Labour and National agree to scrap 'zero hour' contracts

Labour and National are set to scrap zero hour contracts as part of new employment reforms.
ASHTEN MACDONALD/FAIRFAX NZ

Labour and National are set to scrap zero hour contracts as part of new employment reforms.

The Labour Party and the Government have agreed to remove zero hour contracts, as employment reforms reach the final stages in parliament.

Labour have been lobbying to scrap 'zero hour' contracts - where workers are on call with no permanent hours - since the Employment Standards Legislation bill was introduced. The bill would be debated in the House on Tuesday, and then would go through to the third reading and final vote.

Labour's workplace relations spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway said negotiations with the Government indicated a "significant turnaround" on the their initial position.

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"It is a backdown from the Minister, but really what's important here is this is a win for working people," he said.

"I reinforce the point that we have yet to have the committee stage...If we can get that through then this is a big improvement for workers."

Minor parties had raised concerns about the bill before the second reading, which is why the Government had to reach out to Labour.

Labour leader Andrew Little said the amendment put up by his party would stop employers demanding workers be available for work without an agreement giving them guaranteed hours.

"This will be welcome news for those workers who have been forced to sit by the phone and sometimes left with no work to show for it."

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox also called the changes were a "backdown" by Government, and was happy to vote for the bill.

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The Maori Party were not prepared to support the bill until they had received written reassurances the zero hours clauses would be changed.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the Government were just trying "to cover their embarassment" by playing down changes. Greens would now vote for the bill.

'COMPROMISE' NOT 'BACKDOWN'

But Employment Minister Michael Woodhouse called the changes a "compromise", saying National had made some "very minor changes" to the availability and reasonable notice clauses.

"Throw a bone at someone to stop barking at cars, call it a backdown if you wish," Woodhouse said.

He was confident he would have been able to get the Maori Party over the line to get the bill through the second reading because it had important parental leave changes that affected whangai children.

"I'm satisfied I was going to be able to get them over the line on zero hours as well."

Prime Minister John Key was happy with the way Woodhouse had handled negotiations. He also called the changes "minor".

"There's some strongly held views about  zero hour contracts and the changes to the law that's required," he said.

"I think that it's quite useful that he's leaning across the political divide to get that support."

Key assumed difficulty in securing Maori Party and United Future votes meant it was better that a deal would be done with Labour

The basic principles of zero hour contracts were designed to allow flexibility, for example for students to turn down work around exam time, Key said.

What followed on was "abuse" in some cases, where people were not given work and were prevented from working for anyone else, he said.

"There were all sorts of bad practices that evolved.

"Our caucus, like any caucus, doesn't support the exploitation of workers but does support flexibility in the labour markets, and there's a happy balance there."

UNION HAPPY WITH CHANGES

Public Service Association National Secretary Glenn Barclay said the Government is following the suit of corporations who have already ditched zero-hour contracts.

"Public and union pressure led large employers like McDonalds, Restaurant Brands and Sky City to ditch zero-hours contracts," Barclay said.

"And now the government has followed suit.

"This is an excellent win for workers - and an important step towards securing decent jobs, reliable incomes and good lives for all New Zealanders."

 - Stuff

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