KEITH LOCKE (Green)
The Green Party is very strongly opposed to the Holidays Amendment Bill. It effectively takes away from workers’ their long, hard-won rights to holidays. About 8 years ago we managed to get a fourth week’s holiday for all New Zealand workers—4 weeks’ statutory holidays. We were catching up a bit with countries, particularly in Western Europe where they have 4 or 5 weeks’ holiday already, and that was a fantastic achievement. I think New Zealanders celebrated that achievement, but the National Party was never keen on that and The ACT Party was never keen on that. Now they are trying to erode that achievement and the way they are doing it is to give people the right to sell off the fourth week of their holiday. The people who will sell it off are the people who most need a holiday—the people who are hardest up. They will be people who are on $13 an hour, maybe have five kids, no fixed assets, rent a house, and find it quite difficult to make ends meet. They will be the ones who will be tempted in some way to sell off their holiday. They might get some small financial advantage but it will be at the disadvantage of the rest period that they really need. They will be people who often work longer hours, more overtime, at heavy physical jobs, and who most need a holiday. We can be sure that the people at the higher end of society, including MPs like ourselves, judges, chief executive officers, whatever, who even before the statutory fourth week holiday came in had 4 or 5 weeks’ holidays, will not be suffering or trading off a week of their annual holidays. That only reinforces the inequality in that respect in terms of leisure time available in society. I think leisure is very important. It is a very human thing and a very necessary thing. It is important that given the very difficult situation in Pike River, and not wanting to get into that issue in terms of what exactly has happened or what caused this particular accident, I think it draws our attention back to the need to really concentrate on safety in the workplace. One thing that generally helps with safety in the workplace is if people are rested; not overworked but on the ball and have their mind on all the safety issues, and are looking after their workmates, etc. In that context we should not be moving backwards in terms of holidays and leisure. The Government goes on about choice and how people have a choice about whether they sell off the fourth week of their holiday, but in many situations they will not have too much choice. The employer may want to have the office, factory, or whatever open for an extra week, so pressure will be put on a section of the workforce to sell off their fourth week’s holiday. We might think that under the legislation those people have choice and they do not need to accept that. But in fact people in a workforce with an imbalance of power but who want to be promoted, or do not want to be shifted out of a good job in a particular workplace, will feel that if the pressure is on they had better go along with what the employer says and what other workers are doing. They will sell off the fourth week of their holiday. The idea that it is complete “choice” ignores the relationships in a workplace and the power of employers to work out who is promoted, who is not, and all the rest of it. That is something the Government completely ignores and was never discussed through all of this debate on the Holidays Bill or the Employment Relations Amendment Bill (No 2). Even if workers sell off the fourth week of their holiday to get a little bit of extra financial advantage that financial advantage can easily be clawed back in the next year or the next 2 or 3 years by the employer, depending on the strength of the union to maintain wages and conditions. But when workers sell off a week’s holiday it is more difficult to go back to where they started from. The transfer of public holidays from Christmas and Easter, for example, to some other day is important. We should consider what are the good things about Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and Easter holidays? There are two things: first, it is the time when families are together, and although there may be one or two people working in the society, overwhelmingly people have the time off and can travel to be with their families. That is fantastically important for families and for communities.
The second good thing of having not many people working on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and Easter Day etc. is that it means they are quiet times. It is great during the Easter or Christmas period to go around when the shops are not open—it is an unusually quiet and relaxing time, which is welcomed by a lot of people in the community. The more we have this transferring of holidays the more people will be working on Christmas Day and Easter Day etc., and that is tied in with the attempt by National and ACT MPs to allow shops to be open on Easter Friday, Easter Sunday, or whatever. It is tied in with more and more people working on those days. This entitlement to trade off the week’s holiday will not necessarily be voluntary. Again, because of the power of the workplace, people tend to go along with what the employer is pushing for. In fact the employer might want a day off on Christmas Day and say to an employee: “Could you just transfer your holiday? You can come in and keep the place open on Christmas Day.” The idea of choice often does not apply in practice. Then there is the question of employers being able to require a sick note for 1 day’s absence. The Minister in her introductory speech said that this would happen only when employers genuinely suspected that there was something dodgy going on. If she really believes that this will happen only when there is a reason to genuinely suspect something why did she remove the words in the Holidays Act that said that employers could require a sick note for 1 day’s absence if there were reasonable grounds—reasonable grounds being if someone took 5 consecutive Mondays off or whatever? Instead she has changed the legislation so that it does not include “genuinely suspect”—or the sorts of words that she used. It says that the employer may require proof of sickness or injury within 3 consecutive calendar days—full stop—for any reason whatsoever. She has specifically removed the two words “reasonable grounds”, so she is not really explaining what is behind this bill when she says that employers will require a sick note only if they genuinely suspect something. She also says that employers will not do that unjustly because they all want good relations with staff. That is the problem. Unions exist because, often, there are bad employers who do not have good relations with staff and do things unjustly. We are not in a utopian world of all good employers. Often employers do not like unions so they will harass the union leader off the job, perhaps by requiring a sick note every time that they are off. If I was trying to get the union off the job I would use that tactic. Why not? Why not do that every time a union leader was off sick by saying they had to have a sick note. That is what happens. Members are living in utopia if they think that all employers are great and want good relations with staff. That is just la-la land. We really need to go in the opposite direction so that people do not need to transfer and sell off their holidays, by giving workers, particularly those at the lower end, a better deal. A $15 an hour minimum wage would get a lot of people off their present lowly wage of $13 and $14 an hour.