David Clark | Issue 4

David Clark | Issue 4

Zero Hours Contracting

Sometimes good things can be achieved from the parliamentary opposition benches. The fight to end zero hour contracts is a prime example.

Students, employers, in fact everyone I’ve spoken to is appalled that zero-hours contracting was ever a thing.  But, where laws are weak, there is opportunity for exploitation by unscrupulous bosses.

Under the current government, laws to protect working people from exploitation have generally become weaker. Unfortunately in some industries with vulnerable workers, the practice of zero-hours contracting was starting to affect more and more people.

New Zealanders could see this was unfair. Labour stepped in and negotiated with the Government to make employment easier, fairer and more secure.

The campaign to end zero hour contracts involved tens of thousands of New Zealanders: signing petitions and writing letters and emails to the Minister. This was on top of industrial action by union members, and our parliamentary negotiations. 

It took a year and a half, 56,500 signatures and a whole lot of campaigning, but we did it; we put an end to zero hour contracts.

This victory is a real win for students and thousands of other ordinary Kiwis previously required to be available for work but with no hours guaranteed.

Previously, the National Government had promised to get rid of zero hour contracts. But it didn’t. Instead, it attempted to entrench them in law by making new rules for how to use them.

Interestingly, it wasn’t only Labour and the unions raising concerns – criticism came from business sector representatives with Michael Barnett from the Auckland Chamber of Commerce saying the Government’s proposal ignored work-life balance, the needs of the family and protection for the most vulnerable.

United Future and the Maori Party were also convinced by our argument. The Government had no alternative but to back down. Eventually it agreed to the changes we’ve demanded.

Those changes mean employers can no longer demand that you be available all the time for work without providing guaranteed hours in your agreement. In addition, your employer must have a good reason for requiring you to be available for work and reasonable compensation must be paid.

Employers will no longer be able to cancel shifts at the last minute without providing reasonable compensation. The notice period for cancellation of shifts must be reasonable and included in the employment agreement.

It is now much clearer in the law that having agreed hours in your employment agreement is expected.  

I’m proud of the part Labour played in leading this positive change. But it wouldn’t have happened without a public outcry. Special thanks must go to the tens of thousands of New Zealanders whose efforts helped to make zero hour contracts history. 

This article first appeared in Issue 4, 2016.
Posted 1:18pm Sunday 20th March 2016 by David Clark.