Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Casual Approach To Employment "Reform"

Q: What do actors, stevedores and longshoremen at the Ports of Auckland, and a whole host of other Kiwi workers have in common?

A: We're being subjected to something called "Casualisation".

What does this mean in practice? Well, it means we're not "employed" as such. We're no longer employees.
We're now contractors and we contract our services out to our former "employers".
"Big deal!" some on the Right are saying. "You're still working and still getting an hourly rate for doing so!"

Well, think about it like this. Using the film industry as an example, Frank Macskasy has characterised what happened thus: "Just imagine, you are an employee on Friday, with four weeks annual leave; sick pay; the right to join a Union if you so wish; and job security. Then you arrive at work on Monday and, by Government decree, you are now classed as an independent contractor. No more annual leave; no more sick pay; no more job security. And because you’re an independent contractor, the law forbids you the choice of belonging to a Union." Admittedly he's referring to National's passage of the "Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act" under Urgency back in 2010 in specia, and emphasizing the deleterious effects upon these particular workers of suddenly having a good chunk of  their workers' rights taken away at the stroke of a pen ... but the argument applies to all affected industries.

If you abruptly find yourself self-employed (despite doing exactly the same work as you were previously), you're suddenly saddled with a whole host of costs you didn't have beforehand. As I recently found out much to my shock and annoyance, being "self-employed" means I'm now responsible for paying my own ACC levies which had previously been met by my employers. I'm now ineligible for sick leave, annual leave, or even guaranteed hours in most of my sources of income (here I'm talking chiefly about the education rather than entertainment sector), and have had to suspend my membership of Kiwisaver in part because my employers are no longer obliged to make contributions alongside my own.

The counter-argument from the Right is that I should theoretically be able to parlay the lower costs of employing me (i.e. things my employers no longer have to do) into increased wages and increased employment.
I'm not quite sure why they assume I'm in a strong enough negotiating position (i.e. completely and utterly indispensable to my employers) to negotiate a bigger and better pay packet, given that 83% of Kiwi workers will see their wages fall this year; while our workforce participation rate and actual number of hours worked both take a nosedive. All this would appear to indicate I'm actually in a far weaker bargaining position, even before we take into account the fact that I have not actually had the ability to say to my employer "I'm prepared to sacrifice these benefits/entitlements for a small pay increase". The government has, I suppose, pre-empted this and done that for me; for little apparent gain in either real renumeration or employment opportunities.

Thanks John Key.

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