In another life I taught industrial relations. It was one of a number of subjects I taught at NorthTec as part of graduating students' path towards their Bachelor of Business Management.
It was an interesting time as the Employment Contracts Act 1991 was being enacted and the implications of collective and individual contracts were being thrashed out.
The employment relations scene has changed significantly since then, but what have not changed are the implied conditions of an employment agreement. The expectation is that this is a relationship of trust and confidence.
There is a duty of fidelity and to act in good faith. There is a duty of care to provide a safe system of work and to take reasonable care in carrying out that work. The employer is expected to provide work and to pay for that work in money.
The employee has a duty to be present and to not take the employer's work for themselves with a duty of confidentiality.
Many of these expectations have been further developed into law, such as the Employment Relations Act 2000, the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and the Privacy Act 2020.
We see the consequences of these in the proliferation of road cones on our roads and the increased interest of employers in the online and social media activity of their employees.
The expressed and implied conditions, though, start and stop at the workplace door. Some employers provide assistance for employees to get to work but, in general, turning up is the employee's obligation.
Many employers routinely require job applicants to have a driver's licence even when driving is not part of the job. Employers view the licence as a way of assessing reliability to get to work as well as an indication of aptitude and attitude. The lack of a driver's licence is often a key barrier to employing young people.
The licence itself is a formal means of photo ID and gives an ability to contribute to paid and unpaid work as well as community work or family care.
But many people, particularly in low socio-economic circumstances in isolated communities without money, family support or a suitable car, face disproportionate barriers to gaining a driver's licence. Some choose to drive anyway, risking social and economic isolation, large fines and often a journey into the criminal justice system.
Many employers are not particularly interested in the circumstances by which their people get to work. They may be completely unaware that friend or family obligations or a particular shift time can mean that, in getting to work, an illegal activity is committed.
It was this realisation, as well as a lack of responsiveness to a request for legally licensed drivers, that Silver Fern Farms in Dargaville decided to find out more about it. They surveyed their 300 staff members and found that 65 did not have a full driver's licence, although 12 had a motorcycle licence. They ranged in age from 54 to 18.
Of the remainder, 26 had a restricted licence with the oldest of these having been on that licence for 22 years. Twenty-two others had a learner's licence with the longest of these being 18 years. Eighteen had no driver's licence with the oldest of these being 54 years old.
Silver Fern Farms recognised it could do something about this. It was coming to the end of the processing season and many of its people would be laid off. It asked Ashley Johnston of Northland Road Safety Trust for help.
The company agreed to continue employment for a week or two and sponsor the driver licence process. Ashley pulled together driving instructors, driving mentors, the police, ACC, Work and Income, bus companies, catering, and VTNZ in Whangārei agreed to block- book testers and testing times over the week of August 16.
It was a huge effort co-ordinating the different roles of over 100 people between Whangārei and Dargaville.
In the first two days, four people gained their full licence, 11 gained their learner's, 27 hours of professional driver instruction was given, and 14 enrolled in further literacy programmes.
A full head of steam being built up for the week and then lockdown! Bugger - to be continued.
The whole restricted driver's licence system is under review, but some people and organisations are getting on with it anyway. Well done Silver Fern Farms, for your commitment to your people and legal safe driving.
• John Williamson is chairman of Roadsafe Northland and Northland Road Safety Trust, a former national councillor for NZ Automobile Association and former Whangārei District Council member.