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Richard Prebble's Letter From Wellington

RICHARD PREBBLE’S Letter from Wellington

The coalition, with the support of the Greens, will dominate Parliament this week as they ram the Employment Relations Bill through under urgency. The Bill, as reported back, is now 250 pages.

By debating part by part – there are 10 parts – the Bill should be passed by Friday.

Poorly Drafted
By introducing a poorly drafted Bill to Parliament and refusing public commentary on the amendments – which at 50 pages, are larger than most Bills – the Government has guaranteed its amended clauses will have a raft of unintended consequences.

Two such clauses have been drawn to the Letter’s attention.

A Nine Year Trauma?
The 90 day period for filing a personal grievance can be extended to three years in “exceptional circumstances”. (This is so wide it includes being `traumatised’, most people who are fired can claim it was traumatic). However, under part 10 the period is extended to six years, when applying for non-payment of wages. It appears the periods are consecutive, i.e. a claim can be made nine years later!

Clause 65
Clause 65 is the new clause 66. Clause 66 effectively forced employers to guarantee redundancy in collective agreements. There was huge employer opposition to this clause so, as part of their ‘listening to business’ spin, the Government dropped it. However, with their now customary sleight of hand, the Government has amended clause 65 to give it the same basic effect. Labour Minister, Margaret Wilson, confirmed this in answer to an ACT parliamentary question in the House. It is also a view supported by informed employment lawyers.

The new Clause 65 states – “a collective agreement must contain:
(i) a coverage clause; and
(ii) with a view to protecting employees bound by the agreement from being disadvantaged, a clause dealing with the rights and obligations of the employees and employer if the work of any of the employees were to be contracted out or the business or part of the business of the employer concerned were to be transferred or sold”.

This clause is a lawyer’s picnic. What is the effect of a collective agreement that does not contain such a clause? Does the clause in effect mean all collective agreements need to have a redundancy agreement?

Plain English
Sub-clause (3) of Clause 65 requires “a plain language explanation of the services available for the resolution of employment relationship problems”.
In plain English – how to take the firm for a personal grievance.

The law draftsman in the second schedule tried to set out, in plain language, how to bring a personal grievance. The result was a computer circuitry board written in Spanish – so the Government is leaving this task with employers.
The Letter believes it cannot be done. Every employer will be in breach of the law. The Employment Relations Bill is a legal nightmare.

Huge Attendance
ACT held 33 seminars and three major speeches on the ERB. Attendances were huge – 500 at the Waipuna Hotel, Auckland; 215 Christchurch; 150 Hamilton.
Most people who attended were small business owners who could not afford $500 to go to a law firm seminar.

Small business is not very party political – they work too hard. The coalition is making small business very, very angry.

The demand for the seminars is so strong that after next week’s fight in Parliament, ACT MPs will conduct more seminars. If you would like to register – fax or email the ACT Parliamentary office (the numbers at the foot of the page!)

Follow the Debate
ACT will post on our website, www.act.org.nz/action/employment/ the major speeches and amendments to the Employment Relations Bill as they happen.

Where are the Nats?
Richard Prebble received an angry fax from Max Bradford for misrepresenting National’s position on the Bill. All ACT had said was that National would repeal the ERB.

Confused at Max’s response, ACT made inquiries and discovered that two senior National MPs, Bill English and John Luxton, had refused to give a commitment to repeal!

National is back to its old ways. The National Party in government has consistently failed to repeal Labour government legislation. National spoke against compulsory trade unionism but took 40 years to repeal it!

Having a monopoly on the centre right National could ignore its own supporters. Not any more. ACT will insist on the ERB’s repeal.

ACT does not agree that there are just 25 amendments needed, as National’s press statements say. Their list does not include ‘trade union education’ or the requirement that employers collect union fees.

The Letter was pleased to see Jenny Shipley’s strong unequivocal statement on Wednesday against the Bill – welcome back Jenny!

More Maori Politics
The decision to include in the Health and Disability Reform Bill – a clause requiring health services to observe the principles of the Treaty – is a recipe for division.

No one knows what it means. Will it mean racially separate health services? If not, what?

It will certainly mean court cases.

We will have non-elected judges telling hospital boards how to spend the health dollar. We will also see different Maori organisations competing to obtain a share of the $6 billion dollar health vote.

What it will not do is close any gaps!

Retrospective Tax Penalties
Closing the loopholes created by the 39 cent tax rate is turning out to be very difficult. The select committee is examining the new income attribution rates designed to stop high income earners income splitting. Taxpayers must pay provision tax now. Even though the rules are not written and they will apply retrospectively from 1 April. The penalties for not following the unwritten rules will be retrospective too!

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