Melissa Goodman is a Hamilton-local activist, and acting-Chairperson for the Young Workers Resource Centre, with a passion for social justice.

I’ve worked at several places where my colleagues one by one have left for greener pastures, running from dysfunctional workplaces.

The decision to run from toxic workplaces is an on-going story of my workplace experience, and one that I have a few insights to share in my series of “The Mind Wanders”.

I wonder what it means to have a good job. Is there such a thing as being happy at work?

For me, it comes back to the basic concept that you should be able to expect to be treated as a human being and not a resource to be used; as someone who adds value as a unique, and thinking individual.

I am a realist; I can’t sit here behind my laptop and say that even the best workplace doesn’t have its bad days. But there are some employers (and workplace cultures) that do better than others. And that is the point where I think maybe the perfect job is a fantasy, but decent work shouldn’t be.

We all deserve the right to have minimum employment standards adhered to by employers (however large or small), and be safe and well while placing our time and livelihood in our employer’s hands.

There’ll never be a workplace that’s flawless, that is without stress, troubled times, or without pressure. But there can be a place of support, adequate pay, relative equality and opportunity for growth, development and education.

As I’ve travelled through my own journey of roles in management, retail, agriculture, hospitality, administration and volunteering, I’ve truly enjoyed every role I’ve encountered.

And even with the fun, growth and purpose that I’ve found – I also found some disturbing truths about being a young worker.

I’ve faced sexual harassment, being pushed out of employment, having to make others redundant, being made redundant, fighting management, being bullied, stalked, and turning a blind eye to poor practices.

I don’t think I should ever have been put in the position to be complicit in unethical employment practices, or feel like I have to stay quiet when I know they are happening.

But we know it’s not that simple, is it? When rent is due, power bill on the way, student debt crushing you – we don’t always have the option of speaking up.

DON’T LOSE HOPE – WE HAVE AN ANSWER! But I will get to that soon…

Working in the current climate comes with struggles. Those struggles should not devalue you, should not drive you to mental and physical distress, and should not involve the pressure to comply with illegal and immoral acts.

The way to change workplaces that exemplify the worst of the worst, is to educate the workers that are being exploited and in turn put pressure on employers who think they can squash our power.

My view is that the only starting point for every employee is knowing your basic rights!

Once you know what is unacceptable under employment legislation, you know what not to put up with. It is with that redistribution of power that changes start to take place, and we can start to see some necessary changes to the employment landscape.

Knowing your rights can be a hard subject to tackle; there are many topics to cover, legal jargon and loopholes within loopholes that make it hard to come to grips with.

Trust me I know. Big corporates know too, hence why they have HR professionals and teams of lawyers – and still get it wrong!

My belief is that education is key. This is also tricky.

I’ve never been fired but I have always pushed the limits of employment relationships, to the point where employers become so uncomfortable they tried to push me out (aka constructive dismissal) – I don’t recommend this route.

I do recommend finding a collective voice and seeking advice from reputable sources (e.g the YWRC, the Citizens Advice Bureau, your union or MBIE).

Being aware of my own employment rights has afforded me the chance to fight for those rights, and demand my worth in lots of ways.

Often this is a task that cannot be achieved by yourself. We all need help from time to time, and in working and having a job is no exception.

My hope is for an employment system where employers encourage education, and employees who are not afraid to seek information.

If employers are aware of NZ’s Minimum Legal Employment Standards and sticking to them, they don’t have any reason to fear employees educating themselves.

The only employers that fear informed workers are the ones we should be fighting the hardest.

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