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A Real Advance For The Health Sector

21 September 2004

Employment Relations Law Reform Bill: A Real Advance For The Health Sector

The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) is the professional union that represents salaried senior doctors and dentists, the large majority of whom are employed by district health boards. This issue of our Parliamentary Briefing to MPs outlines our overall views on the Employment Relations Law Reform [ERLRB) Bill following the Select Committee report back.

The main reason why the ASMS supports the Employment Relations Act is that it is based on the working reality that there is an unequal relationship between employers and employees no matter how well disposed and well meaning the former might be.

This is obviously the case for lower paid more vulnerable employees but it is also applicable for more highly qualified professional employees such as senior doctors. The Bill continues the emphasis of the Employment Relations Act by addressing this imbalance using principles of good faith, positive recognition of unions, mutual trust and confidence, and by promoting collective bargaining.

The ASMS welcomes the Bill. It reinforces this, particularly in areas such as further promotion of collective bargaining (including multi-employer or MECA), protection of vulnerable employees in transfer situations, and the strengthening of good faith.

These provisions, while modest by international standards, are directly relevant to senior doctors and other health employees. The vast bulk of our members are employed by district health boards but we have some members employed in community trusts, iwi organisations and hospices.

The ASMS has just concluded a protracted negotiation to establish a MECA for DHB-employed senior doctors (subject to ratification) which we expect to improve New Zealand’s standing as a “career” destination for highly skilled, expert senior doctors whether trained here or overseas. The changes in the ERLRB will make it possible for the ASMS to negotiate similar agreements in other more difficult areas of the health sector.

One feature of the Bill, as reported back by the Select Committee, that senior doctors particularly welcome is the intention to attach as a schedule to the Employment Relations Act, the code of good faith, jointly negotiated by CTU health unions (including the ASMS) and DHBs for the public health service.

It rightly replaces pernicious clause 100D. (This gave power to the Minister of Health to impose a ‘code of employment practice’ which abrogated the right to strike and created a situation where the Minister was ultimately the employer).

The process used to negotiate this code was a real example of employers and unions working together to address matters of mutual concern.
At the forefront was ensuring patient safety in the event of strikes while at the same time not undermining the principle of the right to strike. The ASMS strongly encourages MPs of all political parties to support the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill as reported back by the Select Committee.

It is a real advance for the health sector within and beyond district health boards.



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