"We don't want to see a return to a 'them and us' mentality"

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On Thursday, about 30,000 nurses in hospitals across New Zealand took strike action in the first such nationwide strike in 30 years.

The nurses are claiming they are overworked and underpaid, with unsafe working conditions leading to exhaustion and burnout. Moreover, the members of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation want pay rises of between 12.5% and 15.9%, to be rolled out in a little over two years.

The Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said the government was “very, very disappointed” that its latest offer of a 12.5% increase had been rejected.

“We’ve gone as far as we can go as a government. We got hold of a negotiated arrangement which we inherited – the nurses have had a raw nine years.”

Other recent strikes which HRD has recently reported involve organisations such as Burger King, Inland Revenue and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Given the frequent strike action which have been taken or proposed over the past few months, the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) is worried this will become “the new norm of industrial relations”.

Kim Campbell, CEO, EMA, said that “we don’t want to see a return to a ‘them and us’ mentality”.

Campbell added that what’s necessary is a framework that promotes productive employment relationships.

“Strikes are costly – for both workers and businesses – and are the last resort. A negotiated settlement is preferable rather than a strike.”

Given the proposed changes in employment legislation, it is concerning that the current industrial action may well be providing a realistic view of what the future holds, said Campbell.

“Rather, the fundamental requirement to drive wage growth is for New Zealand’s productivity to rise,” said Campbell.

Indeed, the Productivity Commission’s economics and research director Paul Conway recently stated that the hours worked per capita in New Zealand are the highest in the OECD, however the value produced from the New Zealand labour force is the lowest.

Campbell added that wages are lower than other OECD countries because productivity is lower.

“Which is why the EMA is asking Government MPs to please explain how the proposed changes to industrial relations will deliver to the stated aim of driving a productive, sustainable and inclusive economy,” said Campbell.

“We see no evidence that anything in the suggested amendments will make one iota of difference to driving long-term productivity growth.

“It would seem logical to have this debate first, such as in the yet to convene Future of Work Forum, before charging ahead with changing our current employment law.

“We’ve seen the current coalition deliver pragmatic changes to some policies, and we’re appealing for the same sensible approach here.”

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