Should Kiwi workers ‘make a fuss more often’?

A business journalist recently made waves after suggesting that workers in New Zealand are too passive in accepting their employers’ demands.

Should Kiwi workers ‘make a fuss more often’?
In a recent article, columnist Cecile Meier suggested that New Zealand’s workforce is too passive for its own good.

She compared Kiwi workers to those in France, where workers recently made headlines after they physically attacked executives in protest over job cuts.

“I can't imagine the Air France outburst happening here … [but] that’s probably a good thing – a job should be something you take pleasure in doing well,” she wrote.

“At the same time, I believe many employers take advantage of Kiwis' good nature in the workplace.”

She outlined his impression of “the archetypal Kiwi worker”:

“You work overtime for no extra pay on a regular basis, maybe because your boss has asked you to ‘help out’, but possibly just because everyone else seems to.

Sometimes you might ask for time off in lieu, but often you just accept doing overtime as ‘part of the job’.

“Talking about money makes you feel uncomfortable, so you are unlikely to push for a pay rise if you don't get one.

“You'd rather not join your workplace's union because you want to be seen as ‘a good employee’ rather than someone making waves.”

She noted the recent news involving meat workers in Wairoa who were refusing to go back to work after being angered by being forced out of their collective contracts.

Meier referred to those workers as “courageous”, and called upon the national workforce to “stand up for their rights and make a fuss more often”.

HRM spoke to an HR manager – who chose to remain anonymous – who has experience managing Kiwi employees as well as a global workforce.

She noted ‘unitarist’ HR theory, which dictates that organisations are perceived as an integrated whole with the ideal of “one happy family”.

The theory suggests that management and other staff members all share a common purpose, and thus demands loyalty from all workers.

In applying this theory, trade unions are controversially deemed as unnecessary as loyalty between employees and companies are considered mutually exclusive. Conflict is perceived as destructive and a consequence of poor management.

“Kiwi workers should not ‘make a fuss’, as our interests are all intertwined – those of employees and employers,” the HR manager told HRM.

“As HR professionals, it’s in our interest to ensure that employees are happy and motivated, and many fantastic HR professionals across the country are doing really
innovative things in this area.”

Giving examples, she noted that ANZ had implemented award winning diversity strategies, Z Energy had a policy to treat all employees as leaders, and multiple NZ companies had recently been recognised for their efforts at the national Diversity Awards.

She added that Cecile Meier’s comments could be perceived as ‘misguided’, as they assume that workers’ and employers’ interests are inherently in conflict with one another.

“In workplaces where people are engaged, employees and employers will succeed,” she explained.

“Look at companies in New Zealand where workers ‘make a fuss’ – for example, AFFCO is financially crippled, and if a company is in this position it simply cannot afford to provide employment opportunities for its staff.”

Should New Zealanders ‘make more of a fuss’ over their working conditions? Take our poll here.

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