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Uniform Conditions Helps Unions Hurts Low-Skilled

23 January, 2004

Imposing Uniform Working Conditions
Helps Unions and Hurts Low-Skilled

A new report by the Australian Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) highlights how union-driven changes to employment law can have particularly harsh effects for low-skilled workers, New Zealand Business Roundtable executive director Roger Kerr said today.

Policy analyst Kayoko Tsumori's paper 'How Union Campaigns on Hours and Casuals are Threatening Low-skilled Jobs' looks at the push by Australian unions to limit the number of working hours and regulate casual employment.

It examines arguments that are relevant to New Zealand debates on holidays legislation, work/life balance issues, and the increased regulation of employment relationships being proposed by the government.

The paper finds that the attempt to impose uniform conditions on the entire workforce is little more than a bid to bolster unions' faltering legitimacy - on both sides of the Tasman - by preventing workers from negotiating their own pay and conditions.

As it demonstrates, working conditions cannot be improved by government mandates. For example, the government's move to impose four weeks' annual leave must essentially come at the expense of other working conditions, in particular wages. This would not be the preferred trade-off of many low-income workers.

It is also relevant in this context to note that Australians work on average slightly longer annual hours than New Zealanders. Mandating an extra week's leave will widen the gap with workers whose productivity is already significantly higher.

Similar problems arise with government intervention in work/life balance decisions.

"Tsumori finds that a blanket regulation is not the answer to improving working conditions. He correctly argues that a less centralised and less paternalistic approach which accommodates workers' diverse preferences would be far better," Mr Kerr said.

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'How Union Campaigns on Hours and Casuals are Threatening Low-skilled Jobs' is available online as a .pdf at

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