Is Labour trying to abolish all casual employment?

The Marlborough Express reports:

Nelson Marlborough District Health Board has denied employing workers under zero-hour contracts, despite listing close to 500 staff over four years in this category in parliamentary documents.

Labour health spokesperson says she has information that shows three New Zealand district health boards, including Nelson Marlborough, were employing workers under the controversial employment agreement.

The claims are made on the basis of documents provided to the health select committee, and viewed by theMarlborough Express. 

As part of its annual review for 2013-2014, NMDHB was asked how many staff the board employed under zero-hour contracts in the last financial year. 

The board response states that 86 workers were employed under this arrangement in 2014, with 89 staff employed under zero-hour contracts in 2013, 169 workers in 2012 and 155 workers on zero-hour contracts in 2011. 

First of all it is statistical nonsense to add up the numbers each year to get a total number. You can do that to things like funding, but not staff.

But when approached by the Marlborough Express, Nelson Marlborough District Health Board chief executive Chris Fleming backtracked from describing workers as “zero-hour” contract workers, saying the contracts were different to the zero-hour contracts that were in the media spotlight.

“The issue prevalent in the media recently has been zero-hour contracts where staff are required to be available to work at any time, and do not get annual leave, sick leave entitlements etc. 

“This in essence does not allow a person with this type of contract to plan anything or to accept any other work. 

“Nelson Marlborough District Health Board does not have any of these types of contracts, nor does it support this level of onerosity.”

The figures provided to the health select committee were the number of  “Permanent Part Time No Fixed Hour” contracts within the district health board, Fleming said.

This type of contract was different to a zero-hour contract because staff were entitled to annual leave, sick leave and any other benefits of their collective agreements, Fleming said. 

They were free to seek other employment and did not have to be available when requested to work

This is a key difference. I agree that contracts which give no guarantee of hours, yet require an employee to be available to work are onerous and somewhat oppressive.

But that is very different to merely having a casual employment contract where neither employer nor employee have any commitment to set hours.

King said zero-hour contracts were “unconscionable”.

“No-one should turn up to work never knowing how many hours they’re going to work next week and how they’re going to support their family.”

If Annette King is speaking on behalf of Labour, she is saying that Labour wishes to abolish casual work contracts for New Zealand. This would of course be beyond stupid. Many students have casual work contracts, and prefer it that way.

There is a genuine issue around employment contracts that require staff to be available to work, and gives no guarantee of work in return. But when you conflate them with genuinely casual employment agreements, you do a dis-service.

Labour should stop this, and clarify that they are not seeking to abolish casual work contracts for NZ.

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