The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Ninety days of slavery

The Herald on Sunday had an article this weekend about a $5000 compensation case, for a young worker who was severely persecuted by his boss.

Said employer abused the 15 year old, and put him in dangerous situations:

As well as the verbal abuse - often in front of clients - Dylan claimed Mr McKay could regularly elbow or shove him as he walked past "just to be able to physically hit me, to make me feel worse. Just to make me feel bad."

Dylan also claimed he was made to do dangerous things at work.

He had once been told to climb a three-storey high, flimsy ladder because Mr McKay had "left something" on the roof of a building. There was nothing there, Dylan said.

He also had been ordered to dig deep holes beside power boxes and work on dangerous scaffolding.

This is exactly the kind of case that shows up the unfairness of Wayne Mapp's proposed 90 Day Bill. If the worker had raised any concerns prior to the 90 days he could be sacked, without reason or compensation. Any of these incidents that happened before the three month mark could not give rise to any action and Thomas would not have received a bean or even have been able to take a case against a boss who was clearly a Bad Egg.

The adjudicator in the Employment Relations Authority is quoted in the article as saying:
"Mr Thomas was young, impressionable and unsophisticated, not equipped with the necessary personal or life skills to cope with behaviour persons well beyond his age would find difficult to endure."
Mapp's 90 Day Bill will not only leave young workers like Thomas in danger (and don't even start me on the fact that there is no minimum wage for 15 year olds). Those who find themselves unexpectedly out of job later in their career, due to redundancy, would also be threatened by the 90 Day Bill - and I imagine that once you have one 89 day dismissal on your CV it's going to be pretty hard to pick up another job, regardless of your age.

We should be setting up an employment framework that protects workers, not increases their vulnerablilty. National is merely showing, yet again, that they are no friend to workers.


sagenz said...

or he could just have walked away. employment is a choice.

what if it had been the other way around and the employee had behaved like that.

Gerrit said...

While the Mapp bill may not be the right answer, I would like to see something from the unions that addresses the issue of how difficult it is to dismiss unsuitable staff. Having seen a number of times the hoops some "workers" can put the employer through, the boot can be on the other foot. Suggesting the current laws are OK is not addressing the issue raised by conncerned employers. Hence the weakening of union power as more and more businesses start to employ contract labour. I guess there needs to be a balance between employee and employer "rights".

span said...

Sage, jobs are not so easy to come by that people just walk away, particularly as I note Thomas was receiving pretty good money for his age ($9.50, when there is no minimum wage for 15 year olds). Are you seriously telling me that if you were in a job where you enjoyed the work but your boss was being an arsehole you would walk within months, rather than try to change the work culture or raise your concerns? This worker managed to stick it out for 7 months.

span said...

Gerrit, I suggest you read some of these posts, on union myths:

in particular this post, which addresses the issue of getting rid of people who are incompetent:

I would say that the weakening of union power has more to do with a legislative environment throughout the 90s which heavily disadvantaged workers and attacked unions, however I do believe unions could be doing more to be relevant to workers outside the public sector, but that's a topic for another post.

stephen said...

"he could just have walked away. employment is a choice."

Er, that choice has to be assessed with the other choices on offer - another job, or the benefit, or in this boy's case parental welfare. Many people might worry that they can't walk into another job and not want to go on the dole.

PabloR said...

"Employment is a choice"?

I believe that when the UN was set up NZ was one of the countries that arguied employment is a right. Anybody at work regardless of age, gender, general intelligence etc has a right to be treated fairly by their employer.

For those who will say that not all employers are like this, fair enough. But some are wankers, like this guy, hence the need to protect workers from the minority of employers.

span said...

You would really think that the good employers wouldn't want bad employers like this to be able to get away with this crap, and yet the business lobbies all seem to be in favour of legislation that advantages bad bosses far more than good bosses...

PabloR said...

Maybe for the same reasons that unions are bound to look after even the shittiest workers?

An employers' organisation might bridle at being compared to a vested interest such as a union though! :p

span said...

One of the underlying currents that concerns me about this case is that if Mapp's 90 Day Bill passed then the worker would not have been able to raise incidents of this nature, and by the end of three months the expectations and culture of the workplace are set.

They might become illegal after the 89th day, but workers would be less likely to raise their issues, having been ground down over the previous three months.

PabloR said...

Hmm, so effectively they legalise poor employment practises for the first three months, by which time they become ingrained? I see your point.

What concerns me is more the over arching principal that policies to help the poor are no longer necessary because we no longer have Victorian levels of poverty. I'm kind of trying to figure the best way to put it at the moment.

Unions have won the workers many rights and protections, therefore they are abused less by employers. Employers no longer abuse their workers therefore Unions are no longer necessary. QED, get rid of Unions. That seems to me to be the logic behind the extreme Right's desire to roll back the welfare state, despite the evidence of the 1990s when the Nats reduced benefits, introduced the ECA and imposed market rents on state housing.

Gerrit said...

Span, read all your previous posts and it seems to me that while the unions quite rightly go to the extreme to hound roque employees, they do very little to help employers dimiss roque employees (yes they do exist).

Have been involved in cases where even the union supported the dismissal but the current laws put the employer through a very workplace disruptive procedure which affected staff morale so much that the business ceased to operate.

Reasons for dismissal are not just for incompetence. Personality conflicts between workers , suppliers, customers, and management would seem to be reasons for many dismissals as would motivation by workers to learn new technologies when they are introduced into the workplace.

Current PC laden employment laws dont seem to cater much for these type of grievances.

Brian S said...

Span - For most of my working life I have been a contractor. This means that in any particular role I could be out of the door before you could sneeze (and have been). I pay for my own holidays, do not get sick pay, and have to run myself as a business. The benefit I get as a contractor is more pay. A lot more. Why is this? Because I actually turn out to be cheaper for the employer. I do not have any of the overhead of a permanent employee. And that's the rub for people demanding more laws protecting workers: you just play into my hands as a contractor :) Apart from that, employment laws mean nothing to me, a "worker" for the 21st century.

If that 15 year was getting physically abused, then he has every right to take the employer to court, but this is covered perfectly well by existing law. We need to loose this employer/worker rhetoric, because most startup companies are formed by the young and poor and our laws should be formulated so that these people succeed as much as possible. NZ should be a country in which the ambition of that young man should be to form his own startup and not to be a worker for someone else.

span said...

Gerrit, both of the non-competence reasons you give for dismissal would manifest as issues of competence - inability to manage good relationships with customers/suppliers in the first case, and not competent in necessary new skills in the second.

To get rid of someone who doesn't have the desired skills (interpersonal or otherwise) it is pretty straight forward - tell them (in writing) that they need to tune up, give them an opportunity to do so (send them on a course or mentor them or whatever), set a reasonable time frame, and then if they don't measure up disciplinary action (including dismissal) can happen, legally.

As for businesses going under because they followed the law, I suspect they must have been on pretty shaky ground to begin with then. In regard to the issue of unions' roles, you yourself say you are aware of cases where even the union supported the dismissal, so that would tend to agree with my point that unions don't really protect the incompetent.

The number one thing that does protect the incompetent is in fact bad employment practices by employers - bad hiring, bad managing, and bad disciplinary action. Of course it doesn't help with the business section of the Herald produces an article riddled with legal mistakes, as a supposed guide to how to fire people legally. Sheesh.

span said...

Brian S, it's clear from the article about the 15yo that the physical assaults stopped short of anything the police would act on - it sounds as if most if not all of it could be explained away if it weren't for the repetitive nature of it. Therefore it isn't covered by existing laws on assault at all (assuming that is what you are talking about).

Some people don't want to work for themselves - they want the security and convenience of working for someone else, and many don't have the skills (or capital) to set up on their own anyway. I think it's quite unrealistic to hope that the bulk of the workforce will one day be contractors - yes the number has increased in recent years, but a vision of the future that has everyone working for themselves? Seems pretty unbelievable to me.

Michael said...

I think assault is a criminal action and being made to undertake dangerous work is against H&S legislation - Thomas should have spoken to his parents about those incidents when they happened and been advised to walk away from the job.

Personally, I think Thomas would be better off being dismissed after 89 days. Not all bosses are assholes like McKay - he'd probably ended up working for one of them.

span said...

So Thomas is better off being fired, unjustifiably, and getting nada, zip, zero, than being able to stand up and challenge his mistreatment?

As to the criminal assault element, I've already addressed that in my previous comment - I don't think the level of offending here is something the police would take seriously. I imagine OSH would take a similar attitude until actual harm had occurred. Or both agencies would just write it off as an "employment matter".