Business owners I’ve been dealing with recently are getting increasingly frustrated by the challenges of being an employer. There is a feeling that government regulation is pressing down on them and they feel they’re being painted as privileged people taking advantage of the workers.
In the last few months employers have faced another round of minimum wage increases, the introduction of the domestic violence leave legislation and for larger employers, the demise of the 90 day trial period.
The reality is that many employers feel that they are reaching a tipping point. They are now actively looking at how they could reduce their reliance on employees. Some are looking at outsourcing jobs to companies offshore, while others are looking at purchasing machinery to automate repetitive tasks currently being done by low skilled employees.
The final straw for one client was the domestic violence legislation. This legislation allows employees to take up to 10 days a year additional leave if they are victims of domestic violence, including both physical and psychological abuse. While hugely sympathetic to the victims of domestic violence, they were concerned about the ability for the new legislation to be abused and the impact that would have on their business.
“What am I supposed to do if an employee tells me they aren’t coming in for two weeks because their partner shouted at them?” they asked.
While the legislation does allow for an employer to ask for proof of the abuse, it isn’t specific about what would and wouldn’t be acceptable proof, and the client felt that just asking for proof would risk being viewed as insensitive.
The same client was also dealing with performance issues with some employees but was petrified of dealing with them as they’d heard such horror stories of people getting the process wrong. In addition, until they could outsource certain roles, they were heavily reliant on a workforce that was hard to come by. If they didn’t have staff, production in the business would stop, so they felt that having any employees was better than having none.
The feedback we are getting from our clients largely mirrors what is being reported by the media. Business people are nervous. They are worried about what additional burdens will be loaded on them next, they are worried about not being able to find the right people and not being able to get rid of the wrong people, and they’re worried about putting a foot wrong and ending up in employment court.
As a result of this nervousness, expansion plans are being put on hold and big decisions are being delayed. Unless projects relate specifically to diminishing reliance on labour, we are seeing many of them being delayed or abandoned.
On the whole people are honest, hard working and great to work with, regardless of whether they are an employer or an employee. Unfortunately, a few people take advantage of honest employers and push things as far as they possibly can. Likewise, the occasional rogue employer takes advantage of vulnerable employees. The issue is that employers are finding it more and more difficult to deal with the bad eggs, and current legislation seems to be leaning towards favouring the employee over the employer.
Employers are the ones taking the risks, creating the jobs, taking responsibility for everything and carrying the stress. They should be celebrated for being the backbone of the New Zealand economy. Employers also obviously reap the rewards of business ownership, but these rewards are merited as justification for the added risk and pressure.
I’d like to see the pendulum swing back towards the middle, taking a more balanced view between the employee and the employer. As it stands, the feedback from our clients is that it’s all one-way traffic. If the government continues to make things more and more challenging for employers, we will see more jobs being sent offshore and faster automation, resulting in the unemployment rate increasing… just what the government doesn’t want.