Women at greater risk from job trials, MPs told

20:10, Sep 16 2010
Equal Employment Opportunities commissioner Judy McGregor.
Equal Employment Opportunities commissioner Judy McGregor.

Women are more at risk from 90-day trial periods because they are weaker negotiators than men, Parliament has been told.

Judy McGregor, the Equal Employment Opportunities commissioner for the Human Rights Commission, spoke to the industrial relations select committee yesterday on changes to employment law, including the extension of the 90-day trial period to all workplaces.

She said those in "precarious work" were often women working in domestic work, care work, retail or service positions.

"We have a suspicion ... they may be more vulnerable just simply because of women's natural reluctance to negotiate properly at the start of employment periods."

She herself was guilty of that: "I usually just take the job and ask about everything later."

She said the 90-day trial period should be dumped because it offended against the "fabled sense of a fair go" and was unnecessary given that probationary period provisions already existed in the Employment Relations Act.

Advertisement

The Government is extending the 90-day period to all companies as part of its changes to the Employment Relations Act. Workers under a trial period can be dismissed without reasons given and without the ability to take a case of unjustified dismissal.

National MPs asked Dr McGregor whether small businesses were also "vulnerable" because their viability hinged on good staff. David Bennett said the existing provisions still made it "too hard" to get rid of staff. National MP Tau Henare later quipped that the commission was "a branch of the Labour Party".

Another submitter, the National Association of Retail Grocers' legal spokeswoman, Barbara Burton, said it would be preferable if a 90-day trial was automatic for all new employees, with the ability to negotiate with the employer to opt out, rather than have to agree to opt in. "That would solve a lot of problems. A lot of small grocery shops are not au fait with what to do when hiring and that would simplify matters and give more opportunities for people to get jobs."

Tony Simpson, a union advocate for more than 30 years and former national president of the PSA, said the trial period was a "recipe for a sulky workforce" because employees would not be as inclined to give their all. He said New Zealand employers had bad recruitment processes.

"The tendency in New Zealand is to employ people because they're 'a good joker', not because they can do the job."