Dear Ms Wilkinson (Minister of Labour)

It must have felt a bit daunting in parliament this week pushing though National’s 90-day bill. We all heard the jeers from the other side of parliament but perhaps you feel relieved after surviving what may have seemed a baptism of fire for a new Minister of Labour.

It was certainly smart politics to push this law through in mid-December. In the mad rush to Christmas people are distracted by the demands of families and holiday breaks but then we have a long tradition of grubby politics using this time to stifle public debate and suppress organised opposition to unpopular policies. It’s also your government’s honeymoon period so what better time to forge ahead when the media will cut you more slack anyway.

And what a stroke of genius to avoid a select committee examining the bill. Was this your idea or your spin doctor’s? Your excuse it had already been considered by a select committee a couple of years back when Wayne Mapp introduced a similar private members bill doesn’t wash. Your bill is significantly different and circumstances have changed. Democracy demands better than ramming through this detested law under urgency and without select committee oversight.

I’m sure you’re proud of your new law but it lacks moral authority and since you’ve denied me the opportunity to make a submission I’ll point out here why it’s a bad law and why you should not imagine it will be respected..

In your speech introducing the bill you said – “This Government is committed to getting New Zealanders into jobs and providing the right encouragement to employers to employ them.  This is important in the current challenging economic times”

Why does getting people into jobs necessitate stripping workers of their rights? Listening to you one might think a person taking up employment had a job for life. They don’t. Employees can be disciplined, sacked or made redundant. All that’s needed is a fair process. By suspending the fair process for the first 90 days you are rewarding the nastiest of employers – the worst of the bunch.

And surely the challenging economic times to come are the very reason the government should be protecting workers and their employment rather than throwing them at the mercy of unscrupulous employers? You have taken job security from 100,000 employees who are in the first 90 days of employment at any time in the 97% of workplaces which are covered by this law.

Your lofty claim the new law is good for employees who want a chance to get into the workforce but who don’t have a good work record would have more foundation if the National Party had a history of support for vulnerable workers. It doesn’t. Can you give me a single example in New Zealand parliamentary history where progressive employment law has not been vigorously opposed by National?

So don’t treat us like idiots and pretend you have noble motives with this law change. You don’t. Your legislation will undermine the most vulnerable workers at the margins of the labour market. The very people who need the greatest employment protection have had it ripped away.

Your best line so far has been to claim this law is not about taking away rights – it is about giving opportunities.  Yeah right!

It sounds like the sort of PR spin your media team would have produced. A sound bite arguing that winter is summer.

You go on to say the trial period will only be entered into by agreement and that no one is being forced into a trial period.

This is surely your most woeful comment. A person looking for a job is in no position to bargain with an employer. Any prospective employee who says they won’t agree to a trial period simply won’t get the job. End of story.

I’m also unimpressed with your claim it will remain illegal to sack someone on the grounds of discrimination. Just last week I was talking to an employee at a workplace where the boss is a religious conservative who called the employee into his office after the employee announced he was shortly to get married. The boss challenged him on his marital status because he’d assumed he was already married. A difficult and tense discussion followed. Here’s one employer who will welcome your bill. Of course he won’t say he’s sacking someone because he doesn’t approve of their living arrangements. Your law says he won’t even need to give a reason.

Ms Wilkinson I’d respect you more if you avoided the weasel words and the spin doctoring and simply told it like it is. This law is a power play by employers to screw the scrum even further in their favour.

ENDS

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