By Ellipsister, Co-Editor.

When negative life events occur around Christmas, does that make them somehow more worthy of our sympathy or is this just reinforcing Christian privilege?

You may well think that I’m just grinching. Maybe there’s a little bit of that. So I appreciate that for some of you reading this – whether you’re an absolute fanatic or a passive observer of Christmas – that my opinions here might elicit an eyeroll or two. Possibly some huffing and puffing on the internet.

Last night I posted this tweet:

For those unfamiliar with the story, it concerns two wāhine that were sacked from their jobs at Talley’s a few days before Christmas, apparently for carrying out their Union delegate duties.

As reported by Māori TV’s online news team, the NZ Meat Workers Union claimed that:

The delegates were dismissed because they went to work to calm union members upset about unfair treatment and tempers were getting short

One of the women dismissed explained that she was told by AFFCO that:

[her] visit to the Rangiuru branch breached Health and Safety policies

I don’t know the full facts of this case but I absolutely support the karanga to stand up for the rights of all workers. The Union alleged that the reasons for their dismissals were spurious. My gripe arises when we are invited by the Union to emote on the fact that their dismissals occurred three days before Christmas.

We know that employers have contractual obligations to follow through on disciplinary procedures, and that instant dismissals are reserved for the most serious breaches of an employment contract. That threshold, in my experience is very high and in all my working life, the only sacking I’ve seen followed a long procedure – where the person was put on leave, following allegations of fraud and then later sacked. Presumably, the evidence stacked up. I’ve also known many people who had seriously questionable work practices and ethics yet the only disciplinary action taken was a verbal and sometimes a written warning.

Although the full facts are not available we do know that NZ Meatworker’s are constantly battling for fairer treatment in their workplaces. And this is certainly not the first time AFFCO Talley’s has been in the spotlight for questionable treatment of their workers. I’m not in a position to say whether or not these workers rights have been breached. I do appreciate that low morale in the workplace can sometimes spill into the whānau home – in forms such as depression, substance abuse, lashing out and/or feelings of whakamomori, and given that these workers were upset and tempers were reportedly short, the delegates appeared to have been doing exactly the job their colleagues had elected them to do.

This post isn’t so much about this particular case, and it is most definitely not a criticism of the women who have been dismissed in what appears to be an incredibly unfair process.

It is the narrative that implies somehow it is less acceptable to be fired three days before Christmas, than at any other time during the year that I am grappling with. Equally important, the implied message that employers who conduct themselves in this way at Christmas, are somehow worse than those who conduct themselves that way at any other time of the year. I mean, isn’t it undesirable employer conduct no matter when it happens? And if Unions are about the rights of all workers, why then should Christmas play a role in when it is and isn’t acceptable to be dismissed from employment?

Losing your job at anytime undoubtedly places a heavy burden on both individuals and whānau. And yes, I get that Christmas is built around certain expectations. I’m not immune to the messages drummed into us that Christmas is ‘the season for giving’. I’m aware that losing your job and not being able to meet those giving expectations during this time presents certain challenges. But I’m uncomfortable with the argument that because of the expectations of Christmas, that more consideration should be given to workers who practice giving at Christmas, while the same narrative is not advanced during the significant events of other religions or cultures.  I remain unconvinced that people fired around Christmas are in a worse position, than those who are sacked at any other time during the year.

Lets reflect for a moment. Imagine if there were a law that prohibited businesses from dismissing people within a specified timeframe relative to Christmas, because of the religiously pushed, socially constructed and centrally planned and propagated season of giving?

This would absolutely reinforce the already existing Christian privilege that exists in all Western countries, including New Zealand. To explain, we are required to take certain paid days off over what we commonly call the Christmas period and over Easter. Our social spaces are littered with imagery of Christmas, baby Jesus, and old jolly white men.

And consider small businesses in this scenario, who are dealing with an employee who is in serious breach of their employment contract, but not being allowed to dismiss the person because its Christmas! We’d edge closer and closer to an impenetrable Statism.

Being under financial strain hurts no matter what time of the year it is. Dealing with the stigma and finding work after being dismissed is as hard for those during the year as it is for people who experience this at Christmas. Just because many of us are inclined to emote around Christmas because the messages of it being a time for giving and family are so embedded in our society, we need to remain steadfast that the situation hurts individuals and families equally whenever it happens. So yes, maybe I am grinching a bit but please be clear that I’m definitely not criticising the women dismissed by Talley’s. I’m incredibly dubious of the implied messages sent by the spokesperson for the Meatworkers Union, that in my opinion:

  1. Trivialised the lived experiences of those people who were fired for ‘spurious reasons’ at other times during the year – perhaps around times that were religiously or culturally significant to them; and that
  2. Reinforces the already existing Christian privilege thereby signalling that workers of a particular religious denomination should have a certain set of rights that workers of other religions or cultures do not.

I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem particularly union-y to me, or maybe it does.