Labour Leader Andrew Little
Labour Leader Andrew Little
Labour Leader Andrew Little

New Labour leader Andrew Little has publicly stated that his party will retain the 90-day employment trial period for workers with the addition of a ‘fairness requirement’. Little’s comments at a business breakfast appear unambiguous.

Hamish Rutherford reported: Little was asked about Labour’s position on the 90-day trial period… “We just want to make a requirement to give feedback so the person knows whether they’re on track to make the grade or not.” Asked if that meant that the trial periods would certainly stay, Little said “well we wouldn’t be talking about making the 90-day trial periods fairer if we were going to get rid of it.”

NARGON welcomes this significant change in Labour policy. We have always argued that 90-day employment trial periods, which are almost universal across the OECD, give employers more confidence to hire people, particularly the young, those new to the workforce or those returning after a break. This has proved to be the case.

Businesses and business leaders support 90-day trials. The trials are of particular importance to supermarkets and stores who have to manage a dynamic workforce. It has allowed employers to take a chance on employees who then have an opportunity to prove themselves. NARGON is comfortable with Little’s “fairness requirement” as he admits that virtually all employees provide feedback during the 90-day trial period already. As a result, the requirement should not be onerous and will simply formalise current practice.

NARGON believes that is a small price to pay for Labour dropping its opposition to 90-day trial periods. That fierce and often heated opposition was led, somewhat ironically, by Little when he was Labour’s Employment Relations spokesperson. He dubbed trial periods “fire at will” and promised to repeal the law. In June 2014 he said “we don’t need the 90-day law and under Labour it will go,” a statement which was pointedly tweeted by Young Labour shortly after his comments. As recently as his State of the Nation speech in January 2015, Little said that Labour would not back away from its plans to scrap the 90-day trial period for new employees.

While NARGON (and many others) have welcomed the policy change, not everyone was happy. The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) called on Labour to ‘clarify’ their position on the issue. Young Labour expressed their displeasure through social media and many unions are known to be upset.

The issue was clouded when a Labour activist tweeted that Little had just assured his group that the 90-day trial periods would still go. That was denied by Little, who wrote to party members saying the law needed to change, and Labour was working with the unions and employers about how “fair” trial periods would work.

NARGON believes that Little has committed Labour to a new policy of keeping 90-day trials with fairness requirements and we congratulate him on this sensible move. To dispel uncertainty, this policy should be formally confirmed by the Labour Party as soon as possible.

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