Zero-hour contracts are a form of employment agreement which guarantee the worker no rostered hours but requires them to be available for work when summoned. They are currently in use within some members of New Zealand’s retail industry and have been described by unions as exploitative.
The government has been working on legislation addressing these contracts as part of the Employment Standards Bill since it was introduced in August last year. The bill includes a number of improvements to the employment relations–employment standards legislative framework.
The new amendments scrapping zero-hour contracts were proposed by Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway in committee, and in effect, they force employers to guarantee workers some hours. They also make sure workers required to make themselves available for work are compensated for this. The wording is as follows:
- An availability provision may only— (a) be included in an employment agreement that specifies agreed hours of work and that includes guaranteed hours of work among those agreed hours; and (b) relate to a period for which an employee is required to be available that is in addition to those guaranteed hours of work.
- An employer and an employee who is remunerated for agreed hours of work by way of salary may agree that the employee’s remuneration includes compensation for the employee making himself or herself available for work under an availability provision.
- The employer must not cancel a shift of the employee unless the employee’s employment agreement specifies.
The bill completed its second reading last week and is not yet law.
“National was forced to seek Labour’s support after United Future and the Maori Party echoed our concern that the Employment Standards Legislation Bill in its original form would entrench, not stop the exploitative practise of zero hour contracts,” says Labour leader Andrew Little.
“An amendment put up by Labour today will stop employers demanding workers be available for work without an agreement giving them guaranteed hours.
“This will be welcome news for those workers who have been forced to sit by the phone and sometimes left with no work to show for it.”
Unite Union has been campaigining against zero-hour contracts in the fast food industry since last year. It was involved in securing promises from fast food retailers such as Hell, McDonald’s and Restaurant Brands to scrap the contracts independently.
Unite’s national director Mike Treen yesterday welcomed zero-hour contracts’ legal end.
“When we named the type of contracts these employers were using as zero hour contracts, there was an immediate and overwhelming response from the public and sections of media,” Treen says.
“We discovered that probably hundreds of thousands of New Zealand workers were on these contracts. Virtually every family in the country could count one of their members suffering under these contracts. Everyone understood immediately what we were talking about.
“We are pleased that the government has backed off from forcing through a law that seemed to legalise these contracts.”