Il Duce Key and the 90 Day Bill

ilducekeyThe re-introduction of Wayne Mapp’s 90 Day Probation Bill was no surprise.  What was a surprise was the manner in which the new National led administration decided to implement it, under parliamentary urgency right before Christmas.


As No Right Turn notes (and has been reported in today’s Press) a number of the Bills are being drafted even as I write and will be placed before the House without any advanced notification or discussion of their contents by MPs. They will then be passed by the Government without any public submission.  


The 90 Day Probationary Bill for new Employees is one of the more contentious and undemocratic of the new measures.  Right wing advocates such as Phil (Baba) O’ Reilly, CEO of Business New Zealand have lauded its introduction, adding that the Bill had been submitted previously and therefore, subjected to the select committee process.  O’Reilly has also attempted to field off criticism by claiming that other nations in the OECD have similar pieces of legislation. (Hmmm…quite).


The facts are there is already a probationary period in the Employment Relations Act 2000 and has been since its inception.  The difference between what is presently in the Act and what is being proposed in the Bill is that under the proposed legalisation for the first 90 days of a person’s employment an employer has the right to fire someone without facing legal redress, in the form of a personal grievance or appeal.  Under the present legislation employers have to go through a procedure to dismiss someone such as warnings etc. These are all open to appeal.  Under the new changes, these will go by the board.


Kate Wilkinson, the Minister of Labour sniffed this morning on National Radio (sorry, Radio New Zealand National) that the opponents of the Bill had got it all wrong, as it will only apply to new employees in industries of 20 people or less.  It does not take a master genius to work out that this is a substantive section of the New Zealand workforce and that larger employers will be lobbying for the Bill’s extension into their areas.        


Most alarming though, is the manner in which the Bill is being passed and that it effectively removes at one swoop, the rights of, and defence and redress to, new workers. This is truly fascistic.  It denies people their rights under natural justice.  It effectively makes them non-citizens for the first 90 days of their employment.  At this point an employer can, if they wish, fire them on a whim and face no redress – this is democratic how?


It is (or was) common coinage of the left to accuse the right of being fascist.  But this Bill is truly that.  A Bill which poses such a direct attack on the rights of people and denies them those rights under natural justice to defend their claims through Unions or appeal to the Courts is a law that owes more to  1930s Italy under Il Duce Benito Mussolini than it does to a democratic state. Any Bill that strips away such rights needs to be openly debated and discussed, not rushed through parliament in a shady session.         


However, the 90 Day Bill is systematic of the approach of the right since the election.  This has been to treat the last 9 years as a minor annoyance and to get back to where they left off in the 1990s.  However, Baba, Rodney, Roger and the other right wing advocates and apologists just don’t get it.  While, they won the election, it was a win seemingly motivated by boredom rather than a desire for substantive change (which is what drove election victories in 1984, 1990 and 1999).  Indeed, when National suggested marked deviations away from that policy undertaken by the Labour –led Governments from 1999, (such as suggesting asset sales) it was met with marked hostility from the public.  This forced Key and National to back down from these areas.


I suspect that John Key wants to be the Keith Holyoake of the modern National Party.  However, Holyoake won four terms, whereas Key has only just been elected for his first.  Also, Holyoake won those elections by being largely noncontentious and by seeking consensus.  Key could take a lesson from that. People don’t want a return to the 1980s and 1990s.  Policy which lessens rights in areas of the economy employment and other social provision (such as the 90 Day Bill) and moves New Zealand back to those ‘dark’ decades will be contentious and unpopular.


Contentious policy which leads to public unpopularity does not bode well for second terms.   


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