Tuesday, January 11, 2011

90 days, unions, and the public service

Yesterday we learned that unions have responded to the government's expansion of the 90-day law by doing their job, and negotiating collective agreements which bar its application. This doesn't just benefit their members; the common practice of passing-on union terms and conditions means non-members will be protected from the law too. And that ultimately comes back to benefit union members by creating a culture of secure employment for all.

Unfortunately the government has directed that public service agencies refuse to negotiate such agreements. This is odd, as there is very little need for the 90-day trial period in the public service. Its ostensible purpose is to allow employers to hire more people - something the government doesn't want the public service to do. It is also supposed to allow employers to "take risks" in hiring decisions - something unlikely to apply in a sector which requires high qualifications or police background checks for entry, and in which trust is key. Left to themselves, public sector managers would happily have contracted out of the 90-day provision, simply because they don't need or want it - it would have been an easy point of agreement in contract negotiations.

The problem for the government is that this would then have set the baseline for the rest of the employment market and created a large "safe haven" from the law which employers would have to compete with to gain workers. This would have undermined the bills real purpose: driving wages down by creating widespread employment insecurity. So instead we have public service managers ordered to impose unfair contractual conditions which they neither want to need, and which actively poison relations with their own workforce, in order to create worse employment standards for everyone else.

This is what National does: use government to fuck over the many for the benefit of the few. If you don't like it, you need to vote them out. And this year we'll have an opportunity to do just that.