Government changes to employment law will undermine flexibility and goodwill, Federated Farmers says.
Feds Dairy chair Chris Lewis said the 90-day trial provisions are highly valued by farmers as a means of giving them confidence to take on staff when the potential applicant has no experience, or a history of anti-social behaviour or poor job performance.
“Anyone can turn over a new leaf but without the security of the 90-day trial business owners can end up paying the cost of giving someone a chance.”
Recruiting, inducting and training new staff is an expensive and time-consuming business.
Employers want to get it right the first time but try as they might, that doesn’t always happen. The 90-day trial period reduces the risk should a new employee be the wrong choice.
Most farmers employ only a handful of staff but the Federation’s submission said it would be “unfortunate” if this option is removed for larger companies “because it is exactly those businesses that can afford to put resources into extra training and support for those who need it”.
The Federation’s farmer members do not have a hire/fire mentality, Chris told the committee. Many find it hard to attract staff to remote areas, and work hard to bring along employees who have the right attitude.
The Federation’s employment contracts are industry-leading, and farmers make use of an 0800 service and peer-to-peer advice, as they strive to be fair employers moving staff along a career pathway.
When a businesses get good employees it’s in everyone’s interest to do everything possible to keep them and keep them happy.
But if they can’t, or won’t, do their jobs or are simply a bad fit for the business and other employees, it’s better for everyone if they go.
The Federation’s submission said too many clauses in the Bill pit employer and employee against one another rather than facilitating an environment for negotiation and agreement.
For example, farmers had no quibble that employees are entitled to paid rest and meal breaks but proposed amendments say that unless employer and employee agree an alternative in advance, such breaks must be taken at times set out in the Bill.
This is “unduly restrictive,” Chris said, because unexpected situations can arise on the farm.
“If a cow requires attention during calving, or there is an urgency to finish harvest before rain sets in, it is reasonable for an employer to ask that an employee works on for a reasonable amount of time, and recoups their entitlement elsewhere.”
Tired and hungry staff don’t work well and can be dangerous, but in farming, and many other businesses, it is not always practical to stop work at prescribed times.
Farmers have no objection to employees joining a union or any other association, but current provisions in the Act requiring union representatives to obtain the permission of the business owner before entering the workplace should be kept.
“These farm properties are our homes,” Chris said.
The proposed law would allow union officials to wander into farmhouses without notice.
This is an abuse of private property.
On top of that farmers are being bombarded with messages to treat their property as a fortress because of biosecurity risks – most recently the devastating cow disease Mycoplasma bovis.
Health and Safety is another reason why visitors should be briefed and escorted into work areas. “Given the hazards on farm, the presence of an individual who is in what could be a very large area without the knowledge or permission of anyone else on the farm is extremely dangerous.”
It’s not only businesses which benefit from flexibility in the workplace, workers do too.
Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope also has serious concerns about the proposals, which might be good for unions but not workers:
Here’s a simple example. If you are a working parent who needs to leave work at 3pm to pick up the kids, and the collective agreement says your hours of work must be 9-5, and if you haven’t opted out, you will need to negotiate with both the union and your employer to be able to pick up your kids. This is onerous and unnecessary.
Fourth, the legislation would compel employers to provide personal information about a new employee to a union. Given the recent furore around Facebook’s use of personal information for marketing purposes, I doubt if many would see it as fair and reasonable for legislation to compel your employer to provide your information to any third party, no matter who they are.
These are only a few of the issues. Currently unionisation in the private sector is around 12 per cent. As with any other business, adaptation and innovation is important for unions’ survival. Legislating to protect a marketing base for membership won’t help unions to adapt, innovate and survive.
What the legislation will do is undermine trust by testing the boundaries of what most New Zealanders think as fair.
Business concerns won’t be allayed by the interview with Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway on Q&A yesterday when he said that some businesses would not be able to operate under the government’s plans.
It’s not just business owners who suffer if their businesses collapse, it’s also the workers, who Labour purports to support.