Union outrage at proposed changes to employment law

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The president of the Council of Trade Unions (CTU), Helen Kelly, spoke to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conference last week. Her message was that New Zealand could no longer pretend to be the “good guys” in the wake of the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, which the CTU believes breaches our obligations as ILO members.

Kelly noted that the law changes would allow employer to opt out of multi-employer collective agreements and claimed that this was a breach of two ILO conventions: C87 Freedom of Association, and C98 Collective Bargaining.

She also suggested that excluding new employees from collective coverage, instead of automatically “enrolling” them (as is currently the case), as well as allowing employers not to conclude a collective bargain, will weaken collective bargaining.

“This Bill will further reduce pay and conditions for New Zealand workers, especially for low paid, vulnerable workers,” according to a CTU statement.

“[The New Zealand Government] promotes an image of an egalitarian society where everyone gets a fair go, of a liberal social agenda with strong social dialogue, and of a modern international outlook … sadly, it is no longer a reality,” Kelly said.

In related news, the Public Service Association (PSA) is condemning a Bill recently introduced to parliament that would allow casual workers, contractors or volunteers to be employed during a strike or lockout. The Employment Relations (Continuity of Labour) Bill is sponsored by National MP Jamie-Lee Ross.

The PSA National Secretary, Richard Wagstaff, called it a “distasteful piece of legislation”. “It will encourage employer to take a more aggressive approach towards unions and collective bargaining,” he said.

In fact, even the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) is concerned that this Bill could prove “divisive” in our workplaces. “New Zealand communities place a high value on fairness and the Bill could have consequences that would be considered unfair,” Kim Campbell, chief executive of the EMA, said in a statement. Campbell also noted that, apart from a few high-profile cases, workplace relations had generally been “harmonious” in the past 10-15 years.




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