- 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.