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Court case highlights agenda behind mecas

13 July 2004

Court case highlights agenda behind mecas

The Employment Court case between Toll Ltd and the Rail & Maritime Transport Union has helped to clarify the status of mecas (multi employer collective agreements) says Business NZ. Chief Executive Simon Carlaw says mecas are highly prized by unions, since they result in large collective agreements that are easier for unions to manage.

"The Employment Court recognised this in the Toll vs RMTU case, saying that it is certainly the perception of the union and the CTU that mecas are the 'pinnacle' of collective agreements.

"The union tried to convince the Court that Toll employees would be disadvantaged by not being able to be part of a meca once Connex Ltd took over from Toll in the provision of Auckland passenger rail services. However the Employment Court accepted the submission of the Counsel for Business NZ that a meca is not necessarily more advantageous to an employee than any other kind of collective agreement. This underlines the fact obvious to many businesses, that mecas are more about the interests of union bosses than the interests of employees," Mr Carlaw said.

Toll Ltd's reasons for refusing to allow Connex to join the meca included:

* Toll's strategy involved the acquisition of businesses in different sectors of the transport industry, and if it was bound by one agreement covering them all, this could restrict its ability to act profitably by negotiating terms specific to each operation.

* It would not be in Toll's interest to be aligned with its competitors by being party to the same meca, especially where it might end up bidding against Connex for work and staff.

* Toll was concerned with keeping its commercial and contractual arrangements with staff confidential between Toll and the union.

"These reasons go to the heart of why mecas can be harmful to business productivity," Mr Carlaw said. "It should be remembered that the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill, currently being progressed in select committee, has one of its aims to increase the take-up of mecas."

Business NZ appeared on behalf of all employers at the invitation of the Employment Relations Authority.


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