Monday, August 25, 2008

The right to stand

One of the things I hate about the political blogosphere is that most of the people in it are hacks, who can reliably be expected to put party before principle, no matter what. To them, right and wrong are defined not by any moral principles, but by who is doing what to whom. Over the past few days we've been treated to a particularly unseemly display of this, as left-wing bloggers who should know better have lined up to defend the right of bad employers to victimise their employees if they dare to run for election for the wrong political party. If the political shoe was on the other foot, they'd be screaming about it, but because in this case the bad employer is the EPMU - one of "us" - and the employee wants to run for ACT - making him one of "them" - they have been falling all over themselves in an effort to justify unconscionable, unfair, and discriminatory treatment.

This isn't just an employment issue, it's a matter of basic democratic rights - something any decent lefty should support even for their enemies. The left has fought long and hard for democracy - for universal suffrage, the secret ballot, and laws against threats and intimidation so that people's votes could be exercised freely and without fear. But democracy isn't just about the right to vote - its also about the right to contest elections and stand as a candidate. And that right needs to be protected in law, just as the right to vote is.

How can we do this? I have a few ideas. Firstly, the existing clause in the Electoral Act against undue influence needs to be extended to protect the right to stand as well as the right to vote. Just as people aren't allowed to threaten or victimise you to force you to vote their way, or stop you from voting, they shouldn't be allowed to threaten or victimise you to stop you from standing. Secondly, we need to protect the practical right to stand by backing up the provisions of the Employment Relations and Human Rights Acts with concrete protections for employees seeking office, in the form of job protection and an entitlement to unpaid leave for the duration of the campaign. The obvious model here is s52 of the Electoral Act, which requires public servants to take a leave of absence from nomination day (or earlier, in some cases) until the day after polling day in order to protect the neutrality of the public service, though the Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987 (which creates entitlements to parental and extended leave, requires employers to keep parents' jobs open, and bars terminating an employee because they have or will take leave) provides a possible alternative. Either way, this sort of legal protection will prevent candidates from being intimidated by their employers - whether they be the EPMU or the Business Roundtable.