Monday, November 04, 2013

McDonalds commits a Contempt of Parliament

On September 11, McDonald's worker Sean Bailey appeared before Parliament's Transport and Industrial Relations Committee to make a submission on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill. In his submission, he criticised McDonald's breaks policy and its systematic failure to provide meal breaks to its staff in violation of both the law and their employment contracts. For saying this, McDonald's sacked him:

McDonald’s New Zealand has sacked union delegate Sean Bailey for helping to expose the company’s repeated failures to provide meal breaks for many staff working more than a four-hour shift as required by law, and for giving critical testimony on this issue to a parliamentary committee.

Unite is currently involved in legal action against McDonald’s over the missing meal breaks. Bailey gave testimony to a Select Committee investigating employment law, following which he was issued a disciplinary letter stating "It appears that what you have said during the course of the select committee hearing and doing so in uniform may give rise to breaches of your obligations to your employer." The rules of Parliament expressly prohibit threatening or disadvantaging a person for presenting evidence.

This is an open and shut contempt of Parliament. Evidence given before Select Committees is protected by Parliamentary Privilege, and the House's Standing orders include "assaulting, threatening, or disadvantaging a person on account of evidence given by that person to the House or a committee" as an example of contempt. In 2006, TVNZ was fined and forced to apologise to Parliament [PDF] for disadvantaging a witness (outgoing CEO Ian Fraser) by bringing internal disciplinary proceedings against him. McDonald's has gone further, against a more vulnerable witness, and deserves a far harsher punishment.