Tuesday, 21 July 2009

losing our holidays?

the government has just announced that submissions are open for the review of the holidays act. they've got a list of questions which they'd like people to discuss in their submissions, and you can find those here.

i can't see anything good coming of this. i'm sure that the end result of the review and any resulting law changes will be to reduce entitlements of employees.

one of the proposals is for employees to trade their existing holidays for cash. seems like a reasonable idea on the face of it, but in reality it's really bad. especially for those on lower incomes, especially in a recession and especially with a government whose not really interested in bringing down the unemployment rate. because what it means is that those desperate for cash (ie the lower paid) will be trading in their leave as they struggle to survive. employers will be able to pressure employees to take the cash instead of their holidays. they will be able to screen prospective employees, and choose those who are amenable to the trade-in.

nz already has a problem with employees working very long working hours compared to other OECD nations. long working hours have a definite negative impact. it means less time with family, it means less time to rest so greater stress and greater health problems. it will mean less social cohesion, less time for sporting and leisure activities. there is not one social indicator that will benefit from this measure. it won't help productivity, because productivity is measured by hours worked, and the more hours you are required to work, the less productive you are likely to be.

the same is the case for easter sunday. it's one of the very few days where an employer can not pressure employees to work. it's compulsory family time, even for the self-employed, and will be under threat with this review.

looking back in history, there were people that fought long and hard for the 40 hour working week. it was a bitter struggle, but they won it. and they won the right to decent holidays. well, the 40 hour working week went with the employment contracts act, and we've never got it back. looks like some of our holidays will soon be gone as well.

the groups that should be most up in arms about this are those who see themselves as proponents of "family values". because working for even more days will mean employees will have even less time with their families. but i somehow don't think that family first will be advocating against this measure to trade-in holidays. neither will maxim or destiny or any other of those religious-political movements that have been so publicly vocal about preserving family values. because they have never been vocal about preserving family time for workers. not that i've ever seen.

another question that, on the face of it, looks really nice and inclusive. there is a proposal to be able to transfer statutory holidays to other days. which works nicely for minority religious groups, who can transfer (in the example they give) good friday for ramadan. that would be wonderful if it happens, cos ramadan is a whole month & who wouldn't trade one day for a whole month!! the fact that they couldn't get something so simple right makes me worry that this is a rather shallow token to diversity.

but that's not the real problem. the hidden cost of this measure is that it will be a way to get rid of the time & a half pay on statutory holidays. although question 8 talks about "protections... necessary to ensure entitlements are not reduced", i just don't believe those protections will be carried across. and while i'd love to be able to celebrate eid-ul fitr instead of good friday, i don't want to have that option at the cost of low-paid workers (particularly in the hospitality industry) having to miss out on pay that they rightly deserve.

so, submissions on the review close on 21 august, and i'd say it's pretty important to get submissions in on this topic.

No comments: