50 of petrol in their car. and will use 0.02% of their annual income.

If that low income person also has to pay $200 a week in rent; $75 for groceries, with the fuel added in, that will be $325 per week. This says nothing about power, internet, any medication, clothing or other expenditures that they have to cover.

It makes me wonder if any of the National M.P.’s or Mr Seymour have worked a minimum wage job when I see these suggestions.

National and A.C.T. do not value the worker


One of the most important rules of having staff in a work place is to look after them. Aside from the legal obligations that come about as a result of signing contracts, a well cared for staff will return the care shown to them by caring about the company that they work for. A well cared for staff is less likely to be disruptive, less likely to argue among themselves and more likely to support management during times of change.

When I worked at a supermarket job in the early 2000’s, I learnt a few lessons about the work place. The first nearly three years were pretty good as I had a proactive boss, rather than a reactive boss. But around the three year mark I noticed as did the rest of the staff that management were largely invisible. It was difficult to find a duty manager to report to in the mornings; no one interested in conflict resolution among staff, preferring to – in at least one case – boil over into an open argument that dragged in customers. The state of the store declined. Staff presentation declined; no one seemed to mind rubbish being left in trolleys that had been collected.

Then something happened. We got new management. New contracts with an immediate pay rise were issued, as were new uniforms. Staff were made to understand that it was okay to come to management offices if there were concerns. Presentation standards improved. Customer service improved. The staff room was no longer racked by arguments every lunch time and those that did not want to lift their game were quickly shown the door.

National and A.C.T. fundamentally do not understand this. Nor do they appear to want to.

National M.P.’s Chris Penk and Dan Bidois have in recent months both spoken out against workers rights and the responsibilities of employers to care for their workers. More recently National leader Judith Collins and Small Business spokesperson Andrew Bayly suggested that, rest and meal breaks would go, the ban on 90 day trials would be overturned and “costs cut”.

My supermarket job did not teach me much academically, but it taught me a fair bit about workplace politics. It taught me about workers rights, grievance processes and how to resolve disputes as well as health and safety. It taught me about the perils of weakening the very work place laws that Messrs Bidois, Bayly, Penk and Ms Collins seem determined to repeal.

But there are other reasons to be profoundly alarmed by what National and A.C.T. are proposing. New Zealand workers, whilst enjoying comparatively plentiful rights when compared with the United States where there is no federal law requiring a minimum standard of worker rights – sick leave; statutory holiday pay – or working conditions, do have some major disadvantages. Unions have been largely dismantled by neoliberal reforms, meaning organized protests are more difficult; rogue employers get away too easily as we can see with abuses going on in the liquor industry. Our occupational safety and health record is not flash and too many employees operate on a “she’ll be right” basis.

Even small and medium businesses are not keen on the proposals, with one survey suggesting S.M.E. owners might vote Labour in 2020.

 

Crack down on exploitation of migrant workers needed


In 2016 I wrote an article about the the need to stop the exploitation of migrants to New Zealand. It came at a time when the then Prime Minister of New Zealand John Key was in India to talk free trade. I lamented the loss of the opportunity Mr Key had to talk to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi about the exploitation of Indian workers here.

In 2018, I wrote another. This time it was about Filipino workers being exploited. In their case the agency that handled their visa had taken the money they paid – in the thousands of dollars – and disappeared.

This supposedly fair New Zealand is – to put it politely – pussy footing around the issue of exploitation of migrant workers. Surprisingly, despite the potential harm it will cause New Zealand when exploited workers go home with tales of abuse and how they were poorly treated by the authorities, neither of the major political parties seem to be dreadfully interested in reform.

The Labour Inspectorate is a toothless tiger in the instance of Ravi Arora, an Indian businessman who owns a several liquor stores around New Zealand, a $3.6 million house and has $36 million assets including two motels. Mr Arora has also racked up an extensive list of complaints from workers who allege exploitation under New Zealand labour laws. Despite 19 investigations, he continues to run businesses

I have no doubt that unless Mr Arora is either arrested or deported he will continue to set up, or acquire, liquor businesses so that he can continue to engage in exploitative practices. The fact that Mr Arora has offloaded business interests to avoid being linked to further exploitation claims, that he is using his wife as a contact tells me he has no qualms about the illegal nature of what he is engaging in.

Mr Arora is not the the only person who has been found wanting in their treatment of migrant workers in New Zealand. Mohan Reddy who owns liquor stores in Auckland was found wanting in 2019 over the treatment of seven migrant workers.

However not all is lost. The Government is working on law changes that will assist exploited workers in leaving their jobs with repercussions, clamp down on rogues and disqualify those convicted of exploitation from being directors or managers of a company.

It remains to be seen whether the coming law changes will have any real impact on the offenders as they are largely related to helping the victims of the exploitation. This is obviously fair enough, except that a strong clear message needs to be sent to those in a position to employ people that New Zealand expects better from its business owners than what the likes of Mr Reddy and Mr Arora have been prepared to offer their exploited staff.

It is not okay to exploit people in New Zealand. People who move here thinking that because they could get away with improper practices in their country of origin need to understand that New Zealand authorities are for the most part not corrupt. And New Zealanders as a general rule, have an expectation that this will be understood and respected.