BILL ROSENBERG, ECONOMIST AND POLICY DIRECTOR, NEW ZEALAND COUNCIL OF TRADE UNIONS
There is growing international concern about the breakdown of “standard” employment relationships, usually defined as a permanent, full time employee-employer relationship. Some alternative arrangements can lead to insecure and exploitative conditions.
Not all alternatives are undesirable. For example, part time work enables parents to mix work with looking after their families. Casual or labour hire work may suit some people if they genuinely have the flexibility to choose when to accept work and are not punished for declining.
Some people prefer the perceived freedom of “being their own boss” through self-employment.
The problems come when these are not genuine choices or their reality reflects employers taking advantage of their superior bargaining power.
It is difficult to quantify the extent of all varieties of non-standard relationships. However, new questions in Statistics New Zealand’s quarterly Household Labour Force Survey shed some light.
In June this year, out of the 2.067 million employees in New Zealand, 91 percent were permanent employees, 5 percent casual, 3 percent fixed term, and 0.4 percent employed through a labour hire agency. One percent were in seasonal work or not otherwise categorised.
Just over one in five (21 percent) of employees and self-employed were part-time. There were 463,000 people whose main income came from self-employment.
In 2012 over 30 percent of the labour force, excluding employers, were insecure because they had temporary jobs, were permanent workers expecting job loss within a year, were unemployed, or were in particularly insecure self-employment.
However there are relationships whose frequency we cannot quantify but are sufficiently common to be a concern.
Last year law changes restricted the use of “availability” or zero-hour employment which required employees to be on call without pay and no guarantee of employment. It is common in the fast food, hotel, retail and security industries.
Employers in some industries, including telecommunications, film, courier and road freight, make use of contractors in place of employees in a “dependent contractor” relationship. The contractor is dependent on one person for work but has none of the statutory protections of employees such as minimum wages, leave entitlements, personal grievance rights, or the right to collective bargaining.
“Posting” is where an overseas-based employer brings employees into New Zealand. It raises the question as to which country’s employment law applies.
NZALPA members will be well aware of recent litigation in the airline industry. It was also the subject of a recent Employment Court case taken by the Rail and Maritime Transport Union. The union unsuccessfully challenged, among other matters, the pay and conditions under which Chinese workers worked in New Zealand when removing asbestos from locomotives their (Chinese) employer had supplied. The employment conditions of posted workers are a major issue in Europe and may grow here with proposals by overseas-based construction companies to bring in their own workforces and operate under their own laws.
Many of these practices have in common employers with lazy business practices or a determination to avoid their responsibilities as an employer in order to reduce costs, shifting the costs onto their employees or society.
These practices often leave employees isolated and unable to take advantage of collective bargaining and union representation. This is rolling social and economic advances back to the nineteenth century.