Removing Fundamental Rights Deserve Scrutiny

Published: Fri 12 Dec 2008 09:43 AM
Removing Fundamental Rights Deserve Scrutiny And Debate, Not Haste And Urgency Employment Relations Amendment Bill
It might be surprising to MPs that the ASMS, as the professional union which represents salaried senior doctors and dentists, would be communicating its concerns to you over this bill. The overwhelming majority of our members are employed by district health boards which are too big to come within the scope of the Bill.
However, the Bill with its removal of fundamental rights of employment protection to one of the potentially most vulnerable parts of the workforce has both specific implications for some senior doctors (and their employers) and offends a fundamental right. The Bill has been aptly described as the ‘Hire and Fire’ bill.
Direct Implications for Senior Doctors There are also a growing number of senior doctors employed in the non-DHB sector. Examples include community organisations and GP practices (according to the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners the number of salaried GPs employed in GP practices has significantly increased over the years) with many employing less than 20 employees coming within the scope of the Bill.
While the Bill increases the vulnerability of newly appointed senior doctors the more serious and likely threat is that it will be a disincentive for them to apply for these positions. It is unlikely that a senior doctor working in an environment of medical workforce shortages will take the risk of taking up a new job with the possibility of being lawfully dismissed without justification. This is not a sensible position to be placed in.
Removal of Fundamental Rights The Bill seeks to remove fundamental employment protections for vulnerable employees. Taking away rights is an important issue that should never be rushed and never denied standard parliamentary and public scrutiny in a democratic society. The protections alleged to be in the Bill are superficial at best. For example, the right to take a personal grievance for an unjustified action by an employer remains but what new employee is likely to take such an action if he or she can then be sacked without cause. Nor do the good faith provisions offer any real protection against dismissal.
There can be occasions when rights might be removed but only on the basis of robust democratic debate and consideration. Select committees are critical for this and there is no justification this process to be denied in the way proposed. It is indecent to deny the opportunity for scrutiny and considered debate.
The strong sound advice of the Human Rights Commission should be respected. Often unintended consequences of proposed legislation can be identified at the select committee process (we have already identified one above).
Further, the Commission correctly notes that “The select committee process is an important check and balance where both employers and employees can be debated in a measured way. Submissions to select committees reinforce democratic principles of transparency, participation and accountability.”
Urgency not justified There is no evidence justifying urgency for his Bill. It is not identified in Appendix 2 of the National-Act Confidence and Supply Agreement requiring Act to support National. ACT MPs are not obligated by their agreement with National to support the Bill. The Human Rights Commission has also noted that “There appears to be no compelling need given the current economic conditions to take cuts in the political process or for such urgency on this proposed legislation.”
The argument that the issues were previously canvassed with what was known as the ‘Mapp Bill’ is not sufficient justification to disregard standards of scrutiny. Further, the ‘Mapp Bill’ was considered at a fundamentally different economic environment which included low rather than rising unemployment.
We hope that in light of these factors and respect for parliamentary and public scrutiny that MPs in the National, ACT and United Future parties will reconsider their position on the Bill.

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