Michael Woodhouse: a fool or a liar?

Over a month ago I asked what Michael Woodhouse has actually got right on employment relations in New Zealand.

I don’t think it’s too much to expect the Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety to understand basic concepts related to his portfolio. Like the fact that he can, in fact, legislate for good employer practice (that’s the whole point of laws.) Or the fact that zero hour contracts are not the same as casual employer contracts.

But he’s still trotting out that very line – accusing the Labour Party of trying to do away with all forms of casual employment agreement – and it’s very heartening to see (or rather hear) Labour leader Andrew Little name that for what it is: lying.

“Lying” is such a taboo word in politics. You can’t use it in Parliament at all – every member is an honorable member even when they’re full of crap.

Yet sometimes, there is simply no other logical conclusion. Either Michael Woodhouse is deliberately confusing the two types of employment agreement to obfuscate the issue – i.e. is lying; or Michael Woodhouse is utterly ignorant of the basics of employment and has literally no one around him who understands the difference and has thought to advise him of it.

I don’t think anyone believes Michael Woodhouse is that stupid. Nope, he’s just following the National Party playbook, and it goes all the way back to their exploitative 90-day trial legislation, first passed in 2009.

90-day trials are not the same as the probationary periods which our laws already allowed for – probationary periods which still protected workers’ basic rights. Under a 90-day trial your boss can fire you for getting injured on the job. Or calling in sick. Or joining the union. Or rebuffing sexual harassment. All things which it would be illegal for someone to fire you for in any other circumstances.

But as soon as anyone points this out, the rightwing spinners get all indignant: “but trial periods are useful! Why don’t you want young workers to get a chance to prove themselves?”

They know the difference. They’re lying about it. And they’re depending on our decent Kiwi nature – our dislike of confrontation and our assumption that everyone is acting in good faith – to get away with it.

~

If you’re in Auckland tomorrow, Unite Union are holding an action against zero-hours contracts as part of a global day of action for fast food workers. Check out the event Facebook page for details.

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