Thousands sacked under 90-day trial period

SHANE COWLISHAW AND HARRY PEARL
Last updated 05:00 06/12/2013

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Tens of thousands of workers have been sacked under the 90-day trial period, with many let go because they "did not fit in".

Figures published by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) show about 69,000 employers took on at least one new staff member in 2012 under the legislation.

It is not known how many workers were dismissed during the trial period, but the figures revealed 27 per cent of employers said they had fired at least one new employee during or at the end of their trial.

This means at least 18,000 people lost their jobs in the first three months of employment last year, with the actual figure likely to be much higher.

The law has been widely criticised by unions and the Labour Party, but Waikato businesses have embraced it, with small and big firms alike writing the clause into new contracts.

Lawrenson Group owner John Lawrenson said he was a massive fan of the 90-day trial as it let his businesses give a shot to people who might have a poor CV or little experience in the hospitality industry.

"So you give them a chance and some of them actually turn out to be really good, but also if they are the type of person that turns up late, folds their arms and chews gum you can say to them, see you later," Mr Lawrenson said.

Of 70 people he had hired in the past year, 12 had been cut under the 90-day-trial law.

Gallaghers corporate services executive Margaret Comer said of the 42 new employees the company brought on last year, one was dismissed under the terms of the 90-day trial period.

She said the employee was in an administrative role position, and well into their second month of employment when a mutual decision was made to terminate.

But not every one is pleased with the legislation, and one lawyer told the Waikato Times some employers were not using it correctly.

Juanita Bennett, managing solicitor at Hamilton District Community Law Centre, said on average the centre offered legal advice to one person a week who was affected by the law.

She said the majority of cases assessed turn out to be invalid 90-day trials, because employers were not meeting the required terms of agreement.

"For example it [the agreement] is not in writing, or even if it was in writing they [workers] hadn't seen it or agreed it prior to starting work.

"A lot of employees are only given employment contracts two or three weeks into employment, which means that they are no longer a new employee - so they can't be on a 90-day trial."

Workers that came to the centre for advice were often distressed, particularly as the dismissal usually came as a surprise, she said.

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Tony Stevens, manager of the Young Workers' Resource Centre in Hamilton, said the law affected young people and international students in particular.

"Almost every young person that gets a job will be on a [90-day] trial period," Mr Stevens said.

"I get it that it is giving people a chance to prove themselves but the law is not tight enough - there is no job security at all."

When asked why they had dismissed staff, most employers said it was because they were unreliable or had a bad attitude, the MBIE figures said.

Other reasons included employees lacking the necessary skills, not getting on with colleagues, and not fitting in.

Council of Trade Unions general counsel Jeff Sissons said that more than two years after the law was introduced, workers were still contacting the union complaining they had been fired unfairly while on a trial period.

If an employer went through a proper and robust hiring process, there was no need for a trial, he said.

However Labour Minister Simon Bridges believed the legislation was working well.

In 2012, more than 131,000 people were employed for a trial period. Nearly a third of all employers who used the trial said they would not have hired their newest staff member without it, he said.

Early next year, the ministry intended to publish research in which employees were surveyed, he said. 

 

WHAT IS A 90-DAY TRIAL?

First introduced in March 2009, allowing employers with fewer than 20 staff to include a trial period of up to 90 days for new employees.

In April 2011 it was extended to all employers. The trial period must be agreed to in writing and negotiated in good faith.

If an employee is dismissed before the end of a trial period, they can not raise a personal grievance on the grounds of unjustifiable dismissal.

But they can still raise a grievance on other grounds, including discrimination or harassment, or unjustified action by the employer.

Notice must still be given within the trial period. A trial can be offered only to a new employee who has not worked for the employer before. 


- Waikato Times

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