So you’ve just started a new job. It could be a summer job or a part-time job in a café, an office, or a fast food joint, whatever. The point is you’ve been working there for a month, and one day you walk in and the boss tells you you’ve got to take a pay cut of a dollar an hour and swap to the late shift that night. When you protest you get two simple words: “You’re fired”. And when you try to do something about it you discover you’d need to hire a $200 an hour lawyer just to get back the wages you’re owed.
Welcome to life under the National Party’s 90-Day no rights law.
Right now National’s Employment Relations (Probationary Employment) Amendment Bill is in front of a select committee. It got through its first Parliamentary reading with the support of NZ First, United Future, ACT and the Maori Party. In short, it’s in the process of becoming law.
If this happens, everyone who starts a new job will have no work rights for the first 90 days of their employment. Whenever you start a new job, you could be fired, no questions asked.
You wouldn’t even be able to complain, because National’s bill removes your right to appeal an unfair dismissal. They even want to remove your right to go to mediation to try to talk about it.
To make things worse, because you were dismissed you could be denied help any income support for 13 weeks. You could also be forced to declare that you were fired when you apply for your next job, no matter how unfair the dismissal was.
If you were underpaid during your employment, or even not paid at all in the first 90 days of your job, there would be no employment law to help you get your money.
And anyone who works in a job for less than three months would lose all their employment rights. This will encourage employers to create “disposable workers” on 89-day rolling contracts who would never have any rights.
Heaps of us do part-time work while studying so we can get by. We work in places like bars, cafes, call centres or retail stores and it’s these jobs that are most likely to turn into rolling 89-day contracts.
We’d also never have any rights working a summer job. That means getting your pay cut, your hours reduced, or just getting fired at any time. You’d have no job and no way to support yourself, and there’s nothing you could do about it. And because you were fired, you might not even be able to go on the dole.
And graduating won’t help matters, because it’s almost certain your first few jobs will have a no-rights period. A new job is stressful and new workers are in a vulnerable position. It’s all about adjusting to a whole new environment, and sometimes that takes time. Current employment law recognises this. But under National’s law your employer wouldn’t have to give you a fair go. If you didn’t measure up straight away, you’d be out. Not a good look on the CV when you’re just starting out in the workforce.
In Australia, where the Howard government has recently removed similar worker protections, employers have done some shocking stuff. Like the Victorian engineering firm that sacked a worker for smirking at the boss, or the case of Lorissa Stevens, aged 21, who got fired from her job after refusing to sign a contract that would have meant she’d need to give 12 hours notice of being sick or face a fine of $200.
Not all employers are like this, but some are. And while supporters of the bill argue that employers are generally nice people who make hiring decisions “in the hope and expectation that an employee will be successful, not with failure in mind,” this argument is not about whether or not individual employers are nice people. No matter how nice they are, no employer should have the power to sack you without reason.
The power to take away a worker’s job is an awesome power. It’s a power that an employer should not wield without fair limits. The current laws on justified dismissal and the law on fair treatment of workers provide those fair limits. Employers can already sack workers who aren’t performing. They just have to give them a fair hearing when they do it. All National’s bill will do is take away the fair hearing. National wants to give employers power without responsibility, and they’re willing to strip you of your working rights to do so.
But we don’t have to put up with it. There’s a mass rally at Parliament at 12:30pm on the 20th of July, which will include union workers, students, and anyone who cares about their rights at work, to protest this bill. Some of the MPs that voted for National’s bill in its first reading are beginning to waiver in their support. Getting enough people at the rally will help pressure them into changing their vote.
So do your bit – come to the rally, and bring as many people along with you as you can. After all, it’s your work rights that National and their big business mates are trying to take, and it’s you who’ll pay the price if they manage to get away with it.