Government to reconsider zero-hour contracts – but total ban is “overreaction”

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The government has discredited unions’ push for a ban on zero-hour contracts, saying that controlling their worst aspects would work better than the proposed prohibition.

Unions have campaigned for the contracts to be banned completely, but the government has called this an “overreaction”.

Labour has lodged a member’s bill against zero-hour agreements, saying that the changes currently under consideration do not address the fundamental issue caused by the contracts.

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse said that some aspects of zero-hour contracts pose significant problems, but maintained that banning them was an overreaction. He claimed that he had asked officials to investigate these issues.

“Casual agreements are appropriate and legitimate arrangements in a fair and flexible workplace,” Woodhouse told The New Zealand Herald.

Under Woodhouse’s provisional view, these practices would be considered for elimination:

Restraint of trade clauses

These often stop employees from going to work for a competitor if the employer does not offer sufficient hours of work.

Cancellation of shifts at short – or no – notice

Workers employed on zero-hour contracts can – as it stands – have shifts cancelled at extremely short notice, or even be turned away when upon arrival at work.

Unlawful wage deductions

Cases in which worker’s wages were docked for reasons beyond their control gained media attention last year. Woodhouse told the Herald that these practices are illegal, but that legislations need to be amended to give this more clarification.

Labour’s Certainty at Work member’s bill intends to rid New Zealand of zero-hour contracts, which Labour leader Andrew Little said “are not just unpopular among workers but among a lot of employers themselves”. The bill requires employment agreements to include an indication of the hours an employee will have to work.

The bill’s sponsor, Iain Lees-Galloway, said that zero-hour contracts have no place in today’s employment relations.

He asserted that the bill would not ban casual working agreements.

“Zero-hour contracts are permanent, part-time contracts with no set hours,” Lees-Galloway said. “They are very different from casual contracts.”

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