Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

NZ: Unite Union wins against zero hour contracts

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By Thiago d’Leones

Zero hour contracts let employers hire workers without guaranteeing of any hours of work. Often this means work at short notice at the boss’ whim.

In New Zealand (NZ), a country of 4.5 million, 100,000’s of workers in the fast-food, cinema, security and cleaning industries were on these contracts. As another form of causalisation, they were associated, in-practice, with cuts to working conditions such as sick leave.

A bold industrial and media campaign by the Unite Union against zero hour contracts struck a public cord and received worldwide support, notably from fast-food workers.

This underlay the backlash against the NZ government’s first draft of the Employment Standards Legislation Bill. It would have legalised the concept, where previously the legality of zero hour contracts was undefined.

Because of public anger against the contracts, junior government parties refused to support it. This forced the government into a redraft that explicitly outlawed the practice. Although far from perfect, the legislation also prohibits being ‘on-call’, cancellation of shifts without compensation, and placing ‘unreasonable’ restrictions on workers having second jobs.

This success shows that change can be forced upon governments when workers organise and campaign. The example provided by the Unite Union is one that should be replicated elsewhere.