Yesterday was one of those rare days in Parliament when National and Labour have agreed to kill a highly contentious component of a Bill of Parliament.
The Employment Standards Legislation Bill, which was due to be debated on Tuesday, and which would go to the House for a final vote on Wednesday now has a broad spectrum of support across Parliament. This is very welcome news for employees on low incomes, or in situations where their hours are fluid, because it now means that their employers have to give them certainty about the hours they are expected to work.
What made the Employment Standards Legislation Bill contentious was the provision of Zero Hour contracts, whereby an employer would require workers to be available for work but not have any set hours guaranteed. In September 2015 the Government announced a Bill of Parliament that planned to ban the use of Zero Hour contracts. Earlier that same year a Campbell Live article exposed the problems associated with Zero Hour contracts in New Zealand. It was found that a number of large employers including Hoyts, Sky City, and various fast food companies such as McDonalds participate in these contracts in order to reduce their operating costs, and despite making record profits.
This was a Bill of Parliament that many political parties in Parliament were going to oppose initially. The Maori Party refused to support the Bill in its initial form because it wanted assurances that the Minister was not prepared at that point to provide that Zero Hour contracts would be left out. For similar reasons the Greens and New Zealand First also refused to support the Bill. All of these parties are now prepared to vote for it. The Opposition parties are calling it a back down, but the Minister for Employment, Michael Woodhouse said the changes were minor.
The reality is I think National realized it was not going to win them any votes, and would prop up the centrist image that Prime Minister John Key has been trying to maintain. Whatever the case, credit where it is due. Zero hours are a bad type of contract and ditching them does New Zealanders a significant favour.