How to stop National’s threat

- Don Franks

Under the guise of “giving young, inexperienced people or new immigrants a better chance at a job”, National is proposing a new restriction on workers.

“We will introduce a 90-day trial period for new staff, by agreement between the employer and employee, in businesses with fewer than 20 people,” National party leader John Key announced in a 24 July press release.

During this 90-day trial period, either party may terminate the employment relationship for performance without a personal grievance claim being brought.

National’s proposal should be rejected by all workers and fair-minded people.

The personal grievance procedure is no fail-safe protection against unfair dismissal, but it does provide a narrow avenue for workers to contest injustice. National’s election promise to deny new staff access to their day in court would move the bar even further in the employer’s favour.

National’s industrial proposals have been roundly condemned by trade unionists. NZ Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly says: “Cuts in workers’ rights and entitlements and privatisation are all this party has to offer to date.”

She says National’s industrial policy “really will clarify for workers and their families which parties have their interests at stake”, concluding that “instead of supporting the current approach balancing employer and employee interests, [National] is trying to drag us backwards”.

Helen Kelly is quite right to condemn National’s anti-worker 90-day trial. But she ignores the fact that National promises to retain significant current labour laws which she supports, and will:

*continue to allow union access to workplaces with an employer’s consent, which cannot be unreasonably withheld

*continue to support the social partnership with Business NZ and the CTU to work together on issues of mutual interest

*retain the Mediation Service.

Helen Kelly is incorrect when she describes the current approach as “balancing employer and employee interests”.

“The current approach” to industrial relations - that is, the Labour government’s approach - is no balancing act. The main thrust of Labour’s Employment Relations Act is to restrict and control workers. The Mediation Service, which National and Labour both support, is a state-imposed substitution for workers’ own democratically decided industrial action.

Under the present laws, it is illegal for workers to go on strike to get a sacked workmate reinstated. Such a strike can be punished by fines or imprisonment. Instead, mediation provides the personal grievance procedure to contest dismissal. That procedure prevents shopfloor solidarity being offered to a sacked workmate. It requires an individual, state-run court case, which usually favours the employer.

That scenario is the overall pattern of New Zealand industrial law.

At present, almost any kind of strike, other than one to renew a contract, is illegal and subject to heavy penalties. That was the case under the last National government and has been the case through all nine years of the present Labour government.

The fact is that both National and Labour both support the capitalist system and tailor their industrial laws to keep workers in line. The present Labour government was voted in on a promise of removing National’s Employment Relations Act, yet once in office they kept nearly all of that punitive law intact under a new name.

Voting Labour is no guarantee of avoiding National’s 90-day law. The parliamentary politicians are all for business, not for us. What we need to combat workplace injustice is a stronger union movement.

3 Responses to How to stop National’s threat

  1. Desmond Tutu says:

    If workers were allowed to strike to try and get a co-worker reinstated, would that not set a dangerous precedent for any worker who loses their job to get their mates to stand up for them? What if they were woefully incompetent but are well-liked and supported by the union? Employers would be forced to keep on board sub-standard workers for fear of industrial action if they sack them. This could have the run-on effect of making employers reluctant to employ anyone who is potential sub-par, thus actually reducing employment.

  2. Tim B says:

    I think the main point we would make here is that it is actually much better to have the workers themselves democratically controlling who gets hired or fired than the employer/capitalist, since after all they are the ones who are in the best position to judge if someone is pulling their weight (and are also the ones most directly affected if someone isn’t).

    Of course ultimately we don´t believe capitalists should have any control over the process of production at all and would like to see them completely expropriated, but restoring the right to strike (along with occupying all businesses threatened with closure) is a transitional demand if you like that points us towards that general direction :)

  3. Don Franks says:

    “what if they were woefully incompetent, but well liked and supported by the union?”

    On a properly organised job, “the union” would be the mass of workers on the site.

    When I last worked on such a job, I was found to be woefully incompetent in my first week. I did not have the dexterity to keep up with the moving line, despite making every effort to do so. The union delegate complained to the boss “this guy’s been running all day!” The boss said “as far as I’m concerned he can run all night too!” So the delegate called a meeting of the department and got agreement that the union demand I be shifted to an area without a moving line. This was done, and I stayed on the job another 11 years.

    Later on I became a delegate myselft and in every case of dismissal tried to carry out the same sort of proceedure. Democratic discussion among the workers involved, to sort out the best solution of each particular problem. We grappled with many different situations and usually came up with a reasonable solution. There is a lot of wisdom and humanity among a mass of organised workers; more so than you can find in a boss controlled mediated hearing.

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