A modicum of talent and a decent work ethic will see you through, no matter what they do to employment laws

In a way I'm potentially grateful to the unions.

I am not sure which union, but a union was called by who turned out to be my first boss.

I was 16 and freshly armed with School Cert (four subjects) and University Entrance (accredited). I had secured my first job in radio.

I had missed the magic phone call. I was down at the tennis courts when my mother brought the good news: I was being offered the job of copywriter.


We needed to head home because my new boss was just ringing "the union" to find out what the minimum wage was.

Presumably if there hadn't been a union, what I ended up being paid ($7500 per annum) might well have been a lot less.

Not that any of this mattered of course - when you're after your first job, and when you're chasing a dream, money is of no importance.

Wasn't then, isn't now.

I knew at 16 that if I worked hard and did the hours, and showed the enthusiasm, it would all work out and the money would eventually turn out to be enough to pay the bills.

This was 1982, and in a way I regard myself as lucky that I came along at the time I did.

A couple of years into my career Roger Douglas turned up and changed the way this country operated, and when poor old David Lange panicked and blew it all for the party, Ruth Richardson was on standby to carry on the reform.

Between her and Bill Birch, employment law was revolutionised.


You may remember it.

The Employment Contracts Act.

This was the end of the world.

Well, that's what Ken Douglas and his mates told us.

Except it wasn't.

Never having joined a union, and having worked out fairly early that hard work was your calling card - not someone called Ernie from the union advocating on your behalf - I wasn't remotely bothered by all the upheaval.

But what has been interesting and educational to watch over the past 30 years, is that every time employment law is talked about, touched, or reformed, the same boring lines about the end of the world get trotted out.

And so it is this week with the Employment Relations Amendment Bill.

This time round the major changes involve the employer being able to walk away from collective bargaining if it's going nowhere.

New employees will not be placed on the collective for the first 30 days, and the tea break can be bargained away.

I don't know a lot about tea breaks, I've never had one.

Well, not an official, organised one.

Not a set one, at-the-same-time-every-day sort of one.

Maybe it's the industry I am in, but most people I know work in a "let's get on with the job" sort of way, and when there's time for a drink and a natter, we take it.

Anyway, if you live for a tea break, you're in the wrong job. If the tea break is the highlight of your day, God knows how boring the rest of it is.

Here's what I have learned about work, and working, and employers, and contracts, and law and being paid.

No matter what the rules, good people get ahead.

No matter what the rules, good people are hard to find.

No matter what the rules, by and large employers are decent people who do a decent job and want to run a decent business.

No matter what the rules. The more rules you have the more complicated life is and the more it holds you back.

It has never ceased to amaze me, these past half-dozen years post the global financial crisis when the world stopped, and the jobs were shed, that despite all that and the slow recovery, the call for good people from employers never stopped.

The talk about the skills shortage never stopped.

The talk about having to bring in talent from offshore never stopped.

In every workplace I have ever been at, good people have been hard to find and when they left, hard to replace.

In every workplace I have ever been at it has surprised me how many were at best "ordinary" at worst "hopeless" and yet they were all gainfully employed.

Thus leading to the general conclusion that if you have a modicum of talent and a decent ethic you've got nothing to worry about, no matter what they do to the employment laws.

Do some workers need protecting?

Of course.

But in taking that basic premise, too many good people and workplaces got hijacked along the way.

The Employment Relations Amendment Bill passed this week will not bring about the end of the world.

It didn't when they invented it, and it won't now that it's amended.

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