Red Alert

Archive for the ‘Contractors’ Category

Government must break stalemate with plumbers

Posted by on July 3rd, 2013

Labour will this evening introduce an amendment to the Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Drainlayers Amendment Bill to help break a stalemate between the National-Act Government and a large number of tradespeople in the industry.

The Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board, which was appointed by the Minster for Building and Construction Maurice Williamson, has been found to have illegally collected fees and levies from the industry.

The Bill, which is currently being pushed through Parliament under urgency, seeks to retrospectively validate the significant amount of money the Board collected unlawfully.

The Government’s failure to break the industry stalemate is a two-fingered salute to committed and qualified tradesmen just trying to get a fair deal.

The Ombudsman upheld Wellington plumber Wal Gordon’s complaints and recommended that the Board should negotiate an arrangement “whereby the excess levies paid could in whole or in part be refunded over a period or some credit could be given in respect of future fee or levy payments in compensation.”

But Maurice Williamson has openly snubbed the Ombudsman’s recommendations and instead adopted a closed and defensive approach and tried to fast-track the legislation. The National-Act Government is ignoring the industry’s valid concerns.

Labour’s Supplementary Order Paper implements the Ombudsman’s recommendations.

“A five-year licence configured around the Board’s regime costs $10,000 in New Zealand – according to the Plumbers Federation. The same five-year licence in Australia costs only $330. It’s no wonder we are losing quality tradespeople to Australia.

We agree to the sector that this Bill is about more than the payment of money, it’s about unlawful activities. It is about the trust New Zealanders place in the Accountability Agreement between the Minister and his Board, and more importantly, in their Government and Parliamentary systems”.

Labour’s SOP seeks to find a midway but it is only the first step. We are encouraging a culture that is open and engaged with the changing needs of the sector. We acknowledge the problem with the Board’s activities are deep seated and we must get to the root of the problem from all aspects.

The Board has been subject to complaints to the Office of the Auditor-General, Parliament’s Regulations Review Committee, the Office of Ombudsman, the Charities Commission and the Inland Revenue Department.

****
The Campbell Live show, the Politics of Plumbing, featuring particularly the “Minister Williamson artwork” is not a good look for his National-Act Government. Actually, it is a bad look for all politicians. I feel sorry for the Minister.

http://www.3news.co.nz/The-politics-of-plumbing/tabid/367/articleID/302062/Default.aspx

 


Consultants for core administrative tasks?

Posted by on January 10th, 2013

Back in 2008 the then National opposition made two ‘key’ pledges when it came to public services. The first was to ‘cap but not cut’ the number of public servants, and the second was to ‘move resources from the back office to the frontline’. They didn’t keep either promise, but more importantly, evidence is increasingly emerging that their approach to public service provision is costing the taxpayer more, not less.

National’s cap on public service numbers has led to a blowout in consultancy costs, as government agencies continue to deal with the same, or in many cases greater, workloads with fewer people on board to do the work.

Take the Ministry of Education for example. This week I released data that shows they’ve been engaging expensive consultants to undertake core administrative tasks like processing official information requests, drafting ministerial documents, and writing business cases. I’ve got no problem with departments bring in outside expertise when a particular set of skills are required, but this is bread and butter stuff any department the size of the Ministry of Education should be able to deal with.

Between 2008 and 2011 ten of the biggest government departments spent a whopping $910 million on consultants and contractors between them. Those same agencies spent $114 million making people redundant during the same period. Increasingly anecdotal evidence is emerging of former employees being engaged as consultants to do the work they used to do for a lot less when they were employees.

National’s consultancy culture isn’t saving us money, it’s costing us more. It’s also leading to an erosion of the core capability of the public service, and some of the haphazard decisions ministers are making, often based on weak advice, reflect that.

Our democratic system relies on there being a quality public service with the expertise and capability to deliver on the priorities of the government of the day, whomever that may be. That includes the capability to deliver advice the government of the day might not like. Under National, that capability is being seriously eroded.


About Part 6A again

Posted by on December 2nd, 2012

Part 6A in the Employment Relations Act means little to most people, but it means a lot for thousands of cleaners, catering workers, orderlies and laundry workers, whose jobs are prone to repetitive contracting out.

After a two year review, the government’s announcement last month that Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act would be limited to workplaces with more than 20 workers sent me looking for why this decision had been made.

The OIA documents I obtained showed that the Government ignored warnings about excluding SMEs from the Department of Labour and Sapere Consultancy, who was contracted by the government earlier this year to determine a “cost benefit analysis.”  The idea of excluding SMEs was not covered in earlier papers going right back to 2010, but this year a May 18 Aide Memoire from the Minister asked the department :

Would it be possible to exempt small businesses from Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act 2000?

Both Sapere Research and the Department of Labour criticised the idea of excluding SME’s from Part 6A.  Sapere considered this as a possible amendment to Part 6A of the Act but commented that:

“..From what we heard from interviews and found with our subsequent analysis, it seems likely that restricting the special protections to only large employers would be counter-productive and lead to even more perverse outcomes than the current arrangements. This is because it would result in transfer situations where one party had to be compliant and the other did not, leading in all likelihood to a breakdown in the exercising of the provisions at all.

The Department of Labour also concluded it would be ‘‘counter-productive and lead to even more perverse outcomes than the current arrangements’’.

This option was flagged a couple of times in later reports but did not make it into the last of three Cabinet Policy Papers which were presented in or around early September. Then in late September DOL (now MoBIE) was asked to again look into the option of excluding SME’s.  They stated that this would reduce compliance costs for SME’s but would add a layer of complexity to Part 6A. They noted that large employers would be undercut by smaller ones in bidding for contracts.

A later paper by MoBIE outlines the plan to prevent large companies from creating smaller entities, by establishing a “test of independence” which they warned would “add another layer of complexity and uncertainty to this process”.

So, there will be a new provision in the Employment Relations Act which removes the rights of more than 6000 workers, adds more complexity and cost to business and will doubtless end up in expensive litigation.

There’s been a campaign from Crest Clean over the year, aided and abetted by others, including Rodney Hide who wrote two articles for the NBR slamming Part 6A. And you don’t have to look far in CrestClean to find a National Party stalwart.

There are interests here that have persuaded the government to go beyond sensible and workable change. That’s not unusual for this lot, but I know who will pay the price for it.

 


Employment law changes – 6A just part of it

Posted by on October 31st, 2012

Some people seem to think the government has cleverly covered up its employment law changes with its announcement on Part 6A yesterday.

I guess I was assuming people would remember the rest of the changes on employment law were revealed way back in May this year, when a cabinet paper dropped off the back of a truck and the Minister of Labour was forced to confirm the government’s plans – that’s after saying I was making it all up first!  The changes will impact on the pay and conditions of hundreds of thousands of workers whose wages and conditions are set by union agreements – whether or not they join the union. They will contribute to the growing income inequality gap and add to our abysmal child poverty record.

They are the actions of a government that thinks that picking on the workers and unions and driving wages down is the answer to our economic woes.

Here’s a summary of the changes I did back in May.

We have yet to see legislation – but there will be strong opposition from me and Labour.

And for the record - Labour will repeal these changes – I didn’t think I needed to say it, but apparently I do.

 


About Part 6A

Posted by on October 27th, 2012

We’ve known since May how the government plans to cut wages further when a leaked Cabinet paper forced the Minister of Labour to announce their proposals to weaken collective bargaining laws.

But since then, there’s been delay after delay, and while most of the government’s proposed employment law changes have been settled for some time now, Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act, the important provision that provides protection to vulnerable workers in situations of employer change has gone back and forth to Cabinet.  It looks like we will see the Government’s decision pretty soon ; Cabinet is due to consider the final paper, which includes Part 6A and Kate Wilkinson confirmed last week that the changes will be introduced before Xmas.

Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act was hard won and I hope won’t be lightly pushed aside by the government.

In 1999,  members of the Service and Food Workers Union began a campaign called “Contract Workers Count” out of concern for those employed by private contractors in public hospitals, commercial cleaning, catering, security and rest homes. Over the previous ten years, these low paid workers had suffered multiple changes of contractors and each time, their jobs were up for grabs and their hours and wages reduced as the competitive pressure in these industries landed on the wage costs.

Five years later, the Labour government passed Part 6A into law which enables ”vulnerable employees” to follow their work if it is transferred to a new employer, (where the business is sold or their employer loses a contract to another employer). The affected workers in this situation can elect to transfer their employment to the new employer, taking their current terms and conditions, service and accrued entitlements with them.

Undoubtedly, there’s been some disputes over part 6A, but the Courts have sorted that out – although obviously not to the satisfaction of some companies, who would rather see the return to the dog eat dog approach of competitive tendering of the past.

The most important thing to remember is that part 6A applies to a particularly vulnerable group of workers.  They are not well paid; many are on minimum wage or just above.  Take Parliament’s cleaners. Parliamentary Services is going through a re-tendering process right now and is under pressure to cut costs. Without the right to transfer to a new contractor that Part 6A provides, John Key’s cleaner could be sacked and replaced with someone else employed on fewer hours and less pay.

However, I fear that the decisions around Part 6A will not be good news.

I live in hope that the government will not succumb to pressure and take their ideology out on the cleaners, kitchen workers and other vulnerable workers of our land.

Contract Workers still Count.


A bill to protect younger workers

Posted by on October 22nd, 2012

It is a little ironic that the day before the government passed its first reading of the Minimum Wage bill that cuts young workers’ pay, my bill, (Employment Relations (Protection of Young Workers) Amendment Bill)  was drawn from the ballot.

I’m pleased that this bill will get a hearing, because it’s about protecting young workers under 16. It will provide that young workers aged 15 cannot be employed as self employed contractors and must instead be employed under the Employment Relations Act as employees.

The most obvious example is leaflet and newspaper deliveries. Caritas did some work on this a few years back and highlighted the issues of low pay, health and safety risks and children being subjected to unfair contracting.  Here’s some examples of the contracts for leaflet deliverers they came across :

Contract A: “The parties acknowledge that this agreement is entered into by both parties on the basis that the Deliverer is an independent Contractor and that the Deliverer is not an agent or employee of the Company….The Contractor is an independent Contractor and as such is free…to select the Contractor’s own means and methods of performing the services and, subject to the delivery window requested by [Company], the hours during which the Contractor will perform those services.”

Contract B: “You are employed by [Company] under a contract for services, which means that you are an independent contractor.  This contract does not therefore create an employment relationship between you and [Company].”

Contract C: “All Distributors are Independent Contractors and therefore are required to file an IR3 at the end of each year.”

Contract D: “The Contractor is an independent Contractor and as such is free (in addition to the Contractor’s freedom to engage sub-contractors and others to use carrying equipment…) to select the Contractor’s own means and methods of performing the services…The Contractor shall bear all costs and expenses incurred by the Contractor in connection with the performance of the services.

Based on a crude assessment of their data, Caritas estimated that most of the pay rates fell somewhere between $1.67 and $6.25 per hour.

There has been a long tradition in New Zealand of young people delivering newspapers and leaflets. No problem with that. But expecting young people to understand commercial law, pay their own tax and ACC and take on the responsibilities of contractors under Commercial Law is not fair.

We need to ensure young workers are treated fairly under employment law, with rights to personal grievance, written agreements, sick leave, holidays and other employment entitlements.

It’s important to note my bill doesn’t apply to young workers providing work for individual householders, such as lawnmowing, babysitting and so on.

The bill is a basic measure to improve children’s overall working conditions and something I hope the Parliament will take seriously.


The contractor trap – more flexibility, no rights

Posted by on October 14th, 2012

This was published on the Radiolive website on 5 October.

There’s an old Kiwi maxim: a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, but that doesn’t ring true for many thousands of Kiwi workers.

For the past three decades there has been a steady growth in what is described internationally as non-standard work, including temporary workers, casual and labour hire workers and a substantial increase in the use of independent and dependent contracting.

Some contractors are highly skilled, entrepreneurial individuals, who are able to extract a significant premium for their efforts outside traditional employment.

However, for many, the opportunities of earning a secure and stable income are remote. Their classification as contractors effectively gives them no rights to the minimum protections provided for those classed as employees under New Zealand Law. For these workers the employment relationship, with its rights and obligations, under current law has become meaningless.

Look around you. Many fast food delivery workers, truck drivers, couriers, construction workers, caregivers, security guards, cleaners, telemarketing workers, forestry workers, even actors and musicians are contractors.

While Labour is pushing for the minimum wage to be $15 an hour, these workers have no guaranteed minimum wage.

While we enjoy our Christmas breaks, these workers have no paid holidays.

If we are treated unfairly at work, we can challenge our treatment under the law, but contractors have no such right.

If we want to join a union and bargain for a collective agreement, we are guaranteed that right, but that’s prohibited under competition laws for contractors.

Over the past few years many contractors have been in touch with me to talk about their situation. When Telecom announced that its two biggest network Engineering contractors, Transfield and Downer EDI had lost their contracts for the Northland and Auckland network to a new company, Visionstream, 700 skilled lines engineers were told if they wanted work they would have to move from being employees to contractors.

These workers were powerless. If they wanted a job they had to give up secure income and employee protections, buy their own vans and equipment and take all of the risks of the job on themselves. Many did. And they’re now struggling.

Some horrific stories from truck drivers hit the headlines. They had mortgaged their houses to buy the rig, and then the companies they were contracted to slashed hundred of dollars off their weekly pay claiming the drivers were overpaid. They showed me the figures; many are earning below minimum wage. Every week sometimes dies on the road through a truck related injury. We respond with ever-stricter safety laws, but does anyone ever think that the drivers are speeding, cutting maintenance, working over legal hours because that’s the only way they can make a living as owner-drivers?

Courier drivers are in a similar situation. As vehicle drivers have been converted from employees to contractors, courier drivers have been required to provide their own vehicle, pay for vehicle maintenance, insurance registration, and other running costs.

New Zealand is not alone in this phenomenan. Studies are taking place around the world and some governments have implemented new legislation to regulate dependent and independent contracting.

In this dog-eat-dog world of increasing competition, firms often turn to contracting as a means of avoiding the costs of employing someone directly. Others do it in a cynical attempt to avoid labour laws.

The International Labour Organisation has dedicated many conference discussions to finding a solution, saying that the protection of (all) workers “is at the heart of the ILO’s mandate and all workers, regardless of employment status, should work in conditions of decency and dignity.”

While Labour accepts there are advantages for businesses in different contracting arrangements and for that matter, advantages for some highly skilled workers, these must be balanced against the fundamental rights of fairness and equality.

There is a lot of discussion and thought required on this topic. But in the end, Labour doesn’t believe that it is the Kiwi way for the “law of the jungle” to prevail.

If we fail to regulate the growing incidences of independent and dependent contracting, we expose growing legions of workers to having no rights at all.

And in doing so, we make every other job that relies on the foundations of the employment relationship vulnerable to unacceptable competition.


Dog Eat Dog

Posted by on May 20th, 2012

Last week’s ACTU congress had a focus on insecure work, with their independent report (Lives on Hold, Unlocking the Potential of Australia’s Workforce) taking centre stage. It’s a thoughtful and well researched contribution to the increasing use of non standard work, and the alienation of so many workers from that basic value we share with Australia : a fair days pay for a fair days work.

There’s so much in this report that would ring bells in New Zealand. Here’s what Kathy says :

“I have had 40 jobs with 20 different agencies/ labour hire over the past year. They tell me it could lead to permanent employment but it never does. We are always let go and sent somewhere else at the end of our three-month trial. We are made to feel disposable and some places I am sent to the managers and employees say ‘Oh you’re just a casual’. This might be true but I still need to eat! I am always negotiating with the bank around my mortgage because I can’t lock in secure work.”

It’s a discussion we should be having in New Zealand, but instead the NZ government is about to embark on a wholesale attack on the very heart of our employment relations system. Rather than attacking basic rights, wouldn’t it be great to be debating and implementing creative, progressive reforms?  Wouldn’t it be great to have an inclusive society that provides sustainable and decent work for all, that strikes a balance between maintaining economic competitiveness and security for NZ working people?

Sure, the Aussies have their problems, but they are looking ahead. They’re talking about it.

In New Zealand, the government is nurturing a dog eat dog attitude.

It’s your fault if you aren’t on top and for goodness sake, don’t bite the hand that feeds you.


Hate to say it, but in Australia…….

Posted by on March 23rd, 2012

As New Zealand workers face growing employer militancy with lockouts and demands for give-backs, Australia has been getting on with ensuring secure jobs and improving the pay and conditions of more vulnerable workers.

I’m really pleased to see that the Road Safety Remuneration Bill passed with a resounding vote in favour in the Senate.  It comes after a long running campaign to make roads safer for all users by taking the pressure from truckies to work long hours, take short cuts and scrimp on maintenance just to earn a living.

I tried to get an inquiry into NZ truck safety and its relationship with remuneration a couple of years ago, but was blocked by the National Party, despite evidence of a trucking nightmare in New Zealand.

The problem hasn’t gone away.  There is still one truck related death a week in New Zealand.  Many drivers are owner-drivers, so they have no employment rights, because they are in a commercial arrangement. Some do okay, but others are struggling. Other driving industries, such as the Courier Industry also face enormous pressure.

I just want to see people earn fair income for the work they do.

The other bill the Australian Senate passed this week is the Fair Work Amendment (Textile, Clothing and Footwear Inudstry) Bill which extends most provisions of the Fair Work Act to contract outworkers in the textile, clothing and footwear industry by deeming them to be employees. Our legislation covers “Homeworkers” and deems them to be employees, which came about after serious exploitation of Homecare workers in the 1990′s and a major court decision.

It may be that we are ahead of Australia in this instance, but their legislation provides a good study on how we might tackle the ever increasing dependent contracting arrangements in New Zealand.

But wait…. does National care?


You could see it coming

Posted by on March 7th, 2012

The Ports of Auckland has decided to contract out its stevedoring jobs on the Container Wharf by firing its existing staff and hocking off the work to three competing contracting firms.

The decision is devastating for the wharfies and their families, but you could see it coming.

Firstly, there was the charade from PoAL that they were bargaining in good faith for a collective agreement, while at the same time they were seeking tenders from contractors to take over the work.

The second charade was that they were going through a “consultation” process, when in reality, the decision was already made.

The third and latest charade is that the workers can apply for jobs with the contractors. That’s nice of them.

But of course the contractors have no obligation to employ any of the existing workers and any who do get jobs will be required to accept pay and conditions decided by the contractors. Previous pay and conditions fought for over years will disappear.  The only guarantees are minimum wage, annual leave and statutory holidays.

Contracting out is an effective way to casualise a workforce and drive down their wages and conditions.

Yes,  you could see it coming.

We’re seeing unprecedented industrial disharmony in New Zealand and you could see that coming too when National was reelected.

The Ports dispute isn’t over. I will be at the rally in Saturday. I hope you come too.


Courier Drivers – a small business issue

Posted by on October 9th, 2011

Good piece in the Sunday Star Times today about the reality of working as a Courier Driver.  The impact of cut-throat competition, unfair contracting and a lack of minimum protection for dependent contractors is illustrated well.

Courier drivers are struggling to earn a living wage, with incomes stalled at about the same level as they were 20 years ago, while running costs have exploded. Urgent Couriers’ managing director Steve Bonnici said prices had been slashed due to cut-throat competition, which only intensified during the economic downturn of the past few years. Bonnici said prices have been cut to “ridiculous levels” – and it wasn’t just small, fly-by-night operators doing the cutting. As contractors, drivers had few of the benefits of employees, yet they were still obliged to wear a corporate uniform, work certain hours, apply for annual leave, and work exclusively for one company – as well as providing their own vehicles.

I’ve been on about this for some time now, including calling for SafeRates and better protections for all drivers. My Minimum Wage and Remuneration Bill, which would have provided at least minimum wage protection to these contractors was voted down early in the term of the National Government.

The National government, despite claiming it is the party for small business, has ignored the problems for small business operators like those in the Courier Industry.

“Anecdotal evidence from couriers looking for work indicates some firms are paying less than the minimum wage of $13 an hour. That’s not enough to live on, especially for drivers with families and mortgages”, Bonnici said……

“It’s sad what’s happened to our industry; there are plenty of owner-drivers out there whose revenue before expenses is barely the minimum hourly wage. After they have paid costs out of this revenue they are below the poverty line,” said Paul Holdom, who developed CourierPost Urgent for NZ Post and is now sales manager at Inter City Urgent.

The  industry is now coming around to the view that regulation might work better so that there is protection for small business operators who are totally dependent on one firm for their income.

“Every other industry has the minimum wage. You can’t put an ad in the paper offering employment at $7.50 an hour”, Bonnici says.

I’ve had a lot of contact with courier and other drivers over the last three years. Some of their stories are shocking.

Another piece in today’s SST  gives an insight into what Labour’s policy will include when it is announced on the 18th October.

Karl Anderson, First Union’s representative for transport and logistics in the Northern Region, said legislative protection was coming in Australia and it was the union’s desire to see it here too.

“I don’t think we have a bolter’s show under a Key government, which is ironic, given they say they are the saviours of small businesspeople,” he said.

Sadly, he’s right.


Told you so

Posted by on July 11th, 2011

On 25th June 2009 Telecom announced that its two biggest network engineering contractors, Transfield and Downer EDI had lost their contracts to look after the Northland and Auckland network to a new company, Visionstream.  700 lines engineers were informed that their jobs were redundant and they would only get work if they transferred to Visionstream as dependent contractors.

Despite widespread industrial action, organised by their union, the EPMU, along with financial support to support the workers from being starved into submission, the lines engineers were made redundant, and one by one, many reluctantly became their own bosses.

Some of us wrote blogs about this dispute warning there would be serious consequences for the industry and Telecom.

An independent analysis of the contracts offered by Vision stream calculated that as owner operators, the workers could lose up to 50 – 66% of their income. The consequences haven’t just impacted on the lines engineers. Customers are paying too, just like we were told it would.

The EPMU reports that :

Last week, Visionstream called on its contractors for the tenth week in a row to work through the weekend in order to deal with a backlog of service calls. In a memo sent to all contractors, Visionstream said that they are currently going through “the worst performance we have faced as individual companies and Visionstream ever”.

Visionstream pays a flat rate to its dependent contractors for service calls, and if they want the work they have to meet the company’s demands.

The NZ Herald reported on the 8th July 2011 that ;

“Maintenance of Auckland’s telephone network at its worst in years – but the company in charge denies taking up to five days to fix faults.

The company asked all installation and fault technicians to postpone days off between June 28 and July 8, and acknowledged that this came on top of having staff working every weekend for the previous nine weeks.

“For the last nine weeks, on average up to 1000 customers per day in the Visionstream-managed areas have had their service impacted in one form or another,” the internal memo said.

I see these workers around still, driving the same Chorus vans they were driving when they were employees, but they are earning heaps less for the privilege of being their own boss.

They were treated them badly.  The law allowed Telecom to get away with it.

Now we’re all paying.


Lusk, Farrar, Slater, Williams to run anti MMP campaign

Posted by on May 29th, 2011

A few weeks ago I ran a series of posts which outlined the role the shadowy Simon Lusk in National Party selections, the Brash Act leadership coup and indicated that he was chasing the lucrative anti MMP campaign.

I don’t think I’ve ever had as many National MPs thanking me – for letting them know how someone they trusted was in fact outsourced by Steven Joyce to do work in the coup to put Brash into Act. Many were not aware that he had a role in several selection campaigns some of which was sub contracted to Whaleoil.Many however suspected what polls now show, that Brash has significantly higher negatives than Hide and that women who supported Act would abandon the party. Interesting how Joyce has moved – with this, the Mediaworks scandal and the mess he has made by indemnifying Telecom for UFB losses – from hero to close to zero.

The Sunday Star Times today has part of the story:-

Those behind a campaign to shoot down MMP have killed before.

The right is getting ready to fire both barrels at MMP. A group of activists with links to National and Act are busy preparing a campaign against the electoral system. They are hardened politicos and some happen to share an interest in hunting, shooting and fishing. But it’s not clear if they’ll kill off MMP.
(more…)


Hobbit revisited

Posted by on April 12th, 2011

Apparently the Hobbit is going to be shot at 48 frames per second, which is twice the normal frame rate, which will make the film more “lifelike”.

I’m glad the Hobbit is being made in New Zealand. But given the events of last year, I doubt I will ever be able to bring myself to see the film, because the consequences of  the selling out of workers in the film and video production industry are not “lifelike” – they’re real. 

Today, CTU President Helen Kelly, who was pilloried for her involvement in the saga has released her story of how events unfolded.

As she says :

Fundamentally, this was simply a situation where a group of workers sought to have a say on the setting of their terms and conditions.  This was not just in relation to the Hobbit – but to all screen productions made in New Zealand.  This desire is independent of all the legal questions about employment status, status of the union and all other considerations – that is simply what it was, regardless of all the barriers that were subsequently put in their way.

There was no need to remove worker rights in the way the government did.  The dispute had already been settled. The boycott had been lifted.  Everyone knew, including the government, SPADA and Warner Bros.  

As Helen says :

It is clear that had it been known to the public that Warners and the Government already knew the industrial dispute had been settled and the “boycott” lifted, Warners’ trip to New Zealand would have been hard to justify and the subsequent promise of additional tax payer money and urgent law change would have been untenable.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that New Zealanders were done like a dinner on the Hobbit drama.  And the government’s strategy for attracting investment of Kiwi workers working harder for cheaper wages adds to the picture.

Read it.


Contracting – how to avoid rights

Posted by on February 7th, 2011

In January, a courier driver was killed in Taranaki, and many of his workmates went public saying that the industry is so squeezed the drivers have no choice but to work long hours and take risks on the roads. Even some owners of the industry agree that the lack of standards in their industry and dog-eat-dog competitive tendering make the industry unsafe and unsustainable.

Many companies are using contracting to avoid labour rights and it’s worth it to them. They have few obligations to the worker, the contractors can’t associate together and collectively bargain without flouting NZ competition law, they get no paid holidays, sick leave, public holiday pay or minimum wage. If the job is lost, the worker takes all the risk and consequences.

The most recent examples are the Pike River Mine contractors, whose families faced not only the loss of their loved one, but also the loss of all money owed to the contractor and his employees – and the workers in the film and video production industries, who, thanks to the government’s panic over the Hobbit, now don’t even have the right to contest whether they are contractors or employees under the law.

One courier driver I talked with told me that he started the process of going to Court to argue he and his workmates were employees, not contractors.  Many thousands of lawyer’s fees later, he got an agreement in mediation to have an in-house disputes process and a representation clause in their contracts, which was soon shelved by the company.  He couldn’t afford to take it further, even although the company dictates the runs which can require working up to seven days a week, badges their vans so they can’t be used for other work, impose 12 month contracts with no right of renewal and regularly changes or reduces the rates.

There was a very good article by lawyer Helen White last week in the NZ Herald, entitled “employers finding ways around job law”.   She says that

Our society is failing to protect those who need it because it is not recognising the use of a particular breed of “contractor” – those who are not truly independent but who often contract to work exclusively for a single enterprise and finance their equipment through the company they are contracted to.  In actually, suh contractors are far less “dependent” than employees because they stand to lose more if terminated.

Sure, many contractors are happily independent and don’t want it any other way.  I’m not concerned about them.

But I am concerned that many companies and even government enterprises are increasingly contracting workers to avoid employment rights and ultimately, this undermines fundamental protections for all workers.