Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Giving the finger to the labour movement

So, the day after Labour Day, the government introduces legislation to steal your meal and rest breaks. Talk about giving the finger to the labour movement.

The bill will replace the existing statutory rights to meal and rest breaks with a vague requirement for "reasonable" and "appropriate" breaks which may in fact require the employee to continue working, are taken at the time specified by the employer, and which may not in fact be provided at all if "compensatory measures" (such as a later start time, an earlier finish time or accumulated time off) are provided. Given that the length of the work day is purely nominal and that such time off may be unpaid, the result is to remove the right entirely.

And that's National's approach to employment relations in a nutshell: turning enforceable rights into grace and favour which we must beg for, like a peasant to a lord. And while it will make no difference in most workplaces, the workplaces where it is necessary - where employees are denied the basic dignities of not feeling hungry or thirsty or not having to piss themselves while working - will have just got themselves an abuser's charter. By changing the law, national is explicitly supporting these abusive employers.

The bill was, according to the explanatory note, "developed at speed and without significant consultation". And it will be passed under urgency. The Regulatory Impact Statement (such as it is - this is another bill which bypassed the normal requirements) notes that it is expected to become law by the end of the year, meaning no real time for select committee consideration. That is assuming they don't ram it through without a select committee stage at all to get it in by 1 November to avoid having to negotiate properly with regional air traffic controllers. But that just seems to be the way this government operates: legislate in haste, and leave us to repent at leisure.