Monday, May 02, 2011

MayDay 2011: Get organised and fight for your rights!


Speech by Lisa Stoneham to Wellington May Day march 2011.

My name is Lisa Stoneham. I am 25, a mother of one, Unite Union delegate and a part time worker at McDonalds. While day to day life can be a bit of a struggle, and I have my ups and downs, I have learnt heaps, have met lots of awesome, supportive people whom I may not have met otherwise. All of because of some not so desirable experiences I have had over the past couple of years. These experiences have opened up my eyes to what is actually happening to the workers of this country.

2009 was the year that opened my eyes. This is the year I last worked fulltime. I got 2 fulltime jobs this year. The first one however, was planning to open a new store and so was taking on lots of new employees. I was so excited due to having a job and getting off the benefit. And all was great, the new store opened, I tried to be a good employee, stayed on longer if they were understaffed, I would work shifts on my day off, and despite the type of job it was I was actually happy. Regardless of it being the first job I had ever started on minimum wage. I thought things were going well until my hours started getting cut down. I am not sure if business had started to go down and the hype of the new store had died off or if I had done something wrong. After a couple of weeks of my hours not being what they should have been, I mentioned to the store manager I was not getting enough hours, and that I was struggling to pay my rent. The store manager never had anything to say and this went on for several weeks. I then spoke to the manager above her. All he told me was that the hours weren’t there and that I was only getting an average of 29 hours a week anyway. My hours still did not improve; I didn’t even get 29 hours a week. The end result of this was that I ended up homeless with my 2 year old daughter.

The only thing I really regret was not calling the union earlier. I had joined the union not long after I started, and it was only after I called the union organizer that my hours finally improved. When I joined the union, I didn’t really know too much about them or what they were actually there for. All I knew was that it is good to be a member.

But after the homelessness experience, which was the worst parenting moment I have had, I started my job hunt for another job. Much to my delight, it didn’t really take me too long; I found one, telemarketing for HRV Wellington. While I had never worked in a call centre of any kind before, I found trying something new exciting. The people there were awesome to work with, really supportive and encouraging but on my 11th day there; I was told I no longer had a job. They gave me my weeks notice, firing me. I asked them why, they said it was illegal for them to tell me and to apply in writing if I want to know. After talking to the Unite Union organizer, I applied in writing. I still have not heard as to why I lost my job.

I have had a few jobs in my time, none of which I have ever been fired from. The hardest thing about being fired this time was that I didn’t know why or what I had to do to improve to be a better worker. I know I am not the only one that has been through this. A good friend of mine has also been fired under the 90 day trial law. She was hired at a restaurant. She has had quite abit of restaurant/hospitality experience so knew a few things but still had a lot to learn. She thought she was doing really well. No one gave her any reason to think otherwise. She had been there for a couple of weeks when on one particular shift they were understaffed. It was her job to waitress all of the tables, there were approx 20 of them which held 5-6 people per table. She also had to help with the drinks as well. She did well to begin with but due to the workload which is lots for a highly experienced person let alone someone not so experienced, she started to fall behind and wasn’t able to keep up with everything that needed doing. The boss of the restaurant screamed at her, in front of the customers, apart from being unprofessional and belittling, it made her cry and then he told her to get out and not go back. Her position was then filled immediately by a good friend of the boss.

So while I do not object to trial periods for new employees. I strongly object to this one and I object to the legalization of unfair dismissal. This particular trial period does not give a real chance to new employees. How can it when people are being fired without reason? If this was giving people a chance, they would be getting told ways in which to improve to be better at their jobs.

This is just causing casualization of the workforce in a time when we need permanent, secure employment. How many people actually believe 20% of the workforce are crap employees? As for the people at the top, they may claim 100 people have been hired under this law that may not have been hired. However they won’t say how many have since been fired and fired without being provided with a reason.

As for giving employers confidence to hire someone new in this current economic climate, this is pretty much saying, sure hire someone but if you change your mind then fire them, its all good. Who cares about the workers and their families? The unions do. It is the unions business to put the worker first, while they do have there limitations, they do what they can and unlike businesses they are there to help people, not make as much profit as possible regardless of how many people get run into the ground during the process. Businesses either have the work and the money to hire someone or they don’t, it is actually that simple. And it isn’t as hard as they want you to believe to spot a bad worker.

Is there anyone who actually supports this law that would be happy to walk into work tomorrow and get fired without being provided a reason? No one I have asked has answered with a ‘yes’ so why should anyone else have to worry about it?

And since this law came in back in March 2009, unemployment hasn’t gone down. It has gone up, so this law isn’t working in the ways they want you to believe.

As for another new law that came into effect on April 1st this year, Unions needing an employers permission to enter a worksite. Basically if you need urgent help, you have to wait for your employer to give permission to your union organizer to enter the worksite. How many workers do you know of that has to ask an employer, that is not their own, if they can do the work they were employed to do? This is just ridiculous and pointless.

Freedom of association is an internationally recognized human right – when an employer denies a worker access to his or her union, the employer is taking a basic right out of the hands of the worker.

And while the law states that employers cannot reasonably withhold consent, not every employer will follow this and will unnecessarily waste a lot of people’s time. I just can’t see the reason behind this law to begin with.

So while I have had a few people tell me I should just keep quiet about my experiences and not speak up. I will not be quietened that easily, if I can educate one person from my experiences and hopefully somehow stop them from going through what I have been through then I am happy and speaking up has been worth it.

It is time for people to join together and get organized. While unions are extremely helpful, they can’t do everything by themselves. Only 20% of the worksites are unionized, think of the difference it would make if this number was higher. We would be fighting for better rights, not fighting to keep the ones that were won for us many years ago. Power to the people!

Lisa Stoneham, SA Wellington

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