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Where’s the imagination?

Posted by on January 12th, 2011

My post on the CTU’s Job Survivor website provoked some interesting responses. It was gratifying to see that some (including those in business) don’t automatically go to the default position that for business to do well, workers’ rights must be curtailed.LuckyToWorkHere

So thank you – your responses inspired me to write more and I want to see more of this debate in New Zealand.

But where are the imaginative and creative business leaders in NZ when we need them?

I know they’re there, but I wish they would speak out. Some businesses tell me they are keeping their heads down on the government’s anti-worker policies, even although they don’t agree with them.

Others have already negotiated sensible arrangements with unions around access and the 90 day no rights period, saying they don’t want or need these kind of policies to be good at what they do.

New Zealand’s law extending the no rights period of 90 days to all workplaces has yet to take effect, but those without imagination are eyeing David Cameron’s proposal to extend UK’s no grievance period to two years. The justification from David Cameron sounds very familiar, with him claiming that  increasing the no rights period means that “employers will take the risk of taking someone on” .

But in the UK, they have a 12 month no rights period already. Has it created more employment?  Apparently not. PM David Cameron “hopes” that  relaxed employment laws will help to boost the private sector and encourage firms to take on thousands of new workers. He’s also proposing that small firms will be exempt altogether from some employment laws, such as sick pay and workers who pursue a claim of unjustified dismissal in the UK Tribunal will have to stump up with 500 pounds.

And guess what?  David Cameron’s having a Job Summit!  Don’t he and John Key talk anymore?

I’m sympathetic to small business – I’ve been there, done that, and yes, it’s tough. I’ve also been an employer and I know it’s not always easy. From time to time, there is conflict. But I believe that workers’ rights, inconvenient as they can be, are a check on management, and a challenge to an employer to do their job better too. No employer should be afraid of them and in many ways, they protect them ads well.

Because the truth is that workers will always find a way to resist unfair work practices, because they are human beings, not commodities. Why would they sit quietly when they don’t earn enough to feed their families, are exposed to injury or unfairness from their employer?

In the end, most of us want the same thing.  A fair society, decent work and a chance to get ahead. Most NZers don’t think this should happen at the expense of other people.  We still believe in a fair go for all – we still reach out to our neighbours to give them a helping hand when they need it.

And surely few of us believe that greed is good.

So, wouldn’t it be great to see an outburst of ideas from those in NZ who believe we can build a better economy through ideas and innovation, rather than squashing what after all are pretty modest rights for workers in New Zealand.

Many have joined Labour’s conversation. They don’t want last century thinking. It failed to grow our economy then and it will fail now.