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Trial has its tribulations

The new coalition Government and its policies have been doing the media rounds as expected, marked by the nationwide protests sparked by the ire of Te Pāti Māori.

Māori policies aside, a strong discourse surrounding planned employment policies has forced Brooke van Velden to field questions left, right, and centre.

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions rallied at Parliament in protest of axing Fair Pay Agreements [FPAs], which would have been the “biggest progress for workers in a generation,” according to Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff.

Another of the tendentious policies is restoring the option for 90-day probationary periods, allowing employers to add them into employment agreements.

One of the greatest arguments for the 90-day period being reinstated is that small businesses could not afford dismissal costs, but this argument fails to acknowledge that 90-day trials were never abolished completely.

Businesses with no more than 19 employees were still able to add 90-day trials into employment agreements.

In the past, unscrupulous employers have used the 90-day trial period as their ‘get out of jail free’ card.

There have been reported instances where employers have brought in new employees to finish projects and then dismissed them once the task was completed, using the 90-day trial period option.

The new Government promises equality for all.

Regardless of race, gender, or age, these policies promise a boost to the New Zealand economy and a reprieve for business owners.

However, it is worth questioning if these policies apply to all New Zealanders – will there be a 90-day trial period for new ministers or even the Prime Minister himself?

Employment legislation is one of the few arms of the law that I have familiarised myself with during my short-lived attempt at obtaining a law degree.

It was short-lived purely because the legal system, as taught in a classroom with hundreds of students, leaves no room for flexibility and very little space to express free thinking.

I commend those who can read legislation without their eyes drooping or needing to ply themselves with copious amounts of caffeine and those people who truly get joy out of studying, interpreting, and enforcing the law.

The concept behind a 90-day trial period makes sense, especially for an economy to grow and for businesses to thrive; however, the lack of forethought to reduce the number of ‘unscrupulous’ employers from using this legislation frivolously raises concerns.

News of the return of the 90-day period is being warmly received by Retail NZ and other large corporations and franchises.

Van Velden has defended the trial periods by stating that they would bring more opportunities to employees, saying “they allow employers to employ someone who might not tick all the boxes in terms of skills and experience”.

What she fails to acknowledge is the Treasury-commissioned report from 2016 which found no evidence that 90-day trials led to hiring disadvantaged or inexperienced jobseekers. The report also found that while dismissal costs were reduced for businesses – there was a large increase in uncertainty among workers.

The new Government’s 90-day trial will leave them just over a week from the end of their 100-day plan – let’s wait and see what our dismissal costs might be.

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