Thursday, September 29, 2022

More Labour secrecy

Today the government introduced its Worker Protection (Migrant and Other Employees) Bill to the House. And as has become sadly common for this government, it includes another secrecy clause. To help Immigration do their job and ensure migrant workers are being paid, there's a power enabling them to obtain employment documents like wage and time records from employers. And then there's a clause forbidding them from disclosing that information to anyone, which implicitly over-rides the OIA.

You may be wondering what the problem is here - after all, this information is private and commercially sensitive and there's a clear government interest in being able to continue to obtain it. Sure. But those interests are already protected by the OIA - they are literally the first three other withholding grounds. The OIA doesn't make it absolutely secret - withholding is subject to the public-interest override. But given the type of information involved, the circumstances where that would come into play are basicly where there has been some massive fraud or fuckup, basicly where people have lied and holding them accountable trumps any interest in privacy. And even then, I expect it would have to go to the Ombudsman, or to the courts. What Labour's secrecy clause tells us is that they do not trust those institutions to make the right decisions about this information. It's just control-freakery, which makes the executive unaccountable to the agencies which are meant to oversee it.

Public Sector Minister Chris Hipkins is on-record as being concerned about secrecy clauses and wanting safeguards against them so they're not used willy-nilly. Clearly that hasn't happened here. Whether he was lying, or just useless, is left as an exercise for the reader.