This post was originally posted on The Standard here.
Last year the union movement, led by Unite, launched an amazing campaign against zero hour contracts. One of Andrew Little’s first moves as Labour leader was to get in behind that campaign and pledge that in government Labour will put an end to these unfair, exploitative contracts.
The campaign, which included industrial action by union members, a petition by signed by over 40,000 people, and an intense lobbying effort, caused the government to back down and commit to ending zero hour contracts.
Unsurprisingly, the Nats broke that promise. When the legislation came through, it in fact entrenched zero hours in law. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working with the CTU and others to put pressure on the government to keep its promise and get rid of zero hour contracts for good. National’s support parties have now withdrawn their support and they no longer have the numbers to get the law through Parliament.
This puts those of us who have campaigned to end zero hour contracts in a great position. National has now agreed to negotiate with us to change the law to ban zero hour contracts.
But what does that mean in practice?
The reality is it’s not as simple as repealing something in the law called ‘zero hour contracts’. Zero hour contracts are a result of a series of legal loopholes that have become increasingly exploited by bad employers in recent years. Our job is to identify those loopholes and close them down.
Being on a zero hours contract is basically about being permanently on call without regular hours of work. That means no security of hours and no security of income, making any kind of decent life impossible. And as with any employment relationship, it’s about power.
There are three things that we and the CTU are trying to get movement on:
- We want to remove the ability of employers to put people on contracts where they are on-call with no permanent hours. Being on-call can be fine in some contexts, but being on call all the time with no security of regular hours is not – particularly when it means people can’t get other work.
- Employers should not be able to cancel shifts at the last minute, and the idea that employers can simply cancel shifts when they like should not be normalised in law.
- Where practical, hours of work should be included in the employment agreement so that people can plan their lives with some security.
The Government is working with us and others including the CTU on getting these changes made.
So what does that mean from here?
Let me be very clear – Labour is committed to ending zero hour contracts and we will not support this legislation unless it does that. We will be voting to let the bill reach the next stage of the legislative process – the clause-by-clause debate – where these changes can be made. If zero hour contracts are gone, we’ll vote for it. If not, we’ll vote against it.
Some have said over the last 24 hours that Labour should just vote against the bill and hope that it fails. For some, giving the government a black eye is worth it. But it would mean leaving thousands of New Zealanders stuck in zero hour contracts. I’m not willing to put Parliamentary parlour games ahead of doing what’s right for working people – that’s not why I’m in politics and I know that’s not why Andrew Little is either.
I’m asking for your support in continuing to put pressure on the Government to do what it promised and end zero hour contracts. Everyone deserves security and dignity at work. It’s that simple.
The pressure is working. Please add your name to Labour’s petition here: http://www.labour.org.nz/zero-hours