Wednesday 7 March 2018

Out of the Goodness of the Employers’ Big, Generous Hearts.

Doing Us All A Favour: Since the 1990s, a conviction has taken hold in the minds of New Zealand employers that they are the country’s biggest philanthropists. Far from acknowledging their role in the processes of ruthless commercial exchange, these employers speak of themselves as the selfless creators of jobs for their fellow citizens. Not for profit, you understand, but out of the goodness of their big, generous hearts.

A FEW YEARS AGO, Helen Kelly delivered one of the best speeches I had ever heard at a Labour Party Conference. It was on the subject of employers. The gist of her address was that, since the 1990s, a conviction had taken hold in the minds of New Zealand employers that they were the country’s biggest philanthropists. Far from acknowledging their role in the processes of ruthless commercial exchange, these employers spoke of themselves as the selfless creators of jobs for their fellow citizens. Not for profit, you understand, but out of the goodness of their big, generous hearts.

Trade unions, in the opinion of these unsung social heroes, were doing everything possible to thwart the employers unbounded philanthropy. These subversive organisations were determined to prevent the employing class from carrying on their good works. Somehow, these miscreant socialists had got it into their heads that capitalism was about exploitation. Such complete nonsense! As if all that unstinting effort could be expended in the name of something as vulgar as making money!

It was a great speech.

I was reminded of Helen’s insights only this morning as I read an opinion piece penned by Leicester Gouwland (NZ Herald, Business Section, 5/3/18) a partner in the accounting and financial services firm, Crowe Horwarth. Gouwland’s bugbear du jour was the Labour-NZF-Green government’s legislation abolishing the 90-day trial period in businesses employing more than 20 people.

He began his argument by citing the less-than-supportive responses to the government’s legislation from both the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the Treasury. Why did the government ignore their advice? And why did it give them so little time to prepare it?

To anyone not already sold on neoliberalism, the answers to those questions are blindingly obvious. Gouwland’s indignation is, however, a useful pointer to just how much reliance employers now place on the agencies of the state to defend the “reforms” of the 1980s and 90s from any attempt to roll them back.

These comments were only the hors d’oeuvres to Gouwland’s feast, however. The main course was delivered in his response to the revelation (from no less a source than the 2014/15 National Survey of Employers) that 24 percent of workers taken on under the 90-day rule were dismissed during the period of the trial.

Just think about that. One worker in four was dismissed from their job arbitrarily and without the opportunity for legal redress.

Now read Gouwland’s interpretation of his astonishing statistic.

“This high percentage suggests the trial period is working and highlights the risk that employers take. It also suggests limiting its use will cost employers significant time and money to terminate these employees.”

Seldom have I encountered a more damning illustration of the employers’ mindset in relation to the rights of their employees. Workers are not there to be trained, assisted, counselled and, where all of the foregoing interventions have proved fruitless, warned that any further refusals to amend their behaviour will put their continued employment at risk. No, they are simply there to be “terminated”.

That the Employment Court has ruled over and over again that it is unlawful for employers to arbitrarily or constructively dismiss their workers, makes not the slightest difference to the employers who, as Helen Kelly so wryly pointed out, genuinely believe they are doing their workers a favour by “giving” them a job.

Logically-speaking, to “give” someone a job implies that the normal contractual relationship between “master” and “servant” has been by-passed. Someone who has been “given” a job is, presumably, not required to perform the labour that the job entails. Instead, the worker will be paid regardless of whether or not she fulfils her half of the bargain.

Now, this may happen when former politicians are installed on the boards of state-owned enterprises; or, when the clueless son of the boss is given a well-remunerated title without responsibility; but it almost never happens when someone applies to do a job of work essential to the efficient operation of the business – and its profits.

People are not “given” jobs, they are hired: and if the contract is one of service, then they cannot be dismissed without reasonable cause. The 90-day trial period was nothing more nor less than a legislative device for excusing the employers from their obligation to uphold and honour the contractual relationship with their employees.

Gouwland’s unwitting exposure of the employer mindset continues.

“An argument supporting the removal of the 90-day trial period is that it provides employee protection. It is hard to understand this argument as any non-performing employees will now need to go through a performance process. So where is the protection. Termination of employment is only delayed.”

Did Gouwland really just suggest that the purpose of the “performance process” is to facilitate the “termination of employment”?

Clearly, Mr Gouwland did not receive the memo about employers being the country’s biggest philanthropists. We miscreant socialists should, however, be grateful to the author of this extraordinary opinion piece. Seldom have workers been presented with a more compelling argument for joining a trade union!

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 6 March 2018.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

I have known of two employers who deliberately use the 90 day period to get cheap labour. They'd offered jobs to school students, and then dismiss them just before the 90 day period expired. We used to warn them about these guys, but they never really took any notice, being desperate for a job – in spite of the fact that they could have lived it up on the benefit/sarc.
And it's reasonably difficult to prove, except you get a good idea the number of times they do it per year. But they still claimed that they "just didn't work out." Not sure what ever happened about that, because I think I left before it was all resolved, but I hope to Christ somebody reported them more than once. Because this is what I think of when I hear of people "rorting the system."

peteswriteplace said...

90 day trial should be totally abolished.

sumsuch said...

I've besmirched myself with entrepreneurs' company. Dimmer, narrower.

A foul lesion is that they know better than us, by which America lost the little of its soul it had to begin with.

My doubt about Ardern is that she sees politics as being about friends and bad people. Rather than WAR. Witness her expression when the last Labour party leader was elected. The first Labour govt understood it was war through their near-ended lives in achieving power.

To be honest, I don't know about the 90 day trial period, one way or the other.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility. Ambrose Bierce

greywarbler said...

Businesspeople are 'wealth creators' and that term gives them a sort of nobility of purpose which they absorb and preen themselves with. In fact wealth in this sense is something that passes between business and the state, it 'makes the country great'. In this process people are merely the human resource included in the list of other resources needed to produce the saleable product.

If employers are somehow providing largesse from their businesses in their minds, then it tends to be rather smaller than larger, because the boss expects a good return for having got the show going, and keeping it going.
Which seems fair to me, but this present wave of freemarket neo lib thinking seems to stir up change agents that fly around the world like harpies working out how to reduce labour costs and produce greater efficiency, especially to government. Workers and their even reasonable pay requests, are quashed between the push for smaller government (cheaper and ineffectual) and businesses selling their shares to eager shareholders wanting 8% or more in dividends, even if unpaid, in a culture demanding inflation as near zero as allows for some movement in business growth.

Throw in our love of money and its power, which tends to excess, and there is no room for benevolence from employers, but apparently the thought is there and that idea was conveyed to Helen Kelly. She would have smiled sardonically and asked why and how business paid such enormous salaries at the top, far beyond what was fair remuneration for the few prestigious democrats, not monarchs, at the top. But we can only write on the Wall of the 21st Century the strangled snarl, 'Plutocrats Rule, Oka*@x$#^....'

Nick J said...

So many issues here. The whole neolib model seems to work on the principle of individuals being dog eat dog competitors. To compete as a group is anathema. It's the obvious thing to do when confronted with a power imbalance.
The manner in which capital collaborated against labour very succinctly states the case for unionism, if one side can collude the other side must be allowed to.

David Stone said...

The 90 day no rights idea was probably supposed to encourage employers to try some new employees who might not otherwise be tried. The problem is it creates an opportunity for abuse. An employer with a workforce that does not need a lot of training has the option of recycling 90 day employees indefinitely and never having a workforce that has any employment rights. Just like with a zero hours contract.
The flip side is a constant production of kids who's first employment experience is demoralising , and who go on to apply for the next job with a negative employment record. Worse off than when they started out.
It probably needs to be abolished.

Hard Case said...

I once had an Crowe Horwarth accountant.

He was a lazy, useless, over-charging cunt.

Annoyingly, it took me more than 90 days to work this out.

But yes, I did sack him. And it was very satisfying.

Victor said...


Some 25 years ago, when computerisation of the workplace was relatively new and many of us were sagging under the burden of OOS, a colleague from Europe told me that his previous employer had divided up his outgoings into "software", "hardware" and "liveware".

Suddenly, my aches and pains made sense.