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Defeat Mapp’s ‘Slave Labour’ Bill

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Union Campaign

Mapp’s Bill is designed to remove workers rights in the first three months in any new job. It will open the gate to a more generalised attack on the unions and workers rights .Hone Harawira was right, it is a ‘slave labour’ Bill.The unions are geared up to get the Bill defeated in parliament. But defeating Mapp’s Bill in parliament is no guarantee that bigger and more severe attacks will not follow. Only an independent, democratic, and militant labour movement can put a stop to capital’s drive to make lobour pay for its crisis-ridden, rotten system.

Mapp’s Bill, AKA Employment Relations (Probationary Employment) Amendment Bill

“This Bill will introduce a 90-day probation period for new employees in the Employment Relations Act 2000. New Zealand is one of only two OECD countries that does not have a probation period for new employees. The most common length of probation period in the OECD is three months.”

The National Party’s industrial relations shadow minister Wayne Mapp’s Bill passed its first reading on March 15. The combined support of National, ACT, United Future, New Zealand First and three members of the Maori Party saw the bill sent to select committee for further consideration.

Unlike the other three Maori Party MPs, Hone Harawira voted against the Bill. He called it a ‘slave labour’ Bill. Peter Sharples, Maori MP for Tamaki Makaurau, said he voted for the Bill to go to the Select Committee to hear the arguments for and against. He has since come out against the Bill. But there is no sign that Turia or Flavell have changed their minds. Turia is on record as saying that young Maori need this Bill to get into the job market.

Labour, the Greens, and the Progressives opposed the bill. Labour is opposed because it would tip the balance of power in the Employment Relations Act back in favour of the bosses. The ERA’s sponsor, then Labour Minister Margaret Wilson, is a longtime advocate of industrial ‘peace’ where both workers and employers are equal and the state acts as referee.

Sue Bradford Green Party spokesperson called it “mean-spirited, anti-worker legislation [which] has no place in a modern and innovative economy, what Dr Mapp and some other political parties supporting this bill fail to recognise is that it is already possible to have probation periods for new employees under the existing ERA (Employment Relations Act). Where a probationary period has been negotiated, it can be taken into account when looking at whether a dismissal is justified or not.”

Sue Bradford is being a bit naïve. Of course the employers are well aware of the current provisions for a probationary period. They want to get rid of it because it imposes certain restraints on them in hiring and firing. According to the CTU, “Currently case law requires an employer to do just three things for a probationary employee: tell the employee about their concerns, hear the employee’s point of view, and consider it in a fair manner.”

To give the bosses the right to hire and fire Mapp’s Bill proposes:

“The purpose of a probation period for new employees is to enable employers to take a chance with new employees, without facing the risk of expensive and protracted personal grievance procedures. It will enable people who have not had previous work experience to find their first job and make it easier for people re-entering the workforce. That will enable greater growth and productivity in the New Zealand economy.”

According to Don Brash, a 90 day no rights period will help people who are, “too young, too old or too brown” to get a job.

Brash’s statement is seen by the CTU as an admission that employers currently discriminate against these categories of workers. Of course! Youth and age by themselves are no indicator of employability. Nor is ‘being brown’ as the drop off in Maori unemployment from 19% in 1999 to around 9% today proves. But Maori unemployed are still around 20% of the unemployed yet only 10% of the workforce. And the Maori youth rate while down from 32% in 1999 is still over 20% (there are no recent official figure for Maori Youth Unemployment!). The explanation suggested by the Labour Department is that Maori tend work mainly in the more unskilled jobs in the export sector or more insecure service jobs.

Mapp’s Bill is in fact a ‘trojan horse’ to open the gate to further attacks on workers’ rights.

Tariana Turia may think that foregoing hard won rights is a worthwhile price to pay for young Maori to ‘prove themselves’. But this is a return to the 19th century frontier style industrial relations that dumps on the proud history of Maori workers struggles that fought racism to get jobs and took a leading role in the development of militant trades unions.

But more than that, it’s not just about exploiting unskilled and untrained workers. It forces all workers taking on a new job to work with no rights for three months.

Being able to take the boss to a civil court under the Human Rights Act! –on legal aid (Ha Ha!) or the ERA to get wages owed is hardly a right.

Stripped of all the bullshit, Mapp’s Bill is designed let the bosses hire relatively untrained and unskilled workers from the pool of reserve workers to do shit work when it’s available and then fire them when they like. They want more builders’ labourers, cleaners and delivery boys and girls, so along comes Mapp. Harawira is right, this is a ‘slave labour’ Bill.

As for the employers moaning about the cost of legal action to fire someone, the CTU say’s there is no evidence of many personal grievances being taken by employees in the first 90 days. But the CTU is being a bit precious here as it is not that bosses are unwilling to risk taking on “young, old and brown” workers in the first place, but that they want work them without rights and union coverage to extract the maximum profit.

The CTU also thinks that the Bill will make recruiting and keeping workers more difficult because it puts the first 3 months outside the ERA and its provisions for free mediation and dispute settlement. It says that the Bill would allow employers to shirk their duties to their workers. But it misses the point here, doing their ‘duty’ is not the bosses intention. They are not all converts to the ‘knowledge economy’ that empowers the CTU to act as labour pimps. They want the outright freedom to hire and fire. And they want a passive, compliant workforce that prepares workers to reject union membership and accept tough agreements after the 3 month period.

The reason that the CTU expects bosses to do their ‘duty’ is that CTU’s conception of the boss/worker relationship is a partnership that requires employers to do their job in encouraging and training workers, while workers do their job in increasing their productivity. This cosy collaboration allows the CTU union officials to act as the grease monkeys who keep the working class engine running. So while the CTU’s campaign against Mapp’s Bill makes some obvious good points, it is designed to try to bully, shame and cajole employers into taking on their role as responsible partners in this cosy setup. But class collaboration was never a good basis for the defence of workers rights, as the many millions of workers lives sacrificed over the centuries to keep the capitalist system going testify.

A militant campaign to smash the Mapp sack!

A serious defence of workers rights means using the ERA as a defence for as long as it is necessary to build up the industrial strength to do away with the legal framework and assert workers control over the economy. The fact that some bosses want to abolish the ERA starting with its limited protection of workers in what they call the ‘probationary’ period, means we need to defend it.

Therefore everyone needs to get behind the CTU campaign and lobby MPs to defeat the Bill. But when we lobby we should not beg. We should demand that these MPs vote against the Bill or be thrown out of parliament at the next election!

Most important, we cannot put any faith in parliament or in the CTU’s ability to protect workers. Parliament is the mouthpiece of the ruling class and its agents, the political parties of all colors, and the union bureaucracy, representing the interests of all those who have a stake in protecting and defending capitalism. It may be that Mapp’s Bill will not win a majority, but that is no reason for complacency. Mapp’s Bill is a trojan horse designed to open the gate to the destruction of the unions and the removal of all workers rights.

The ERA does not allow workers to go on strike to defeat this Bill. It limits the right to strike to periods of negotiating agreements and health and safety matters. This proves that the ERA is a ‘leg-iron’, like all labour law, that sets limits on workers struggles. Therefore, we have to start right now to rebuild the unions on the basis of a democratic and militant rank and file control of production. Only an organised working class can defeat all future attacks on our class, and go on to overthrow the rotten capitalist system and replace it with a planned, socialist society.

From Class Struggle 67 June/July 2006

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