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Unions go 'back to the past' for ERA review

Unions go 'back to the past' for ERA review

The union movement is dusting off its old wish list for the review of the Employment Relations Act, says Business NZ. Executive Director Anne Knowles says some of the extreme provisions that were struck out of the Employment Relations Bill appear to be now resurfacing in time for the ERA review, planned for this year.

A CTU-sponsored paper released today by Wellington academic Gordon Anderson argues for changes to the provisions relating to unjustified dismissals, saying that the test for unjustified dismissals now favours employers and calling for substantial increases in compensation awards to workers unjustifiably dismissed.

Ms Knowles says the claims are wildly out of touch with reality.

"The test for unjustified dismissals has been clarified over the last decade, but not in employers' favour. Employers must still bear the burden of proof - they are deemed to be guilty until they can prove their innocence to an objective third party. Other factors also work against them, for example, it is very easy to make an unjustified dismissal claim against your employer, especially when such a claim reduces the stand-down period before an unemployment benefit may be accessed. It's easier still given the growing use of contingency fees by those acting on behalf of disgruntled employees - "we'll charge a fee only if we win the case." Then there are the procedural hurdles an employer must jump - many substantive cases have failed because the employer missed a single procedural step in an otherwise justified dismissal," Ms Knowles said. "There is no way that the current law favours employers.

"The Anderson/CTU paper also recommends that the minimum payout for an unjustified dismissal should be increased substantially - perhaps to the $20,000 level recently recommended by the Chief Judge of the Employment Court. If this happened, it would be a disaster for the economy. 93% of NZ workplaces employ 10 people or fewer - they are by definition small employers many of whom would be lucky to pull $20,000 from the business in a good year. Setting a $20,000 'floor' for compensation in unjustified dismissal cases would make most small employers choke at the thought of ever hiring again.

"This 'back to the past' mentality does not augur well for the ERA review," Ms Knowles said.

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