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Labour signals slow track for most contentious labour law

Labour signals slow track for most contentious labour law reforms

By Pattrick Smellie

Jan. 22 (BusinessDesk) - The government will announce a timetable for legislating a range of long-signalled reversals to labour law changes made by the previous administration later this week, but is placing its intention to introduce new Fair Pay Agreement legislation on a slower track to allow consultation with both employers and trade unions, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

Speaking at the end of a two-day caucus retreat in the Wairarapa, Ardern said immediate legislative priorities were largely "changes ... in areas where the last government made changes that we disagreed with".

"Fair Pay agreements are not a part of that legislative package."

The pre-election pledge on FPAs was seen by many business leaders as an attempt to roll back the clock on individual and enterprise bargaining in favour of nationally applicable employment agreements covering whole industries.

The proposals did not gain significant media attention prior to the Sept. 23 election, but were flagged by peak business lobbies including Business New Zealand and Auckland's Employers and Manufacturers Association as being a potential sore point with a Labour-led administration. Since the election, business sentiment surveys have shown a sometimes sharply softening mood, although capacity constraints in booming sectors such as tourism and construction and poor growing weather for farmers have featured along with political uncertainty as causes for the declines.

Also understood to be on a separate track is Labour's pledge to reform the Equal Pay Act to enable pay equity collective bargaining, with a working group to be reconstituted on options for progress.

On the development of FPAs, Ardern said: "We’ve long intimated that was something we needed some extra time for, working alongside both our union and business communities to make sure we get that right."

Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway was working on a process and timetable for the initiative, which Ardern said would emerge in due course.

Published Labour policy suggests that areas of immediate change are likely to include: replacing the current 90 day trial 'fire at will' employment trial system with "fair trial periods that provide both protection against unjustified dismissal and a simple, fair, and fast referee service"; reinstating the requirement that parties keep bargaining "in good faith" rather than being permitted to walk away from negotiations; and restoring union representatives' rights to enter workplaces.

Legislation to raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour by April 2022 was introduced to Parliament before Christmas.

"These are things we have long flagged and have long been part of our agenda. None of this will come as a surprise, particularly because our minister has been working alongside the business community on the measures we are bringing in," Ardern said.

(BusinessDesk)

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