Law changes a win for workers

Leveling the playing field

The Government has proposed a law to restore unions’ ability to protect workers and help lift their pay and conditions. This recognises the union dividend – the fact that union members earn more and have better conditions than non-union workers.

E tū knows working people need higher pay which in turn will benefit economic growth. Prosperity does not trickle down from the wealthy but is the result of workers earning more and spending this in their local community.

The planned changes will reverse many of the more than 30 law changes by the National Government to hobble unions and benefit their employer mates at the expense of their workers.

This is a huge change which E tū welcomes and embraces. Below, we report on a few of the changes and how they will benefit our members.

Union access an issue for WINZ guards

Union access is vital to ensuring members get the advice and support they need. The previous government restricted access rights for unions, with organisers often banned from seeing members at work.

This affects WINZ security guards, who have been blocked by the Ministry of Social Development and security firm, Armourguard, from seeing their union organisers at their worksites.

As E tū and You goes to press, the dispute was due to heard by the Employment Court.

“Knowing the union can’t access our worksite definitely means it is hard to get support when we need it,” says Kit Bennett, an E tū Wellington security delegate.

Soon though, the Government will restore union access rights as part of changes to restore union rights for workers.

Kit says that will make recruitment easier: “Sometimes it’s that face-to-face contact with an organiser that makes the difference,” she says.

Security delegate, Kit Bennett

Legal boost for vulnerable workers

The Government will soon introduce a law change to help stop the ‘race to the bottom’ as contractors drive down wages because of the competitive tendering processes in many industries, such as cleaning.

The Employment Relations Act includes job protections under clause 6A, which required new employers to take on the old staff when contracts change hands.

However, the previous Government allowed an exemption for employers with fewer than 20 workers. This has resulted in the wholesale franchising of cleaning, especially in schools.

Often the contract bids are too low for the franchisees to afford the current workers, and many lose their jobs in the restructuring of hours that follows the renewal of a contract for services, such as in cleaning or security. Others who transfer over often find themselves working for multiple employers.

Invercargill delegate, Alana Clarke works for three different cleaning contractors – contracting giants, OCS and Spotless, and a franchisee, LC Cleaning, doing a few hours here, a few hours there and so on. Her travel time is unpaid.

“It is difficult to manage all my jobs, especially as I don’t get paid going from one to another,” says Alana. “But cleaners need the money because our pay is so low.”

The Government will be extending the timeframe for workers to decide whether to transfer over when contracts change hands – something your union supports.

If a contract changed hands, workers would have more time to consider the future, to challenge unfair conditions and to make sure the process is right.

90-day trials should go

90-day trials will be history for big employers under the proposed labour law changes. Probationary periods will still be allowed but with greater protections for workers, which E tū supports.

However, we oppose the decision to exempt firms with fewer than 20 workers. Figures show tens of thousands of people have been sacked under these trials, many multiple times.

“All those people – they can’t have all done a poor job or be a bad fit and that’s my beef,” says hospitality worker, Chloe King. “It’s really being used in immoral ways.”

Chloe herself has been fired 3 times during 90-day trials which she says are endemic in hospitality.

“It’s really used and abused over summer, so they can fire at will as customers drop off,” says Chloe, who was devastated the first time it happened to her.

“I really wanted that job. The HR man told me I was doing an amazing job and they really wanted me. Then all of a sudden, they fired me a few days out from the end of my trial. It was pretty humiliating to be honest. It was a massive blow to my self-esteem and confidence.”

We think these trials are unfair and widely misused and we will be arguing in our submission that they need to be axed – for everyone.

Hospitality member, Chloe King