Friday, December 22, 2023

Bruce Cotterill: Employment is a two way street

There’s a bit of a storm brewing around the new government’s proposed workplace reforms.

True to the National and Act campaign manifestos, and to their combined coalition agreements they’re moving quickly to change the regulations around fair pay agreements and the re-introduction of 90 day trials.

Predictably, there are the usual naysayers who are upset at the government moves. Of course, the Unions usually come out in force when these types of changes are mooted, largely because such changes are a threat to their existence.

Let’s face it, these decisions from the new government are no surprise. They were campaigned on. And the people, voted overwhelmingly for what they represented. Contrast that with many of the policies of the last government, which were not part of an election manifesto and genuinely did come as a surprise to the voting public. I prefer the openness we’re currently seeing.

Even then, some of the anti government commentary I’ve heard lately doesn’t hold water. The most common one is “Luxon looking after his business mates”. This is the classic leftie strategy of playing the man rather than the issue. The former Finance Minister pulled it out when, instead of defending his role as the person responsible for the state of the government’s post election books, he criticised Nicola Willis suggesting that she had failed to understand them, and in fact that she couldn’t read.

The rhetoric from those against the return of the 90 day trial typically cites unscrupulous employers abusing the system by using people for up to 90 days and then letting them go, only to hire someone else on the same basis.

Firstly, I suggest that such employers are a small minority. Secondly, I suspect that most business owners are so desperate to recruit and retain good people at the moment, that they don’t even think like that.

We have to keep in mind that for the great majority of our businesses, the decision to employ someone is a major decision. In doing so the employer is making a substantial commitment to an individual, which includes a commitment to pay them, provide leave, sick leave and sometimes other benefits. Whether they are conscious of it or not, in recruiting a new person, the employer is also acknowledging that that person will make some mistakes and that those mistakes may impact the experience of a customer or the reputation of the business.

So the employer has to do everything they can to make sure they get it right. Once the employment decision is made, they will try to provide training or support to minimize the likelihood or the impact of such errors.

In return, the employee is also making a commitment to that employer. A commitment to turn up every day, to be on time, to be appropriately presented, and to deliver the services in a manner consistent with the needs of the company and the expectations of the customer.


There is no doubt that there is the odd employer who is reckless with their treatment of staff and unreasonable when it comes to working conditions. However, the vast majority of employers take a responsible line in delivering what is required of them to their employees. In this regard, and with staffing shortages everywhere, employers are only as good as their reputation and in the days of social media, a reputation as a good employer is hard to win and difficult to maintain.

Similarly, the great majority of employees turn up with the intention of doing a good job. And more often than not, they do. But there are some that don’t. In fact, we have been forced to accept mediocre performance at many levels in this country for a long time. Just think about your experience as a customer for a moment. The reality is that some of our workers have low expectations of what is required or a less than desirable work ethic.

In today’s environment the employer’s challenge goes further. Covid enabled some people to work from home. There are many who want to keep collecting the pay cheque without turning up to work. There are plenty of instances of those who take sickies when they shouldn’t or go home early without permission. So while it is true to say that some employees get a rough deal, there are plenty of examples where the employer doesn’t exactly get a fair go either.

For the employer, it can be very difficult to measure things like reliability, fit, work ethic and suitability by reading a resume or conducting one or even two interviews. And that’s where the 90 day trial plays a valuable role. The trial period can take some of the risk away for both the employer and the employee. The trial also creates opportunities where there otherwise might not be one.

And before we revert to the unfairness of it all, consider the following. New Zealand has just seen more than 44,000 people leave our shores in the last 12 months. We are therefore short of skilled local workers. Most companies I know of are desperately short of people. If someone with the right attitude turns up, looking for work, and then that person puts their head down and does a good job, no one in their right mind is going to kick them out after 90 days.

We’ve replaced those departed people with 170,000 migrants, people who will be looking for work. Typically, migrants are fantastic workers. But most of us will see that those migrants are a higher risk employment proposition. There will be language, culture, and local knowledge hurdles to be overcome before they can become reliable workers. Again, that risk is carried by the employer. Limiting that risk to 90 days will help some business owners to sleep better at night.

Finally, imagine if we looked at such changes for the opportunity they create rather than the problems they might bring. I suggest that the 90 day trial provides a new opportunity for those people out there who genuinely want to work. “Give me a go for 90 days and see how I go”.

After all, it’s how many in our parent’s generation won their first job. It just might work today

Bruce Cotterill, a five time CEO and current Company Chairman and Director with extensive experience across a range of industries including real estate, media, financial services, technology and retail. Bruce regularly blogs on - where this article was sourced


Anonymous said...

You wouldn't marry somebody after a 30 minute interview - a lifetime commitment.
So, why would you commit to employ somebody for the rest of their working life based on a 30 minute interview ???

'John S said...

No surprises that the unions oppose the changes. After all they are also anti tax relief for their members. Don't want a little more money in members pockets to assist with the mortgage and getting food to the table. Dishonest, deceitful and unashamedly purely politically motivated as usual.