Editorial: Let's talk about the bosses

21:06, Jun 15 2014

The Government is talking about a steelier approach to businesses that breach employment standards. As it should, given the increasing evidence of more serious and intentional bad behaviour.

The options - it's premature to call them proposals - that have been put up for public discussion extend from a more robust system for naming and shaming employers who commit "moderate to serious" breaches, to more severe jail sentences, steep fines, bans on doing business and seizures of equipment.

Not before time, plenty of workers will be thinking. Perhaps more than a few businesses too, given that, as Labour Minister Simon Bridges points out, employers who break the rules not only harm their staff, they also gain an unfair advantage over their competitors.

One bound-to-be-popular option is targeting fines at individuals. This is to stop them offenders being able to avoid enforcement by winding up a company and beginning another; a practice sourly described as phoenixing.

Though public attention may well zoom in on the sanctions under consideration - including the pleasing emphasis on having them be proportionate to the nature of the offence, so they eliminate the financial benefits of bastardry - there's another significant side to the raft of options.

That's the talk of extending inspectors' powers, broadening the range of information they can require, even bestowing more powers on them to make binding determinations themselves.

There's nothing inherently wrong in, for effectiveness' sake, beefing up the bureaucratic wallop as well as the judicial one. But there's the risk here of failing to keep a decent distinction between the two.

Another option is to extend the role of mediators so that if, during hearings, they develop concerns about serious and harmful breaches of employment standards, they would be allowed to flick this information on to enforcement agencies. At the risk of stating the obvious, the paper is quick acknowledge that this could act as a deterrent to parties going to mediation in the first place.


The Southland Times